Regardless of the timing, duration or uncertainty of the next NHL season, the 2021 free agency phase offers an interesting collection of forwards. In particular, the group of wingers available next offseason has some excellent names amongst the group. The group of wingers will be much larger by the time the market is finally set, but today, we rank the top four wingers available.
#1: Gabriel Landeskog, UFA – $5,571,429
The Colorado Avalanche have drafted and built one of the top flight teams throughout the NHL. Fortunately for the rest of the league they may get squeezed out of a great player in 2021. Whether or not that player is Gabriel Landeskog will be at GM Joe Sakic’s discretion.
This particular contract expiry could not have come at a worse time. No one could have predicted back in 2013 that a young Calgarian kid named Cale Makar would begin his NHL career as a Calder Cup trophy winner seven years later. As misfortune would have it, Makar becomes an RFA in 2021. He will require a big pay increase at the exact time they need a big chunk of change to keep Landeskog.
30 other teams would likely be interested in obtaining the services of this power winger – including the Seattle Kraken. But that is another story.
One thing is clear, any team looking to land Landeskog will need a sizable chunk of cash and cap room. His last contract was a seven-year deal worth $39 million at an AAV of $5,571,429. I am no salary expert but a player of this caliber, in his late twenties with world class leadership abilities might fetch north of $8 million on the open market? He might also want, and rightly deserve a decent term attached to any new contract he ends up signing.
All indications are that the Avs have no intentions of letting him walk. Therefore, the shuffling of roster pieces to make room will likely being as soon as the 202-21 season begins.
#2: Taylor Hall, UFA – $8M
Not much more can be said about the Taylor Hall situation. He should be a catalyst within the Buffalo Sabres offence and seems genuinely excited to be with his fourth NHL team since being drafted first overall in 2010. At the end of the day, it will come down to a reciprocal fit between both Hall and the Sabres.
That is rather implied in a one-year contract with a new team. But in this case it especially looks like a ‘trial’ situation as Hall is still very capable offensively and will just be turning 30 depending on when/if the next season begins – TBD, and hence in between.
A good start for both parties in this case would be a Sabre post season appearance. Who knows, maybe even win a round or two. At some point, Hall may want to find a home for the latter half of his career. Then again, depending on how his season goes Hall might be looking for a new team even if he does last the entire season in Buffalo. If the Sabres fail to put enough wins together they would likely sell Hall to the highest deadline bidder.
If Hall does not mesh in Buffalo what might his fifth team in just over a decade mean for his career?
# 3: Tanner Pearson – UFA, $3.75M
Vancouver Canuck winger Tanner Pearson could be a nice addition for any team looking to add some secondary scoring off the wing. A 2019 deadline acquisition by Vancouver, Pearson had a solid shortened season with 21 goals and 24 assists over 69 games.
From an outsider perspective, it felt as though Pearson had a hand in this year’s deadline acquisition of Tyler Toffoli. The Canucks were hoping to keep the duo that helped the Los Angeles Kings win their second Stanley Cup in two years back in 2014. Unfortunately for the Canucks, Toffoli was scooped up by the Montreal Canadiens this past offseason, and they will likely have to part ways with Pearson as well.
The former Barrie Colt and Kitchener, Ontario native is a capable 2nd line winger on the left side. His last contract in LA was a four-year deal valued at $15 million with an AAV of $3.75 million. Given his steady production since, Pearson is likely due for a small raise depending on the term.
It is entirely possible that Canucks GM Jim Benning is forced to move Pearson at some point before the next NHL trade deadline. The Canucks have two franchise contracts arriving as both Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson need to be extended in 2021.
Depending on where Mike Hoffman lands — this off-season’s UFA prize winger — that decision will steer the course on what team targets Pearson. One team that is flush with cap room and in need of help generating offence is the Columbus Blue Jackets.
#4: Alex Ovechkin, UFA – $9,538,462
Last but not least. I have Ovechkin as the fourth player on this list because he will likely be a Washington Capital for the remainder of his career. For a franchise that has never had a bona fide super star, he is now firmly entrenched as that figure within the organization. The 2018 Stanley Cup only punctuated that fact. As such, the team has already offered an extension but it was quickly declined.
The Capitals are an aging squad, but they still have a great core and well-balanced group of skaters. Despite adding ‘King’ Hendrik Lundqvist, they may need to formulate a long term goaltending solution sooner than later.
Ovechkin’s last contract was an astounding 13-year deal worth $124 million at an AAV of $9,538,462. The latest word is that Ovechkin is looking for north of $11 million to accept a shorter term. Stay tuned to see what Capital GM Brian MacLellan can pull off to keep Ovechkin in Washington.
At 35, the clock is ticking on one of the greatest goal scorers in NHL history, Alex Ovechkin. The remainder of his career presents somewhat of a juxtaposition. On one hand, the Russian sensation could be able to make NHL history by even getting close to Wayne Gretzky’s most goals record of 894. Currently, Ovechkin sits eighth on the all-time goal list with 706. A rough estimate means that it might take him at least five or six more seasons to reach that mark.
However, Ovechkin recently stated his intentions to retire with his hometown Dynamo Moscow club in the KHL. That is a long road for a 236-pound frame that has already logged over 1152 career NHL games. From a logistical standpoint, reaching Gretzky’s goal record and finishing with Dynamo might not be possible.
Could Ovechkin move addresses after this season? Certainly a possibility given his age, salary and term demands but it just seems unlikely that Washington would ever allow the face of the franchise to leave.
Plenty of decisions that might seem far away but are right around the corner as the clock continues to tick on the 2020-21 season. Stay tuned for any updates on transactions involving the above list of upcoming UFA’s.
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