2020 NHL Free Agents left on market: Bargains, buyer beware, and more

2020 NHL Free Agents still on market: Bargains, buyer beware, and more
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About a week ago, PHT looked at the best remaining 2020 NHL Free Agents. After Evgenii Dadonov and Joe Thornton found new homes, that 2020 NHL Free Agent class is even murkier. In many cases, teams are probably better trying to land their version of the Nate Schmidt trade.

But what if those opportunities aren’t out there? Unlike the Schmidt trade sending him from Vegas to Vancouver, teams aren’t usually fond of in-division swaps. Or maybe prices on the trade market went back up?

Either way, there are plenty of names still on the 2020 NHL Free Agent market. How appealing should they be, though? Let’s consider buyer beware cases, and also opportunities to find value.

2020 NHL Free Agents remaining: Buyer Beware

  • Mike Hoffman: During a typical free agent stretch, some team would have talked themselves into Hoffman, 30, by now. It’s not just that Hoffman scored 29 goals in 2019-20; it’s that he’s an unusually reliable sniper. He was easily on pace to push 30 this past season, and he’s riding a six-season 20+ goal streak.

Such numbers place the asking price high, and that’s where the problems become potential crises. Generally speaking, Hoffman does little beyond scoring goals. And you might even deem them “empty calorie goals,” anyway.

It’s not just that you have to weigh Hoffman’s offensive contributions vs. his defense. You also have to wonder if his overall offensive impact is a bit overstated. Consider how unappealing Hoffman looks by a variety of metrics in this RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey:

Mike Hoffman Evolving Hockey
via Evolving Hockey

Now, that doesn’t mean Hoffman boasts zero value. It makes sense that he was linked to a team like Montreal, as the Canadiens lack many true sniping finishers.

In a report for the Athletic on Tuesday (sub required), Adam Vingan notes that Hoffman’s agent said there’d be “no issue” with a one-year deal. That idea seems a lot more appealing. Even if he’s not worth whatever the dollar amount would be, you’d mitigate the risk of another James Neal-type swandive.

In the case of Duclair and Athanasiou, you have young speedsters. Kovalchuk’s someone you can picture putting up big numbers, and he enjoyed some big (if brief) surges with the Canadiens.

So, no, these free agent forwards aren’t all exactly the same.

The bigger picture is fairly similar, though. A team paying for these players would be getting some level of offense, while accepting the more likely: abysmal defense. (If you’re lucky, they’re neutral overall at five-on-five.)

Much like with Hoffman, these signings could conceivably work out. These players have some degree of skill and name recognition.

Still, there’s just as much of a risk of a “square peg in a round hole” situation. Is it worth finding the right role for these players? What if injuries stack up, and you need to ask more of them?

Maybe it’ll make sense on the cheap, but paying a premium for various offense-only forwards seems foolish. That might be the conclusion many NHL teams came to, considering their availability on the free agent market.

Not much sizzle: some solid potential NHL free agent forward bargains

On the opposite side of Hoffman-style double-edged swords, you have perfectly decent players who might be … well, kind of dull. OK, I’m sure these players are capable of excitement, just not so frequently that you’d describe them that way.

And that’s perfectly fine! You want that razzle-dazzle with your lottery picks, not while rummaging through the bargain bin.

  • Mikael GranlundIf you want about as safe a bet as you can get in free agency, it’s probably Granlund. At 28, Granlund might warrant some term, which forwards haven’t received often in this 2020 NHL Free Agent market.

One area where Granlund = Hoffman is that it’s all about value, though. If it’s multiple years and cheap, Granlund can be worth the gamble. It’s unclear if he can be a go-to player (like he was with the Wild) after things never really panned out with the Predators, though.

Again, you might not get spectacular results, but you might get solid bang for your buck. Not sure if Frolik still belongs in this category, yet historically he’s been a decent depth gem.

Curious case of Benjamin Hutton

In a shallow field of defenseman, I feel like Ben Hutton is such an odd duck that he deserves his own subsection. More than anything else, it’s usage that makes Hutton, 27, such a strange beast to assess.

