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Predicting where the NHL's top pending UFAs will sign

Julian Catalfo / theScore

Much has been made of this summer's relatively weak crop of unrestricted free agents, but regardless of the lack of star power, there are two key points to remember about the 2023 open market.

First, everyone has to sign somewhere no matter the perceived talent level. Second, a free-agent frenzy without a headliner available won't stop hockey fans from debating the merits of each team's signings deep into the dog days of summer. We might as well embrace it.

Below, we take a crack at predicting where this year's most notable free agents may end up. The order of each player's appearance on the list is based on our 2023 UFA rankings, and for the sake of excitement, we picked new homes for each entry while limiting suitors to three, even though several players are likely to have more.

Dmitry Orlov

Age: 31
2022-23: stats: 66 GP, 7 G, 29 A
Potential suitors: Avalanche, Sabres, Panthers

Orlov is arguably the most impactful player available on the open market and could slot in to virtually any team's top four. He was reportedly eyeing a seven-year extension with the Washington Capitals before he was dealt to the Boston Bruins before the deadline, and a similar stance could make some suitors balk as Orlov will be 32 by puck drop in October. If term isn't a sticking point, Orlov should sign one of the summer's richest deals as a swift-skating, minute-munching, physical blue-liner with offensive upside.

Prediction 🔮: Panthers for five years, $31 million. Florida has $10 million in cap space and currently only has four defensemen signed. Two of them, Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour, suffered injuries in the playoffs that could leak into next season.

Tyler Bertuzzi

Richard T Gagnon / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 28
2022-23 stats: 50 GP, 8 G, 22 A
Potential suitors: Hurricanes, Maple Leafs, Kraken

Picking three options for Bertuzzi was a tricky task, as all 32 teams would take a player of his ilk in a heartbeat. The gritty winger is a pain to play against and is only one season removed from a 30-goal campaign. His 10-point effort in Boston's lone playoff series certainly helped his stock heading into free agency.

Prediction 🔮: Kraken for six years, $33 million. Seattle is one of the most financially flexible teams in the league this summer and could benefit from beefing up its left wing depth chart. Bertuzzi could immediately thrive in the Kraken's top six.

J.T. Compher

Age: 28
2022-23 stats: 82 GP, 17 G, 35 A
Potential suitors: Red Wings, Hurricanes, Penguins

Compher played a huge role for the injury-riddled Avalanche this past season, averaging over 20 minutes per night and posting a career-high 52 points while boasting strong defensive numbers as a shutdown center. His breakout season may have priced him out of Colorado, and he could fit in several teams' middle-sixes.

Prediction 🔮: Red Wings for five years, $28.5 million. Detroit needs more contributors up front and has the cap space to spend on a versatile player like this.

Tristan Jarry

Rich Graessle / National Hockey League / Getty

Age: 28
2022-23 stats: 47 GP, 24 W, .909 SV%, 7.4 GSAA
Potential suitors: Senators, Kings, Hurricanes

Jarry is coming off an injury-plagued campaign but should garner attention from the several teams in need of reinforcements between the pipes as one of the few available goalies under 30. He's been a capable starter for much of his career, owning a combined .915 save percentage over the past four seasons.

Prediction 🔮: Senators for four years, $21.2 million. Bottom line, Ottawa needs saves to progress into a playoff team. The Sens ranked 20th league-wide last season with a .895 all-situations clip.

Ryan O'Reilly

Age: 32
2022-23 stats: 53 GP, 16 G, 14 A
Potential suitors: Red Wings, Blues, Canucks

O'Reilly's offensive drop-off last season is a legitimate concern, but he's a serial winner and a dependable two-way pivot in a market that's thin on quality centers. Giving him too long of a deal is a big risk at this stage of his career, but O'Reilly's resume undoubtedly makes him one of this summer's top prizes.

Prediction 🔮: Canucks for three years, $16.5 million. Vancouver is incredibly weak down the middle and has some new-found cap space after buying out Oliver Ekman-Larsson. There are worse ideas than spending it on a veteran who can help build the team an identity while contributing positively at both ends of the ice.

Ivan Barbashev

Zak Krill / National Hockey League / Getty

Age: 27
2022-23 stats: 82 GP, 16 G, 29 A
Potential suitors: Jets, Capitals, Red Wings

No player set themselves up for a better offseason payday than Barbashev, whose 18 playoff points were instrumental in helping the Vegas Golden Knights capture the Stanley Cup. Barbashev's defensive metrics are underwhelming, but he's clearly capable of piling up points when deployed with gifted linemates.

Prediction 🔮: Jets for four years, $20.4 million. Not a lot of contenders have the room to take on Barbashev's impending pay raise, and Winnipeg is likely to be in need of impact forwards with a summer full of roster turnover on deck.

Note: Barbashev signed a five-year, $20M contract with the Vegas Golden Knights on June 28.

Alex Killorn

Age: 33
2022-23 stats: 82 GP, 27 G, 37 A
Potential suitors: Red Wings, Canadiens, Kraken

Killorn had more points than any other UFA this past season, but his market might not be very hot. On top of pushing 34, the Harvard product has plenty of extra mileage thanks to 140 playoff games over the past nine seasons. Killorn can still help a lot of teams win, but with two championship rings in the the vault already, he may be seeking one final cash-out before calling it quits.

