Where should the best remaining NHL free agents sign?

While hundreds of free agents have signed with NHL teams this summer (at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in total), some notable names remain on the market. Will they re-sign with their 2018-19 clubs, or move on to new opportunities? Our panel debates the 2019-20 destinations for five of the biggest names left:

2018-19 team: Toronto Maple Leafs
2018-19 cap hit: $4.05 million

Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL writer: The New Jersey Devils have $19.845 million in cap space and two left defensemen in Andy Greene and Sami Vatanen coming off their cap next summer. The team’s biggest need, besides an overall increase in quality depth, is on the blue line, even with the addition of P.K. Subban. Gardiner, and his offensive upside, would be a welcome addition.

Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: The Canadiens would be a great fit. They still have some cap space to spend — call it the Sebastian Aho savings — and they could definitely use some talent on the left side. A Gardiner signing could be bad news for Karl Alzner, though.

Dimitri Filipovic, hockey analytics writer: The Canadiens. It’s weird just how little buzz there’s been about Gardiner through the first two weeks of free agency, considering he came in as the best defenseman available. Montreal makes a ton of sense because the left side of their blue line is its biggest weakness, and the team hasn’t really been able to find a viable partner for Shea Weber since he arrived. If Weber’s nagging injuries from the past two seasons continue, Gardiner provides some insurance as someone that can carry a pairing and take some of the responsibility off of Jeff Petry‘s plate. The Canadiens want to play fast and get the puck up the ice as quickly as possible in transition, which is something we know Gardiner excels at after all of his years thriving in Toronto’s uptempo system.

Patrick Maroon, center, fit right in to his hometown Blues as they battled their way to winning the Stanley Cup. Where will his NHL journey take him next? Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images

2018-19 team: St. Louis Blues
2018-19 cap hit: $1.75 million

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Wyshynski: Maroon has a Stanley Cup ring for being the personification of the kind of heavy hockey a team (at times) needs to excel in the postseason. You know who could use a little bit of that DNA? A team that rolled over in the first round in a passionless sweep, the Tampa Bay Lightning. One year, tax-friendly cap hit. Let’s go.

Kaplan: The Edmonton Oilers. Sure, the Oilers need to shake things up to get back on track, but I’m all for returning to nostalgia for this one. Maroon’s best NHL season came when playing on Connor McDavid‘s wing. The fans would be happy to welcome back Big Rig.

Filipovic: The Oilers. I wouldn’t give Maroon any kind of term considering his age and body type, but he can probably be had for a minimal commitment after St. Louis essentially thanked him for his services and wished him farewell this summer. We already know that he has the sense to know where to go and finishing ability around the net that’s required to make the most of McDavid’s playmaking prowess. Edmonton hasn’t really done anything of note to improve its roster this summer, and while Maroon is hardly a game-changer at this point, the bar the Oilers need to clear to improve their wing position is exceedingly low.

Justin Williams was an enthusiastic leader for the Hurricanes as they made a run to the Eastern Conference final. Will he return to the team to continue building a contender? Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

2018-19 team: Carolina Hurricanes
2018-19 cap hit: $4.5 million

Wyshynski: At this stage, the Hurricanes are probably the only team for whom Justin Williams will play in the NHL. Rare is the athlete who comes back to the scene of a previous championship and has the kind of positive impact that Williams had with the “Bunch of Jerks” last season. But if we’re asking “who should sign him,” then my choice would be the Arizona Coyotes. Here’s a team that needs more scoring on the wing, could use another veteran leader in that room — and let’s face it, could use a bit of enthusiasm in the fan base (and defiant attitude) that Williams brought to the Canes last season.

Kaplan: The Hurricanes. Williams and coach Rod Brind’Amour are tight, and Williams — at age 37 — was like a coach on the ice for the Canes last season. If he doesn’t retire, he’s returning to Carolina. They saved enough cap space to sign him.

Filipovic: The Hurricanes. Despite his age, he can still definitely play, and would be a logical fit both on and off the ice for pretty much every single contender in the league. Carolina brought in Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel this summer for reinforcements on the wing, and Andrei Svechnikov looks ready for a much larger role as well. That might actually be good for Williams at this point of his career, considering he played more minutes last season than he had in any single campaign since 2007-08. The Canes can now afford to be more selective with his usage, preserving him for what they presumably hope will be another extended playoff run.

It’s tough to envision Joe Thornton in any other sweater than the Sharks’ at this stage of his career. Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire

2018-19 team: San Jose Sharks
2018-19 cap hit: $5 million

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Wyshynski: Jumbo already indicated that he and the Sharks will “get something done” during the summer, after some meetings with GM Doug Wilson and owner Hasso Plattner. There’s no reason to believe that won’t happen, and the Sharks need his presence in the locker room more than ever with former captain Joe Pavelski now in Dallas. But if we’re fantasy casting — look, Joe Thornton needs a Stanley Cup. The Vegas Golden Knights need a better power play, as theirs was at 16.8 percent last season. Speaking from personal experience, there are ample short flights from San Jose to Vegas. He could, like, go home on the weekends

Kaplan: I can’t imagine Joe Thornton signing anywhere but San Jose for his 22nd season. GM Doug Wilson will get it done. But I’d love to see a team like the Avalanche take a run at Thornton. A 1-2-3 punch of Nathan MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri and Thornton down the gut? That would be the best center depth in the West.

Filipovic: The Sharks. I don’t think I can see Joe Thornton in another uniform, and by all accounts he can’t either. Because of the ridiculously team-friendly Kevin Labanc contract, San Jose now has some extra financial wiggle room to bring him back into the mix. Beyond just the obvious history between the two, the on-ice fit is also still there. The Sharks ostensibly have two top lines, which affords them the luxury of feeding Thornton the cushiest of minutes at five-on-five. At this point, feasting on inferior competition is what his skills are best suited for, especially when he can set up shop down low in the offensive zone and pick them apart like a pocket-passing quarterback.

Patrick Marleau can still produce in a depth role, and has experience serving as a mentor to younger players. Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

2018-19 team: Toronto Maple Leafs
2018-19 cap hit: $6.25 million

Wyshynski: Given the coach, the GM, the state in which the team plays and the apparent decision to go with the oldest lineup in the NHL, Marleau to the Los Angeles Kings feels so right — even if seeing him in that jersey will feel so wrong for Sharks fans.

Kaplan: Not sure it will happen, but I’d love for the Florida Panthers to take a run. Marleau, at this stage of his career, is a third- or fourth-line winger. Even with offseason improvements, I’m not totally convinced the Panthers are a playoff team. Adding another solid depth forward like Marleau — along with his leadership — could help get them over the hump.

Filipovic: The Sharks. Let’s get the band back together and reunite Thornton and Marleau for one last dance. They’ve made some sweet music over the years, sharing the ice for nearly 3,600 five-on-five minutes from 2007 to 2017. Because of how loaded the Sharks are, they won’t need to overuse Marleau as much as Leafs coach Mike Babcock did towards the end of Marleau’s run with Toronto. San Jose doesn’t have much cash to work with (pending the Thornton deal), but considering Marleau is already getting paid out roughly $3.5 million after his buyout, that shouldn’t be a concern. And after losing both Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi this summer, the Sharks could actually use some reliable secondary scoring on the wing right now.

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