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10 best unrestricted free agents available in the NHL in 2019

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Ian McLaren May 14, 2019 3:44 pm 5,786

There’s no shortage of big names set to become unrestricted free agents in the NHL this summer.

The race to sign free agents begins on July 1, following a week-long courting period where teams can talk to pending UFAs.

See also

Here’s a look at the 10 best unrestricted free agents available.

1. Erik Karlsson (San Jose Sharks)

Position: Defenceman
Age: 29
2018-19 Cap Hit: $6.5 million
2018-19 Stats: 53 GP, 3 G, 42 A, 45 PTS

San Jose won’t let him get away without a fight, but this Shark might very well want to explore the open waters.

Erik Karlsson has been bit by the injury bug a bit in recent years, but he remains one of the very best at his position. There are very few high-quality defencemen available as it is, and he would be the best free agent blue liner to hit the open market since Zdeno Chara a decade ago.

2. Artemi Panarin (Columbus Blue Jackets)

Position: Left wing
Age: 27
2018-19 Cap Hit: $6 million
2018-19 Stats: 79 GP, 28 G, 59 A, 87 PTS

It’s rare that two of the best players in the game would actually be available on July 1, but John Tavares seems to have opened a can of worms last summer by foregoing Brooklyn for Toronto. While that was a bit of a surprise decision, Artemi Panarin has long thought to have one foot out of Columbus, and he – like Karlsson – will no doubt have plenty of suitors.

3. Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus Blue Jackets)

Position: Goaltender
Age: 30
2018-19 Cap Hit: $7.425 million
2017-18 Stats: 62 GP, 37-24-1, .913 SV%, 9 SO

Not unlike Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky has made it pretty clear that he’s got his eyes set on greener pastures. In fact, his downtown Columbus condo was put on the market just days after the Blue Jackets were eliminated from the postseason. He didn’t have the best regular season, but he sure proved his worth in the playoffs.

4. Matt Duchene (Columbus Blue Jackets)

Position: Centre
Age: 28
2018-19 Cap Hit: $6 million
2018-19 Stats: 73 GP, 31G, 39 A, 70 PTS

Might as well keep the Columbus exodus rolling. The Blue Jackets took a gamble by going all in at the deadline, adding Matt Duchene, among others. He appeared to enjoy the experience, which included a sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning to help the franchise win its first ever playoff series.

He’s arguably the top centre available, and will be in high demand.

5. Joe Pavelski (San Jose Sharks)

Position: Centre
Age: 34
2018-19 Cap Hit: $6 million
2018-19 Stats: 75 GP, 38 G, 26 A, 64 PTS

Let’s be honest – there’s little to no chance that San Jose general manager Doug Wilson will allow the captain to leave, and Pavelski probably doesn’t have much of an appetite to go as it is. But, an unrestricted free agent he is indeed set to become, and if there’s any sort of impasse in negotiations, a rival GM would be more than happy to off this versatile and consistent forward whatever he’s after.

6. Jeff Skinner (Buffalo Sabres)

Position: Left wing
Age: 27
2018-19 Cap Hit: $5.725 million
2018-19 Stats: 82 GP, 40 G, 23 A, 63 PTS

Jeff Skinner’s first (and only?) season with the Sabres was so impressive, he might have priced himself out of a new deal with Buffalo. Mostly playing alongside franchise centre Jack Eichel, Skinner went out there and dropped 40 goals, setting a new career high in that category while tying his personal best in total points.

7. Jake Gardiner (Toronto Maple Leafs)

Position: Defenceman
Age: 28
2018-19 Cap Hit: $4.05 million
2018-19 Stats: 62 GP, 3 G, 27 A, 30 PTS

Jake Gardiner is prone to the occasional gaffe, but he’s a very good left-shot defenceman with exceptional puck handling and skating skills. Those aforementioned mistakes have been magnified by coming in big games for the success-starved Maple Leafs, and chances are he’ll thrive outside of that bubble.

8. Kevin Hayes (Winnipeg Jets)

Position: Centre
Age: 27
2018-19 Cap Hit: $5.175 million
2018-19 Stats: 71 GP, 19 G, 36 A, 55 PTS

Highly coveted as a college UFA in 2014, Kevin Hayes is the kind of physical, scoring centre that all teams covet. So much so that the Jets coughed up several assets to acquire him prior to the trade deadline.

9. Tyler Myers (Winnipeg Jets)

Position: Defenceman
Age: 29
2018-19 Cap Hit: $5.5 million
2018-19 Stats: 80 GP, 9 G, 22 A, 31 PTS

Tyler Myers hasn’t quite lived up to the hype that came with a Calder Trophy win eight years ago. Similar to Hayes, he’ll be a hot target due to his size and strong abilities at both ends of the ice, despite not being much of an analytics darling.

10. Robin Lehner (New York Islanders)

Position: Goaltender
Age: 27
2018-19 Cap Hit: $1.5 million
2017-18 Stats: 46 GP, 25-13-5, 6 SO, .930 SV%

Robin Lehner was close to quitting hockey in light of mental health issues that at times had him contemplating suicide. The Islanders stuck with him, signed him to a one-year deal, and now he’s a Vezina Trophy finalist.

Chances are he and the Islanders will be able to work out a deal, as that off-ice relationship seems to be pretty meaningful. He could get blown away by a rival offer though, and he deserves to see what else is out there.

Other notable names

  • Joe Thornton (San Jose Sharks)
  • Jason Spezza (Dallas Stars)
  • Jordan Eberle (New York Islanders)
  • Gustav Nyquist (San Jose Sharks)
  • Derick Brassard (Colorado Avalanche)
  • Marcus Johansson (Boston Bruins)
  • Justin Williams (Carolina Hurricanes)
  • Anders Lee (New York Islanders)
  • Brock Nelson (New York Islanders)
  • Carl Hagelin (Washington Capitals)
  • Wayne Simmonds (Nashville Predators)
  • Alex Edler (Vancouver Canucks)
  • Ron Hainsey (Toronto Maple Leafs)
  • Anton Stralman (Tampa Bay Lightning)
  • Semyon Varlamov (Colorado Avalanche)
  • Mike Smith (Calgary Flames)
  • Cam Talbot (Philadelphia Flyers)
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