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Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Ranking biggest stars, updates on signings

With the offseason quickly approaching, it’s time to dig into the top NHL free agents of 2021.

Multiple future Hall of Famers are on the open market, along with some younger, promising players and steely veterans who could help out a legitimate Stanley Cup contender during the 2021-22 season.

Continue reading for more on the best NHL free agents available before the transaction wire really kicks into high gear in late July.

Related: NHL games today – 2022 NHL offseason calendar, NHL Draft, free agency

NHL free agency start date: Wednesday, July 28

The NHL Draft takes place on July 23, so shortly after the Stanley Cup Final ends, the offseason schedule will really kick into high gear.

On the day free agency officially opens, players can sign contracts beginning at 12 p.m. ET.

Who are the premier NHL free agents in 2021?

The NHL free agents on this list are all unrestricted, because in the NHL, many younger players become restricted free agents, but are widely expected to stay with their current teams, such as Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar and numerous others.

Some of the biggest names may simply stay put, but again, several players can be had at relative bargains and could provide the difference on a championship-winning club.

1. Alex Ovechkin, left wing, Washington Capitals

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Alex Ovechkin
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: Alex Ovechkin announced he’s re-signing with the Washington Capitals.

The 35-year-old legend has accomplished just about all you could want in a career. It doesn’t appear retirement is in the cards yet, though, and Ovechkin has made it clear publicly that he wants to remain in Washington.

2. Tuukka Rask, goalie, Boston Bruins

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Tuukka Rask
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Not often that you see a truly elite goalie hit the open market, but Rask is one of several marquee Boston Bruins free agents. Rask is probably going to stay in Boston over fellow free agent Jaroslav Halak, though. He’ll be a great mentor second-year netminder Jeremy Swayman, who was strong as a rookie in posting a 1.50 GAA across 10 starts.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Bruins, check out #NHLBruins rumors, rankings, and news here.

3. Dougie Hamilton, defenseman, Carolina Hurricanes

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Dougie Hamilton
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: Dougie Hamilton leaves Carolina Hurricanes for New Jersey Devils in free agency

With a +50 rating and 82 points over his past 102 regular-season games, it’s obvious how valuable Carolina Hurricanes blue-liner Dougie Hamilton is. At 6-foot-6 and 229 pounds, Hamilton is a physically imposing force who also has plenty of skill to his game. The Canes didn’t pay up for their star defenseman, and now he’s left the building.

4. Gabriel Landeskog, left wing, Colorado Avalanche

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Gabriel Landeskog
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: Colorado Avalanche sign Gabriel Landeskog to new eight-year contract

Perhaps no team in the NHL is as loaded and deep with offensive talent as the Colorado Avalanche. Having said that, they probably don’t want to see their captain Gabriel Landeskog leave in free agency. While Landeskog will cost a lot, he should be the club’s No. 1 priority because of his steady production and leadership in the locker room.

5. Taylor Hall, left wing, Boston Bruins

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Taylor Hall
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: Taylor Hall re-signs with Boston Bruins on a four-year, $24 million contract.

You can bet Taylor Hall was thrilled to get traded from Buffalo to Boston last season, but his future was less certain as he prepared to hit free agency once again. Hall has been on four different teams in the past two seasons, so he’ll want to settle down somewhere for the long haul. The Bruins made him a big priority, which was probably helped by Hall’s willingness to take a home discount to stick with them. In the end, everyone went home happy.

6. David Krejci, center, Boston Bruins

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: David Krejci
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: David Krejci announces he’ll return home to play in the Czech Republic

It’ll be tough for Boston to replace a steady, reliable veteran like David Krejci, but he’s turning 36 in April, and Taylor Hall and Tuukka Rask still take precedent over him. Krejci understands that, and since he’s played his whole career for the B’s, he probably would’ve spurned more lucrative offers, and taken a pay cut to remain in Beantown if he wasn’t leaving the NHL entirely.

7. Tyson Barrie, defenseman, Edmonton Oilers

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Tyson Barrie
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Edmonton Oilers are known as an offensive juggernaut, and they’ve already locked up forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the foreseeable future to complement superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Losing a weapon like Tyson Barrie might be a necessary evil, because thanks to his 48-point season, he’ll command a lot of money.

8. Philipp Grubauer, goalie, Colorado Avalanche

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Philipp Grubauer
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: Philipp Grubauer signs six-year contract to join the Seattle Kraken

Coming off a sterling career season in which he posted a 30-9-1 record with a 1.95 GAA, Philipp Grubauer will be in high demand. The thing is, Colorado probably won’t let him go. The Avs do have Landeskog and Grubauer projected to make lots of money, however, so this offseason will determine the organization’s trajectory for the next several years.

9. Kyle Palmieri, right wing, New York Islanders

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Kyle Palmieri
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Palmieri is a fine goal scorer, and after years of toiling away on the New Jersey Devils, his trade to the New York Islanders this past season led to a Stanley Cup semifinals run in which he had seven goals in 19 postseason games. Whether he remains with the Isles comes down to how the team views Palmieri’s underwhelming regular season (two goals in 17 contests) against his stellar playoff efforts.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Islanders, check out #Isles rumors, rankings, and news here.

