Bleacher Report Final Predictions for 2022 NHL Free Agency
The NHL's free-agent market begins at noon ET on Wednesday, July 13. Expect a frenzy of signings within the opening hours as most of the top unrestricted free agents join new teams on lucrative contracts.
Some of them could follow the lead of Kris Letang and Filip Forsberg and re-sign with their current clubs. On July 7, Letang inked a six-year contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Two days later, Forsberg agreed to an eight-year deal with the Nashville Predators.
Nevertheless, several noteworthy stars remain available leading up to July 13.
Teams in the market for a scoring star will fixate on Calgary Flames left winger Johnny Gaudreau. Those seeking an experienced future Hall of Fame center will come calling for Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Clubs looking for a puck-moving defenseman could set their sights on the Dallas Stars' John Klingberg. Meanwhile, teams looking for a goaltending upgrade will pursue Darcy Kuemper of the Colorado Avalanche.
Where will these players end up when the dust settles? Will they sign with new teams? Could they stay with their current teams?
It's anyone's guess at this point, but we'll give it our best shot with our final predictions before things kick off. We'll examine which club could be the best fit and estimate the cost of signing them.
We've excluded Patrice Bergeron from this list as he's already indicated he'll re-sign with the Boston Bruins or retire. As always, you can weigh in with your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below.
Jack Campbell to the Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals are in the market for a starting goaltender after trading Vitek Vanecek to the New Jersey Devils. TSN's Pierre LeBrun believes Darcy Kuemper might be a match, but we're predicting they'll sign Jack Campbell if he and the Toronto Maple Leafs fail to reach an agreement on a new contract.
The Capitals have $8.9 million in salary-cap space for 2022-23, with 18 players under contract for 2022-23. They could get some additional cap flexibility if Nicklas Backstrom (hip resurfacing, $9.2 million cap hit) and Carl Hagelin (eye injury, $2.75 million cap hit) end up on long-term injury reserve next season.
But even if Backstrom and Hagelin return, the Capitals should have the room to sign Campbell if he tests the open market. The 30-year-old netminder is coming off a two-year contract with an annual average value (AAV) of $1.65 million.
On June 21, Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun speculated Campbell could seek $5 million per season. That's more affordable than Kuemper, who is seeking $5.9 million annually according to TSN's Darren Dreger.
Campbell had some consistency issues last season and was hampered by a rib injury, but when he's on his game, he puts up solid numbers. He won 17 of his first 25 starts last season, sporting a .939 save percentage with four shutouts. With his first full season as an NHL starter under his belt, Campbell could improve in that role over the next four or five seasons.
Johnny Gaudreau to the New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils made the biggest move in last summer's free-agent market by signing Dougie Hamilton to a seven-year contract. It wouldn't be surprising if they return to the UFA well again to go after the biggest name in this year's market in Johnny Gaudreau.
Gaudreau just completed a six-year contract with an AAV of $6.75 million and is coming off a career-best 115-point performance with the Calgary Flames in 2021-22.
On July 3, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported the Flames were believed to have offered him an eight-year deal with an AAV of $9.5 million. He has until 11:59 pm on July 12 to accept it. After that, the most he can sign with the Flames is a seven-year deal.
The Devils likely have an advantage with Gaudreau, who grew up in New Jersey. And with $25.3 million in cap space for 2022-23, they also have the room to exceed the Flames' offer.
Signing Gaudreau could complicate the Devils' efforts to re-sign winger Jesper Bratt. Nevertheless, Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald indicated before the draft that he was looking for an impact player to complement his young forwards, such as centers Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. The 27-year-old Gaudreau could provide them with the offensive punch and experience to get to the next level.
Claude Giroux to the Carolina Hurricanes
Claude Giroux was traded to the Florida Panthers before the March trade deadline and wasted little time showing the hockey world he still had a lot left in the tank. The versatile 34-year-old forward netted 23 points in 18 regular-season games with the Panthers along with eight points in 10 playoff games. However, the Panthers' limited cap space could lead to Giroux testing the free-agent market.
On July 7, Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic reported the Ottawa Senators could be among the clubs pursuing Giroux. Giroux lives in Ottawa during the offseason and could sign with his rebuilding hometown club. However, the Carolina Hurricanes could be a better option if he's looking to land with a Stanley Cup contender.
The Hurricanes could be in the market for a second-line center if Vincent Trocheck departs via free agency. They could promote young Jesperi Kotkaniemi into the role but could be enticed by the experience and leadership Giroux would bring to the roster.
Giroux won't get another long-term contract like the eight-year deal worth $8.3 million in AAV that he finished up in 2021-22. Perhaps he'd consider signing a one- or two-year deal worth $5.5 million per season to chase a Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes. That would fit well within their $19.4 million cap space for next season.
Nazem Kadri to the Detroit Red Wings
Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman usually doesn't make a big, expensive splash in the NHL free-agent market. His signings tend to be affordable, experienced depth players. However, this could be the year he chooses to make a significant free-agent addition by signing Nazem Kadri of the Colorado Avalanche.
Kadri, 31, enjoyed a career-best 87-point regular season in 2021-22 with the Avalanche. He was also a key factor in their march to the Stanley Cup, with 15 points in 16 playoff contests. If the Avs can't afford to re-sign him, this will be his golden opportunity to cash in via free agency.
