Ranking the NHL's top 20 pending UFA defensemen
Scott Rovak / National Hockey League / Getty

The 2019-20 NHL campaign remains on pause, but it's never too early to look ahead to the offseason. With that in mind, theScore's hockey editors are evaluating the best players that could be available in unrestricted free agency, whenever that occurs.

Zdeno Chara and Jay Bouwmeester were omitted from this list because they're unlikely to switch teams if they continue playing.

Forwards | Defensemen | Goaltenders

1. Alex Pietrangelo

Jeff Bottari / National Hockey League / Getty

Handedness: Right
Age: 30
Current team: Blues
2019-20 cap hit: $6.5M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
70 16 52 24:11 52.42

Defensemen of Pietrangelo's ilk rarely hit the open market. Over the last few years, players like Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, and John Carlson all signed mammoth eight-year extensions before hitting free agency. The Blues will likely do everything in their power to get Pietrangelo locked up, but they'll have to move some money around - they have just $4.5 million in projected cap space for next season and he could demand an average annual value somewhere between $8 million and $11 million.

Pietrangelo is a bona fide No. 1 defenseman and there will be a bidding war for his services if he makes it to free agency.

2. Torey Krug

Rich Lam / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Handedness: Left
Age: 29
Current team: Bruins
2019-20 cap hit: $5.25M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
61 9 49 20:29 52.01

Krug is not a legitimate No. 1 defenseman, but he's pretty close. He's perfectly suited for the role he played in Boston, where he excelled in second-pairing minutes with plenty of offensive-zone starts while a top pairing played a shutdown role. He's also an elite power-play quarterback. As an excellent skater and rather durable player, he should age well, so a long-term contract shouldn't scare teams off at the right price (around $6 million-$8 million AAV).

3. Dustin Byfuglien

Jonathan Kozub / National Hockey League / Getty

Handedness: Right
Age: 35
Current team: N/A
2019-20 cap hit: $7.6M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
42 4 31 24:22 51.74

*2018-19 stats

Byfuglien is the biggest wild card of this free-agent class. He missed the entire 2019-20 season due to an ankle injury and a dispute with the Jets over his pay, which eventually led to the termination of his contract in April. Will the year of rest and rehab serve Byfuglien well? Or will he be a step behind when he returns? Signing him is risky, especially since defensemen in Big Buff's weight class generally don't perform well in their mid-to-late 30s. Paying a premium on a one-year deal would be a smarter move than trying to get a bargain on a multi-year pact.

4. T.J. Brodie

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Handedness: Left
Age: 30
Current team: Flames
2019-20 cap hit: $4.65M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
64 4 19 20:27 52.25

Brodie is left-handed, but he's primarily played on the right side during his nine seasons in Calgary, usually alongside Mark Giordano. Coaches and, to a lesser extent, general managers covet that type of versatility. Brodie's offensive production dipped this season - he didn't play at a 30-point pace for the first time since 2012-13. However, he's still a serviceable top-four blue-liner who can move the puck and adequately defend without it.

5. Tyson Barrie

Kevin Sousa / National Hockey League / Getty

Handedness: Right
Age:
28
Current team: Maple Leafs
2019-20 cap hit: $5.5M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
70 5 39 21:53 50.89

Barrie is a highly skilled offensive defenseman. He got off to a rough start with the Maple Leafs this season but settled in after Mike Babcock was fired, playing at a 56-point pace (over 82 games) once Sheldon Keefe took over in November. Barrie doesn't come without his flaws, as his teams routinely give up more chances than they generate when he's on the ice. He can play a top-four role, but he needs to have a coach who encourages his high-risk, high-reward game.

6. Chris Tanev

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Handedness: Right
Age: 30
Current team: Canucks
2019-20 cap hit: $4.45M

GP G P ATOI xGF
69 2 20 19:32 48.16

Tanev is the polar opposite of Barrie. His offensive contributions are minimal, but he always makes the safe, conservative play, and he defends really well despite not being very physical. His shot-suppression numbers have been outstanding his entire career, up until 2019-20. Was this season an aberration? Or is it the beginning of his decline? Tanev's also struggled to stay healthy, never playing more than 70 games in any of his 10 seasons. He could be the missing ingredient for a team that needs a steady presence on the back end, but any contract longer than three years would be incredibly risky.

7. Travis Hamonic

Derek Leung / National Hockey League / Getty

Handedness: Right
Age: 29
Current team: Flames
2019-20 cap hit: $3.857M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
50 3 12 21:12 48.55

Hamonic is much like Tanev, but at their respective peaks, he's never been as effective at suppressing scoring chances. Though he's not going to light up the scoresheet, he can serve as a quality top-four defenseman as long as he's paired with someone who thrives at moving the puck. His decline could be steep, so overpaying in the short term would be smarter than trying to get a bargain on a long-term deal.

8. Kevin Shattenkirk

Scott Audette / National Hockey League / Getty

Handedness: Right
Age: 31
Current team: Lightning
2019-20 cap hit: $1.75M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
70 8 34 18:54 55.63

Shattenkirk had a huge bounce-back season with the Lightning after a forgettable two-year stint with the Rangers. The Blueshirts bought him out with two years left on his contract, but he took a one-year prove-it deal with the Bolts and showed he still has plenty left in the tank. As long as he's on a team that embraces his offensive mentality, he can still excel in a sheltered role. He can quarterback a top power-play unit, too.

