Top 10 NHL unrestricted free agents likely to join new teams

NHL: Florida Panthers at Carolina Hurricanes
Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2023-24 NHL regular season winds down, there are several key pending unrestricted free agents who are likely playing their final games with their current teams.

Though there’s a good chance Steven Stamkos re-signs with the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers do everything in their power to bring back 52-goal scorer Sam Reinhart, there’s still going to be a flood of high-end UFAs on the open market July 1.

Such is the state of the sport, even with the salary cap rising this summer to $87.7 million, up from $83.5 million.

So, which free agents are most likely to leave their current for greener pastures and, well, more green?

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10 pending NHL unrestricted free agents likely to join new teams in offseason

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Carolina Hurricanes
Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Guentzel – F – Carolina Hurricanes

Jake Guentzel played eight seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning the Stanley Cup in 2017 and collecting two 40-goal seasons. At the end of his five-year, $30 million contract, the Penguins traded him to the Carolina Hurricanes in a cost-cutting move. Since debuting with Carolina, Guentzel is producing at a 1.45 points-per-game pace, up from 0.96 with the Penguins. As a proven playoff performer, with 58 points in 58 postseason games, the 29-year-old winger should be in line for a major raise this summer, assuming another solid playoff run.

Matt Duchene – F – Dallas Stars

Matt Duchene is a veteran skater with over 1,050 games of experience. He’s a one-time 40-goal scorer and recently hit 20 for the 10th time in his career. After being bought out by the Nashville Predators in 2023, he’s found a home with the Dallas Stars, collecting over 60 points for the fifth time in his career. As their second-line center, there’s a good chance that Dallas advances deep in the playoffs, allowing Duchene to show that he should remain with them through an extension or boost his chances of signing with a new team in July.

Sean Monahan – F – Winnipeg Jets

Sean Monahan tallied at least 30 goals three times as a member of the Calgary Flames before moving on to the Montreal Canadiens, where he scored 19 goals in 74 games (over two seasons) despite battling several significant injuries. After a strong start in 2023-24, the Canadiens traded him to the Winnipeg Jets weeks before the March 8 deadline. Ultimately, Monahan was acquired as a role player (19 points with the Jets), and his abilities in the faceoff circle, winning 54.3 percent of his draws thus far. Whether he’s a long-term fit in Winnipeg is yet to be determined, but he is playing for his next contract in the upcoming weeks.

Tyler Toffoli – F – Winnipeg Jets

Tyler Toffoli played his first eight seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, winning the Stanley Cup in 2014 while and scoring 31 goals in 2015-16. Since leaving the Kings in 2020, he’s played with five teams, including the Jets, who acquired him from the New Jersey Devils in March. Now, the three-time 30-goal scorer will be a free agent in the summer and most likely won’t stay in Winnipeg, where he has just six points in 11 games after 44 points with a struggling Devils team. As a premier goal-scorer, suitors will line up for his services because, at just 31, Toffoli already has over 250 goals.

Shayne Gostisbehere – D – Detroit Red Wings

Shayne Gostisbehere has the chance to be one of the top free-agent defensemen this offseason. As a former All-Rookie Team member, his best seasons came early in his career with the Philadelphia Flyers before he spent time with the Arizona Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes. Now, with the Detroit Red Wings, he’s reached double digits in goals for the third consecutive season and is on pace to finish the season with his best point totals since 2017-18. Despite a high plus/minus rating, the 31-year-old shouldn’t have issues re-signing with Detroit or finding another suitor for his services.

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Jonathan Drouin – F – Colorado Avalanche

Jonathan Drouin has never scored more than 53 points in a season, achieving this total twice in his career. After four injury-plagued campaigns with the Montreal Canadiens, they let him walk away as a free agent, and the Colorado Avalanche gave him a shot. Thus far, he hasn’t disappointed with 15 goals and 48 points, coming within five of setting a new personal best total. Playing alongside Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, he’s finally found a spot to contribute. On a League minimum deal, he’s due a pay increase, but after so many setbacks, Drouin has shown he can be a productive NHL player.

Vladimir Tarasenko – F – Florida Panthers

Vladimir Tarasenko is a Stanley Cup champion (2019) and six-time 30-goal scorer. After a lengthy 11-season stint with the St. Louis Blues, he bounced between the New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, and Florida Panthers. As one of the most coveted players at the past two trade deadlines, he’s netted 50 points for the second consecutive season and could win another championship if the Panthers can win the Stanley Cup this season. Considering Florida’s salary cap situation, Tarasenko could be on the move again this summer.

Adam Henrique – F – Edmonton Oilers

Adam Henrique swapped jerseys at the trade deadline, going from the 30th-ranked Anaheim Ducks to the Stanley Cup-contending Edmonton Oilers. As a seven-time 20-goal scorer and solid two-way center, he’s a key addition with the Oilers. He’s playing with Leon Draisaitl but only has five points in 13 games. Considering the salary cap constraints that Edmonton finds itself in, Henrique may change teams again in the offseason. But with a solid playoff run, he could earn a bigger paycheck.

Elias Lindholm – F – Vancouver Canucks

Elias Lindholm is a former 40-goal scorer who hasn’t played up to that potential since the 2021-22 season. The rebuilding Calgary Flames flipped him ahead of the deadline to the Vancouver Canucks. With just nine points in 22 games with his new team, he’s disappointed, which is shocking considering several other contending teams wanted to acquire him. If he fails to produce in the playoffs, he may have to take a prove-it deal in the offseason to try and regain his scoring touch that netted him 82 points just two seasons ago.

Noah Hanifin – D – Vegas Golden Knights

Noah Hanifin is another Flames player who left the club at the trade deadline. As arguably the most coveted defenseman on the market, he went to the defending Stanley Cup champions, who were desperate for reinforcements after many injuries. So far, Hanifin hasn’t scored a goal, but he has upped his assist total and continues to be a plus player. With just 27 playoff games on his resume, his performance on a team looking to repeat as champions will go a long way toward determining his next contract, whether with Vegas or in another city.

Honorable Mentions

Outside of a handful of restricted free agents like Seth Jarvis (Carolina), Lucas Raymond (Detroit), Casey Mittelstadt (Colorado), Quinton Byfield (Los Angeles), and Martin Necas (Carolina), some productive UFAs will be looking for new contracts likely in new locales, including Teuvo Teravainen (Carolina), Brady Skjei (Carolina), Chandler Stephenson (Vegas), Max Domi (Toronto), Patrick Kane (Detroit), Anthony Mantha (Vegas), Jake DeBrusk (Boston), and Tyler Bertuzzi (Toronto).

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