In-Depth: The 2021 Free Agent Market (Part 2)

Lennart Westman and Mathias Lundgren are back again, this time highlighting the defensemen who will be available in free agency.



This is the second of three articles looking at all the upcoming UFA's in BEARD Hockey.


After highlighting some of the most interesting pending UFA forwards, it’s now time to look at the defenders. There are still enough of them to present them division by division. Next article, about the goalies, will be slightly different.


Once again we have used the same formula as in the previous PP/PK-articles ranking the D-men's offensive and defensive qualities. While we say many of the defenders have offensive qualities it’s worth noticing that the SIM definition of an offensive defenseman is something else.


According to the SIM there are only 13 true OD's in the entire league. One of them is a pending UFA. It might not be the one you guessed...enjoy!



ATLANTIC DIVISION

Alex Goligoski At the price of only $3 million per year (50% salary retained by Minnesota), the Canadiens acquired Goligoski to boost the run for the cup. Goligoski averages 81.3 and ranks 11th in defence. Averaging 26.4 minutes played per game, his importance to Montreal is without a doubt great. Still there’s no chance the Habs will try to resign him during the season.


Goligoski’s minimum salary would be $6.9 million – a raise with 3.9M for the Canadiens. For a team close to the cap, also looking to re-sign three pro RFA's and possibly one more UFA, that’s easy math. Goligoski will be up for grabs and, should he not retire, he will probably have to accept a new contract making less money. That would also be Montreal’s only chance to take him back on the roster.


Scott Mayfield Yeah, we know. He’s not really all that exciting but pointing out only one defender from the Atlantic Division felt kind of short. Mayfield show a good defensive awareness (88) and some decent checking (77) but ranks only 17th in defensive skills overall.


Florida will probably initiate in-season talks but if he chooses free agency he could be a good 5-7 D at a decent price on most teams.



METRO DIVISION

Colton Parayko At the age of 27, Parayko is still developing (PO 84), ranking third in defensive skills and is the natural leading D-man in the Islanders. Parayko plays first pairing five on five as well as on both special teams. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure GM Jussi Kalmi will do what he can to keep him.


Going into talks as one of the four defenders earning 6.5M, we know Parayko wont be cheap to re-sign, no matter if it’s via in-season talks or through free agency. What we do know though is that no matter which way he chooses, his jersey will most likely be blue and orange for the coming years anyway.


Erik Karlsson Ranking #1 in offensive skills, averaging 80.5 in our model, Karlsson is still not considered an offensive defenseman in the SIM. GM Tommy Barr in Columbus probably couldn’t care less, since he should be happy to see Karlsson as the sixth most offensively productive defender in the league as we speak. And that on a team at the bottom of the division!


Karlsson is the best skater (92) with the highest EN (92) and PA (85) of all defenders in the group. And still he also possesses great defensive awareness (85). Our guess is that if Barr can’t re-sign him in season he will still make sure he stays on the team, as the cap space and awareness of Karlsson’s importance is there.


Ryan Ellis Washington is right now #1 in the Metro Division and #1 in the Eastern Conference. Ryan Ellis is the #1 defender on that team, ranking 2nd in offensive skills in the group of pending UFA's. It goes without saying that he will be getting a lot of attention should he go to free agency. Then again neither he nor GM Shawn Davis wishes for that to happen.


Ellis knows he will get what he asks for in Washington. Should he for some reason decline a new contract though free agency will be interesting. Sure, Washington has the cap space to go the extra mile to retain him even with open bidding, but at the same time the Capitals have no less than nine more pending UFA's on their pro roster!


In fact the entire blue line with the exception of Michal Kampny is all subject to free agency and with Jake Muzzin, Sami Vatanen, Nikita Zaitsev, Alec Martinez, Lars Eller, Brian Boyle, Blake Comeau, Oscar Fantenberg, and Petr Mrazek all asking for substantial raises...the 9M cap space could quickly be gone!


Brenden Dillon With a DF stat as low as 79, Dillon is still ranked #5 in defensive skill. That says something about his checking and skating ability, right? This big guy is strong, intense, and a good skater. He will check, clear the zone and go for the line change. Just don’t expect him to do anything more than that. But he will do it for 82 games or more, since he has the highest DU-stat (97) of all defenders.


Our guess is that GM Sean McAndrews wants to resign him to continue mentoring Boqvist on the third paring, able to step up, should any of the now top four D-men get an injury. If Dillon hits free agency McAndrews may think he can find a cheaper D-man to assume that role, even though we doubt it. And then again, money/cap space is not an issue.



CENTRAL DIVISION

John Klingberg One of two defenders worth mentioning from the Central division is John Klingberg in Winnipeg. In fact, this division has extremely few pending UFA-defenders at all. But Klingberg ranks #5 on the offensive skills due to his skating and playmaking skills. Even though his ((PA+SC) / 2) / DF is slightly less than 1.0 (the SIM definition of an offensive d-man) we would consider him to play the role of an OD on the team.


