Potential Destinations and Contracts for the NHL's Top 6 UFAs

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured Columnist IIIJune 28, 2022

Potential Destinations and Contracts for the NHL's Top 6 UFAs

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    AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

    Welcome to the NHL offseason.

    The annual entry draft commences on July 7 in Montreal and will be followed six days later by the arrival of the free-agency signing period, which means corner offices in 32 cities across the U.S. and Canada will be buzzing at a high rate for the foreseeable future.

    Who stays? Who goes?

    And wherever they end up, how much will they make?

    The B/R hockey team got together to compile a list of the top six players headed for unrestricted free agency and predicted where each will be playing come October and how much cash they might command.

    Scroll through to see what we came up with and drop a thought or two of your own in the comments.

Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames

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    AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

    When it comes to Calgary GM Brad Treliving, there's good news and bad news.

    The good news is that his top-line forward, Johnny Gaudreau, is coming off the best season of his NHL career and is on the record saying he and his family love living in southern Alberta.

    The bad news is that Gaudreau is at the end of a six-year, $40.5 million deal and warrants a raise, and that New Jersey Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald has a track record as a big spender.

    Fitzgerald reached this point on the league calendar last year looking to make a big splash and quickly did so, plucking defenseman Dougie Hamilton away from Carolina with a seven-year offer worth $63 million.

    It just so happens the Devils are flush with salary-cap space again this summer, so it's no stretch to suggest he'll assemble a similar proposal for Gaudreau—perhaps a tick higher at $9.25 million annually—that'll allow the 28-year-old to return to his home state and fit into a young lineup featuring former No. 1 overall picks Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier.

    The Call: Gaudreau to New Jersey for seven years, $64.75 million.

Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

    The Pittsburgh Penguins are up against it this summer.

    Their repeat Cup glory days of 2016-17 have since been replaced by four straight first-round playoff ousters, most recently a disheartening seven-game loss to the New York Rangers this spring in a series they'd led three games to one.

    And though GM Ron Hextall has $23 million in salary-cap space with which to work, he's also got 10 free agents—eight unrestricted, two restricted—to decide upon by early next month while trying to simultaneously make the team younger and keep it competitive.

    Kris Letang, though, provides an interesting challenge.

    The defenseman is 35 years old and has spent 16 seasons in an NHL uniform, but he is still performing like a youngster, recording the fifth-highest assist total among blueliners (58, tied with Cale Makar) this season and the joint-sixth-highest point total (68) at the position as well.

    So even at an advanced age, Letang is looking to make one last big payroll score. But while Hextall and the Pittsburgh faithful would certainly like to keep him, there's a good chance there's simply too big a gap between what they're able to pay and what he's willing to take.

    Which presents a logical possibility: the Montreal Canadiens.

    Montreal's front office is led by GM Kent Hughes, a former player agent who once had Letang as a client. Add in the fact that Letang is a native of the city and it's natural to think he'd consider the chance to end his career with the league's most storied franchise.

    Speculation has gone on for weeks that the Canadiens are trying to move players like Jeff Petry and Josh Anderson, and those deals would help free up the cash that would be required to get a player of Letang's status in the fold.

    The Call: Letang to Montreal for four years, $29 million.

Filip Forsberg, LW, Nashville Predators

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    AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

    Like Gaudreau before him, Filip Forsberg is another guy with a keen sense of timing.

    Entering the season in the final year of a six-year, $36 million contract, the 27-year-old winger busted out with career highs in goals (42), assists (42) and points (84), which should get him a significant boost in pay regardless of where he lands to begin the 2022-23 season.

    But unlike some of the others on this list, there seems to be a mutual desire between GM and player to get things done alongside the financial wiggle room to allow it.

    Nashville's David Poile said he made an eight-year offer earlier this month, and even though the player and his representatives haven't agreed to an exact money figure, there seems to be enough shared goodwill to make sure it gets done.

    "It's a lot of business decisions," Forsberg said at season's end.

    "But I've loved every minute of my time here in Nashville, and I don't see why I wouldn't love the future here too. It's definitely something that I want to do."

