Predicting the Top 6 2023 NHL Free Agents Who Will Change Teams in the Offseason
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Vladimir Tarasenko will be a free agent this summer…but where will he land?Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
It’s never too early to take a look into the future and what may lay ahead this summer when it comes to free agency.
The list of players who may be available is a who’s who of star players who may or may not be ready to hang it up or change home addresses. Teams around the NHL might view a handful of players as the veteran they need to solidify their case as a Stanley Cup contender.
Teams are going to be in different stages of development, so some players might not be a fit come July. Do we think Patrice Bergeron is going to play anywhere else but Boston after this season? Of course not. Could Jonathan Toews play elsewhere if he’s healthy enough? Hard to think his Chicago career would end without a proper send-off. Everyone else available? Game on.
This list will be all unrestricted free agents because, while the most intriguing free-agent names are restricted, the (very unfortunate) truth is NHL GMs just don’t use offer sheets, even though they absolutely should.
We’ll pick out six of the most interesting players slated to be free agents and match them up with a team that could make really good use of their abilities next season. We’ll use our imagination and facts to find a match and even a little bit of gut instinct as well. It’s never too early for a taste of silly season.
Don’t like these ideas and have some of your own? We love that kind of action, so let us know in the comments what you’re thinking.
Jason Zucker to Vegas Golden Knights
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Sometimes an idea makes too much sense to be ignored.
Penguins winger Jason Zucker, while born in California, grew up in Las Vegas and became the NHL’s first-ever Nevada-raised draft pick and player. Everyone loves a homecoming story, and Zucker going home to play for the Golden Knights is a perfect match.
Vegas is going to need scoring help along the wings next season, and Zucker is on 24 goals this season after not reaching 20 for four straight injury-hit seasons. The Golden Knights have been without Mark Stone for parts of each of the past two seasons and have had injury problems continually. Managing to add more depth to the lineup is an issue GM Kelly McCrimmon has to face head-on this summer.
Zucker missed 41 games last season and 18 of the 56 games in the COVID-19 shortened 2020-2021 season, but he’s only missed four this season, and his improved health has been noticeable in his goal scoring.
All that said, nothing can salve old wounds like returning home, and Zucker coming back to the glitz and glam of Sin City could provide both him and the Golden Knights the kind of boosts they’re each looking for.
Frederik Andersen to Ottawa Senators
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Although he flies under the radar, Frederik Andersen is an outstanding goaltender with a .916 career save percentage in more than 450 games played.
“OK Joe, what’s the catch? Why would the Hurricanes let a guy like him go?”
Great question, and there are two reasons. One, they have 23-year-old rookie goalie Pyotr Kochetkov (.915 save percentage in 21 games this season) signed for the next four seasons at a $2 million cap hit. Sometimes the younger player forces their way into the discussion for more starts, and other times they make it impossible to ignore them. This situation is the latter.
The other reason is Andersen has had considerable trouble staying healthy for the past few seasons. He’s been limited to 24 games this season because of a lower-body injury and had a separate lower-body injury last April that knocked him out for the regular season and playoffs.
With Andersen seeming likely to head out the door, the Ottawa Senators could be a good destination as they move away from rebuilding and toward contending. Starters Anton Forsberg and Cam Talbot have been solid this season, but Talbot will be a free agent in the offseason, and Forsberg is out indefinitely after tearing ligaments in both knees in February. Talbot is also currently on the shelf with a lower-body injury.
Would adding Andersen to the mix next season just turn into more of the same for them? Perhaps, but Andersen’s track record and ability to perform very well in high-pressure Toronto give the Senators a reason to take a shot with him.
Vladimir Tarasenko to Washington Capitals
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Your first thought is probably something along the lines of, “Of course, you’d put the Russian guy on the team that’s been a haven for other Russian stars.”
And you’d be right! It’s irresistible to want to have Tarasenko reunited with Evgeny Kuznetsov. Yes, the two were teammates on the 2011 World Junior Championship team that won gold over Canada, and they were electric way back then. And yeah, I suppose it would be cool to have him be teammates with Alex Ovechkin, too.
After scoring a career-high 82 points in 74 games in the 2021-22 season, Tarasenko is having a bit of a down season this year with 39 points in 54 games. But he’s done well with the New York Rangers since he was traded there by the St. Louis Blues, and his production this season may mean his next contract won’t bust the budget of any team.