10. Brandon Saad, left wing, Colorado Avalanche

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Brandon Saad
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: Brandon Saad signs with the St. Louis Blues in free agency

As was mentioned previously, since the Avs will probably have much of their attention on getting new contracts done for Landeskog and Grubauer, Brandon Saad may be an odd man out. He might not want to move teams for a third time in as many seasons, but Saad could use his free-agent status to explore a potential homecoming to the Pittsburgh Penguins to play in the city where he was born.

11. Zach Hyman, left wing, Toronto Maple Leafs

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Zach Hyman
Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: Zach Hyman signs seven-year contract with Edmonton Oilers in free agency

It’s quite easy to be overshadowed on a Maple Leafs club that’s headlined by the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander. Nevertheless, Zach Hyman has carved out a nice role in Toronto. While he might make more money elsewhere, it’ll be hard for Hyman to leave the Leafs.

12. Tomas Tatar, left wing, Montreal Canadiens

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Tomas Tatar
Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

A goal-scoring slump and an injury that cost him significant missed time could spell the end of Tomas Tatar’s time in Montreal. Considering the Canadiens have managed a run to the Stanley Cup Final without him, they can afford to let Tatar walk this offseason.

13. Blake Coleman, center, Tampa Bay Lightning

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Blake Coleman
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: Blake Coleman signs with Calgary Flames in free agency

Making two consecutive appearances in the Stanley Cup Final as a supporting cast member may lead Blake Coleman to aspire to bigger things in free agency. Coleman is no doubt happy to be out of New Jersey after the Devils traded him last season, but if he wants to maximize his earnings, he could be on the move to a new club again.

14. Jaden Schwartz, left wing, St. Louis Blues

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Jaden Schwartz
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: Jaden Schwartz signs with Seattle Kraken on five-year, $27.5 million deal

A decline in scoring and injuries make Jaden Schwartz an interesting free-agent case. He gives you all the energy and tenacity you’d want in a two-way forward, but Schwartz’s best hockey may be behind him. The Blues probably won’t overpay to keep him, so for Schwartz, it comes down to maximizing earnings versus loyalty to the only team he’s played for in his decade-long NHL career.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Blues, check out #STLBlues rumors, rankings, and news here.

15. Phillip Danault, center, Montreal Canadiens

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Phillip Danault
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: Phillip Danault signs six-year, $33 million contract to join Los Angeles Kings, per ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski.

Phillip Danault is an extremely physical presence who’s excellent in the face-off circle and is one of the best backchecking forwards in the game. He’ll draw interest from teams who want to shore up their defense. His lack of production as a scorer might lead the Habs to look elsewhere as they build out their depth chart.

16. Linus Ullmark, goalie, Buffalo Sabres

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Linus Ullmark
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: Linus Ullmark signs with Boston Bruins in free agency

The Buffalo Sabres have been downright awful of late, tying an NHL record by losing 18 consecutive games this past season. Goaltender Linus Ullmark has been a bright spot amid years of futility. If he lands with the right team, Ullmark may be a revelation of a starting goalie. His GAA has hovered around 2.65 over the last two years, which is impressive considering the circumstances in Buffalo.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Sabres, check out #LetsGoBuffalo rumors, rankings, and news here.

17. Paul Stastny, center, Winnipeg Jets

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Paul Stastny
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

He’s had two separate, trade-induced stints with the Winnipeg Jets, so maybe Paul Stastny will stick around this time. Stastny is a highly intelligent, skilled forward who makes up for a lack of elite physical tools with his savvy for the game. The 35-year-old is the exact type of “glue guy” you’d want for a Stanley Cup run. His free-agent market should reflect that.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Jets, check out #GoJetsGo rumors, rankings, and news here.

18. Frederik Andersen, goalie, Toronto Maple Leafs

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Frederik Andersen
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: Frederik Andersen signs with Carolina Hurricanes

Jack Campbell was so spectacular guarding the crease for the Leafs in 2020-21 (a 2.15 GAA and 17-3-2 record) that it might mark the end of Frederik Andersen’s tenure. Then again, having two viable goalies in Campbell and Andersen would be ideal for Toronto if the price is right.

19. Ryan Suter, defenseman, Minnesota Wild

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Ryan Suter
Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: Ryan Suter signs with Dallas Stars

A late addition to the free-agent pool due to a buyout from Minnesota, 36-year-old Ryan Suter showed signs of declining production last season, but the quick turnaround and tight, 56-game schedule wasn’t especially easy on veteran players. Suter may be refreshed by a change of scenery and could be a clutch blue liner and mentor for a Stanley Cup contender.

20. Nick Foligno, center/left wing, Toronto Maple Leafs

Top 20 NHL free agents of 2021: Nick Foligno
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: Nick Foligno signs with Boston Bruins

The former Blue Jackets captain will turn 34 in October and has seen his production taper off over the past few years. When Toronto traded for him, he didn’t really produce. Foligno could make more money if he doesn’t remain with the Leafs. If he really wants to win a championship, though, it’ll probably mean taking a pay cut.

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