An Early Look At the 2024-25 NHL UFAs

NHL Unrestricted Free Agents for 2024-2025
Photo: Inside The Rink

Between now and the trade deadline of March 8, all NHL teams must decide what to do with their upcoming unrestricted free agents. For some players, this means a trade to another team. For others, it means continuing to play the season and working towards a new contract. Some will finish the season where they are and sign with a new team once free agency begins on July 1. I have reviewed each team’s current roster and contract status for this article. Players in the AHL or elsewhere and drafted players not yet in the NHL were not considered. Several trades involving unrestricted free agents could occur between now and March 8. Some players might sign new contracts with their new team or become a “rental” to finish the season.

Coming down the stretch, playoff teams will be looking to add pieces, whether it’s a goal scorer, a physical presence, an extra defenseman, or an upgrade. Right now, there are very few teams without a realistic opportunity to qualify for the playoffs, so I wouldn’t expect many UFAs to move unless they are going to be signed by the team that trades for them. Trade activity picks up as the days get longer and the number of remaining games decreases.

The most desired UFAs appear to be playing forward. This year’s class’s cream is Sam Reinhart of the Florida Panthers. Son of Paul Reinhart, former defenseman for the Calgary Flames, Buffalo’s former number two overall pick is taking advantage of his contract year by scoring 32 goals and 23 assists for 55 points through 43 games. If he continues to score at this pace, he will be over 60 goals for the season. Sam has 16 goals on the power play and has three shorthanded, which shows he’s playing in all situations for Florida. The 28-year-old has only scored below twenty goals in one season and has broken the thirty-goal plateau for the past two seasons playing for the Panthers. Florida has ten players who will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, so it would appear that they could sign him to an extension. If he tests free agency, he will have many suitors, and the cost will be high.

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The second tier of forwards includes Elias Lindholm of the Calgary Flames and Jake Guentzel of the Pittsburgh Penguins, both twenty-nine years old. Lindholm is good for about fifty or sixty points a season, primarily as assists. He’s another forward who is responsible defensively. Calgary has a lot of decisions to make. They are in the playoff hunt and have some spending flexibility going into next season with eight UFAs. I expect Calgary to go the rebuild route and trade Lindholm, however. Jake Guentzel is an interesting case. Two of his best three seasons have been the past two, and he has two forty-goal seasons to his credit, with another possibly on the way. Guentzel benefits from playing with Sidney Crosby. Would he do as well without Crosby? Pittsburgh is tight against the salary cap and on the bubble right now regarding making the playoffs. Can they keep Jake long-term?

Teams looking for scoring down the stretch might be looking at upcoming UFAs Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vladimir Tarasenko of the Ottawa Senators, and Jonathan Marchessault of the Las Vegas Golden Knights. In a full season, Stamkos, age 33, has been good for at least thirty goals and scored sixty, albeit at age 21. The GM for Tampa recently said on record that Stamkos will not be traded before the deadline, a trade that Steven would have to approve as he has a no-movement clause. After playing his entire sixteen-year career in Tampa, I can’t see a scenario in which he doesn’t retire there.

Tarasenko, age 32, has also been a consistent thirty-goal scorer, although will need to pick up the pace to hit that threshold this season. Vladimir has a no-trade clause in his contract, so he would have to approve a trade after playing for three teams in two years. Ottawa isn’t going to make the playoffs, so if Tarasenko wants a chance to play for his second Stanley Cup, he will need to approve a trade or wait to sign with a better team next year. Jonathan Marchessault, the most recent Conn Smythe trophy winner as playoff MVP, is someone I strongly associate with the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Who can forget the Florida Panthers trading Reilly Smith for a fourth-round draft pick so that the Knights would take Marchessault in the expansion draft? Two top-six forwards in exchange for a low draft pick. The Knights went on to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first year and won it last season. Jonathan has been a consistently high twenty to thirty-goal scorer since his one-and-only season in Florida. At age 33, how much longer can he produce like this? Despite their struggles on the road, Vegas appears to have a playoff team. I don’t see him getting traded before the deadline, but I am not sure, with Vegas’s salary cap issues, that they can bring him back next season.

Related Article: What Can the Boston Bruins Do Come Trade Deadline?

The next group of players is all proven goal scorers, although only one is under thirty. Jason Zucker of the Arizona Coyotes is 32 but has produced six seasons of over twenty goals. Tyler Johnson of the Chicago Blackhawks is 33 but has also shown that he can score; however, his contributions seem to be declining, with his best years being in Tampa Bay. Teuvo Teravainen is a two-way player good for about twenty goals a year and is the youngest of the players available at 29. He currently plays for the Carolina Hurricanes. Matt Duchene has been a consistent twenty to thirty goal scorer, with his best year of 43 goals coming in 2021-22 for the Nashville Predators. He now plays for the Dallas Stars and is continuing to score. Can he keep producing at age 33?

