The NHL salary cap for the 2020-21 season will remain flat at $81.5 million, the same as this season, which will create a crunch for some teams who have been hopeful of re-signing some of their own pending unrestricted free agents and restricted free agents.
The free agent market traditionally opens at 12 p.m. ET on July 1, but it was pushed back this year because of the pause in the 2019-20 season due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
Here are six questions about free agency with the market one month from opening:
How will the goalie market shake out?
This is going to be the most intriguing market to follow in free agency because of the number of quality goalies who could become available.
Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals), Jacob Markstrom (Vancouver Canucks), Robin Lehner (Vegas Golden Knights) and Corey Crawford (Chicago Blackhawks) each is a pending unrestricted free agent who will be looking to retain his status as a No. 1 goalie.
Some of the top 1B/backup options in the NHL, including Thomas Greiss (New York Islanders), Anton Khudobin (Dallas Stars), Cam Talbot (Calgary Flames), Mike Smith (Edmonton Oilers) and Brian Elliott (Philadelphia Flyers) each also could become an unrestricted free agent.
Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Linus Ullmark of the Buffalo Sabres, and Alexandar Georgiev of the New York Rangers are pending restricted free agents. The Penguins likely will trade Murray or Jarry before Oct. 9.
For the Rangers, a decision on Georgiev could also come with a decision on veteran Henrik Lundqvist, who could retire, have the last year on his contract bought out, or be traded.
Will Pietrangelo and Hall stay or go?
Two of the top pending unrestricted free agent skaters are St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and Arizona Coyotes forward Taylor Hall. Each player’s current team either will or already has started to put on the full-court press to keep him.
The Blues traded goalie Jake Allen to the Montreal Canadiens, freeing up $4.35 million of salary cap space that could go to Pietrangelo, who had a $6.5 million salary cap charge on his just-completed seven-year, $45.5 million contract.
The Coyotes have reportedly met with Hall about signing a new contract, but nothing has been finalized. Hall is coming off a seven-year, $42 million contract ($6 million cap charge) he signed with the Oilers on Aug. 22, 2012.
What will the Bruins do?
The Boston Bruins have some decisions to make, especially at defenseman, where they have pending unrestricted free agents Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug.
Each has talked about his desire to stay in Boston, but it’s not clear if the Bruins have the same intentions.
Chara seems more likely to re-sign. The 43-year-old Bruins captain is not ready to retire and probably would be willing to sign another one-year contract like he’s done each of the past two years.
Krug, the 29-year-old who is coming off a four-year, $21 million contract ($5.25 million cap charge), will be harder to sign because it’ll take a long-term contract. He scored 49 points (nine goals, 40 assists) in 61 games this season.
The Bruins also need to work with forward Jake DeBrusk and defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, each a pending restricted free agent. They could impact a potential deal with Krug.
Who are some of the other top pending unrestricted free agents?
At forward, there’s Tyler Toffoli from the Canucks, Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov and Erik Haula from the Florida Panthers, Mikael Granlund from the Nashville Predators, and Ilya Kovalchuk from the Capitals. Granlund’s agent told The Athletic on Monday that he will be testing free agency and fielding offers before he considers re-signing with Nashville.
At defenseman, look out for Tyson Barrie from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Travis Hamonic and TJ Brodie from the Flames, Kevin Shattenkirk from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Sami Vatanen from the Carolina Hurricanes, and Christopher Tanev from the Canucks.
What will happen with Thornton and Williams?
Joe Thornton has played on a one-year contract with the San Jose Sharks each of the past three seasons. Williams returned to the Hurricanes halfway through this season after sitting out while mulling retirement, but he has given no indication that he will be back again next season.
The Sharks might consider it time to move on from Thornton. If so, it would probably be a short list of teams he’d be willing to sign with, but you’d have to think the Maple Leafs would be on it. The affable veteran from London, Ontario, could do wonders to ease some of the pressure on forwards Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and John Tavares.
Williams might be more inclined to retire especially after getting a taste of it in the first half of this season. If he chooses to play again, it would likely be with the Hurricanes.
Will there be offer sheets for restricted free agents?
Some pending restricted free agents could be targeted with an offer sheet by an eager general manager like Marc Bergevin of the Canadiens did with Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho last year.
The Hurricanes ultimately matched the offer sheet to keep Aho, but that Bergevin was willing to do it shows that GMs might be loosening their stance on offer sheets.
Prior to the offer sheet for Aho, the last player to sign one was Ryan O’Reilly with the Flames on Feb. 28, 2013.
The list of pending restricted free agents who could be open to an offer sheet includes DeBrusk, Islanders center Mathew Barzal, Columbus Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois, Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and center Anthony Cirelli, Stars forwards Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz, and Maple Leafs defenseman Travis Dermott.