Ranking the top 25 NHL free agents

The July NHL free agency signing period has the potential to be extremely busy.

First, the salary cap will significantly increase — the NHL announced this month that it will rise from $83.5 million to $88 million — so there is more money to spend.

But there also are a lot of players available. Because the salary cap had only modest increases in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many veteran players had opted for one-year deals last summer.

The unrestricted free agent signing period opens at noon on Monday. Here’s an early look at the top players who could be available:

1. Forward Jake Guentzel, Carolina Hurricanes

He was the prize of the trade deadline and the Hurricanes gave up Michael Bunting, three prospects and two draft picks to land him. He had 25 points in 17 games after arriving, plus nine points in 11 playoff games. The former Sidney Crosby linemate is a proven playoff scorer and fits in well alongside star players. The Lightning acquired his rights on Sunday for a third-round pick and they now have the cap space to sign him after Saturday’s trades.

2. Forward Sam Reinhart, Florida Panthers

He had the perfect contract year performance, a career-best 57 goals and another 10 goals during a run to the Stanley Cup title. He had the Cup-clinching goal. In addition to the goals, he finished fourth in Selke Trophy voting.

3. Forward Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning put off negotiations until the offseason but the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement. The captain recorded his seventh 40-goal season and had five goals in the Lightning’s first-round loss.

4. Defenseman Brandon Montour, Florida Panthers

His numbers dropped because of offseason surgery but he scored 73 points in 2022-23 and has played in eight playoff series over the past two seasons.

5. Forward Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights

He was voted playoff MVP in 2023 and had his first 40-goal season in 2023-24.

6. Forward Elias Lindholm, Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks gave up a lot to land Lindholm and he had a so-so stretch run and a much better playoffs. He topped 40 goals two seasons ago and also was a finalist for the Selke Trophy.

7. Forward Matt Duchene, Dallas Stars

8. Patrick Kane, Detroit Red Wings

He proved himself in his return from hip resurfacing surgery, averaging nearly a point a game. He won three Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks.

9. Defenseman Brady Skjei, Carolina Hurricanes

He had 18 goals a season ago and a career-best 47 points this season.

10. Forward Tyler Toffoli, Winnipeg Jets

A consistent 20-goal scorer who topped 30 the past two seasons. He won a Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2014 but has bounced around a lot in recent years.

11. Forward Chandler Stephenson, Vegas Golden Knights

He’s versatile and has won two Stanley Cup titles. He had 20 points in 22 games during Vegas’ Cup run.

12. Forward Tyler Bertuzzi, Toronto Maple Leafs

He provides goals (20 or more four times) and grit. He is an agitator.

13. Defenseman Brett Pesce, Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes have a deep defense, but many UFAs. Pesce is a solid right-shot defenseman.

14. Defenseman Chris Tanev, Dallas Stars

He finished third in blocked shots during the regular season and was first in the playoffs. His arrival at the trade deadline helped the Stars reach the Western Conference final for the second year in a row. The Stars traded his rights to the Maple Leafs during the draft, so they’ll get an early chance to negotiate.

15. Defenseman Nikita Zadorov, Vancouver Canucks

The 6-foot-6, 248-pound defenseman plays a rugged style. His four playoff goals will draw attention.

16. Forward Jonathan Drouin, Colorado Avalanche

He had his best season (56 points) playing on the same team with junior hockey linemate Nathan MacKinnon.

17. Defenseman Matt Roy, Los Angeles Kings

He killed penalties on the league’s No. 2-ranked unit, led the Kings in blocked shots and was second in hits.

18. Forward Sean Monahan, Winnipeg Jets

Health is a concern, but he played every game last season, plus an additional one because of a trade. He finished with 26 goals and 59 points and looked good after he was dealt to Winnipeg.

19. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Florida Panthers

He was bought out by the Canucks and landed on a Panthers team that was dealing with injuries on defense and fit in nicely. He moved up to the top power play unit late in the playoffs.

20. Forward Teuvo Teravainen, Carolina Hurricanes

He has alternated good and bad seasons since 2019-20, but he had 25 goals this season.

21. Forward Vladimir Tarasenko, Florida Panthers

He has a house in Florida and waived his no-trade clause to join the Panthers. They could be a good home for him next season.

22. Forward Warren Foegele, Edmonton Oilers

He had a career-best 20 goals and put together a four-game point streak in the Cup Final. The versatile forward can move up and down the lineup.

23. Forward Jake DeBrusk, Boston Bruins

He often has been mentioned in trade rumors and now gets to be a free agent at 27. He has averaged about 24 goals the past three seasons.

24. Forward Adam Henrique, Edmonton Oilers

The playoff run will help his cause. So will his penalty killing and secondary scoring.

25. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, Detroit Red Wings

His play is his own end isn’t the greatest, but he did have 56 points this past season, including 29 on the power play.

Others to watch

Forwards: Viktor Arvidsson, Kings; Jason Zucker, Predators; David Perron, Red Wings; Max Pacioretty, Capitals; Jeff Skinner, Sabres

Defensemen: Brenden Dillon, Jets; Alec Martinez, Golden Knights; Matt Walker, Avalanche; Dmitry Kulikov, Panthers; Alexandre Carrier, Predators

Goaltenders: Ilya Samsonov, Maple Leafs; Casey DeSmith, Canucks; Cam Talbot, Kings; Anthony Stolarz, Panthers; Laurent Brossoit, Jets

Note: Max Domi, originally No. 18 on this list, re-signed with the Maple Leafs for four years, $15 million.

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