Eight Free Agents with the Most Money at Stake in the 2022 NHL Playoffs

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistMay 7, 2022

Eight Free Agents with the Most Money at Stake in the 2022 NHL Playoffs

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    The regular season is the main measuring stick for evaluating an NHL player's performance when he's eligible to become a restricted or unrestricted free agent. However, a strong effort in the postseason can also provide a significant boost to their stock.

    The regular-season production of this year's crop of prime free-agent stars, such as the Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau and Nashville Predators' Filip Forsberg, assures them of big paydays regardless of their postseason numbers. The same applies to aging superstars with a proven record of success, such as the Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron and the Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin.

    The postseason can help a player such as Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell improve his value in this summer's UFA market. Meanwhile, a restricted free agent like the Calgary Flames' Andrew Mangiapane could get a bigger pay raise if his regular-season performance carries over into the postseason.

    Here is a look at eight players among this summer's NHL free-agent class whose value could rise or fall depending on their postseason play. As always, you can express your views in the comments section below.

Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars

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    In just his second NHL season with the Dallas Stars, Jake Oettinger established himself as their starting goaltender. The 23-year-old sophomore goaltender had a 30-15-1 record and a 2.53 goals-against average, backstopping the Stars into a playoff berth in the Western Conference.

    Oettinger's emergence as a reliable starter came at an opportune time for the Stars. A knee injury ended the career of former starter Ben Bishop, while 2020 playoff hero Anton Khudobin struggled before undergoing season-ending hip surgery. Offseason acquisition Braden Holtby has been sidelined since March 4 with a lower-body injury.

    Without Oettinger's goaltending, the Stars would probably be outside this year's playoff picture. Completing a three-year entry-level contract with an annual cap hit of $925,000, the 23-year-old could be in line for a big pay raise on his next contract.

    Oettinger lacks arbitration rights this summer. The Stars could use that to their advantage by inking him to an affordable short-term deal to determine if he's capable of handling the starter's job long-term. They could make that lengthy commitment now for around $4 million annually, which could make him a steal on their cap sheet if he blossoms into a Vezina Trophy candidate in the future.

    The Stars face a powerful Calgary Flames offense in the opening round of the 2022 playoffs. A strong effort on Oettinger's part could push his next contract higher, especially if he carries them to an upset over the Flames.

Andrew Copp, New York Rangers

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    The New York Rangers acquired Andrew Copp from the Winnipeg Jets at this year's March trade deadline. Our original assessment of that deal had him skating on their third line. Instead, he's proved to be an excellent fit on their second line alongside center Ryan Strome and superstar winger Artemi Panarin.

    A versatile two-way, middle-six forward, the 27-year-old Copp had 13 goals and 35 points in 56 games this season with the Jets. He followed up with eight goals and 18 points in 16 games with the Rangers, pushing his output on the season to a career-high 21 goals and 32 assists for 53 points in 72 games before a lower-body injury cost him the final two games of the regular season.

    Copp's big jump in production couldn't have come at a better time. He's coming off a one-year deal worth $3.64 million and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in July.

    On April 29, TSN's Darren Dreger reported the Rangers will push hard to sign Copp to a contract extension. The cost of doing so, however, could grow if the winger maintains his solid chemistry with Panarin and Strome during the playoffs.

    At the time of the trade to the Rangers, Copp might have earned a long-term deal worth between $4 and $5 million per season. A strong playoff performance could send the term up to seven years or the dollars to between $5.5 million and $6 million.

Ville Husso, St. Louis Blues

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    Ville Husso began this season backing up St. Louis Blues starting goaltender Jordan Binnington. Over the course of the schedule, however, the 27-year-old Finn outplayed Binnington, setting himself up for a nice payday in the offseason.

    In 40 games played, Husso had a 25-7-6 record with a 2.56 goals-against average, a save percentage of .919 and two shutouts. Binnington, one of the heroes of the Blues' 2019 Stanley Cup run, was 18-14-4 in 37 contests with a goals-against average of 3.13, a .901 save percentage and two shutouts.

    Husso is completing a two-year contract with an annual salary-cap hit of $750,000. 

    After proving he can handle the responsibilities of a starting goaltender, Husso could earn a multiyear deal worth over $4 million per season, especially if he plays well in the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs.

    The Blues already have Binnington under contract through 2026-27 with an annual average value of $6 million and a full no-trade clause. With $71.6 million invested in 17 active players next season, the decline in Binnington's performance makes it difficult to move his contract to make room for Husso's new deal.

    Husso is going to get a hefty raise on his next contract wherever he plays next season. The further the Blues go in the postseason with him between the pipes, the more lucrative that deal becomes.

Andrew Mangiapane, Calgary Flames

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    Calgary Flames stars Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm all enjoyed career-best performances this season, with each exceeding 40 goals. They also overshadowed the solid play of teammate Andrew Mangiapane, who also set personal bests with 35 goals and 55 points, finishing fourth among Flames scorers.

    The contract statuses of pending unrestricted free agent Gaudreau and restricted free agent Tkachuk have generated plenty of attention among Calgary fans and pundits. Like Tkachuk, Mangiapane is slated to become an RFA this summer.

    Gaudreau and Tkachuk are going to get lucrative long-term deals with the Flames or somebody else this summer. An outstanding postseason effort on Mangiapane's part, however, could also put him in line for a substantial bump in pay.

    Mangiapane is completing a two-year contract with an annual average value of $2.425 million. The versatile 26-year-old winger also has arbitrations rights and is a year away from UFA eligibility.

