Playing matchmaker: The best fit for the top remaining NHL free agents

NHL Free Agents

As we enter the third day of the NHL Free Agent signing period there are still some significant players that remain unsigned, including the top two players to hit the open market this offseason (defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and forward Taylor Hall).

Let’s take a quick look at some of the more noteworthy players still available and try to figure out which team would be the best, most sensible landing spot for them.

These are not predictions on where each player will end up. They are suggestions on the teams that might make the most sense.

Alex Pietrangelo

It seems like a foregone conclusion that Pietrangelo is going to sign with the Vegas Golden Knights in the coming days. They have major interest, he visited them in person this weekend, and the book is closed on him returning to St. Louis. Along with dramatically improving the Golden Knights’ defense, it is also going to further complicate their salary cap situation and almost certainly necessitate a couple of trades (Marc-Andre Fleury? Nate Schmidt? Alec Martinez?) to create room.

So while this may not be the best fit, it is definitely the most likely spot.

But as long as we are talking of ideal fits and total hypotheticals, Boston would be an absolutely perfect fit for Pietrangelo, would it not? The Bruins just lost Torey Krug in free agency, missed out on an Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade, and still have a massive hole in their top-four. Even if Zdeno Chara returns to the team he is 43 years old and barely even a fraction of his former self. The Bruins need another top-pairing player and still have a ton of salary cap space to work with.

Taylor Hall

This could go a few different directions.

  • Even after acquiring Brandon Saad on Saturday Colorado could still go all-in on a big-ticket free agent if it really wanted to in an effort to chase after a championship.
  • Columbus has salary cap space and a massive need for an impact forward.
  • Boston could still use a little more scoring depth to balance out its lineup and has the salary cap space to sign him.
  • Nashville lost lost Craig Smith and presumably Mikael Granlund, bought out Kyle Turris, and traded Nick Bonino. Yes, that created a lot of salary cap space, but it also took away a ton of offense that has to be replaced.
  • Philadelphia is way too quiet and has too much salary cap space to be this inactive. They have to be up to something, and for as good as the top of their lineup is they could still use a little more scoring depth.

So which team is the perfect fit?

It has to be Nashville, with Columbus coming in a close second place.

The Predators need offense, their general manager loves big moves, and it would give Hall (in theory) the chance to play for a contender for the first time in his career.

UPDATE: Taylor Hall said forget all of that and signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres.

Tyler Toffoli

The New York Islanders.

They need more offense and Toffoli actually seems like he would be a really good fit to play in Barry Trotz’s system. He is a smart, defensively sound player that also has the talent that can make an impact offensively. That should be everything the Islanders need and want.

There is just one problem with this plan: The Islanders only have around $8.5 million in salary cap space at their disposal and you have to assume that Mathew Barzal (restricted free agent) is going to take most, if not all, of that space.

For the Islanders to add another outside player a trade might have to happen to shed some salary.

It might be worth it.

Mike Hoffman

Hoffman is going to be the Plan B for a team that wants Taylor Hall but does not get Hall.

On the plus side, he will score 30 goals for the team that signs him.

The downside is that he will be 31 years old at the start of the season and if he is not scoring goals you are probably not noticing him in a positive way.

It is going to come down to how desperate an offensively-starved team is for goals and how much they want to pay for them.

This has the Montreal Canadiens written all over it.

Evgenii Dadonov

The ideal fit here is probably right where he has been the past three seasons — Florida.

The Panthers are a sneaky good offensive team, and Dadonov has been a big part of that since returning to the NHL prior to the 2017-18 season. He’s a good player, they have the space for him, and I am not sure there is a better fit available to them at a better price.

Anthony Duclair

Duclair was the most stunning restricted free agent to not receive a qualifying offer, and it still does not really make much sense from the Ottawa Senators’ perspective.

Will Duclair ever duplicate his first half performance from this past season? Probably not. And do you know what? That is okay! He has very quietly proven that he is a 20-goal scorer in the NHL (scored at a 20-goal pace in three of his five full seasons), is still in his prime, is full of talent, and has some finishing ability.

The best fit: The Calgary Flames, an otherwise solid team that still probably needs another goal-scorer.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.


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