9. Sami Vatanen

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Handedness: Right
Age: 29
Current team: Hurricanes
2019-20 cap hit: $4.875M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
47 5 23 21:45 47.24

Vatanen is a well-rounded defenseman who lacks a single standout trait. He's a solid defender, but he's below average at suppressing scoring chances. He can chip in offensively, but he doesn't drive possession the way the blue-liners ahead of him on this list do. He's an above-average skater, which helps make up for his lack of size at 5-foot-10. Overall, he's simply an average second-pairing rearguard.

10. Dylan DeMelo

Jonathan Kozub / National Hockey League / Getty

Handedness: Right
Age: 27
Current team: Jets
2019-20 cap hit: $900K

GP G P ATOI xGF%
59 0 10 20:09 53.97

DeMelo is one of the youngest players on this list, which could help him land a long-term deal. He's not flashy and will contribute almost nothing in the offensive zone, but he's an extremely smart defender with good positioning and an active stick. Though he can make a decent first pass, he's better off paired with someone who can shoulder most of the puck-moving duties.

11. Brenden Dillon

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Handedness: Left
Age: 29
Current team: Capitals
2019-20 cap hit: $3.27M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
69 1 14 19:27 52.21

Dillon is a physical specimen. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder finished fourth among NHL defenseman with 194 hits this season. He brings the type of nastiness that strikes fear into his opponents - a trait that can't be measured by advanced metrics. However, it's not just the old-school crowd that appreciates Dillon; his above-average career possession numbers appeal to the analytics community as well.

12. Justin Schultz

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Handedness: Right
Age: 29
Current team: Penguins
2019-20 cap hit: $5.5M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
46 3 12 19:53 50.88

Schultz looked bound for stardom after his 51-point season in 2016-17, followed by a spectacular playoff run during which he stepped up in Kris Letang's absence and tallied 13 points in 21 games en route to Pittsburgh's Stanley Cup win. He hasn't come close to replicating that peak, though, as injuries have contributed to inconsistent play. While Schultz still has plenty of upside, there's also lots of risk involved in signing him.

13. Justin Braun

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Handedness: Right
Age: 33
Current team: Flyers
2019-20 cap hit: $3.8M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
62 3 19 17:16 50.52

Braun is a steady veteran presence who could be the missing ingredient for a young team looking to take the next step. His offensive contributions are minimal, but he excels at preventing scoring chances. He's an ideal No. 5 blue-liner, but any deal longer than two years would be risky.

14. Radko Gudas

Scott Taetsch / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Handedness: Right
Age: 30
Current team: Capitals
2019-20 cap hit: $3.35M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
63 2 15 16:44 49.44

Gudas is a human bowling ball. He's listed at just 6-feet, 204 pounds, but he's one of the league's most feared hitters. Playing him 20-plus minutes per night is not conducive to success, but he brings plenty of value in a third-pairing role.

15. Erik Gustafsson

Jonathan Kozub / National Hockey League / Getty

Handedness: Left
Age: 28
Current team: Flames
2019-20 cap hit: $1.2M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
66 6 29 20:23 45.17

Gustafsson's out-of-nowhere 60-point season in 2018-19 is starting to look like an outlier. There's still some upside, but paying him top-four money would be a dicey proposition since he can be a defensive liability. He'd be a good signing for a rebuilding team looking to catch lightning in a bottle.

16. Jon Merrill

Gregory Shamus / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Handedness: Left
Age: 28
Current team: Golden Knights
2019-20 cap hit: $1.375M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
49 2 7 18:09 55.57

Merrill is arguably the most unheralded name to crack this list, but he's a very steady third-pairing option. Even though he rarely has to go up against opposing top lines, he's proven to have a knack for limiting opponents' scoring chances. He could be a very nice bargain signing for a depth-needy team.

17. Joel Edmundson

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Handedness: Left
Age: 26
Current team: Hurricanes
2019-20 cap hit: $3.1M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
68 7 20 18:27 47.05

Edmundson is the youngest player on this list, so it wouldn't be shocking if he received a long-term deal with a modest cap hit. The 6-foot-4 rearguard has his offensive limitations, but he doesn't shy away from the rough stuff. He's a very safe No. 5 or 6 defenseman.

18. Trevor van Riemsdyk

Gregg Forwerck / National Hockey League / Getty

Handedness: Right
Age: 28
Current team: Hurricanes
2019-20 cap hit: $2.3M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
49 1 8 14:52 52.12

It took some time for van Riemsdyk to find his footing after missing the first eight games of the 2019-20 regular season due to offseason shoulder surgery. He's not physical by any stretch, but he's a smart defender who makes a solid first pass. He shouldn't be relied upon as a top-four option, but he's handled weaker competition with relative ease.

19. Mike Green

Harry How / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Handedness: Right
Age: 34
Current team: Oilers
2019-20 cap hit: $5.375M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
50 3 11 20:53 49.34

A premier offensive defenseman in his heyday, Green's production has dried up as he's gotten older. Playing for the god-awful Red Wings over the last few years hasn't helped, but Green was also miscast playing 20-plus minutes a night. He only skated in two games with the Oilers after the trade deadline, so we haven't really seen how he'd perform in a limited role. However, the playoffs should be a decent indicator of how he looks on a third pairing. We know he's still capable of quarterbacking a second power-play unit.

20. Mark Borowiecki

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Handedness: Left
Age: 30
Current team: Senators
2019-20 cap hit: $1.2M

GP G P ATOI xGF%
53 7 18 17:56 48.48

Borowiecki is a pure heart and soul guy. He gives his all every shift and is always willing to lay his body on the line. Borowiecki's not the most skilled or analytically friendly player, but he's good to have in the locker room and is a capable No. 6 or 7 defenseman.

(Analytics source: Natural Stat Trick)
(Salary source: Cap Friendly)

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Ranking the NHL's top 20 pending UFA defensemen
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