The best NHL free agents remaining on the market in 2023

The NHL unrestricted free agent market this summer was never considered a massive bounty. Not for teams seeking difference-makers in a market populated mostly by supporting cast members and depth additions. Not for players seeking anything resembling blockbuster contracts, thanks to the flat salary cap.

There are still significant names remaining on the UFA market, however. They include Stanley Cup champions and some of the few game-changers available this summer. Some will sign soon; some could be waiting a while for their new deals.

Here's a glance at some of the more compelling players still on the market:

Patrick Kane, RW, New York Rangers

Age: 34 | 2022-23 cap hit: $10.5 million

NHL teams already know quite a bit about Kane's on-ice accomplishments: fourth among active players in points (1,237), one of the most dynamic right wings in recent history and a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Chicago Blackhawks.

What they need to know is how Kane will play after undergoing hip resurfacing surgery following the season to correct an issue he had been playing through for over a year and a half. Pat Brisson, Kane's agent, told ESPN that the nature of the surgery and Kane's recovery timetable have been clearly communicated to teams that have inquired about him. He should be back in December, playing for a contender on what's expected to be a one-year contract.

Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks

Age: 35 | 2022-23 cap hit: $10.5 million

Here's what we know about Jonathan Toews next season: He won't be a Blackhawk. That's about it. There remains speculation that the three-time Stanley Cup winner, who captured the Conn Smythe Trophy in Chicago's 2010 win, might just hang up his skates, as he has played through both long COVID-19 and Chronic Immune Response Syndrome. But there's also speculation -- perhaps better labeled "hope" -- that Toews could find a home in the bottom six on a Stanley Cup contender, bringing leadership and experience to a team that needs it.

But how much does he have left on the ice? Toews had 31 points in 53 games last season for Chicago but was a liability on defense, something that used to be the former Selke Trophy winner's calling card.

Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, New York Rangers

Age: 31 | 2022-23 cap hit: $7.5 million

Tarasenko said after the season that he was looking forward to experiencing free agency for the first time in the NHL. His expectations, however, weren't aligned with the flat cap landscape he walked into. Whatever he thought was coming his way contractually didn't manifest. That led to him leaving agent Paul Theofanous for Brisson and J.P. Barry of CAA during free agency, which is a very unusual move.

There were reports that he was close to signing with the Carolina Hurricanes -- who could use a player with 18 goals and 32 assists in 69 games in their top six -- but the process reset with the agent change. "We've been evaluating the market based on what we have in front of us," Brisson said. "We've had conversations with Vladdy and his wife, Yana. This isn't something we're rushing into. We're making sure that we're educating ourselves and them. We're going to hopefully make a decision in the near future."

Matt Dumba, D, Minnesota Wild

Age: 28 | 2022-23 cap hit: $6 million

Could Dumba end up back in Minnesota? "We have $800,000 of cap space left, so I don't think he's going to be an option," Wild GM Bill Guerin said. So that's a "no."

Dumba's offensive numbers took a tumble last season, with just 14 points in 79 games, but there isn't another unrestricted free agent who played more on average (21:17 per game) than Dumba did. He can play in someone's top four -- it's just a matter of what he wants to sign for and with whom he wants to play. There has been heavy speculation that the Arizona Coyotes could be a fit, because Dumba lived in the area before. The young Coyotes could certainly benefit from his experience.

Tomas Tatar, LW/RW, New Jersey Devils

Age: 32 | 2022-23 cap hit: $4.5 million

Tatar had 48 points in 82 games for the Devils last season, who essentially used his departing salary cap space in acquiring Tyler Toffoli from the Calgary Flames. His agent, Todd Reynolds, told ESPN there's a lot of interest in Tatar on the unrestricted free agent market, even as teams are squeezed under the cap.

One unique aspect to Tatar: For all the regular-season success he has had as a scoring winger, Tatar has only one goal and one assist in his past 21 playoff games. Reynolds said that concern has never been voiced to him in speaking with teams, although he didn't discount the idea that it might be a point of internal debate for some front offices.

Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins

Age: 37 | 2022-23 cap hit: $2.5 million

David Krejci, C, Boston Bruins

Age: 37 | 2022-23 cap hit: $1 million

At this point last offseason, the Bruins had a sense that Bergeron would return for his 19th NHL season. Krejci also returned, after one campaign playing in the Czech league, to bring the band back together for a Stanley Cup run. Boston set records for wins and points in the regular season ... and then lost dramatically in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to the Florida Panthers. The aftermath of that loss felt like a farewell for both veteran centers, with Bergeron admitting he had played through a herniated disc injury in the series. But could they return for one last run next season?

