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The NHL’s 2022 free-agent market opens July 13 at noon ET. As with every opening day of free agency, we can expect a frenzy of activity within the first hours as teams engage in a bidding war for the best available players.
This year’s crop of free agents features superstars such as Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin and Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron. While they could opt to stick with the only NHL teams they have ever played for, they will draw considerable interest if they decide to test the unrestricted free-agent market.
Malkin and Bergeron aren’t the only noteworthy players who will attract attention if they hit the open market. Those seeking a goaltender will attempt to sign the Minnesota Wild’s Marc-Andre Fleury. The Dallas Stars’ John Klingberg will be pursued by teams seeking a puck-moving defenseman while the Calgary Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau will draw clubs looking for a top-scoring winger.
Some of these players could end up re-signing with their current clubs, but there will be others who might be available to the highest bidder. Here’s a look at the ideal landing spots for this summer’s top eight unrestricted free agents. You can express your views on this topic in the comments section.
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John Klingberg’s public unhappiness with Dallas Stars management over his stalled contract talks made him a hot top for midseason trade speculation. While the Stars opted against shipping him out at the trade deadline, the 29-year-old defenseman seems destined to hit the open market in July if the two sides fail to work things out.
The Los Angeles Kings could be among Klingberg’s suitors on July 13. While general manager Rob Blake’s rebuilding efforts over the past two seasons have made them a playoff contender this year, they need another experienced top-four defenseman to take some of the burden off first-pairing blueliner Drew Doughty.
On Oct. 16, Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek reported Klingberg sought an eight-year deal from the Stars worth between $62 million and $66 million. That breaks down to between $7.75 million and $8.5 million annually. League rules limit UFAs signing with other clubs to seven-year deals but he could seek the same salary range on the open market.
With $61.2 million committed to 14 active players in 2022-23, the Kings have the cap space to take on Klingberg. Given his age, they could prefer a five-year deal closer to that $7.75 million range. He could be a solid addition to their defense corps, providing experienced puck-moving skills that could bolster their offensive attack and power play.
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A year removed from winning his first Vezina Trophy, Marc-Andre Fleury split this season between the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild. The 37-year-old goaltender indicated he intends to play next at least another season. If the opportunity presents itself, he could return to the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he spent 13 of his 18 NHL seasons.
Fleury sported a record of 19 wins, 21 losses and five overtime losses with the rebuilding Hawks, along with a respectable 2.95 goals-against average, a .908 save percentage and four shutouts. Shipped to the playoff-bound Wild at the trade deadline, he’s won seven of eight starts with a 2.64 GAA and a .918 save percentage.
A strong finish to the regular season and a solid performance in the upcoming playoffs should ensure Fleury’s stock remains high in this summer’s free-agent market. His days of getting long-term deals worth $7 million per season are over. Perhaps the Penguins will consider a reunion if he’s willing to entertain a one-year, bonus-laden deal taking him up to $5 million.
Current Penguins starter Tristan Jarry is signed through next season with a cap hit of $3.5 million while backup Casey DeSmith is due to become a UFA. Fleury could come in as a mentor for Jarry to help him elevate his game while also challenging him for playing time. It would allow him the opportunity for one more shot at the Stanley Cup if they also manage to re-sign Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.
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The Nashville Predators weren’t able to get Filip Forsberg signed to a contract extension before the trade deadline. However, they retained the 27-year-old left winger to help them nail down a wild-card berth. On April 16, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Forsberg’s agent recently met with Predators general manager David Poile to talk contract for the first time in weeks.
Forsberg is completing a six-year deal worth $6 million annually. He’s enjoying a career season with 39 goals and 76 points. That production could see him seek over $8 million per season on his next contract. Poile, however, could be reluctant to go that high when he’s already got two $8 million forwards in Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene.
The Columbus Blue Jackets could be willing to go that high if Forsberg hits the open market on July 13. They could be motivated to do so if restricted free agent winger Patrik Laine’s asking price for a multi-year extension proves too expensive. He’s completing a one-year, $7.5 million contract and could seek a one-year deal taking him up to UFA status next summer.
Forsberg could fill that void on the left side of the Jackets’ top line if they’re forced to part with Laine. With $54.3 million invested in 15 players for 2022-23, they have the cap space to pay him a lucrative long-term deal. His experience would be invaluable to promising young Jackets such as Cole Sillinger, Kent Johnson and Yegor Chinakhov.
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It’s been a career year for Nazem Kadri. The 31-year-old Colorado Avalanche center reached a personal best with 84 points in 67 games and would’ve already exceeded 90 had he not been sidelined for eight games by an upper-body injury on March 31. His performance this season should make him among this summer’s most sought-after free agents.
Kadri will be coming off a six-year contract worth an annual average value of $4.5 million. He will be in line for a substantial raise that could reach $7 million. With $56.9 million invested in 14 active players next season and Darcy Kuemper, Andre Burakovsky and Valeri Nichushkin also due to become UFAs, Kadri could price himself out of Colorado.
