Ranking The 2021 NHL Unrestricted Free Agents – Top 5 Defensemen
Carolina Hurricanes defensemen Dougie Hamilton out indefinitely after surgery on his fractured fibula.
© James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports Dougie Hamilton free agent NHL defenseman

The 2021 NHL Free Agent class for defensemen features a little of the old and new guard that has permeated the NHL. There is a good bit of offense on this list but some more defensive defensemen also.

Looking at some of these free agents makes one feel old. The quality in this class is mostly defensemen who have more offensive upside than defensive acumen. Let’s look at what may be under the hockey Christmas tree for general managers this summer.

NHL Unrestricted Free Agent Defensemen
5. Erik Gustafsson (Philadelphia Flyers)

Gustafson bounced back in the early going with seven assists before Philadelphia games were postponed. COVID threw a wrench into his offensive plans. However, the defenseman found ways to be involved offensively with the high-paced Flyers attack.

One has to ask if those last couple of seasons had been the actual fluke. The defenseman looks very much like the 60-point defender who played in Chicago. That was the same defender who had 30 power-play point potential. While Philadelphia uses him a bit differently, he has been quite effective at playing a two-way game.

Gustafsson approaches 30 but has to be considered well preserved at this juncture of his NHL career.

4. Alec Martinez (Vegas Golden Knights)

It will be a hotly contested free-agent offseason because of this one question. Do teams want Martinez and for something more than a bridge type of deal (2 to 3 seasons). Remember, the defenseman is in his mid 30’s and not getting any longer.

He already has six points on the young season and a solid amount of blocks and shots on goal. Martinez becomes a hotter commodity for his ability to fill a variety of categories. While playing with Vegas, the defender does not have to be the top guy or even on the top pair necessarily. Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo making Martinez a good bit of money is not a stretch.

3. Alexander Edler (Vancouver Canucks)

Now is the time to cause some disagreements. Edler and Martinez swapping places are quite plausible. We rank Edler a little higher because he has been Mr. Fix-It for a longer period of time. He has been a rotisserie fantasy hockey dream and a stopgap for Vancouver.

Sadly, the only problems for those interested in Edler are age and future salary. What do you pay an Edler approaching his later 30’s as a UFA? He made $6,000,000 for the 2021 season (pro-rated less than $4 million). A one or two-year deal is not out of the question for less than that $6 million AAV. At the very least someone is getting a veteran presence which can contribute at both ends among this crop of defensemen.

2. Tyson Barrie (Edmonton Oilers)

What happened in Toronto with Tyson Barrie? That will be a question not dwelled on very much longer. This is because Barrie is back to what he was producing before playing for the Maple Leafs. He has three goals and 12 points in the early going for the Edmonton Oilers. Barrie looks very much like the roving defensemen most expected him to be.

The defenseman approaches his early 30’s full of vigor but do teams take the bait and pay the defenseman a big amount?

That answer seems to be yes. It will take some work but the feeling is that a team will take a shot on Barrie with a deal of at least three or more years at an AAV higher than $3.75 million.

1. Dougie Hamilton (Carolina Hurricanes)

Are the rumors true that Carolina shopped Hamilton more than once in his tenure with Carolina? There is no doubt that Hamilton is the best unrestricted free agent in this 2021 class.

Is it a guarantee that Carolina would pay $6 million or more to Rask? Most think that he will test the market. Honestly, Hamilton says all the right things and does all the right things. The reality dictates that the Carolina defenseman will go into free agency. Teams expect that he will get paid even with the prospect of a flat cap for the next couple of seasons.

Hamilton nears the age of 29 and could easily get a six or seven-year deal in that $6-$7 million AAV range. There may be room for more dollars also. Stay tuned as they say.