NHL Power Rankings: Top 2021 unrestricted free agents

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we are taking a look at the top unrestricted free agents for the 2021 offseason.

We are separating the players into two groups — The top skaters (forwards and defensemen, which are discussed in the video above) and the top goalies.

Leading the way for the skaters are Alex Ovechkin (who is almost certain to re-sign with his current team), Dougie Hamilton, and Gabriel Landeskog, while the Bruins will have to work out new deals for two-thirds of their newly formed second scoring line.

On the goalie list, Tuukka Rask and Philipp Grubauer lead the way.

Where do the top players land on our NHL Power Rankings?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

Top Skaters

1. Alex Ovechkin. Will he ever make it to the unrestricted free agent market? No way. But he is at this point technically an unrestricted free agent so he tops the list. The only question is how much do the Capitals re-sign him for, and for how long. He just finished a 13-year, $124M contract that turned out to be a bargain.

2. Dougie Hamiton. The best defenseman eligible for unrestricted free agency, and also one of the best all-around defensemen in the league. He should have no shortage of suitors if he makes it to market. A team like Philadelphia should be all in here. As should Carolina when it comes to re-signing him.

3. Gabriel Landeskog. Top-line, two-way player that has been a key cog for what has become the most talented team in the league. Given his status as Avalanche captain, and the role he plays next to Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen on the top line, re-signing him would have to be a priority. He will probably not be a bargain anymore.

4. Taylor HallFor the second year in a row Hall heads to the unrestricted free agent market, and his value is going to be fascinating. He had a brutal season in Buffalo on a one-year deal. He got traded to Boston and looks like the MVP player he was a couple of years ago. Put him in the right situation and he will excel. Boston seems like the right situation.

5. Ryan Nugent-Hopkns. Re-signing Nugent-Hopkins should probably be a priority for the Oilers. Their forward depth after Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is already bad. They can not afford to lose the one really good player they have beyond them. 


6. Blake ColemanI know this much: His next contract is going to be a heck of a lot larger than the $1.5M deal he plays on now. Great defensive forward that can score 20 goals and play with a mean streak. The type of player GMs go crazy over, especially in free agency.

7. David Krejci. Krejci can still play and has been great between Hall and Craig Smith. The fact he is entering his age 36 season drops him down the list a little.

8. Jaden SchwartzWhen healthy you can comfortably pencil him in for 20 goals and strong possession numbers over an 82-game season. Very good middle-six player.

9. Kyle Palmieri. Very underrated player that is a steady 25-30 goal scorer and very good defensively. Not a player that will change your franchise, but a good contributor for a contender. Only concern is the fact he will be starting his next contract in his age 31 season.

10. Tomas Tatar. One of the best possession drivers in the league with fantastic underlying numbers across the board. Probably a better player than you realize.

11. Brandon Saad. Saad never became an All-Star, but he is a great complementary piece for a contender. Good two-way player that can chip in some offense in a middle-six role.

[Related: Can Avalanche keep Brandon Saad beyond this season?]

12. Zach Hyman. He kind of gets lost in the shadow of Toronto’s superstars, but Hyman has developed into a solid winger that has been scoring at a 25-goal pace per 82 games for three years now.

13. Tyson Barrie. Buyer beware in big letters. Great offensive numbers, but he was playing in a great environment for that with McDavid and Draisaitl and on the best power play in the league. His defensive game leaves a lot to be desired. Do not pay for the point total here.

14. Phillip Danault. His offensive numbers dropped a little this year, but an outstanding defensive forward that can score 10-15 goals. Every team in the league can use a player like that in its bottom six.

15. Paul Stastny. Stastny will be 36 next season but he has not really shown any signs of falling off. Not a top-line center anymore, but if he is skating as your second or third line center you are going to have the start of a strong line.

Top Goalies

1. Tuukka Rask. Boston (the fan base, that is) has never fully appreciated what it has had in Rask. For their sake (and the Bruins’ sake), they better hope he re-signs so they do not have to find out the hard way how good they have had it.

2. Philipp Grubauer. You kind of forget about him with all of the All-Stars in Colorado at forward in defense, but he has been an extremely productive goalie when healthy. Not one of the elites, but certainly a goalie you can win with.

3. Chris Driedger. The good news: Driedger has been great when he has played the past two seasons. The concerning news: His sample size in the NHL is 38 regular season games. How bold do you want to be committing to that in free agency?

4. Linus Ullmark. The best case you can make for Ullmark is over the past three years the Sabres are 41-34-11 when he starts. They are 37-70-14 when he does not.

5. Frederik Andersen. During his peak Andersen was a very productive, extremely durable goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs that consistently took on a heavy workload. He has really started to slow down the past two years though.

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

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    Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    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

    Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

    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

    canadiens sabres
    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.

    Flyers chairman Scott to retire; Hilferty becomes successor

    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    PHILADELPHIA — Dave Scott will retire as chairman of the Philadelphia Flyers’ parent company Comcast Spectacor and be replaced by Dan Hilferty.

    Hilferty, who was recently named CEO of Comcast Spectacor, will succeed Scott as chairman of the company on April 17 and as the team’s governor on July 1.

    Scott joined Comcast Spectacor in December 2013 and the Flyers have struggled under his reign. They will miss the playoffs for a third straight season and haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975.

    “Our number one goal for the Flyers will be to consistently compete for the Stanley Cup,” Hilferty said. “It is going to be a process that will take time to get on that path, but I’m confident we are headed in the right direction with Danny Briere as interim GM, Coach Tortorella, and our hiring of a President of Hockey Operations soon. Our leadership team will be fully focused to deliver on this for our fans while also continuing to make the sports complex the best location for sports and entertainment in the nation.”

    As Chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, Hilferty will lead the company’s entire portfolio, including the Philadelphia Flyers. Spectacor Sports and Entertainment CEO Valerie Camillo will continue to work directly with Hilferty, overseeing the Wells Fargo Center, including its continued transformation, and lead the Flyers’ business operations.