This next set of players is a group with something to prove and is generally younger than the rest of the available UFAs. Tyler Bertuzzi is having a down year in Toronto and has been injury-prone. Can the 28-year-old former thirty-goal in sixty-eight game player rebound elsewhere? His Toronto teammate, Max Domi, has not shown what made him the 12th overall pick in 2013. The Washington Capitals gave up a lot of assets to acquire Anthony Mantha from the Detriot Red Wings in 2021. Washington sent a 2021 1st round pick, a 2022 second-round pick, plus Jakub Vrana and Richard Panik to acquire the services of the 6’5 forward. Like Tyler Bertuzzi, Mantha does not play defense well. For a man of his size, he is not overly physical. His offense has not consistently been there, although the former 20th overall pick in 2013 did have consecutive twenty-goal seasons. Sean Monahan of the Montreal Canadiens was a regular point producer for the Calgary Flames, but after a series of significant injuries, can the 29-year-old rebound? Jake Debrusk is a frustrating player to watch. He’s a swift skater with offensive skills to be a consistent twenty- or even thirty-goal scorer, but he’s streaky. He has performed well this season in other areas, but points-wise, he’s having his worst season. A change of scenery might do this 27-year-old some good. The last forward on the list is the youngest. Jack Roslovic, 26, is a Columbus native playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He scored over twenty goals once in 2021-22. A 2015 first-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets, Roslovic hasn’t developed as expected.

At defense, the upcoming UFAs do not have the depth of quality that the forwards have, but plenty of options for different skill sets. Calgary has a pair of them in Noah Hanifin at age 26 and Chris Tanev at age 34. Hanifin, the 5th overall pick in 2015 to the Carolina Hurricanes, is an offensive-minded player, albeit not overly physical. Tanev is not the offensive threat that Hanifin is, but he is a solid NHL veteran defenseman. How much longer will he play? The Flames currently have only two defensemen under contract for 2024-25. Lindholm and Tanev will likely get traded as the Flames go for the rebuild, with Hanifin the most likely to stay. David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period recently reported that an eight-year, 60-million-dollar contract offer to Hanifin has been made. For teams looking for physical defensemen, Brenden Dillon, 33, of Winnipeg, Matt Dumba, 29, of Arizona, and Nikita Zadorov, 28, of Vancouver, fit the bill. Arizona has zero defensemen under contract for next year. At the same time, the surprisingly good Canucks just acquired Zadorov and were targeting him as a free-agent signing if he made it to July 1. For teams looking for offense from the blue line, Tyson Barrie, 32, of Nashville, Brandon Montour, 29, of Florida, Brady Skjei, 29, of Carolina, and Alec Martinez, 36, could be options. Barrie is a power play specialist. Montour has been a consistent offensive threat but is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Brady Skjei is a former first-round pick of the New York Rangers and brings both size and scoring. Martinez might retire after this season, considering his age. Matt Grzelcyk might be viewed as an offensive-minded defenseman and needs to be so to be a productive NHL player. The 30-year-old has provided an abysmal contract year with six points this season. He’s not physical and is injury-prone. The last defenseman I will mention is Brett Pesce of the Carolina Hurricanes. Four of Carolina’s seven defensemen will be unrestricted at the end of the season. Brett is a solid NHL-quality defenseman at age 29.

Related Article: Will Fleury End His Season In Minnesota?

The UFA market for goalies will be very light but could be very interesting. Cam Talbot is out of contract at age 36, and with no goalie under contract for next season, the LA Kings will need to make a move or two. Does Marc-Andre Fleury want to keep playing at age 39? Fleury has no chance to pass Martin Brodeur for most career wins by a goalie, especially having played 250+ fewer games. The most interesting story is Chris Driedger. He’s been somewhat of a hockey nomad in his career, including NHL stops in Ottawa, Florida, and currently with the Seattle Kraken. On May 29, 2022, Chris tore his right ACL while playing in the World Championships for Canada. He returned for 14 AHL games in 2022-23. Joey Daccord is the likely second string to Philip Grubauer. If Dreidger can fully recover from his knee injury, he’s valuable. In 66 NHL games, he has a save percentage of 91.8% and a goals-against average of 2.42.
With the trade deadline looming, NHL executives have plenty of roster decisions to make. Players who will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season could play a major role in deciding who wins the Stanley Cup. I have covered many options, but other players could be the difference between winning and losing this season or beyond.

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