NHL free agency 2024: What’s every team’s biggest need ahead of July 1?

NHL free agency is less than 24 hours away, slated to open at noon ET on Monday.

Who’ll be shopping for what when the bell rings? The Athletic asked its NHL staff.

Here’s each team’s biggest need.

Top-six scorer and top-four defenseman

General manager Pat Verbeek laid out his offseason shopping list after the season ended, and the Ducks need some upgrades if they want to make a push to at the very least play consequential games next spring. Frank Vatrano scored 37 goals, but their next highest returning goal producer was Troy Terry with 20, and you can’t expect Vatrano to match last season’s output. Convincing free agents that the Ducks are ready to start moving past their rebuild won’t be easy, but there’s $33 million of cap flexibility to work with. The Ducks may not want to go long-term on a right-handed shot on defense, but there’s a hole to fill. Up front, Verbeek convinced Alex Killorn to come west after a long run with Tampa Bay. Could he somehow do the same for Steven Stamkos? They won’t want to get into the high-stakes Sam Reinhart poker game if he’s in play, though. — Eric Stephens


The Ducks need a top-six winger — which free agents or trade targets might they consider?


If Steven Stamkos has not re-signed with the Lightning, the Bruins should be at the front of the line. Stamkos has the presence and the pedigree to improve the Bruins at center. He can also play wing. Stamkos would improve the Bruins’ offense instantly. The Bruins could also look at Elias Lindholm as a Patrice Bergeron-like two-way center. Other options include Chandler Stephenson and Max Domi. — Fluto Shinzawa



Bruins post-draft free agency primer: Spending spree is coming, but on what? ‘They’re all over the place’

Top-six forward

The Sabres’ only NHL addition during draft weekend was Beck Malenstyn, who projects as a fourth-liner. Buying out Jeff Skinner creates another hole in a forward depth chart that already needed an upgrade. No-trade clauses have made trades difficult for general manager Kevyn Adams, so free agency could end up being the likeliest path to addressing this need. Steven Stamkos would be a dream target, but Tyler Toffoli, Jake DeBrusk and Patrick Kane could be other options. — Matthew Fairburn



Sabres free-agent targets: Steven Stamkos and other top-six forwards who could fit

Defensive help

Even if Oliver Kylington gets re-signed, the Flames could use a defender (particularly on the right side) to shore up their defense. Expect them to be linked to names like Tyson Barrie and Matt Dumba over the next few days. — Julian McKenzie

To stop the bleeding

The Hurricanes have so far re-signed only two of their pending unrestricted free agents — Jalen Chatfield and Spencer Martin — and have several big names seemingly heading out the door. That makes for a lot of work. Carolina has just four NHL defensemen signed right now, and the potential losses of Jake Guentzel (whose rights were traded to the Lightning on Sunday), Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Martinook and Stefan Noesen make for holes up front. The Hurricanes could use assets from a Martin Necas trade to plug two or three spots, but Carolina will probably be looking for some depth additions and perhaps a bigger name or two in free agency. — Cory Lavalette

Top-six winger to play with Connor Bedard

The Blackhawks obviously have a lot of holes to fill, perhaps including a defensive partner for Kevin Korchinski and a backup goalie. But the lowest-scoring team in the league last season desperately needs some help up top for Connor Bedard, who spent most of last season playing with Philipp Kurashev and a rotating cast of left wings that included Rem Pitlick, Nick Foligno and Anthony Beauvillier. Chicago has the cap space to vastly overpay a free agent but doesn’t want to hand out any term beyond two or three years. The Blackhawks had interest early on in Jake Guentzel, but general manager Kyle Davidson this week seemed to be trying to temper fans’ expectations. Old friend Teuvo Teravainen could be an option for the top six, but it’s possible a healthy Taylor Hall returning will be the Blackhawks’ biggest “addition.” — Mark Lazerus



What we’re hearing: Blackhawks’ trade, draft, contracts

Secondary scoring

The Avalanche’s biggest need entering free agency is secondary scoring behind the elite top of the lineup (Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar). With the uncertainty around Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin, and Jonathan Drouin still unsigned heading toward free agency, the Avs could use a scoring winger. But figuring out the cap situation to make that work will be complicated because of Landeskog and Nichushkin. — Jesse Granger