Kadri is coming off a six-year contract worth an annual cap hit of $4.5 million and will likely seek a significant raise on a four- or five-year deal. He could look for offers of around $7 million annually.
With $31 million in cap space and 16 players under contract for 2022-23, the Red Wings are well-positioned to outbid other clubs for Kadri's services. They're in need of a reliable second-line center, plus they're located close to his family's hometown of London, Ontario. There could be a fit here if Yzerman decides to finally make a major free-agent addition.
Evander Kane to the Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers signed Evander Kane to a one-year, $2.1 million contract in January after the San Jose Sharks terminated their deal with him earlier in the month. He fit in well with his new club, tallying 22 goals and 39 points in 41 regular-season games and 13 goals in 15 playoff games.
Following the Oilers' elimination from the Western Conference Finals, Kane posted what seemed like a farewell letter to the team and its fans. On June 22, general manager Ken Holland told reporters he was hopeful of re-signing the 30-year-old left-winger. However, he's since given Kane's agent permission to speak with other clubs.
The NHLPA filed a grievance against the Sharks on Kane's behalf, but it's not expected to be heard by an arbitrator until after the start of free agency on July 13. He and the Oilers could await the outcome before working out a new contract. Talks between Kane's agent and the club are continuing.
Kane was an excellent fit alongside Connor McDavid, who has four years remaining on his contract with the Oilers. A deal of a similar length for Kane would give the Oilers a terrific one-two offensive punch that could help them in their hunt for the Stanley Cup. It would also provide him with an opportunity to put the well-documented investigations and 21-game suspension behind him and continue his fresh start with a team that wants him back.
John Klingberg to the Seattle Kraken
John Klingberg will be seeking a big raise on his next contract after having spent the past seven seasons earning an AAV of $4.25 million with the Dallas Stars. The Seattle Kraken is well-positioned to offer what the 29-year-old defenseman could be looking for.
Klingberg is a skilled puck-moving blueliner and netted 40-or-more points in six of his eight NHL seasons. He could command over $7 million per season on a seven-year contract. The Stars carry $17.8 million in cap space for 2022-23 and have restricted free agents in Jake Oettinger and Jason Robertson to re-sign, so Klingberg has probably priced himself out of Dallas.
The Kraken could make that big pitch to Klingberg. They have $22.1 million in cap room with 15 players under contract for 2022-23 and lack a mobile blueliner since trading away Mark Giordano before the March trade deadline. On July 3, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman speculated that the Kraken will be aggressive in this year's free-agent market.
Kraken general manager Ron Francis made two significant free-agent signings last summer in goaltender Philipp Grubauer and winger Jaden Schwartz. It won't be surprising if he successfully woos Klingberg with a long-term contract.
Darcy Kuemper to the Edmonton Oilers
The Colorado Avalanche's acquisition of Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and his subsequent new contract signaled the end of Darcy Kuemper's tenure with the defending Stanley Cup champions. With backup Pavel Francouz under contract for two more seasons at $2 million per season, the Avalanche goalie tandem is set through 2023-24.
On July 7, TSN's Darren Dreger reported Kuemper hopes to land a contract similar to the six-year contract ($5.9 million annual cap hit) that former Avs goalie Philipp Grubauer signed with the Seattle Kraken last summer. The Edmonton Oilers could be reluctant to go beyond four years with the 32-year-old netminder, but they could be willing to offer up $6 million per season.
The Oilers are in dire need of an upgrade between the pipes. Mikko Koskinen has departed for Switzerland, while TSN's Darren Dreger reported Mike Smith could spend the final season of his contract on long-term injury reserve. They already have $15.9 million in cap space and could go as high as $22 million with Smith and defenseman Oscar Klefbom on LTIR for 2022-23.
That cap room allows the Oilers to outbid rivals like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals, who are also in the market for a netminder. Despite reaching the 2022 Western Conference Finals, the Oilers need reliable goaltending if they're to become Stanley Cup contenders. Kuemper could be their best bet.
Evgeni Malkin to the Pittsburgh Penguins
Evgeni Malkin will test the free-agent market for the first time in his 16-year career. Nevertheless, we predict he'll circle back and re-sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins were expected to turn their focus toward Malkin following their recent re-signing of Kris Letang. General manager Ron Hextall told reporters last Friday that he remained hopeful of getting him under contract. However, The Athletic's Rob Rossi reported the 35-year-old center was left wondering if they really want him back.
Malkin's injury history and his age were cited by Rossi among the reasons why Penguins management seemed reluctant to offer a significant long-term deal. He cited sources indicating their opening offer was two years at $6 million per season, followed by three years for the same annual cap hit. Rossi suggested a four-year deal would work for Malkin.
The Penguins' apparent hardball approach may have pushed Malkin toward the free-agent market. However, he might find that other clubs share the same concern as the Penguins and receive offers that aren't much better than what he'd get in Pittsburgh.
Malkin is a future Hall of Famer, but his career is winding down. He could quickly discover the grass isn't greener elsewhere and accept a three-year contract worth an annual cap hit of $6 million.