During the lead-up to NHL free agency opening on Oct. 9, we’re taking a look the top UFAs at each position. Today, we’re focusing on the left wingers who could be targeted most on the open market.
There’s a clear No. 1 and No. 2 here, and after that most of the names are likely to be targeted because of their versatility as depth scoring options.
Note: If you’re looking for players like Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Tyler Ennis, and Colin Wilson, they’re listed as centres for the purpose of this by-position exercise. While they suit up on the wing a lot and have had plenty of success doing so, we’ve ranked them at centre due to a combination of their official positional listings according to NHL.com and also took into account their versatility and potential to play down the middle. The same goes for wingers who suit up on either side — we’ll highlight the top right wingers on Thursday.
1. Taylor Hall
2019-20 team: New Jersey Devils + Arizona Coyotes | Age: 28
2019-20 stats: 16G, 36A, 52Pts in 65GP
2019-20 cap hit: $6M
In a forward class filled with depth options up front, Hall is one of a few goal-scorers with the potential to really change the makeup of whichever team signs him up.
Injuries and trade rumours stood in the way of Hall’s attempts to match his Hart Trophy-winning success of 2017-18, which saw him reach career-highs across the board (39G, 54A, 93Pts) during his second season with the Devils. His time in Arizona upon being dealt to the Coyotes was cut short and not as fruitful as both sides hoped.
While he hasn’t explicitly said as much, it feels fairly certain that Hall will be departing the desert in free agency. The winger told reporters earlier in the Coyotes’ off-season that winning is his No. 1 priority when making his decision, and Arizona looks like it might be taking a step back from its win-now mode with new general manager Bill Armstrong at the helm. Armstrong made it clear he’s on the hunt for assets, and trading Hall’s negotiating rights could be a good place to start.
2. Mike Hoffman
2019-20 team: Florida Panthers | Age: 30
2019-20 stats: 29G, 30A, 59Pts in 69GP
2019-20 cap hit: $5.1875M
As far as pure goal-scoring goes, Hoffman is as consistent as they come. He’s coming off his sixth straight season with more than 20 goals. In fact, since his first full-time NHL season with the Ottawa Senators in 2014-15, Hoffman has averaged just over 28 goals a year, with his lowest total coming in 2017-18 with 22 and his highest just one year later when he tallied 36 in his first year in Florida. He hit 70 points for the first time in his career that season, and was almost on pace to match it if not for the 2019-20 campaign being cut short.
3. Vladislav Namestnikov
2019-20 team: New York Rangers + Ottawa Senators + Colorado Avalanche | Age: 27
2019-20 stats: 17G, 14A, 31Pts in 65GP
2019-20 cap hit: $4M
Namestnikov was the embodiment of versatility this past season. Being dealt just two games into the 2019-20 campaign can’t be easy, but his success high in the lineup with the rebuilding Senators made him a strong rental candidate come February when the Avalanche came calling. The 27-year-old has played all over the lineup in the past few seasons with the Rangers, then Senators, and Avalanche, and could very easily be listed as one of the top centres available, too. That versatility will make him a popular man this free agency period for teams looking for skilled depth options.
4. Ilya Kovalchuk
2019-20 team: Los Angeles Kings + Montreal Canadiens + Washington Capitals | Age: 37
2019-20 stats: 10G, 16A, 26Pts in 46GP
2019-20 cap hit: $700,000
Montreal’s Kovalchuk experiment was a rousing success for all involved. The Russian winger was able to shake off the messy start to his season after being benched and bought out by L.A., then revived his career on a low-cost deal with the Canadiens while providing some veteran mentorship. The Habs then flipped him (amicably) at the deadline to the Washington Capitals for a third-round pick before winding up in the playoffs themselves.
The Capitals’ Kovalchuk experience didn’t result in the same kind of success, but despite that Kovalchuk should still garner some interest after showing he’s still got some goals left in him. Re-signing with Montreal would make a ton of sense, considering the mutual respect between the two sides and his ability to contribute in a depth role — six of his goals and 13 of his points on the season came during the 22 games wearing bleu, blanc, et rouge.