No matter if Winnepeg has a GM or not, when we hit game 41, we should expect Klingberg to be invited to in season talks. His salary demands within or offseason will not be higher than that the Jets will be able to retain their captain.


Nate Schmidt The other Central Division D-man worth highlighting is Arizona’s Nate Schmidt. He is an exceptional skater with both defensive awareness and puck moving skills. His future in Arizona somewhat depends on what happens when GM Colin Small tries to re-sign captain Anze Kopitar within season.


If Kopitar takes up too much of the remaining cap space, Nate Schmidt may be in danger. Instead of accepting a minimum raise, he should then probably gain from trying free agency, if at all given the option. We wouldn’t be surprised to see Schmidt traded while the in-season talks window is still open!



PACIFIC DIVISION Calvin de Haan Ranking #1 in defensive skills, the Vancouver D-man of course will be offered a new contract in-season, Overall he may not look too impressive, but the necessary stats are all in the right place. With CK 87, SK 84, and DF 86, the 29 year-old has taken 18 hits in 14 games – playing on the third pairing and on PK1 only!


Vancouver is tight up against the cap though, so if de Haan demands too much, GM Aaron Sanderson might have to let go of this four million dollar gem. Or will his low EN/DU scare potential bidders off?


Brayden McNabb Even the second highest ranked defensive D-man will be found in the Pacific division. Surpassing de Haan in both CK (90) and DF (90), McNabb is the best defender on the Vegas roster, even after acquiring Keith Yandle (one of the 13 OD's btw, but not UFA). With that said GM Keith Evans will try to re-sign him for sure.


Whether he then will be able to keep him or will have to trade him in the offseason is still an open book, since Vegas now is very tight on money. If McNabb hits free agency he will be well paid by a team with sufficient cap space.


Brady Skjei Being born in March, Brady Skjei is one of sixteen 26 year-olds that will become UFA's, should they not be re-signed by their team via in-season talks. Skjei ranks #4 with an average of 83.3. Pairing up with Marilyn, no sorry Josh Manson, on the Kraken roster, Skjei leads in hits taken in the league as we speak.


Now, laying on the bottom of the Pacific (as McDonnell predicted), the Kraken and GM David Springgay don’t have much more than that to be happy about. So, will therefore Skjei get an offer in-season or will he be considered too old to play with the other kids on the Kraken roster? Who knows. What we do know though is that if not re-signed by Kraken, Skjei will be one of the most attractive D-men once free agency opens.


Matt Niskanen Ranking 6th in defence and 9th in offence, Niskanen is for sure an interesting pending UFA if you like two-way defenders. Still, we’re not sure he will be offered in-season talks with Sanderson in Vancouver. Just like Goligoski in Montreal, Niskanen is there to boost the run for the Cup.


Playing second pairing and on PK1 he for sure puts in an effort justifying the high salary, but we doubt Sanderson will try to resign him for minimum 7.475 million salary. Therefore we expect Niskanen to hit free agency and eventually finding a team with better cap space, while still probably stepping down a bit in salary.


Tyson Barrie Here he is – the only true offensive defenseman in the group according to the SIM. In our model, Barrie ranks #3 in offensive skills and he has already proven to be productive for GM Theo Pepper in Calgary.


Surprising many, Barrie, with DI 82, is also the player taking most penalties for the Flames. Despite that we suspect that Calgary, close to the salary floor rather than the ceiling will pay what it takes to keep him, in-season or offseason.


Jared Spurgeon Another interesting defenseman from the Pacific division? Yup! And a great two-way defender too! Spurgeon averages 81.0 offensively (#13) and 78.0 defensively (#4). Playing on the San Jose first pairing five on five as well as on both special teams, Spurgeon averages close to 25 minutes every game and delivers on both ends of the ice.


He will be competing with Karlsson and Taylor Hall for the remaining cap space. Depending on GM Joe Larson’s priorities, there’s a chance that the assistant captain will have to try free agency, unless Sharks decide to trade him while the in-season window is still open. This will indeed be interesting to follow!



Honorable mentions


Within the group of 68 defenders there are many with special qualities that stand out, even though the offensive/defensive average as we have defined it is not impressive. Some of them worth mentioning are:


Alex Biega, CAR - #2 in checking (88)

T.J. Brennan, TOR - #1 in fighting (65)

Jamie Oleksiak, SEA - #1 in strength (97 – 6’7” / 255 lbs!), #5 CK (87)

John Moore, NYI - #5 in puck handling (73)

Chris Tanev, CBJ - #1 in defensive awareness (94)

Brent Seabrook, CAR - #1 in experience (94), #1 in leadership (95)

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