Thehas come and gone, but the offseason movement is just getting started. Free agency starts on July 1, and buyouts have added a couple of big names to an otherwise shallow market this year.
On Friday, just one day before NHL free agency was set to kick off, the Nashville Predators bought out Matt Duchene, and the Winnipeg Jets bought out Blake Wheeler. Those two will now enter the free agency pool and give playoff contenders some options on the wing.
This free agency class won't break the bank with massive contracts, but someone like veteran forward Ryan O'Reilly can still make a difference on the right team. O'Reilly is a strong defensive presence up front, and he has plenty of playoff experience under his belt.
Other players hitting the market are a pair of players who got traded to the Boston Bruins late last season -- Tyler Bertuzzi and Dmitry Orlov. They both hit their stride in Boston and probably made themselves some money. It will be interesting to see where those two land after strong showings on a loaded Bruins team.
Those players and more will be looking for new homes when July begins, so let's take a look at some of the biggest names in NHL free agency this year.
Matt Duchene | LW
by the Nashville Predators, Duchene has joined this free agent class, and he immediately becomes one of the more appealing options on the market. Duchene didn't live up to his $8 million cap hit in Nashville, but overpaid and bad are two very different things.
Duchene is still an effective scoring winger, and he showed that in the 2021-22 season when he set the franchise record for single-season goals with 43. He did take a step back last season with 22 goals and 56 points in 71 games, but that could still be extremely valuable for a team in search of a second-line forward. If there is a concern about Duchene, it's that he can be somewhat inconsistent. In his first two seasons with the Predators, he found the back of the net just 19 times in 100 games.
Despite those questions about consistency, Duchene will have plenty of suitors because he still has ample skill, and he might take a discount because Nashville still has to pay him through the 2028-29 season. Don't be surprised to see a handful of teams mentioned in connection with Duchene.
Ryan O'Reilly | C
As a former Selke Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion, O'Reilly will get a fair amount of interest in free agency. O'Reilly has earned a reputation as one of the best defensive forwards in the game today, and he has received Selke Trophy votes in 12 of his 14 NHL seasons. In addition to his defensive acumen, O'Reilly has seven 20-goal seasons and 702 points in 991 career games.
O'Reilly did take a step back in 2022-23, with 16 goals and 30 points in 53 games, but he started the season on a very bad St. Louis Blues team. Following his trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs, O'Reilly's numbers did improve, and he showed that he still has some gas in the tank. O'Reilly is 32-years-old, so I wouldn't expect him to get a massive, long-term deal, but he can still provide value for a playoff contender at the right price.
Tyler Bertuzzi | LW
Bertuzzi is probably the most intriguing name on the free agent market this summer. When he is at his best, Bertuzzi is a pest with strong forechecking ability and some scoring touch. The issue is that Bertuzzi has struggled to put together complete seasons in the last few years.
A back injury limited Bertuzzi to nine games in the 2020-21 season, and he missed 32 games due to injury last season. In between those injury-hampered campaigns, Bertuzzi gave everyone a good look at his ceiling with 30 goals and 62 points in 2021-22. Last year, Bertuzzi got off to a slow start with the Detroit Red Wings but hit his stride after being dealt to the Boston Bruins. There, he had 16 points in 21 regular season games and 10 points in seven playoff games.
Given that this free agent market is light on productive forwards under the age of 30, Bertuzzi will likely have a handful of suitors to choose from on July 1.
Dmitry Orlov | D
Orlov is a bona fide top-four defenseman who will improve the blue line of whichever team signs him. He is coming off a career year in 2022-23, which was split between the Washington Capitals and the Bruins. Orlov probably earned himself a decent chunk of change this summer.
Orlov has always been solid in his own end, but he has shown some more offensive prowess recently. Last year, Orlov totaled seven goals and 36 points in 66 games, and 17 of those points came in 23 games with the Bruins. In addition to the point production, Orlov dominated at five-on-five in Boston. With Orlov on the ice, the Bruins controlled 58.3% of the expected goals.
This free agent class is light at every position, but especially on defense. That should create a favorable market for a strong all-around defender like Orlov.
Tristan Jarry | G
The goaltender carousel should be interesting this offseason with some big names on the trade block and Jarry hitting free agency. Jarry had his share of struggles last season, but he has shown flashes of being a star in the NHL throughout his career.
