The stars available at the top end of the NHL free agent market should make things interesting Wednesday afternoon.
And scratch Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog off the list, after the Avalanche captain signed an eight-year, $56 million contract late Tuesday night.
That left Colorado goaltender Philipp Grubauer and Carolina defenseman Dougie Hamilton as the top unsigned prizes capable of stirring up bidding wars if the other 31 teams can start negotiating with them once the free agency period opens.
Elsewhere, two-time Stanley Cup champion Blake Coleman is a lock to leave the Tampa Bay Lightning, and there will be no shortage of suitors interested in a gritty forward who can help get a contender over the hump.
Meanwhile, the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and expansion Seattle Kraken are among the teams that could be active with more than $20 million in salary cap space. And the Vegas Golden Knights could go big-name shopping after clearing space by trading Marc-Andre Fleury to Chicago.
“We’ll use our resources to work to make the team as strong and competitive as possible,” Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “There’s never any guarantees you’re going to be able to do the things you might like to do. There’s a lot of factors at play, obviously, when you get to free agency.”
A handful of free agents already have deals in place.
Zach Hyman got permission from Toronto to speak to other teams when the Maple Leafs knew they couldn’t afford to replace him, and he’s expected to sign long term with the Edmonton Oilers. Veteran defenseman Keith Yandle was free to talk to other teams as soon as he was bought out by Florida and has an agreement in place with Philadelphia on a $900,000 contract for next season.
Other players who were bought out, including defenseman Ryan Suter and forward Zach Parise whose stints in Minnesota are over after next season, could find homes very quickly after noon EDT. Former New York Rangers defenseman Tony DeAngelo is also in that camp and has been linked to Carolina.
The 28-year-old Landeskog was re-signed shortly before midnight EDT, when both sides faced an NHL deadline allowing players to sign eight-year contracts. Any deals struck afterward are capped at seven years.
Landeskog represents a key piece to a team coming off a President’s Trophy-winning season, before being eliminated in six games by Vegas in the West Division final. He finished second on the team with 20 goals — his eighth 20-goal season in nine years — and his 218 career goals rank sixth on the team list, and third since the Avalanche relocated to Colorado in 1995.
“We are thrilled to have our captain signed to a long-term deal,” said Avalanche GM Joe Sakic. “Gabe is the heart and soul of this team and an integral part of our organization both on the ice and in the community.”
The players whose contracts expire Wednesday will be part of a talking and signing frenzy, since the league and NHLPA eliminated the negotiation period for free agents.
“You might have a bit of a feel of where you stood with respect to a certain player,” McCrimmon said. “Now it opens with a starter’s pistol on Wednesday, so it’s a little harder to predict.”
One prediction that’s easy to make is a flurry of goaltender movement. Beyond Grubauer, former starters Petr Mrazek and James Reimer from Carolina and Frederik Andersen from Toronto are expected to be available.
Braden Holtby, the 2016 Vezina Trophy winner who backstopped Washington to the Stanley Cup in 2018, should attract interest despite being bought out by Vancouver following a down season. Same goes for Martin Jones, who struggled the past three seasons before San Jose bought him out Tuesday.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson is now looking for a replacement and should not have much trouble on that front.
“We need one more guy that I think is a quality veteran that is a stabilizer — you know what you’re going to get,” Wilson said. “There’s a few of them out there, and we’ll be exploring that.”