The Blue Jackets aren’t likely to go big-game hunting on July 1, but new general manager Don Waddell wants to add a veteran presence on both ends of the ice. One name to keep in mind is Sean Monahan, who will likely hit the market after splitting last season between Montreal and Winnipeg. It might help that Monahan and Jackets forward Johnny Gaudreau remain tight from their many seasons together in Calgary. The Jackets may also be in the market for a third-pairing defenseman, especially if they decline to extend a qualifying offer to Jake Bean. — Aaron Portzline

Right-shot defensemen

The Stars ended the season with nothing but question marks on their right side, with Jani Hakanpää missing extended time due to injury, Nils Lundkvist falling out of favor with the coaching staff again (perhaps permanently) and Chris Tanev a pending unrestricted free agent. Yes, Miro Heiskanen can play on the right side, and it may be something the Stars need to continue, but even with that, they need at least one true top-four defenseman, whether they tap into the free-agency market or gauge the trade winds. — Saad Yousuf

Top-six winger

Detroit hasn’t given up on trying to keep Patrick Kane, but whether it’s him or someone else, the Red Wings have a hole for a scoring forward high in the lineup. Kane was a big source of offense last season, so there is real incentive for Detroit to figure something out with the future Hall of Famer. If not him, perhaps Jonathan Marchessault or Steven Stamkos (if either make it to market) would be fits for a team that came close last season to snapping an eight-year playoff drought.  — Max Bultman

GettyImages 2049444875 scaled

The Red Wings could use Patrick Kane but might need to replace his offense in free agency. (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

Middle-six forwards

The Oilers are set at the top of their forward ranks with some combination of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl (provided he’s back), Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins making up the first line. But that quartet are four of just seven forwards under contract, plus restricted free agent Dylan Holloway. The Oilers have a decent chance to bring back their third line from the Stanley Cup Final — Adam Henrique, Connor Brown and Mattias Janmark. Even if all three pending unrestricted free agents do return, though, they could use another addition. Viktor Arvidsson is someone they’ve been linked to and is set to hit the market. The Oilers are weakest at right wing, so he’d be a good fit provided he can stay healthy. — Daniel Nugent-Bowman



Who stays? Who goes? Starting with Draisaitl, the Oilers have plenty to address

Defensive depth

The champs are in good shape with a top pair of Aaron Ekblad and Gustav Forsling, but there’s work to do behind them, especially if Brandon Montour signs elsewhere. Re-signing pending unrestricted free agent Oliver Ekman-Larsson would be a start, and Florida’s track record of turning also-rans into real contributors is impressive, but they need a piece or two. — Sean Gentille

Middle-six scoring winger

The Kings’ blueprint has been more about depth than star power, but that’s only gotten them so far. There isn’t an appetite to pull back and move into a retool, but the trade of Pierre-Luc Dubois and an increase in the cap has given them some financial flexibility they didn’t have last season to beef up a couple of positions. A reunion with Tyler Toffoli has been a popular topic, and the veteran has turned into an import scorer for a few teams. On defense, Brandt Clarke is poised to step in for the departing Matt Roy, but the Kings can upgrade from Andreas Englund on the left side. Ryan Suter could be a low-cost option after being bought out by Dallas. Or could there be another reunion with an ex-King? Alec Martinez, anyone? (Unless he’s bound for retirement.) — Eric Stephens

Top-six winger

There’s no doubt the Wild will be relying on internal improvement from Marcus Johansson, Freddy Gaudreau and Ryan Hartman after down years, but they also need to look for a top-six winger in free agency or trade, despite their limited cap space and flexibility. Here’s the problem: They want to sign somebody to a one- or two-year deal, which immediately takes them out of the running for top free agents. David Perron could be a fit. Patrick Kane would be a dream. They could also pursue a trade for somebody like Columbus’ Patrik Laine if the Blue Jackets would eat half of his $8.7 million cap hit for the final two years of his contract. — Michael Russo



Patrick Laine? Top-6 winger in free agency? Here’s what’s ahead for the Wild this offseason

Montreal Canadiens

Short-term forward help

The Canadiens don’t want to overcommit to an older player who might wind up blocking the young players in their deepening prospect pipeline, but they would like to be competitive next season and view the forward position as one that could use some immediate help to that end. The free-agent market is one way to address it, though it is generally difficult to find effective free agents willing to take shorter contracts. The Canadiens still have young defensemen available on the trade market after striking out on that front at the draft, so there are different avenues available to them here. — Arpon Basu

