NHL free agency tiers for 2024: Big stars hitting the market

Everybody wants to jump in the pool during the summer. But not all pools are the same. Some are gross -- tinted green by algae, with dead bugs and debris from nearby trees floating on the surface. And you generally don't want to jump in those, unless you absolutely must.

That pool was basically the 2023 NHL unrestricted free agent pool this summer.

"I don't think it's a great class. Not a lot of good names. No depth for sure," one NHL general manager told ESPN. "And right now everybody's getting squeezed by the salary cap, too."

But the class of 2024? That's a pool into which you cannonball without a second thought. Perfect temperature and pristine waters. Star players hitting free agency for the first time. Other players who took shorter-term deals during the NHL's COVID-19-impacted salary cap years going to market as the cap finally unflattens, with a ceiling potentially rising to $88 million for the 2024-25 season.

"This is a completely different universe because now we're in a different economic landscape," one NHL player agent said. "A lot of bad contracts will have been shed by teams next summer. They'll have cleaner cap space, not to mention another $4 million to spend."

It's never too early to examine the players eligible for that free agent windfall. Here are the current 2024 NHL free agent tiers, ranging from franchise players to established stars to strong supporting cast members. Many of the players listed here won't make it to next summer as teams ink them to contract extensions. But those who do could finally put the frenzy back into NHL free agency.