(National Hockey Now) – The National Hockey Now wolfpack put its collective heads together over the last couple of days to come up with landing spots for the top NHL free agents. It’s pretty obvious the Vegas Golden Knights are done spending. But VGK fans will want to pay particular attention to where the remaining class ends up, including Mike Hoffman and his 30-goal potential.
Mike Hoffman – Nashville Predators
Hoffman leads the list of top NHL free agents still out there. Just one year removed from career highs in goals (36) and points (70), Nashville seems the most likely landing spot for me. Nashville Predators GM David Poile cleared a lot of space against the cap through trades and even buying out Kyle Turris through 2027-28. I believe they went hot and heavy for Taylor Hall before he landed in Buffalo. Now it makes the most sense that Hoffman should end up in Nashville, which could use his scoring touch and already has a talented cast of playmaking forwards.
Travis Hamonic – Boston Bruins
Boston lost a big key in Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara is still hanging out there (see below). While absolutely no one will confuse Hamonic with Krug, I think Boston knows that if it doesn’t have defense the team is in trouble. They still have some cap room and need to shore the back end up. Sami Vatanen is also out there and could land here, but more on that later.
Anthony Duclair – Nashville Predators
I think Duclair is exactly the type of player Poile loves because he represents someone who could be a major value. While Duclair has twice shown his ability to score 20+ goals, he continues to frustrate teams. Why would the Ottawa Senators let him go when they were clearly looking to improve (and really have) this off season? Because Duclair is a player who looks amazing when he cares, and terrible when he doesn’t. The problem is not the talent, it’s the motor. Keeping him invested and bought into the team message is key. Nashville has shown in the past a predilection for going after those types of players, hoping they pay big dividends. Duclair is no different and could head there on a prove-it contract once again, or perhaps the Preds try to show some faith with a little bit of term. No matter who signs him, it’s a crap shoot.
Sami Vatanen – Ottawa Senators
As I said above, the Senators have been splashing cash and really taking a run at a fast turnaround. Last week owner Eugene Melnyk said he sees this team winning a Stanley Cup in four years. Once I removed my eyebrows from the ceiling and took a look at what the Sens are doing, you can see that the money is following the talk. While they could use more up front as well, Vatanen can help move pucks, improve the power play and suck up ice time. Cap room isn’t the issue for Ottawa, and just because you have money doesn’t mean you should spend it. But if the Sens invest wisely they could rise to the level of playoff bubble team this year. And that’s more than most people are willing to give them.
Andreas Athanasiou – Columbus Blue Jackets
Athanasiou is the type of player that I see dropping into a John Tortorella-coached squad with little problem. When he was traded from Detroit to Edmonton, he had 24 points and an eye-popping minus-45 rating. The 24 points was still the sixth-highest point total on the Wings last year. In Edmonton Athanasiou underwhelmed with just two points in nine regular season games and none in four playoff appearances.
That said, he’s got speed and was once viewed as a highly-skilled player who could produce points. While this year’s Red Wings team is a hard sell because of just how bad they were, Athanasiou has still been criticized for his lack of defensive effort and hustle in the past. This is why I think he could really thrive under Tortorella and the Blue Jackets system. If he decides to buy into what the team is selling, he could become one of the bargains of the summer. Of course, it could all blow up quickly.
Zdeno Chara – Boston Bruins
This is the easiest call to make. While a big name, I can’t say Chara is really one of the top NHL free agents still available. Chara doesn’t want to go anywhere but Boston, and I’m pretty sure the Bruins will bring him back. To me the reason he hasn’t signed is simple: they don’t know how much they’ll have left to pay him.
I’ve seen media members criticizing the Bruins saying the deal should have been done the first day of free agency. Sure in a perfect, normal world it would have. Boston would have known far more about its options and available money. But this isn’t a normal year. The Bruins are likely still trying to nail down a free agent or two. And while as of this writing they have $7.35M in cap space with 22 contracts signed, it doesn’t mean they’re done. What if they surprise for one of the other big names still out there? If they have to spend $5-6M, then they know Chara potentially gets the rest of that and is happy with it. I can’t see him going anywhere else.
Here’s how the rest of the NHN staff voted:
|Mike Hoffman||Travis Hamonic||Anthony Duclair||Sami Vatanen||Andreas Athanasiou||Zdeno Chara|
|Adrian Dater (CHN)|
|Sheng Peng (SJHN)|
|Jimmy Murphy (BHN)|
|Joe Haggerty (BHN)|
|George Richards (FHN)|
|Christian Arnold (NYIHN)|
|Dan Kingerski (PHN)||RETIRE|