    The Call: Forsberg stays in Nashville for eight years, $68 million

Nazem Kadri, C, Colorado Avalanche

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    AP Photo/David Zalubowski

    It happens every season.

    A player performs well and wins a championship in a particular city, then greets the arrival of the subsequent season by signing with a team far less relevant in the title picture.

    Sometimes it's money. Sometimes it's something else.

    We'll call this one a little bit of both.

    Colorado center Nazem Kadri wrapped up a six-year, $27 million contract by hoisting the Stanley Cup after scoring 15 points during 16 games of the Avalanche's playoff run.

    He's among 12 players on the title-winning roster who are due for unrestricted free agency, which means it'll be an impossible task for GM Joe Sakic to keep the same group together for a run at a repeat championship next season.

    Now 31 and coming off his highest NHL point production, Kadri could probably do better than the $4.5 million he's been making. And there's rarely a dearth of teams willing to pay (or overpay) for players with legitimate Stanley Cup pedigree.

    Given that the Flyers haven't won a Cup in 47 years, few would seem more willing.

    NHL Network insider Elliotte Friedman suggested in January (h/t flyersnation.com) that Kadri "is a Flyer" based on the way he plays, and now that the veteran of 791 NHL games (regular season and playoffs) has a ring on his finger, it seems a marriage made in hockey heaven.

    The Call: Kadri to Philadelphia for five years, $31.25 million.

John Klingberg, D, Dallas Stars

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    AP Photo/John Froschauer

    John Klingberg has been a good company man.

    He was a double-digit goal scorer and a 40-point producer on defense for the Dallas Stars before finally signing a contract worth seven figures annually, and even then it was a seven-year deal at what's turned out to be a team-friendly $4.25 million per season.

    So now that he's 29 and an imminent unrestricted free agent, it shouldn't surprise anyone that he's looking to cash out on a deal that'll take him into his mid-30s.

    After all, he went public in January with frustration about the lack of progress in negotiations with the Stars, and Friedman included him in a 32 Thoughts piece several weeks later with the idea Seattle could be his next destination.

    Indeed, Seattle has over $22 million in cap space and looking for a reliable, productive defenseman after dealing one of the players they brought in last season, Mark Giordano, to Toronto at the trade deadline. Klingberg is younger and better at this stage than the 38-year-old, and he could give the Kraken another right-shot option on the blue line alongside Adam Larsson.

    He won't get the $62 to $66 million Sportsnet's Jeff Marek reported he was looking for last October, but Seattle could probably secure his services at a number that'll please both sides.

    The Call: Klingberg to Seattle for five years, $39.25 million.

Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

    Forgive us if this sounds familiar.

    There's a 35-year-old member of the Pittsburgh Penguins who's played an important role on their three Stanley Cup teams but is at the end of a long-term contract amid uncertainty over whether the team is willing to pay the going rate to keep him in the fold.

    Step aside Kris Letang, it's Evgeni Malkin time.

    The second overall pick (behind Alex Ovechkin) in the 2004 draft, Malkin has been a mainstay in Pittsburgh black and gold for 16 seasons, arriving with a 33-goal year as a rookie in 2006-07 and racking up a pair of scoring titles, an MVP and a Conn Smythe Trophy since.

    He's been Robin to Sidney Crosby's Batman for a generation, and it'll be a hard pill to swallow for Penguins fans to think he could leave town simply because the team won't pay him.

    We don't think it'll end that way.

    Though Malkin could probably still command a spectacular wage as a productive add-on with championship experience in cities where that's the missing piece, he's stated several times that he wants to retire a Penguin even with the knowledge that it's a money business.

    There's no chance Pittsburgh could or would offer him a raise or an extension on the $9.5 million he's made for each of the last eight seasons, but it makes perfect sense to keep him in the fold for a final three-year run that matches the term left on Crosby's current deal.

    Fourth Cup or not, the heroes ride off into the sunset together.

    The Call: Malkin stays in Pittsburgh for three years, $20 million

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