THE NHL’S BEST AVAILABLE FREE AGENTS

2023-09-13 · 2 min read · NHL/Hockey
Patrick Kane and Nick Holden

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports | Jason Mowry-USA TODAY Sports

Given the NHL season is about a month away I thought it would be a perfect time to look at the best remaining free agents. In addition, I want to mention this piece has more updates than usual as it was a surprisingly busy Tuesday in the NHL. Without further ado let’s get into it.
Forwards
Patrick Kane (Age 34)
  • Easily one of the top names on the market as despite his declining game he can still be a high-level contributor. Kane had hip surgery which is believed to be delaying his signing, but he is back on the ice and reportedly looking good. There is no doubt Kane is still a skilled player and will likely cherry-pick a team he thinks can make a run. Overall Kane provided he is healthy can be a good middle six winger for a team needing speed and smarts. I could see Kane waiting until during the season to pick a team he thinks will make a run.
Tomas Tatar (Age 32)
  • Not sure why Tatar remains unsigned, He can provide good offensively and is a responsible two-way middle-six winger. Tatar enjoyed a return to form in 2022-23. He tallied 20 goals for the seventh time in his 12-season NHL career while his 48 points marked the sixth time he reached or exceeded the 40-point plateau. I know there was a bit of a cap crunch this summer, but somebody needs to sign this guy. He is too valuable a middle-six winger to stay on the market. I expect a short-term 3ish mil a year deal to come soon.
  • Update - Tatar has assigned a 1-year deal for 1.5 million with the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday
Phil Kessel (Age 35)
  • Another veteran winger who may not be the offensive focal point that once was, but Kessel is still an effective depth forward who, in a surprising twist, happens to be one of the most universally beloved locker room guys in the league. Picking up 14 goals and 36 points last year in under 13 minutes of average ice time is pretty darn efficient for a bottom winger. Kessel has also publicly declared that his Ironman streak won't be a problem, teams can rest easy knowing they won't be pressured into playing Kessel for all 82 games. Long story short if you need a depth-scoring winger and good locker room guy look no further.
Max Comtois (Age 24)
  • Likely the forward with the most upside left on the market, Comtois was originally drafted in the 2nd round back in 2017. The 6'2", 210-pounder appeared poised for a breakout performance following a 16-goal, 33-point performance in 55 games during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season. However, in the following two seasons, he struggled on a rebuilding Anaheim Ducks Squad. Injuries also hampered his performance, and he missed 16 games with a hand injury in 2021-22 and 14 games due to lower- and upper-body injuries last season. Given Comtois' youth, he still has time to reach his potential as a second-line NHL winger.
  • Update - Comtois signed a PTO with the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday
Defenceman
Nick Holden (Age 36)
  • The 6-4 defenseman brings solid size and smarts to the bottom of a team's blueline and surely would be good in a depth role. Across the last two seasons with the Ottawa Senators, Holden recorded seven goals and 35 points in 141 games. Provided he still has a little left in the tank Holden would be a smart addition to a team lacking defensive depth
  • Update - In a move I did not see coming Holden not only retired but joined the Vegas Golden Knights front office in a player development position Tuesday Evening.
Alex Edler (Age 38)
  • Edler has had a long and successful career as a capable shutdown blueliner. However, now 37, he’s coming off a year that saw him in a very limited role. While he doesn’t have a contract or tryout yet, that doesn’t appear to be Edler’s plan as he reportedly wants to suit up this year for an NHL squad. Edler spent the bulk of his 17-year NHL career with Vancouver and had a 14-year stretch that saw him average a minimum of 20 minutes per night while recording at least 20 points in 13 of those. Not too many blueliners have that type of longevity. In his last few years though Edler has struggled with injuries and last year despite good health found himself a frequent scratch. Edler could still bring smarts and leadership to the bottom of a team’s blueline though I won't be surprised if the PTO route is required here.
Goalie
Jaroslav Halak (age 38)
  • I was surprised when Halak didn't get a 1 year 1 million types of deal early in free agency. Despite not being what he once was he has been a solid sometimes great backup over the last few years. Halak needs just five wins to reach 300 and given his track record he should be presented with an opportunity to be a backup next season. I won't be surprised if it's a PTO or a battle with another goalie for it though. Yet a guy with a career 295-189-69 record, 2.50 GAA, .915 SV%, should be able to find a spot.
Honourable mentions
  • Zach Parise - Did you know that of all the unrestricted free agents still on the board, none scored more goals than Parise (21) in 2022-23? Parise is on his way out of the league, but he is healthy, inexpensive and still talented. Parise would be higher if he wasn't contemplating retirement and seemingly only open to returning to the Islanders. 
  • Jonathan Towes - Last month Towes announced he is taking a break from hockey but was clear it was a break not retirement. Yet nobody knows how long that will be a Towes has earned his right to choose. If he so desires it, he would be a valuable depth centre for a contending team.
  • Paul Stastny - Father Time caught up with Stastny last season, resulting in career lows in goals, assists, points and ice time by a wide margin across the board. There are still positives, though. Stastny crushed his sheltered depth minutes last season to the tune of a 61.1-percent expected-goals share, showing he can still keep the puck moving in the right direction; when put in the position to do so. Add in the fact he is elite in the circle winning 57.6 % of his draws, and there might still be a spot for Stastny somewhere
  • Nolan Patrick - Patrick has had a terrible career so far. He’s faced injury issues, and inconsistent production, and he’s been traded multiple times already. Now, he’s facing free agency after the Vegas Golden Knights avoided his qualifying offer. Yet this is a guy who once challenged Nico Hischier for the top spot in the draft; he deserves a shot somewhere with a good development team.
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By: Chase Howard

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