The Capitals have had all kinds of injuries and lackluster play among their forward group this season. Unfortunately, their cap situation next year already looks a bit fraught. The Caps would need to be creative to bring Tarasenko in and would need to send away a high earner (Anthony Mantha?) or two in order to be cap compliant to make the signing happen.
Next season could see Ovechkin break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal-scoring record, and having another Russian sharpshooter on the roster couldn’t hurt, right? And besides, as long as he’s still there, they’re going to keep trying to keep the dream of winning another Stanley Cup alive.
Ryan O’Reilly to Detroit Red Wings
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The Detroit Red Wings are really close to getting over the hump and returning to the Stanley Cup playoffs, but there are some weaknesses in their current lineup and in their pipeline in the short term. One of those areas is at center.
Dylan Larkin is the absolute No. 1 up the middle, but between Andrew Copp, Michael Rasmussen and 2022 first-round pick Marco Kasper there isn’t a lot of higher-end talent at the pivot. Joseph Veleno has played well for them this season, and Pius Suter is a solid defender, but they don’t have someone who can produce points and defend well. This is where Ryan O’Reilly would make a lot of sense.
O’Reilly would slot in perfect behind Larkin and could easily flip between the second and third line depending on how well Copp or Rasmussen are playing, and he wouldn’t be a roadblock for Kasper should be ready to jump into the NHL in the next season or two.
At 32 years old, he would give Detroit a solid veteran who’s been through everything you could think of as a player. He’s been on terrible teams, and he’s been to the playoffs and won a Stanley Cup recently. Who knows how he’ll help out the Toronto Maple Leafs once he returns from a broken finger this season, too.
Also, there’s no way you can confuse him for Detroit’s 2018 fourth round pick of the same name.
Matt Dumba to Edmonton Oilers
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The first thing you think of when it comes to the Edmonton Oilers is offense, namely Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Sometimes you think of goaltending and how it’s been a bit of a bugaboo for them the past few years. But you almost never think about their defense, and that’s where signing Matt Dumba would be a great idea.
When you look how the Oilers set up along the blue line, it’s a bit frightening. Darnell Nurse, Mattias Ekholm and Evan Bouchard are all really solid players, with Nurse especially having a great season so far. The rest of the group? Cody Ceci, Brett Kulak and Vincent Desharnais aren’t exactly household names. On the Oilers’ right side of the defense in particular, Bouchard is a superb young player, but they could use a stronger presence there to play bigger minutes in tough situations.
Dumba checks off almost all of those boxes. He’s a capable puck-handler, a strong skater and very good physically. He’s been one of the Minnesota Wild’s steadiest defensemen over the years and they’ve got a cap crunch coming the next few seasons because of the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyout penalties.
If Dumba hits the open market, Oilers GM Ken Holland should run to his front door to make sure they can sign him. And if the Oilers aren’t able to go deep in the playoffs this season, the pressure will be even greater than it is now to make sure they can get McDavid the chance to win a Stanley Cup.
Patrick Kane to Dallas Stars
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Patrick Kane owned the choice of where he would be traded from Chicago. Choosing the New York Rangers let him move back east, where his family is (Buffalo) and give him the chance to win a Stanley Cup with the Broadway Blueshirts.
When he becomes a free agent this summer, however, he’ll be able to widen his scope of where he’d like to play and have the ultimate say once again among interested teams. He’d probably love to sign with his hometown Sabres, but they’re not the right fit at the moment.
While Buffalo is still in contention for the playoffs this season, the team might be a couple of years away from true Stanley Cup consideration. At 34 years old, Kane will be looking for teams that are already Cup contenders.
How about the Dallas Stars, though?
In Dallas, Kane wouldn’t be asked to take on the burden of being the top-scoring forward, as the Stars have four forwards with over 60 points.
He struggles on the defensive side, but if his offensive talents can spark more goals from the solid defensive forwards he’d line up with, that’d be a great way to make a dangerous team more difficult to beat.
There was speculation the Stars would kick the tires on acquiring Kane at the deadline, but Kane essentially saying New York City or bust cut them out of the loop. But if the Stars can convince him, it’s a situation that might just be beneficial.