Power Ranking The Five Best Remaining UFA Defensemen That Are Still Available

By Dan Dukart on August 8, 2019 at 8:05 am
Cam Atkinson tries to chase down Jake Gardiner
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jackets should be, in a word, pleased with the state of their organizational depth chart on the blueline.

They have a Norris-level defensemen in Seth Jones, a 22-year old stud in Zach Werenski, a resurgent David Savard, and that's before we even get to Ryan Murray, who (if he can stay healthy) is one of the better defensemen in the NHL. Markus Nutivaara, Dean Kukan, Vladislav Gavrikov, Scott Harrington, and Adam Clendening are all NHL defensemen that are vying for spots, and not all of them will have a spot on the Blue Jackets this season. Then there's the minor league depth, which includes former 2nd-round pick Andrew Peeke and former 1st-round pick Gabriel Carlsson.

If the Blue Jackets have an organizational surplus today, it's their defense corps. Still, any NHL franchise will look to improve where they can, and even if the Blue Jackets were to acquire a still-available UFA defensemen, they could easily move on from any number of their appealing, contract-friendly defensemen. Here are the five top UFA defensemen that are still on the free agent market:

1. Jake Gardiner

Gardiner has his warts. His Game 7 woes in back-to-back seasons are well-chronicled, and his injury-riddled 2019 season doesn't inspire confidence. And at 29, he's closing in on the wrong side of 30. Still, he's an offensively gifted defensemen that has proven to be productive, totaling 30 or more points in six of his seven (full) seasons. And the obvious question still needs ask: Why is Gardiner still unsigned?

The lefty is a quality, arguably top-pairing (but more likely second pairing) defensemen that would be an asset for most any team. The questions remaining: is he healthy? And is he worth a promotion from his $4.050M cap hit? 

2. Michael Stone

Stone is a recent addition to the UFA list. He had his $3.5M AAV contract bought out by the salary cap-strapped Calgary Flames in their attempt to a) relieve cap struggles and b) get younger. Stone, a 29-year old with 439 regular season NHL games under his belt, has a lot going for him. First off, he's a right-shot defensemen with size. He's not without his flaws - he's not the most fleet of foot and he doesn't provide a ton of offense. Still, he's going to be an NHL player come October, it's just a matter of who signs him and at what dollar figure.

3. Niklas Kronwall

Kronwall has a fair amount of strikes against him. He's got a lengthy injury history. He's not exactly the prototypical puck-moving defensemen in 2019. Oh, and he's 38 years old! The Detroit Red Wings captain, who's played 953 regular season games (all with the Red Wings), has lost a step - maybe two - and is nowhere near as effective as he used to be. But for a club on the up-swing, a short-term signing for a locker room legend who can show a young defense corps the ropes, Kronwall could make sense. If he does continue his NHL career, it'll be at a significant pay cut from the $4.75M he's earned every year since 2012. The Swede averaged 19:57 TOI, 97th most in the NHL among defensemen, in 2019, so he can still log heavy minutes. The question is: do you want Kronwall to log heavy minutes? 

4. Fredrik Claesson

Claesson, another Swede, just finished his fourth season in the NHL. The 6'1 lefty has played 150 career regular season games, primarily with the Ottawa Senators before playing with the New York Rangers in 2018-19. He's definitely not an offensive juggernaut, but was an average defender on an average Rangers' team. Is he an NHL defenseman? I think so, but I'm also not surprised teams aren't fighting over his services. He's a bottom-pairing type, not the kind of player that gets scooped up early on in free agency.  

5. Ben Hutton

Hutton is a fringe NHL defensemen with four seasons under his belt, all with the Vancouver Canucks. At 26, he's a player with a lot of tread left on the tires. The problem with Hutton is classic chicken or the egg. Was he bad in 2018-19 (and before) because the Canucks are a bad team (defensively speaking) that has average goaltending? Or are the Canucks a bad team because of defensemen like Hutton? His brutal 5v5  xGF% (expected goals for %) of 43.34% looks terrible until you see his actual GF% was 38.78%. The ice was tilted against him by virtually every metric imaginable, and the fact that a 26-year old has sat on the market for over 60 days sure makes it feel like the NHL doesn't think too highly of Hutton as it stands today.

Honorable Mentions: Alex Petrovic, Adam McQuaid, Dan Girardi, Dion Phaneuf, Andrew MacDonald

Are any of these players a fit for the Blue Jackets? As it stands today, I highly doubt it. With a strong blueline and obvious needs elsewhere, it's unlikely that the club will add to their defense corps. But if GM Jarmo Kekalainen has taught us anything, it's that he's unafraid of making an unexpected splash. So, never say never.

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