Prediction 🔮: Canadiens for 3 years, $14.4 million. The Habs could use a proven winner or two to insulate their burgeoning core. Cap space isn't an issue for the duration of this projected deal, and Killorn has a pre-existing relationship with head coach Martin St. Louis as they were teammates in Tampa Bay.

Vladimir Tarasenko

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Age: 31
2022-23 stats: 69 GP, 18 G, 32 A
Potential suitors: Oilers, Capitals, Hurricanes

Tarasenko isn't the $7.5-million player he used to be, but his offensive instincts and finishing ability should intrigue a multitude of teams seeking top-six and power-play help at the right price. He has a lengthy injury history but showed he's still a threat with 50 points in 69 games split between the Blues and Rangers in 2022-23. Term could be an issue for buyers, but Tarasenko has a resume many of his peers this summer can't compete with.

Prediction 🔮: Capitals for four years, $20 million. Washington had only one 20-goal scorer not named Alex Ovechkin last season and is in the midst of a retool to find a way back into the playoffs. Help up front is a key area of need for the Caps to return to relevancy in the Metropolitan Division.

Michael Bunting

Age: 27
2022-23 stats: 82 GP, 23 G, 26 A
Potential suitors: Sabres, Blackhawks, Senators

Back-to-back 23-goal seasons have made Bunting a luxury the Maple Leafs likely can't afford, as he's due for a major raise from the $950,000 he earned for two years in Toronto. He should attract a fair share of attention as one of the youngest players on our list, but on-ice discipline and a small sample size without playing alongside star players could be potential detractors in a big-ticket contract.

Prediction 🔮: Senators for five years, $28 million. Here we have Bunting crossing boundaries in the Battle of Ontario. The Senators look to have an impending vacancy at left wing with Alex DeBrincat wanting out, and Bunting could fill the role admirably at a lesser price.

Jason Zucker

Joe Sargent / National Hockey League / Getty

Age: 31
2022-23 stats: 78 GP, 27 G, 21 A
Potential suitors: Hurricanes, Red Wings, Kraken

Zucker looked like the player he was in his prime in 2022-23, bagging 27 goals and driving play while appearing in 78 games - his highest total since 2018-19. Age and a lengthy injury history will work against him, but as a speedy winger with six 20-goal seasons under his belt, he should draw lots of attention.

Prediction 🔮: Hurricanes for 4 years, $22 million. You've probably noticed by now that Carolina has been linked to almost every forward on our list. They desperately need depth up front and a strong two-way player like Zucker fits Rod Brind'Amour's preferred style.

Frederik Andersen

Age: 33
2022-23 stats: 34 GP, 21 W, .903 SV%, -0.7 GSAA
Potential suitors: Kings, Senators, Sabres

Goalies will be a hot commodity come July 1, and Andersen will get his fair share of looks. A long-term agreement feels highly unlikely for the Danish backstop, who's had significant injury absences in each of the past two seasons.

Prediction 🔮: Kings for two years, $6 million. Andersen might not be the long-term solution GM Rob Blake covets between the pipes, but barring a blockbuster trade, the veteran netminder might be his best option. As long as the cost is low, Andersen should fit in just fine in Tinsel Town.

Patrick Kane

Rich Graessle / National Hockey League / Getty

Age: 34
2022-23 stats: 73 GP, 21 G, 36 A
Potential suitors: Sabres, Oilers, Stars

Kane was supposed to be the headliner of the 2023 UFA class, but major hip surgery and an underwhelming spell on Broadway make his future murky. A Hall of Fame resume and gamebreaking talent will always be on Kane's side, but he may not be ready to play until December. With approximately $115 million already earned and virtually every award the sport has to offer in his trophy case, there's no urgency for Kane to chase money or force his way onto a contender's roster (again).

Prediction 🔮: Sabres for two years, $5 million. We're taking the easy way out and forecasting a homecoming for Kane. Buffalo could use a winner in the dressing room, and Showtime's arrival could further galvanize a young roster on the upswing and rabid fan base ready to taste the playoffs again.

Mathew Dumba

Age: 28
2022-23 stats: 79 GP, 4 G, 10 A
Potential suitors: Sabres, Maple Leafs, Oilers

After years on the trade block, Dumba finally appears set to leave the cap-strapped Wild on his own merit. He's gone from an offensive catalyst to a sound defensive rearguard, but the high-end physical edge and puck moving skills have remained in play throughout his transformation. As a right-handed shot under 30 years old, he's bound to field plenty of offers.

Prediction 🔮: Sabres for five years, $29.25 million. Buffalo needs a right-handed veteran to play alongside Rasmus Dahlin or Owen Power, a pair of first overall picks that are set to hold down the Sabres' left side for years to come. Dumba's puck moving skills, combined with the skating ability of Buffalo's incumbent cornerstones, could make for one of the league's most dynamic defensive pairings.

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