The 2021 NHL free-agent market is scheduled to begin at noon ET on July 28. With the 2021 trade deadline now history and the playoffs fast approaching, this is a good opportunity to evaluate the best unrestricted free agents who could be available in this summer's market.
This year's crop of pending UFAs includes one of the NHL's greatest goal scorers in Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. There's also a skillful puck-mover in Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton and a former Vezina Trophy winner in Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask.
Some of this year's UFA stars could end up re-signing with their clubs before July 28. However, there's a good chance some will become available to the highest bidder when the market opens. Here's our ranking of this year's top free agents. Performance, previous contracts and how much they could seek on their next contracts factored into this compilation.
10. Zach Hyman, Toronto Maple Leafs
Despite being overshadowed by superstar teammates such as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares, Zach Hyman is an invaluable member of the Toronto Maple Leafs core. Completing a four-year, $9 million contract, he's going to get a big raise over his current $2.25 million annual cap hit.
A hardworking two-way player who can skate at any forward position, the 28-year-old usually plays on one of the Leafs' top-two lines. He scored 21 goals in each of the past two seasons along with 40 points in 2017-18 and 41 in 2018-19. With 33 points in 43 games, he was on track for his third 40-point campaign until suffering a sprained right knee on April 19 that will sideline him at least two weeks.
How much Hyman could get on his next contract is already a topic of discussion in Leafs Nation. On Tuesday, TSN's Pierre LeBrun speculated he might have to accept something within the $4 million range to stay with the cap-strapped Leafs but could get more than $5 million annually on the open market.
9. Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins
Taylor Hall's stock has plummeted since winning the Hart Memorial Trophy with the New Jersey Devils in 2017-18. A left knee injury sidelined him for most of the following season and he struggled to regain his form in 2019-20, which he split between the Devils and Arizona Coyotes.
Signing a one-year, $8 million contract last fall with the Buffalo Sabres, Hall endured the worst performance of his 11-year NHL career. The 29-year-old left winger managed just 19 points in 37 games before the floundering Sabres shipped him to the Boston Bruins prior to the April 12 trade deadline.
Joining the Bruins seems to have rejuvenated Hall, as he tallied three points in his first five games skating alongside second-line center David Krejci. Nevertheless, he will need a strong performance over the remainder of this season and in the playoffs to bolster his sagging value in this year's free-agent market.