Ten NHL free agents to keep an eye on

On Saturday, the new year for the National Hockey League (NHL) begins. Several players’ contracts will expire and they will test the market. Here are ten of the many NHL free agents (as of now) who will be worth keeping an eye on.

Tyler Bertuzzi celebrates after scoring a goal to tie Game 7 of Boston's series against the Florida Panthers. He is one of several high-profile pending NHL free agents.
Michael Dwyer/AP

LW Tyler Bertuzzi

The most sought-after forward of this free agent class confirmed he will be testing free agency. The prized acquisition of the Boston Bruins at last year’s trade deadline will hit the open market as Elliotte Friedman reported.

Tyler Bertuzzi had somewhat of a down year offensively, not even reaching 10 goals on the season. It was a far cry offensively from his 30-goal campaign in 2021-22. Regardless, Bertuzzi looks to bounce back from that season with a team looking to win now.

Many teams will want to reach out to Bertuzzi. He is one of the younger free agents of this class, at 28 years old, so teams will try to sign him for around five years. Boston will look to bring him in, but they will have competition from teams in need of a top-six winger such as Edmonton, Toronto, and Colorado.

Likely contract: $6.25 million/year, five years.

RW Vladimir Tarasenko

This will likely be the last big contract the longtime St. Louis Blue will get. While not the elite sniper he once was, he can still put up solid offensive numbers. He, like Bertuzzi, will attract a lot of attention from teams looking for a winger to fill up their top six.

The New York Rangers are in no shape, salary cap-wise, to retain any of the talent they brought in at the trade deadline, especially not Vladimir Tarasenko. Tarasenko will hit the open market for the first time in his decade-long career. While his season was not a Bertuzzi-level slump, Tarasenko did not quite have his best season.

Likely contract: $6.75 million/year, three years.

LW Alex Killorn

Fresh off a career season at the ripe young age of 33, Alex Killorn is one of the more interesting free agents in this class. The longtime member of the Tampa Bay Lightning will also test the waters of free agency for the first time.

Killorn has been a physical top-six forward all his career, but only now has he put it together offensively. It comes at an awful time for Tampa Bay, too, as they are still stuck in a hellish cap crunch. Killorn will be of great value to teams looking to win a Cup within 2-3 years.

The aforementioned Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Oilers would likely be looking into Killorn, as well as other teams that may be looking to add an edge to their game. Perhaps the Harvard product looks to join Boston for one last ride in Massachusetts.

Likely contract: $4.65 million/year, two years.

LD Dmitry Orlov

A mainstay for Washington’s blue line as a 200-foot threat before joining the impending disaster of Boston, Dmitry Orlov will have a new home in mere days. The 31-year-old hit a career-high in points in his 2022-23 campaign (36) and tied his single postseason-high in points (8) in just seven games.

Many teams are in the market for a defenseman such as Orlov. A team that immediately comes to mind is Buffalo. They were one point away from breaking their playoff drought, but deep down general manager Kevyn Adams knew that team was not playoff-ready. Now will be the time to strike. All the Sabres need, though they will be without Jack Quinn for several months, is a sturdier defense and Devon Levi to be the long-term solution in net.

Orlov still has a few solid years of hockey left in him, so teams with more patience will be willing to bring him on. He will also be able to help teams win immediately, thus it seems a bidding war for him will ensue.

Likely contract: $5.15 million, three years.

LD Brian Dumoulin

Along with Dmitry Orlov, Brian Dumoulin was a reliable figure in his Metro division team’s blueline in the mid-late 2010s. As time has moved forward, Dumoulin has seen his play regress.

That isn’t to say he is still a very useful defenseman at the NHL level, he most certainly is. What this does mean, though, is teams should not expect 2016-17 vintage from him. As opposed to Orlov, Dumoulin has become more of a pure defensive defenseman as of late. Perhaps Buffalo will pursue Dumoulin instead of Orlov on account of his defensive prowess. Maybe Florida takes a stab at Dumoulin rather than opting for a puck-mover like Orlov or Shayne Gostisbehere.

Likely contract: $4 million, three years.

LD Shayne Gostisbehere

After reaching the end of his rope in Philadelphia, Shayne Gostisbehere has found new life in his career. Gostisbehere is a rare case of the Arizona Coyotes reviving a career. Though he has not quite returned to the heights of his 2017-18 campaign (13-52-65), Gostisbehere has put together back-to-back seasons of 40+ points.

Gostisbehere will be sought after by teams looking for an offensive defenseman or a defenseman in general. Compared to some other NHL free agents, though, Gostisbehere will likely get less attention (see above). A team such as Anaheim might give him a healthy contract he could not refuse. Gostisbehere turned 30 this season, he has a contract or two left.

Likely contract: $3.8 million, three years.

LW Max Pacioretty

Max Pacioretty may be one of the unluckiest people in the NHL this decade. While he still plays at nearly a point-per-game rate, injuries have hindered his career since going to Vegas. Nevertheless, his production and reputation will garner a lot of calls to his agent.

A few years ago, Max Pacioretty would have been one of the biggest NHL free agents on the market. Today, he is one of the more interesting NHL free agents. Not many teams will be willing to risk a contract longer than two years, but all Pacioretty may need is a prove-it deal.

Likely contract: $3.5 million, one year.

RW Patrick Kane

You know your career is Hall of Fame-worthy when a 21-36-57 season is considered the worst of your career. Patrick Kane will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time ever and will get serious attention on name brand alone.

After a highly-publicized trade process in which it was only a matter of time before he would join the Rangers, Kane will look to be a piece of a playoff contender. His advanced stats have sunk since the turn of the decade and not only that, he may be out through December with injury.

Regardless, whatever contract Kane gets signed to, the team he signs with will make that money back in spades off merchandise sales. To sign Kane more than two years would be a stretch, though. A three-year deal would be really pushing it.

Likely contract: $5.88 million, two years

C J.T. Compher

Another of the younger NHL free agents, J.T. Compher picked a fine time to have a career year. Compher learned the art of the assist, posting more assists this season than points in any other season.

Compher will draft significant interest as a second-line center for teams desperate to fill that gap. An immediate contender was Montreal, but they have settled on their young core of Nick Suzuki, Kirby Dach, and Alex Newhook. Will a team like Pittsburgh try to bring him in as a buffer for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin?

Likely contract: $5.4 million, five years.

C Ryan O’Reilly

The hero of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs hits free agency ready to help a team with an all-in push. While Ryan O’Reilly has seen expected regression, he will work just fine as a shutdown second-line center for a team in need of defense from their forward core.

In addition to his value on the ice, O’Reilly is a well-documented leader. Having that presence in the locker room is not tantamount to on-ice product, but still of value to teams. Nobody would like playing on a team with nobody there to give encouraging words.

Likely contract: $4.95 million, four years.

There are several free agents not mentioned in this article that are of interest. Some may have not gotten a qualifying offer, others may want be too expensive for their old team. Players’ lives and teams’ trajectories are changed forever on July 1. The next chapter of these players’ careers begins at high noon.

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