In 2022-23, Jarry posted a pedestrian GAA (2.90) and save percentage (.909), but he did save 7.42 goals above average. That was a step back from his 2021-22 campaign, in which Jarry produced a .919 save percentage and a 2.42 GAA while saving 21.1 goals above average, per Natural Stat Trick. Those numbers earned Jarry his second All-Star appearance and some Vezina Trophy votes.
There are several teams looking for a solution between the pipes, and Jarry could fill that role. Despite his inconsistencies last season, Jarry has shown that he can handle the workload of being a No. 1 netminder.
Blake Wheeler | RW
Wheeler's 13-year tenure with the Winnipeg Jets franchise ended rather unceremoniously this past year. Prior to the 2022-23 season, head coach Rick Bowness stripped Wheeler of his captaincy, and the team bought him out just one day before free agency is set to begin. Now, the 36-year-old Wheeler will look for his next landing spot on the open market.
Wheeler may not be the elite power forward he once was, but he has still produced offense even though his overall game has declined. Last season, Wheeler notched 16 goals and 55 points, and he can still be a weapon on the power play. Wheeler might give up chances to the other team, but he could help create plenty of opportunities for his own team with the right line mates.
Given his age and performance the last couple of years, Wheeler won't get a huge contract, but he might be able to take a short-term deal with a contender in hopes of winning his first Stanley Cup.
Jason Zucker | LW
Jazon Zucker was in a contract year last season, and he played like it. In his first two full seasons with the Penguins from 2020 to 2022, Zucker struggled to stay on the ice and scored 17 goals in just 79 combined games. Zucker was healthy throughout the 2022-23 season, and he probably earned a decent contract in the process.
Zucker spent a lot of time on Evgeni Malkin's wing, and he made the most of that opportunity. Zucker found the back of the net 27 times, which was the second-highest total of his 12-year career. His finishing ability will be awfully tantalizing for teams looking to acquire some middle-six scoring to their lineup.
There might be a tinge of buyer beware as it pertains to Zucker on the open market. Teams might need to be wary of overpaying for a 31-year-old scoring winger who has battled injuries over the last three seasons.
Vladimir Tarasenko | RW
Tarasenko has been on a roller coaster over the last few seasons. From 2019 to 2021, he played in just 34 games and scored a combined seven goals. In 2021-22, Tarasenko had a bounce-back year with 34 goals and 82 points, but he took another step back last year.
The St. Louis Blues traded Tarasenko to the New York Rangers halfway through the season, and he scored 18 goals in 69 total games. That's not going to blow anyone away, but Tarasenko still has enough skill to be a lethal offensive weapon. The problem is that Tarasenko's on-ice impacts were poor, on the Blues and the Rangers. Tarasenko struggled to keep his head above water at five-on-five.
It would make sense for a playoff team to add Tarasenko, but it would need an established center to play alongside him. Tarasenko may not be able to drive offense on his own anymore, but he could still put up impressive numbers in the right situation.
Alex Killorn | LW
Killorn has been a mainstay in the Tampa Bay Lightning's recent run of dominance, but it seems like his time with the franchise has come to an end. Killorn may not be the flashiest player on the market, but he can still be a strong middle-six presence for any team.
Killorn, 33, is coming off a career season with the Bolts. He notched 27 goals, 37 assists, and 64 points in 82 games. All of those are career bests for Killorn, who has earned his reputation as a tenacious forechecker for years now. Over the last two seasons, Killorn has totaled 52 goals and 123 points in 164 games. A lot of teams would love to have that kind of consistent depth scoring.
Although Killorn just had the best season of his 11-year career, he is going to be 34-years-old when the 2023-24 season begins. That may deter teams from handing him a long-term contract, but perhaps he can cash in with a higher salary over the next two to three years.
Patrick Kane | RW
The market for Patrick Kane should be fascinating. After fighting through a hip injury in the 2022-23 season, Kane elected to have offseason surgery, and he will miss four to six months. How much will teams want to invest in the 34-year-old winger without knowing how his body will respond to surgery?
Kane started last season on a Chicago Blackhawks team that was devoid of talent. Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances, Kane tallied 45 points in 54 games before his trade to the New York Rangers. Kane played 19 regular season games with the Blueshirts, and he managed to produce five goals and seven assists, but his underlying numbers didn't really improve in a better environment.
Kane is one of the best players of his generation, and he is just a year removed from a 2021-22 season in which he produced 92 points in 78 games. Kane may not have another MVP effort left in him, but he can be a difference-maker when healthy. The issue is that there's no guarantee that will be the case next season. Perhaps Kane might be better served to get healthy and join a new team once the season has already started.