    Entering this season, signing Mangiapane to an affordable contract was a good possibility given his back-to-back 32-point performance, albeit in COVID-shortened seasons. The jump in his stats over a full season, however, could help him more than double his annual average salary, and a strong effort in the 2022 playoffs would make the case that he's worth a lucrative long-term deal.

Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings

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    The Los Angeles Kings have returned to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in four years. Adrian Kempe was among the key factors behind his club's improvement this season, and a solid outing in the postseason could also help the 25-year-old winger earn a profitable new deal.

    Kempe enjoyed a breakout performance in his sixth NHL campaign, tallying a career-high 35 goals and 54 points in 78 games. He finished second to linemate Anze Kopitar in team scoring and became the first King to reach the 30-goal plateau since Kopitar in 2017-18.

    A physical two-way forward who can play wing or center and kills penalties, the 6'2", 200-pound Kempe is completing a three-year contract worth an annual cap hit of $2 million. Reaching the 35-goal mark this season could put him in line for a deal between $4 and $5 million annually.

    Kempe had no points in his previous four playoff games back in 2018. Four years later, he's blossomed into a valuable asset for his club. He will be looked upon as one of the Kings' leaders in their opening-round series against the Edmonton Oilers.

    The Kings entered the series as the underdogs, but if Kempe plays well against the Oilers, it should help him secure a long-term extension of perhaps seven years with an annual cap hit of $5.5 million.

Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    A late bloomer as a starting goaltender, Jack Campbell earned that role with the Toronto Maple Leafs with a solid performance filling in for the sidelined Frederik Andersen last season. He could not be faulted for the Leafs' opening-round collapse against the Montreal Canadiens in the 2021 playoffs, finishing with a 1.81 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.

    Campbell got off to a great start to this season as the Leafs' full-time starter. The 29-year-old netminder won 17 of his first 25 games with a .939 save percentage and four shutouts, earning a place in the 2021-22 NHL All-Star Game.

    However, Campbell struggled over the remainder of the season, in part because injured ribs sidelined him for 10 games in March. He won seven of his final nine games, but his save percentage was .915 during that period and finished at .914 for the season.

    Campbell is completing a two-year contract with an annual average value of $1.65 million. Had he maintained his strong early-season numbers over the remainder of the schedule, he might've been a contender for the Vezina Trophy, which could've sent the annual value of his next contract toward the $7 million range.

    The drop in his performance over the second half, however, could drag his value down to around $5 million per season. That would still be a hefty raise over his current deal but nothing like what he could've received had he finished as a Vezina contender.

    A strong effort in this year's playoffs could push Campbell's value back up again, though. The Leafs haven't won a playoff round since 2004 or the Stanley Cup since 1967. Carrying his club on a deep playoff run, perhaps even winning hockey's holy grail, could make him a $7 million AAV player again.

Kevin Fiala, Minnesota Wild

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    Kevin Fiala couldn't have picked a better time to have a career-best season. Slated to become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer, the 25-year-old winger finished second among Minnesota Wild scorers with 85 points in 82 games.

    The Wild signed Fiala to a one-year, $5.1 million contract last summer after his 40-point effort in 50 games during last season's COVID-shortened campaign. The big increase in his stats this season should ensure he gets much more on his next contract.

    Complicating things, however, is the salary-cap crunch the Wild face over the next three seasons from buying out Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last summer. With a projected cap hit of $79 million for 2022-23, they'll have to jettison some salary to re-sign key players like Fiala.

    How much they'll have to shed could also depend on Fiala's play in the postseason. The Wild face a tough opening-round series against the high-scoring St. Louis Blues, but big effort on his part could push his asking price higher, particularly if the Wild stage a deep playoff run.

    Fiala is also a year away from unrestricted free agent eligibility. He could ask for a one-year deal with the aim of pursuing greater riches elsewhere on a long-term contract, which may require arbitration.

    On the other hand, both sides could agree to a long-term deal if the Wild are able to make it work on their cap sheet. Fiala's stats this season would likely push that number to an annual average value of over $7.5 million. If he falters in the postseason, however, those numbers could fall.

Nazem Kadri, Colorado Avalanche

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    This was a career season for Nazem Kadri. Playing in his contract year with the Colorado Avalanche, the 31-year-old center finished third in team scoring 87 points in 71 games.

    Kadri is completing a six-year contract with a $4.5 million annual salary-cap hit and is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in July. Considering his previous career best was a 32-goal, 61-point effort with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016-17, he seems set for a big raise to between $6 and $7 million. Given his age, he could seek a five-year deal.

    Hanging over all this, however, is Kadri's history of undisciplined playoff performances.

    While with the Leafs in 2018, he received a three-game suspension for boarding Boston Bruins forward Tommy Wingels. The following year, he was barred from the remainder of the 2019 playoffs after cross-checking Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk. During the 2021 playoffs, Kadri earned an eight-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of St. Louis Blues defenseman Justin Faulk.

    Kadri is a talented, physical second-line forward whose gritty style and offensive production makes him a welcome addition to any club. However, his loose-cannon act in recent postseasons not only proved costly to himself but also robbed his teams of the positive attributes he brings to the game.

    Another playoff suspension could not only hurt the Avalanche's hopes for a Stanley Cup run this year but also Kadri's chances of landing an expensive new deal. His regular-season play should still draw something over $6 million per season. However, he could earn around $7.5 million annually if he maintains his discipline in the 2022 postseason.


    2021-22 regular-season stats via NHL.com. Salary information via Cap Friendly. Addition info via Hockey-Reference.com