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Best NHL free agents still available for the 2021-22 season

As the 2021-2022 regular season looms near, there are a ton of NHL free agents still looking to sign with teams. While some key players come with speculation about signings, others could go just about anywhere and be valuable additions to many an NHL team.

Key players from every position are still available, and could make huge impacts with new clubs and teams, or sign significant contracts to remain with their current teams. That said, check out our list of the best NHL free agents still available for the 2021-2022 season.

Nikita Gusev

Best NHL free agents still available for the 2021-22 season
May 1, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Florida Panthers right wing Nikita Gusev (97) reacts after scoring against the Chicago Blackhawks during the second period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2019-2020 season, Gusev finally made his way out of the KHL and into the NHL, where he put up respectable numbers (especially considering he played for a far-from-great New Jersey Devils team). Then, he joined the Florida Panthers at the trade deadline, but couldn’t quite find his spot in a supremely talented, tight-knit lineup.

Nonetheless, Gusev is still young–he’s 29–and could absolutely capitalize on another opportunity in the NHL, especially on a team with someone he can pass to. His cap hit was only $1 million, making him a worthy gamble who’s proven he has the skills to round out a lineup. Among NHL free agents, he could be the lowest risk, highest reward option.

Tuukka Rask

While there are some questions surrounding the health of the Bruins netminder–especially considering his gameplay in the second half of Boston’s playoff loss to the New York Islanders–but, if he’s healthy, he’s one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, and certainly the best available option of NHL free agents.

The goaltender has a career GAA of 2.27 and a career save percentage of .921, and has a history of playoff wins. Assuming the timeline for his return is accurate and sees him 100% healed, he could be a huge addition to clubs that need some goaltending assistance.

Frans Nielsen

Best NHL free agents still available for the 2021-22 season
Feb 9, 2021; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Detroit Red Wings center Frans Nielsen (81) skates with the puck against the Florida Panthers during the third period at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the veteran forward was bought out by the Detroit Red Wings, he could still have a year or two left of hockey in him, and bring a veteran presence to a young team. The buyout means he can come at a much cheaper price (he was in the last year of a contract with a $5.25 AAV), and the no movement clause no longer applies. Among NHL free agents, he’s one of the most veteran options, and could bring a stable presence to a young locker room.

Last season, Nielsen only scored one goal and five assists in 29 games with the Red Wings, but his numbers could see a boost on a team with more win capabilities.

Zdeno Chara

Arguably the most solid veteran on the free agency list, the former Stanley Cup winner is certainly nearing the end of his career. He’s 44, which makes him the oldest active player in the NHL, but he is still capable of solid defensive play, and he comes at a cheap price. He took a $795,000 contract last year to play with the Washington Capitals, and would likely accept a similar offer this season.

Chara is especially attractive to young teams, like the Anaheim Ducks, who could use help defensively and veteran presence on the blue line and in the locker room. He could resign with the Capitals, too, but there are plenty of teams that can afford this contract and look for Chara to play stay-at-home hockey, which makes him one of the more attractive NHL free agents.

Travis Zajac

Best NHL free agents still available for the 2021-22 season
Jun 9, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; New York Islanders center Travis Zajac (14) celebrates his goal against the Boston Bruins with teammates during the first period of game six of the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of veteran presence, the 36-year old has yet to resign with the New York Islanders. Many thought he would stay after he was traded from the New Jersey Devils alongside Kyle Palmieri, but his name didn’t make the list of the Isles’ offseason signings.

He’s not the brightest offensive talent, but he has something that many other NHL free agents can’t bring: quality defensive play. He can be a solid option for a third line center, and can be trusted not to make mistakes in his own zone while eating penalty kill minutes. More attractive still, he can come at a cheap price, much like Chara, and would agree to a short-term deal considering his age.