5. Pat Maroon
2019-20 team: Tampa Bay Lightning | Age: 32
2019-20 stats: 9G, 14A, 23Pts in 64GP
2019-20 cap hit: $900,000
Is there a luckier man in the NHL right now? Scratch that — ‘luck’ isn’t the right word. Maroon plays a heavy game, has come up clutch in big situations, and most certainly earned the success he’s had with both the Blues and Lightning.
The question should really be this: Who’s the lucky team that’s going to sign the back-to-back champ to another affordable deal? Whoever it is, they’d better start planning their Stanley Cup parade now.
6. Matt Martin
2019-20 team: New York Islanders | Age: 31
2019-20 stats: 5G, 3A, 8Pts in 55GP
2019-20 cap hit: $2.5M
Though he exceeded offensive expectations this post-season, Martin is known far more for his sandpaper style than his scoring — kind of like the Islanders. He is, after all, one third of the club’s “Identity Line” alongside Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck.
He was a physical force in the bubble and one of several reasons the Islanders were such a tough club to play against. We know general manager Lou Lamoriello likes him — the veteran boss brought him in while with the Maple Leafs, and then traded for him upon landing on Long Island. Lamoriello indicated during a media availability on Tuesday that his focus this off-season is on keeping the team together, making the idea of Martin staying put a strong one.
7. Kyle Clifford
2019-20 team: Los Angeles Kings + Toronto Maple Leafs | Age: 29
2019-20 stats: 7G, 10A, 17Pts in 69 GP
2019-20 cap hit: $1.6M
Bringing Clifford into the fold back in February was widely received as a great get for Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas as Clifford’s gritty, physical style is something for which the Maple Leafs have long searched. His affordable contract was a big win, too. However, all signs point to this relationship being a short-lived one despite the good fit.
8. Conor Sheary
2019-20 team: Buffalo Sabres + Pittsburgh Penguins | Age: 28
2019-20 stats: 10G, 13A, 23Pts in 63GP
2019-20 cap hit: $3M
Reunited with Sidney Crosby after almost two years in Buffalo, we got a dose of deja vu this spring and summer (he’s a good example of a player who’s thrived down both sides of the rink). Though, the chemistry wasn’t quite what it was back in Sheary’s rookie year in 2015-16 and then again when Pittsburgh ran it back for another Cup. His time in black and gold is likely coming to an end again, as reports indicate he won’t be re-signed. General manager Jim Rutherford promised change this off-season after another disappointing early exit, and it sounds like Sheary’s part of that.
9. Mattias Janmark
2019-20 team: Dallas Stars | Age: 27
2019-20 stats: 6G, 15A, 21Pts in 62GP
2019-20 cap hit: $2.3M
Career-highs in 2017-18 saw the Stars reward him with a $2.3-million contract, and his 25-point season saw them re-up him for the same price. Now, with a core in place we know is capable of the Cup Final, will Janmark be back in Dallas? A lengthy goal drought that dug deep into the playoffs wasn’t a great look, obviously, but his ability to draw penalties, open up play, and fit in throughout the lineup makes him a strong candidate to return — perhaps on another one-year deal for another Stars run to come.
10. Patrick Marleau
2019-20 team: San Jose Sharks + Pittsburgh Penguins | Age: 41
2019-20 stats: 11G, 11A, 22Pts in 66GP
2019-20 cap hit: $700,000
The longtime NHLer is another tricky player to list, considering he’s spent plenty of time taking face-offs and playing down the middle, and has suited up at all three forward positions. But over the course of his long career, he’s been best known (and most successful) on the left wing, and that’s where he’d most likely play should he extend his career another season or two. No doubt at the end of his career, it feels like Marleau will — and should — be picky about where he signs… and it feels like it’ll be San Jose. A short stint in Toronto saw him head North and embrace his mentorship role while contributing in a number of ways, but a trade and buyout ultimately led him back to familiar territory in teal. A deadline deal to Pittsburgh followed back in February, but he didn’t have much time to strike chemistry. Perhaps a similar setup this year — a low-cost contract, with the possibility of being a rental should the Sharks fall out of contention again — could be in store.
More left wingers to watch: Jimmy Vesey (BUF), Josh Leivo (VAN), Matt Nieto (COL), Brian Boyle (FLA)
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