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Big Names and Bigger Contracts

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Written by Alexis Barton

Just a week after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup, the National Hockey League is ready to jump into their free agency. Star players from across the league are looking to make more money on new contracts, and some franchise players are looking for a change of pace with a new team. Here are some of the biggest names to keep your eye on during the 2020 NHL Free Agency. 

Alex Pietrangelo, Defenseman – After being the St. Louis Blues’ first-round pick in 2008, Alex Pietrangelo has become one of the most respected defensemen in the league.. Pietrangelo has been an incredible asset to the Blues for over ten years, but their salary cap may prevent them from resigning him if he wants to make significantly more than his current $6.5M/year contract. Pietrangelo has been recognized on a league-wide level after competing with Team Canada and leading the Blues to a Stanley Cup victory in 2019. With this kind of experience and performance, it is almost guaranteed that Pietrangelo will be looking for an increase in the average annual value (AAV) of his contract. This becomes an issue for the Blues with their current salary cap because they have a projected ~$5M in cap space, less than what Pietrangelo already makes. The Blues may opt to make a few moves to protect their captain, but there is also room for Pietrangelo to make a new start with a new team midway through his career. If he walks, the Winnipeg Jets or the Boston Bruins might be the perfect match. Both have the room to pay him more than his current contract and both have significant needs defensively. With comparable contracts found in Florida’s Aaron Ekblad and New Jersey’s P.K. Subban, look for Pietrangelo to be making $7-8.5M/year in his new contract with a new team. 

Braden Holtby, Goaltender – Braden Holtby has become a staple to the D.C. sports scene after leading the Washington Capitals to a Stanley Cup victory in 2018 as well as many other winning seasons and Conference Finals. The past two seasons, however, have not brought the same level of success for Holtby. With the rise of two younger goaltenders, Phoenix Copley and Ilya Samsonov, Holtby saw significantly less ice time in the 2019-20 season, seeing only 49 games in the regular season. Holtby’s performance was disappointing compared to years past, with a 3.11 average goals-against per game (GAA) and a .897 save percentage. His current contract makes him comparable to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Frederik Andersen or the Winnipeg Jets’ Conor Hellebuyck, but his lower performance may counteract his previous success. If Holtby dives into the free agency, expect him to find a contract worth no more than $6.5M/year, with potential suitors found in the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames. 

Taylor Hall, Left Wing – After a series of injuries and trades, former first overall pick Taylor Hall of the Arizona Coyotes has proved that he is still a valuable asset to NHL franchises as a first or second-line winger. Currently, Hall is performing incredibly well; both in New Jersey and Arizona this season, he was producing nearly a point per game (0.8 points/game to be exact). Hall has become increasingly valuable over the past few seasons as he has gained experience, but he has yet to play with a Stanley Cup contending team. Arizona does not have the salary cap space to offer Hall a new contract without making major moves in their roster, which leaves them with the choice of keeping one star player, Hall, or keeping multiple reliable players, such as Clayton Keller and Jakob Chychrun. As Hall is expected to hit the market, teams including the Colorado Avalanche and the Calgary Flames provide an excellent opportunity for him to play with a Stanley Cup contender on a short-term deal. At this point in his career, Hall has the flexibility to find a new “forever home” with a long-term deal or to find a new market for a short stint. The latter option is more likely, so expect Hall to find a new contract for 1-2 years worth $7M+ with a contending team.

The NHL Free Agency will begin on Friday, October 9th at noon.