Difference-making forward

Two of the most enticing possibilities, Sam Reinhart and Steven Stamkos, may not actually be attainable. Chandler Stephenson could be a nice pickup — and has history with Barry Trotz. Signing him would allow Ryan O’Reilly to move down the lineup and give the Preds some actual depth down the middle. That doesn’t address the need for a dominant No. 1 center, but that’s probably going to require a trade of major significance.  — Joseph Rexrode


The Devils moved John Marino at the draft. They’re rumored to be in on the Hurricanes’ Brett Pesce, as well as the Jets’ Brenden Dillon. Either would go a long way to shoring up a defensive core that is promising but young. New Jersey could also look to add at wing.  — Peter Baugh

Top-six forward

But they’ll only get one by trading someone off the roster. The Islanders have less than $6 million in cap space to work with and still a few holes on the edges of their roster. To really get in the game on a player who could play alongside Mat Barzal and Bo Horvat, general manager Lou Lamoriello will have to move out some money first. — Arthur Staple

Top-six wing

The Rangers have long been looking for a fit alongside Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad on the top line. Jack Roslovic was not the answer after coming in at the deadline. New York has some short-term cap flexibility, but general manager Chris Drury also has to plan ahead for next summer, when Igor Shesterkin and Alexis Lafrenière are both due for big raises. What happens with Jacob Trouba in the coming days will go a long way in determining the Rangers’ cap space.  — Peter Baugh



What we’re hearing: Rangers’ Trouba trade plans, free agency

Right-shot defenseman

Earlier this week, Ottawa’s biggest need would have been in goal, but the Senators addressed that by acquiring Linus Ullmark from Boston. Now the priority for general manager Steve Staios is to land a right-shot defenseman to play in the top four. Staios could try to target the likes of Matt Roy, Sean Walker, Brandon Montour or Alexandre Carrier, who are slated to become unrestricted free agents on Monday. Failing that, he could potentially move one of his left-shot defensemen — such as a Jakob Chychrun or Erik Brannstrom — to try and facilitate landing a righty on the back end.  — Ian Mendes



What a perfect week would look like for Senators GM Steve Staios

Power-play help

There’s a decent chance that the Flyers don’t do anything when the free-agency period opens up. They certainly aren’t going to be in the market for a major addition. Still, after finishing dead last in the league in power-play percentage for the third season in a row, perhaps there’s a cheap forward option who could help give that part of their game a boost. A net-front presence, in particular, is something that they lacked last season with a man advantage. — Kevin Kurz

Bottom-six forward help

The Penguins aren’t in a great spot. They badly need depth scoring, among other things, but only have around $7 million in cap space. Kyle Dubas said on Friday that he won’t be handing out long-term deals in free agency. The Penguins are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle in a couple of one-year deals.  — Josh Yohe

Power-play quarterback

The good news is the Sharks have $31 million available in cap space, per CapFriendly, and no high-priced extensions to work out. The bad news is they’re not the most attractive NHL destination these days. Now, the possibility of Macklin Celebrini and Will Smith taking flight as their top two centers might change that dynamic, but even general manager Mike Grier conceded that he may have to overpay for a significant free agent. Fabian Zetterlund scored 24 goals this past season and William Eklund has the potential to level up, but the Sharks need scoring along with a puck-moving power-play quarterback. Grier is open to offering term but wants to keep a deal to four years. Perhaps Sean Walker or Shayne Gostisbehere are targets on defense. It’s not a great UFA market beyond the top forwards and they’ll want max term. But Tyler Bertuzzi could hit the market. Jeff Skinner was just bought out. Or what about an Anthony Duclair reunion? — Eric Stephens

Goal scoring

The Kraken’s third season was a huge setback mostly because they weren’t able to manufacture goals consistently. This is a structurally sound, hard-working team with a fair bit of depth, but it’s a lineup that’s lacking in elite talent. Some top-six support will be necessary if Seattle is going to rebound back into the mix in the Pacific Division next season. There are a variety of options for the Kraken to consider, including recently bought-out forward Jeff Skinner, who previously worked with Kraken general manager Ron Francis in Carolina.  — Thomas Drance

Strategic second-wave pickup

When Blues GM Doug Armstrong was discussing the start of free agency on Monday, he said that his team probably wouldn’t get serious until Tuesday or Wednesday. It’s not that the Blues don’t have holes to fill. It’s just that while in a retool, they’re not looking to make any significant upgrades in free agency. So they’re going to let the first wave of players pick their spots and then find out if any reasonably priced ones fit into their plan. If the team does go shopping, a third-line center or a bottom-six forward with some grit is likely on their list.  — Jeremy Rutherford