The Detroit Red Wings could be a destination for Kadri. Located close to his hometown of London, Ontario, they’re a promising team stocked with budding young talent in need of an experienced and physical second-line center. With $46.9 million committed to 15 active players for 2022-23, they have the cap space to sign Kadri to a four- or five-year deal.
Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman has resisted making big splashes in the free-agent market in favor of building with youth via trades and the draft. However, the Wings haven’t made the playoffs in six years. This might be the time for Yzerman to use some of his cap space to add some scoring and grit to his lineup.
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After playing 1,000 games with the Philadelphia Flyers, Claude Giroux waived his no-movement clause to accept a trade to the Florida Panthers before last month’s trade deadline. If the 34-year-old forward should end up winning the Stanley Cup, perhaps he’ll consider returning home to Ottawa to finish his NHL career.
On March 25, the Ottawa Sun‘s Bruce Garrioch reported the Senators were among several clubs believed to be interested in Giroux, who maintains a home in Ottawa. He’d been told the former Flyers captain was intrigued by the promising young team.
As Garrioch suggested, Giroux could be a terrific fit with the Senators, providing depth at center as well as years of experience and leadership. He’s also proven that he’s still a productive forward. After tallying 42 points in 57 games with the Flyers, he’s netted 17 points in 15 contests with the Panthers.
Giroux is completing an eight-year contract worth an annual cap hit of $8.3 million. At this stage in his career, he won’t get another long-term deal for as much money on the open market. However, he could earn a three-year deal worth $6 million annually. With $61.5 million invested in 16 players next season, the Senators have sufficient cap space to add Giroux.
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It’s difficult to imagine Patrice Bergeron leaving the Boston Bruins after 18 NHL seasons. A perennial finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy since 2011-12, team captain since 2020-21, and among their top-five franchise players in total games, goals, assists and points, the Bruins remain the ideal fit for the 36-year-old center.
Bergeron is in the final season of an eight-year contract with an annual average value of $6.9 million. Given his worth to the Bruins and his ongoing status among the league’s elite two-way players, the argument can be made that he’s been underpaid. If that’s been a problem for him, however, he’s never publicly expressed it. Throughout that tenure, he was actually among the Bruins’ highest-paid players.
At an age when most players’ skills are declining, Bergeron remains the Bruins’ first-line center. At his age, he won’t get another long-term contract but could seek a three-year contract. With $77.9 million invested in 20 active players for 2022-23, they could be forced to shed a salary to free up sufficient cap space. He might have to accept a pay cut to around $5 million annually to stay in Boston.
Bergeron could be reluctant to move on to another club at this point in his career. His continuing value to the Bruins, meanwhile, suggests they’ll do all they can to keep him in the fold beyond this season. The two sides should be able to work something out to make the dollars fit.
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It’s possible Evgeni Malkin accepts a pay cut from his current $9.5 million annual cap hit for a short-term deal in order to finish his NHL career with the Pittsburgh Penguins. If that doesn’t work out, however, the Carolina Hurricanes could be a suitable destination. It was among those we chose during a B/R roundtable on the subject in January.
The Hurricanes are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender stocked with a solid core of talent featuring Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Jaccob Slavin, and Frederik Andersen. Head coach Rod Brind’Amour has done a first-rate job turning this club into one of the league’s top teams. However, they could need a second-line center if Vincent Trocheck departs as a free agent this summer.
With $63.1 million invested in 13 active players next season, the Hurricanes would have to get Malkin to agree to a reduced salary for perhaps a two- or three-year deal of between $5.5 and $6 million. Even then, they might have to shed some salary to come up with enough cap room to comfortably afford him and still maintain the rest of their roster.
As we observed in our January roundtable, Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell has garnered a reputation to taking chances. The opportunity to add someone of Malkin’s stature to bolster their chances of winning the Stanley Cup could prove irresistible. While age and injuries have slowed the 35-year-old center, he remains a point-per-game player with considerable postseason experience.
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On April 17, the Calgary Sun‘s Wes Gilbertson reported Flames general manager Brad Treliving intends to move heaven and earth and do everything we possibly can” to sign Johnny Gaudreau to a new contract. However, the 28-year-old left winger could price himself out of the Flames market thanks to his career-high 109-point performance thus far this season.
The New Jersey Devils could be an ideal landing spot for Gaudreau if he and the Flames fail to agree to a contract. They’re a promising team in need of a talented first-line scoring winger to skate alongside center Jack Hughes or captain Nico Hischier. He would also be returning close to home, having been born in Salem, New Jersey and growing up in nearby Carney’s Point.
Gaudreau’s performance this season ensures he’ll be in line for a significant raise over his current $6.75 million cap hit. He could become the highest-paid player in this summer’s free-agent market. On April 14, Sportsnet’s Rory Boylen speculated he could get between $8.5 million and $9 million with the Flames. However, he could get over $9.5 million on the open market this summer.
General manager Tom Fitzgerald has also shown the willingness to spend big via free agency, signing defenseman Dougie Hamilton last summer to a seven-year, $63 million contract. With $59.6 million committed to 17 active roster players next season, the Devils have the cap room to sign Gaudreau to a big raise on a seven-year deal.