A lot of that boils down to the Canucks leaning on Hutton to a staggering degree. Over 276 games from 2015-16 to 2018-19, Hutton averaged 20:20 minutes per game. Above all, the finale was startling: Hutton averaged 22:21 in 2018-19, second only to Alexander Edler. The Canucks trotted out Hutton for two more minutes per night than Christopher Tanev, who received a big contract from the Flames.

Then, in 2019-20, Hutton averaged a more manageable 18:16 TOI with the Kings. Considering the free agent market, a potential suitor might use him even more sparingly, and receive solid results.

With such wild swings in usage, Hutton’s underlying numbers are all over the place. To me, the 2018-19 vs. 2019-20 SKATR comparison really hammers the enormous difference home:

2020 NHL Free Agents still on market: Bargains, buyer beware, and more Ben Hutton
SKATR comparison via Bill Comeau

Um, how is this the same player?

Ultimately, it’s dangerous to read too much into Hutton’s far better 2019-20. Overall, his career numbers are shaky. But he’s also been severely miscast at times during his career, and in a shallow 2020 NHL Free Agent market for defensemen, maybe he could bring value on a third pairing?

Anyway, Hutton probably belongs in the section below, but I found his story too odd not to single him out.

Slim pickings, including goalies and on defense

  • It doesn’t feel like Zdeno Chara is a “true” free agent, but he must be mentioned. If he became available, there’s the risk that his name recognition would loom Chara-tall. (Still, picturing him as a depth player mentoring others? Not the worst idea ever, though far-fetched.)
  • Corey Perry: Another aging veteran with a big name. In Perry’s case, things looked dicey before some prominent playoff moments. If it’s similar to the Stars’ deal from 2019-20, at least that would be fairly low-risk.
  • Sami Vatanen‘s a player whose availability stuns many. Really, it’s not so surprising here, though. He’s struggled mightily in his end over the years, while his offensive impact has waned.

Here’s a theory on what else might hurt the Vatanens of the world: could it be that he doesn’t have as much of a place in the NHL since teams go with four forwards and one defenseman more often? If Vatanen’s main value is on the power play, is he one of the top 31 PP QBs in the NHL? If not, how valuable would it be to get him to run your second unit?

As you can see, there’s a lot of quantity on the market. In fact, sites like Cap Friendly can give you an idea of the enormity of players available in 2020 NHL Free Agency. Unfortunately, the quality doesn’t come near that quantity.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Rangers sign Filip Chytil to 4-year extension

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    Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

    NEW YORK — The New York Rangers have signed forward Filip Chytil to a four-year contract extension worth $17.75 million, locking up another member of their core long term.

    The team announced the deal Wednesday night. Chytil will count just under $4.44 million annually against the salary cap through the 2026-27 season.

    Chytil, 23, is in the midst of a career year. He has set career highs with 22 goals, 20 assists and 42 points in 66 games for the playoff-bound Rangers.

    The Czech native is the team’s sixth-leading scorer and ranks fourth on the roster in goals. The 2017 first-round pick has 144 points in 342 NHL regular-season and playoff games. He was set to be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer.

    New York already had top center Mika Zibanejad signed through 2030, No. 1 defenseman Adam Fox through 2029, veteran Chris Kreider through 2027, winger Artemi Panarin through 2026 and reigning Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Igor Shesterkin through 2025.

    General manager Chris Drury’s next order of business is an extension for 2020 top pick Alexis Lafrenière, who is only signed through the remainder of this season and can be a restricted free agent.

    Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

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    CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

    Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

    He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

    In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

    Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

    “Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

    “When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

    Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

    At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

    In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

    Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

    He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

    Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

    Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

    Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

    “We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

    Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

    But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

    “It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

    Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

    Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

    “Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

    This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

    “Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

    The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

    “I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

    The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

    “You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

    The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

    With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

    Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

    “He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

    Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

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    Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports

    BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

    Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

    “It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

    The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

    “I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

    Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

    Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

    The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

    “Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

    Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

    Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

    “I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


    The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

    During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


    Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

    Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.