Tampa Bay Lightning

Scoring forward

The Lightning found a way to clear cap space with the Mikhail Sergachev and Tanner Jeannot trades. Now management has to find a way to carefully use it. The biggest need is a scoring forward — whether it’s Jake Guentzel, whose rights were acquired Sunday, or Steven Stamkos returning or another bonafide goal scorer. Swapping Sergachev for JJ Moser may help cut costs, but it takes away a reliable of source of offense from the blue line. That puts even more emphasis on the forward group, so Tampa Bay can’t afford to lose Stamkos or comparable production.  — Shayna Goldman

GettyImages 2150480176 scaled

The Lightning aren’t the only team that think Steven Stamkos would look good in their colors right now. (Rich Storry / Getty Images)


The Leafs took a step in this direction when they acquired the negotiating rights to Chris Tanev during Day 2 of the draft. Assuming they sign him, Tanev will check off one box for the Leafs on the right side. Ideally, they would like to add another right-shooting defender to play in the top four and potentially a third-pairing type on top of that (if the money is there). General manager Brad Treliving is determined to overhaul the defense above all else this summer. — Jonas Siegel



What we’re hearing about the Leafs’ plans for free agency, Marner

More help on the blue line

This may sound counterintuitive given that Utah made two big adds on the blue line Saturday, trading for Mikhail Sergachev and John Marino, and also signed Juuso Valimaki and Michael Kesselring to extensions in the past few days — good work considering Utah had zero defensemen under contract at the start of the week — but if the team can add another piece in free agency, it will be a serious playoff threat in its first season in its new home. Brandon Montour maybe? Given how aggressive Utah was Saturday, nothing is off the table anymore.  — Eric Duhatschek

Dynamic top-line forward

The Canucks finished the season as a top-10 offense, but goals and shots and quality five-on-five looks were incredibly difficult for this club to come by once the playoffs began. If they are going to meet their ambitions next season and become an inner-circle contender, adding serious offensive punch into the top-six mix is required. The club is expected to pursue Jake Guentzel aggressively if he hits the open market but will have to pivot if he’s headed elsewhere or doesn’t make it to market after having his rights traded to the Lightning on Sunday. It’s probably not enough, after all, for this club to merely land a quality top-six forward. If the Canucks are going to make sure they’re bringing more than a knife to a gunfight the next time they encounter the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in a playoff series, a star-level scoring forward is going to be required.  — Thomas Drance

Top-six winger

Whether it’s through extending this past season’s leading scorer and pending UFA Jonathan Marchessault or turning to the market, the Knights need a top-six winger. As of now, Vegas is great at center but has only Mark Stone and Ivan Barbashev as proven top-six options under contract. Acquiring Alexander Holtz in a trade with New Jersey on Saturday helps, but they’ll still need to add at least one more winger. — Jesse Granger



How might the Golden Knights fill their biggest offseason roster hole?

Defensive depth

General manager Brian MacLellan, who’d already traded for Pierre-Luc Dubois, said ahead of the draft that he was hoping to add another winger and a veteran goalie. Andrew Mangiapane and Logan Thompson wound up fitting the bill perfectly. The other element MacLellan mentioned that he hasn’t yet addressed is someone to change the defensive mix. A fresh left-shot defenseman in the third pair would look great. — Sean Gentille

Winnipeg Jets


Winnipeg has one star defenseman in Josh Morrissey and a top-four capable partner for him in Dylan DeMelo. Beyond that, there’s Dylan Samberg, who might be ready to attempt top-four minutes; Neal Pionk, who’s struggled in that role; and a collection of possibilities that include prospects Elias Salomonsson and Ville Heinola, third-pairing-capable veteran Nate Schmidt and Logan Stanley. Winnipeg needs someone to replace Brenden Dillon, who’s expected to sign elsewhere, at minimum. Matt Roy would be the dream unrestricted free agent, and Brett Pesce is another player whose style meets the Jets’ needs. Otherwise, Winnipeg’s options are on the trade market or on players who make it past July 1 free agency. — Murat Ates



Jets offseason defence targets: Brenden Dillon, Jakob Chychrun, more

(Top photo of Jake Guentzel: Josh Lavallee / Getty Images)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top