NHL free agency: Gaudreau, Kadri among players to watch

Jul 11, 2022, 3:11 PM | Updated: Jul 18, 2022, 3:30 pm

The top players expected to be available in NHL free agency include an MVP candidate who might have the chance to go home and a veteran who flipped his old playoff script to become a Stanley Cup champion.

Each had a career year at the perfect time.

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Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau and Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri could be the richest beneficiaries in free agency when it opens Wednesday. Seven-year contracts worth up to, if not more than, $10 million a year are possible.

That is, unless Gaudreau sticks with the Flames. “Johnny Hockey” can sign for eight years up until midnight EDT Tuesday night.

“They’re big decisions,” Calgary general manager Brad Treliving said. “They’re life decisions. If he doesn’t sign with us, he’s earned the opportunity to look at the market. That’s something he’s got to consider.”

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One thing Gaudreau could consider is the lure of playing for the Philadelphia Flyers team he rooted for while growing up in Carney’s Point, New Jersey. They’d need to clear significant cap space to make room for Gaudreau, who had a career-best 40 goals, 75 assists and 115 points last season in leading Calgary to the Pacific Division title and into the second round of the playoffs.

Gaudreau, who turns 29 in August, finished fourth in voting for the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player.

Kadri was one of Colorado’s most valuable performers on the way to lifting the Cup for the first time with this core led by Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen and the third time in franchise history.

Acquired three years ago after back-to-back playoff suspensions, he rebounded from another lengthy ban in the 2021 postseason to put up 87 points in the regular season and 15 more in 16 games of the Avalanche’s Cup run.

But the soon-to-be 32-year-old might be one of the odd men out, seeing as Colorado also has wingers Valeri Nichushkin and Andre Burakovsky and defensemen Josh Manson and Jack Johnson set to be unrestricted free agents.

“We know we’re not going to be able to sign everybody,” said Joe Sakic, who on Monday was promoted from general manager to president of hockey operations. “We know that. But we’ve got our priority, and then we’ll see. I think some players will test the market and see what’s out there for them and see if they want to come back, but time will tell.”

Here are some other interesting players who could test the market at noon EDT Wednesday:

Darcy Kuemper

Colorado’s Cup-winning goaltender won’t be back after a trade with the New York Rangers to make Alexandar Georgiev the starter moving forward. Kuemper was solid, not spectacular, in backstopping the Avalanche to the title with a 2.57 goals-against average and .902 save percentage, though that stability could be what another high-scoring contender needs.

The 32-year-old could be a perfect fit for the Toronto Maple Leafs, another team looking to get over the hump in the playoffs with solid play in net. They already cleared cap space by trading Petr Mrazek to Chicago and are in place to spend at hockey’s most important position.

Jack Campbell

Toronto’s most recent starting goalie could return or see what else is out there for a 30-year-old who has shown he can carry the load in the regular season and succeed in the playoffs.

Campbell as recently as the first round in 2021 put up a 1.81 GAA and .934 save percentage, which wasn’t enough to help Toronto advance but would be with the right amount of scoring. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers would be able to provide that, and Campbell is an upgrade over boom-or-bust 40-year-old Mike Smith.

Evgeni Malkin

The Robin to Sidney Crosby’s Batman for 16 years is a superstar in his own right like Scottie Pippen was for Michael Jordan with the NBA’s Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. The big question now is whether Malkin will, at 36 years old, stay with the Pittsburgh Penguins or bolt for a new opportunity.

A person with knowledge of the decision said Malkin has opted to hit the free agent market and see what his options are. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Monday because neither Malkin nor the Penguins announced the intent for him to test the waters in free agency.

Penguins GM Ron Hextall last week forecasted getting a deal done soon with defenseman Kris Letang and a day later finalized a $36.6 million, six-year contract. In the same breath, Hextall said talks with Malkin were on a different level — further away from a sure thing.

Malkin was a point-a-game performer last season after returning from right knee surgery.

John Klingberg

In a free agent class deep up front and shallow on the blue line, Klingberg is by far the best defenseman available.

The Dallas Stars knew before the trade deadline it would be difficult, if not impossible, to re-sign Klingberg before free agency starts. As recently as last week, GM Jim Nill acknowledged the soon-to-be 30-year-old Swede will talk to other teams as each side assesses what’s best moving forward.

Klingberg is a highly coveted right-shot defender who can run a power play and skate big minutes. Dougie Hamilton’s $63 million, seven-year deal signed a year ago with the New Jersey Devils is a good comparison.

Claude Giroux

The longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain who joined the Florida Panthers at the deadline helped them reach the second round of the playoffs, but the Presidents’ Trophy winners were then swept in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Giroux hand-picked Florida as his destination because of the no-movement clause in his contract, and he could return even if nothing is signed before Wednesday.

Another option is going close to home and joining the Ottawa Senators, who are moving from rebuilding into the early stages of contending and showed that by acquiring high-scoring winger Alex DeBrincat from the Chicago Blackhawks. Giroux is from nearby Hearst, Ontario, and would be just the kind of veteran the Senators young core needs to show the way to winning.

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