The NHL free-agent frenzy was back in a big way when the market opened on Wednesday. Plummeting revenues, season uncertainty and the flat cap all conspired to restrain player valuations last offseason but those concerns seem to have taken a back seat based on the amount of money that was thrown around on Day 1 this time around.
Despite many of the lucrative contracts signed, there’s still a considerable amount of talent left on the board heading into Day 2. Teams can’t expect to mine marquee pieces with what’s left but there are numerous routes to go down to get legitimate middle of the lineup help both up front and on the backend.
After scouring the names left on the board, here are the 10 most attractive targets (we won’t include Zach Parise and Kyle Palmieri given that multiple insiders have reported the two will be signing with the Islanders).
1. David Krejci
At 35, David Krejci turned back the clock with a renaissance season where he provided legitimate top of the lineup value on Boston’s second line. Krejci was a dynamite offensive force, notching 44 points in 51 games, the equivalent of 71 points over a full 82 game season. That’s mighty impressive with his 2.1 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five last season stacking up nearly identically to the likes of Brayden Point, Claude Giroux and Tyler Toffoli.
The fit for any prospective buyer will be crucial as it’s clear the Bruins were able to put Krejci in a position to succeed to unlock this production. One of the game’s most underrated playmakers, Krejci meshed well with a volume shooting winger in Craig Smith.
In addition to having a shooter, it’d be wise for a team to pair him with a winger who excels at transporting the puck up ice. Krejci was a prolific neutral zone puck carrier during his prime but his zone entry numbers have slowly tapered off over time. That was what the Bruins addressed by acquiring Taylor Hall at the deadline. Before Hall’s acquisition, Krejci had a solid 23 points in 35 games. Once Hall’s speed and dynamic puck carrying ability were added to Krejci’s left flank, the veteran pivot exploded for 30 points in 27 games between the end of the regular season and the playoffs.
Of course, Krejci wasn’t just racking up points. He was excellent on both ends of the ice which enabled the Bruins to control 58.3 percent of expected goals while outscoring opponents 29-11 during his five-on-five minutes.
Put simply, Krejci was one of the league’s best second-line centers last year.
Price matters here. Teams would be making a mistake if they expect Krejci to deliver that same near career-best performance in a new environment when he’s another year older. But if the term can be limited, there could be massive dividends to be had for a player who still has plenty left in the tank as a two-way playmaking center in the top-six.
2. Tomas Tatar
One of the most polarizing players of this year’s free-agent class, Tomas Tatar is an enigma.
In the regular season, the 30-year-old left-winger was a crucial cog alongside Brendan Gallagher and Philip Danault to form one of the best lines in hockey. In three seasons with the Canadiens, Tatar produced at a 62-points per 82 games rate in addition to being an elite play driver.
The raw point totals are impressive enough on their own but it becomes even more valuable when you keep in mind that they aren’t inflated by power-play production — he’s been one of the game’s top even-strength creators. During the last three seasons, Tatar is in some truly elite company by ranking 22nd among all NHL forwards for five-on-five points.