Here are the best remaining unrestricted free agents, according to NHL.com, after signings began July 1 (listed alphabetically by position):
Justin Williams, Carolina Hurricanes
Williams did a marvelous job as Hurricanes captain last season, helping them qualify for the playoffs and reach the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2009. Williams, who turns 38 on Oct. 4, scored at least 20 goals for the seventh time in the NHL (23 goals, 30 assists) and had seven points (four goals, three assists) in 15 playoff games.
[RELATED: NHL Free Agent tracker]
Patrick Marleau, Carolina Hurricanes
Marleau, who turns 40 on Sept. 15, became a free agent when the Hurricanes bought out the final season of his three-year contract on June 27. He had 37 points (16 goals, 21 assists) for the Maple Leafs last season.
Before signing with Toronto two offseasons ago, Marleau played 19 seasons for the Sharks and could return there. He is the San Jose leader in games (1,493), goals (508) and points (1,082), and has played 788 consecutive games.
Video: Marleau plans to stay in the NHL after next season
Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
Though Thornton's bid to win the Stanley Cup for the first time fell short when the Sharks were eliminated by the Blues in the conference final last season, he showed he still can contribute. Thornton, who turns 40 on July 2, had 51 points (16 goals, 35 assists) in 73 regular-season games and 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 19 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Thornton loves life in California, and in May he said that he's "a Shark," so it's hard to envision him going far (if anywhere) if he does continue playing. Thornton has 1,478 points (413 goals, 1,065 assists) in 1,566 regular-season games and 133 points (31 goals, 102 assists) in 179 playoff games with the Sharks and Bruins.
Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs
The 28-year-old played 62 games last season, limited by a back injury, and didn't have the same jump in his skating when he returned for the playoffs.
The Maple Leafs seem to have moved on from Gardiner, acquiring defensemen Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie in trades. Gardiner's future with Toronto was already tenuous because of NHL salary cap concerns.
The back issue could make other teams wary, but Gardiner is a smooth skater who can drive an offense in a second-pair role and contribute on the power play.
Video: TOR@MTL: Gardiner nets wrister from the point
Ben Hutton, Vancouver Canucks
The 26-year-old was third among Canucks defensemen last season with 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) and second in average ice time at 22:11 per game. But he was minus-23, and his 45.62 shot attempt percentage was 156th among the 174 defensemen to play at least 50 games. He could have become a restricted free agent but was not given a qualifying offer, so he became a unrestricted free agent July 1, though the option exists for him to return at a salary lower than the qualifying offer would have been.
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings
The 38-year-old remains productive. His 27 points (three goals, 24 assists) led Detroit defensemen last season and he averaged 19:57 of ice time per game.
Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman said he's hoping Kronwall returns for a 16th NHL season and will give him all the time he needs to determine if he wants to continue his career. It's likely if Kronwall does keep playing, it will be in Detroit.
Dion Phaneuf, Los Angeles Kings
The 34-year-old had the final two seasons of his contract bought out June 15. He had six points (one goal, five assists) in 67 games last season and averaged 15:00 of ice time per game, numbers that were the lowest of his 14-season NHL career. He's not the offensive threat he once was but could provide veteran leadership in a lower-pair role.
Video: LAK@NJD: Phaneuf scores off lucky deflection
Cam Ward, Chicago Blackhawks
A veteran of 701 NHL games, Ward was 16-12-4 with a 3.67 GAA and .897 save percentage in 33 games (29 starts) for the Blackhawks last season after agreeing to a one-year contract July 1, 2018
The 35-year-old spent his first 13 NHL seasons with Carolina and is the Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers leader in games played (668), wins (318) and shutouts (27). The No. 25 pick in the 2002 NHL Draft was a rookie when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the 2006 playoffs by going 15-8 with a 2.14 GAA, .920 save percentage and two shutouts, helping the Hurricanes to a seven-game victory against the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final.
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