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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
With the 2021-22 NHL regular season nearly over, 16 teams will soon begin preparing for the Stanley Cup playoffs. And there isn’t any suspense regarding who will make it, as the field is already set.
As for the other 16 teams, it will be time to start thinking about the upcoming offseason. Although moves can’t be made until the postseason is over, these franchises will contemplate the key decisions that they’ll eventually have to make later this summer.
That includes how to navigate free agency. And like every offseason, some top players are expected to hit the market, so it will be interesting to see who signs where and how the league’s landscape could change.
Even though free agency is more than two months away, it isn’t too early to start looking ahead. Here’s a breakdown of several key players who are set to become free agents this year.
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Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press
Johnny Gaudreau has had a solid nine-year NHL career, but he took his play to another level during the 2021-22 season. In 80 games, the 28-year-old forward has 39 goals and 74 assists for a career-high 113 points, and he also leads the league with a plus-minus rating of plus-63.
Gaudreau has spent his entire career with the Flames, who took him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, and he’s been a key reason why they’ve been one of the top teams in the Western Conference this season. But is it possible that Gaudreau, who is about to become an unrestricted free agent, won’t still be in Calgary when the 2022-23 campaign arrives?
The Flames have several decisions to make, as Matthew Tkachuk will be a restricted free agent heading into the final year of his contract, while Elias Lindholm has only two seasons remaining on his deal and will eventually be in line for a big raise. Plus, Gaudreau has made it known in the past that he may have interest in playing for the Philadelphia Flyers, his hometown team growing up.
It’s early, and Calgary will likely want to try to keep Gaudreau in the fold. But perhaps the idea of going to play in Philadelphia will be too tempting. So the prediction here at this point is that Gaudreau will sign with the Flyers, who need a centerpiece player to build around as they try to get the franchise back on track.
Forecast: Gaudreau signs with Flyers
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Winslow Townson/Associated Press
Even though Kris Letang is now 35, the 16-year NHL veteran continues to play at a high level. In fact, his 67 points (nine goals and 58 assists) are tied for a career high. So there should be at least a few teams with interest in signing the defenseman this summer when he’s an unrestricted free agent.
Letang has spent his entire career in Pittsburgh thus far. But the Penguins could undergo some drastic changes this offseason, considering forward Evgeni Malkin will also be a UFA. If both leave, then the Pens will lose two players who have been franchise cornerstones for more than a decade.
TSN’s darren dreger recently reported that there’s been “ongoing talk” between Letang and Pittsburgh, so it appears the two sides could be trying to get a deal done. But Dreger noted there’s been “slow progress” as they’ve been focused on the season.
It’s hard to imagine the Penguins lineup without Letang on the blue line. So expect them to work out a new deal and get him back on the ice with them for the 2022-23 season.
Forecast: Letang re-signs with Penguins
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Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
For the past 10 years, Filip Forsberg has been a consistent presence on the Nashville Predators attack. And even though he’s played only 68 games during the 2021-22 season, he’s set career highs in points (83), goals (42) and assists (41) while leading the team to a playoff berth.
Forsberg is still only 27, so he should have plenty of productive years ahead of him. And with how well he’s played this season, he may have increased his market even more.
Earlier in the season, there had been trade rumors surrounding Forsberg, but he ended up staying in Nashville after the deadline. But earlier this month, Sportsnet’s Elliott Friedman reported that Forsberg’s agent, JP Barry, and Predators general manager David Poile had recently sat down for a conversation.
So even though it seemed like Forsberg may be leaving Nashville at one point, that may no longer be the case. Don’t be surprised if the two sides end up working out a new deal and Forsberg continues to be a key part of the Preds offense in the future.
Forecast: Forsberg re-signs with Predators