No one's sure, and certainly not the Bruins. The speculation since the playoffs has been that Krejci might be done with the NHL while Bergeron could return for a 20th season. Boston has minimal cap space left after signing restricted free agent goalie Jeremy Swayman and center Trent Frederic, with their space currently at $6.98 million.

"We've got to plan on that they're not coming back until we hear otherwise. We're going to give the guys the time that they need," Bruins team president Cam Neely said at the draft. "They absolutely understand [our cap situation]. We have to do our jobs too."

The Bruins brought back another star from their Stanley Cup win in 2011, signing free agent Milan Lucic on July 1. Perhaps he can help winger Brad Marchand shoulder the burden of veteran leadership on the ice if Bergeron is done. But it'll be different. Very different. Especially on the ice, where the top center on the Bruins' depth chart now might be Pavel Zacha.

Josh Bailey, C, New York Islanders

Age: 33 | 2022-23 cap hit: $3 million

Bailey became a free agent when the Islanders traded him to the Blackhawks, who bought out the final year of his contract. Dan Saraceni of Lighthouse Hockey said it best regarding the veteran forward: "For 15 years, Josh Bailey represented what the Islanders would become -- quietly solid, underrated by many, at their best in the playoffs."

Bailey had 580 points in 1,057 games with the Islanders, but perceptions of his effectiveness were warped in recent years because it didn't measure up to his cap hit. He won't have that problem on his next contract, as the best that could be said about him now is that he's a depth playmaker at forward. One team to watch, according to the Ottawa Sun, are the Senators, as Bailey played for assistant coach Jack Capuano on the Island.

Oskar Sundqvist, C/RW, Minnesota Wild

Age: 29 | 2022-23 cap hit: $2.75 million

Sundqvist played for the St. Louis Blues, Red Wings and the Wild in the past two seasons. He produced 10 goals and 18 assists in 67 games between the Wings and Wild last season, scoring a goal in his only playoff appearances with Minnesota. Sundqvist is a depth forward whose offense is usually better than his analytics would indicate, and his defense at 5-on-5 a little worse.

Ethan Bear, D, Vancouver Canucks

Age: 26 | 2022-23 cap hit: $2.2 million

Bear became an unrestricted free agent when the Canucks declined to qualify him. He underwent shoulder surgery in May, and the recovery time is six months, which certainly impacts his open-market interest. But when teams are looking for defensive help in December, Bear will certainly garner interest, having played a solid 61 games for Vancouver averaging 18:32 in ice time last season.

Pius Suter, F, Detroit Red Wings

Age: 27 | 2022-23 cap hit: $3.25 million

Suter had 14 goals and 10 assists for the Red Wings last season in 79 games. He could be a very solid depth addition for teams seeking help at forward, as a versatile player who is good for more than a dozen goals. There was talk out of Detroit that he was seeking more than a one-year contract, which might be why he's lingering on the open market. He's certainly worth a look.

Jaroslav Halak, G, New York Rangers

Age: 38 | 2022-23 cap hit: $1.5 million

Martin Jones, G, Seattle Kraken

Age: 33 | 2022-23 cap hit: $2 million

Alex Stalock, G, Chicago Blackhawks

Age: 35 | 2022-23 cap hit: $750,000

The UFA goalie landscape is rather arid. Jones, Jaroslav Halak and Stalock are the only three options with at least 25 games played last season.

The Rangers moved on from Halak when they signed Jonathan Quick from the Golden Knights, but he was a fine spot starter in relief of Igor Shesterkin. Jones had a few strong months for the Kraken and played 48 games overall for Seattle. But his numbers cratered after January, going 4-6-0 with an .853 save percentage.

Stalock was a finalist for the Masterton Trophy after an inspiring comeback season: He appeared in only one NHL game over the previous two seasons, battling through everything from post-COVID-19 myocarditis to concussions to oculomotor dysfunction, a vision problem that affects the central nervous system.

Others notable UFAs available, as of July 9 (including 2022-23 cap hit): F Jesper Boqvist ($874,125, Devils); F Max Comtois ($2.04 million, Anaheim Ducks); D Travis Dermott ($1.5 million, Canucks); RW Denis Gurianov ($2.9 million, Montreal Canadiens); F Danton Heinen ($1 million, Pittsburgh Penguins); D Caleb Jones ($1.35 million, Blackhawks); RW Phil Kessel ($1.5 million, Vegas Golden Knights); LW Denis Malgin ($750,000, Colorado Avalanche); D Patrik Nemeth ($2.5 million, Arizona Coyotes); C Tomas Nosek ($1.75 million, Bruins); RW Jesse Puljujärvi ($3 million, Hurricanes); Paul Stastny ($1.5 million, Hurricanes).