Thursday, August 11, 2022

NHL free agency: Johnny Gaudreau, Evgeni Malkin among top players available

NHL free agency is upon us, and some big names could be on the move. When it comes to free agency, there is always the risk of overpaying for a player and not getting good value out of that contract. However, if a team is smart, it could take a step toward Stanley Cup contention.

Due to the flat salary cap over the last few seasons, there is a laundry list of impact players available in free agency. Players like Johnny Gaudreau, Evgeni Malkin, and Nazem Kadri all fall into this category. If a team has the cap space and the willingness to write some checks, it could improve the outlook of its team once the chaos kicks off at 12 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

Even if a franchise can’t quite fit one of the bigger names under the salary cap, there are several appealing options when it comes to role players: Phil Kessel and P.K. Subban may not be as effective as they once were, but they will be affordable free agents for a contender trying to strengthen its depth.

With NHL free agency just some hours away, here is a quick look at some of the top available players.

Superstars

Johnny Gaudreau | LW | Calgary Flames

  • 2021-22: 40 goals, 75 assists, 115 points
  • Career: 210 goals, 399 assists, 609 points

Because the Nashville Predators signed Filip Forsberg to an eight-year contract, Johnny Gaudreau is the only current superstar to hit the free agency market. Following his dominant 115-point season, Gaudreau will have some very large numbers placed in front of him on Wednesday. There is still the possibility that Gaudreau remains in Calgary, but the Flames will have a lot of competition once this bidding war officially kicks off. Whichever team lands Gaudreau will get an elite difference-maker.

Impact Players

malkin-penguins.jpg

Evgeni Malkin | C | Pittsburgh Penguins

  • 2021-22: 20 goals, 22 assists, 42 points
  • Career: 444 goals, 702 assists, 1,146 points

An injury cut Malkin’s 2021-22 season in half, but he still managed to average a point per game.He looked hobbled last season, and the injury concerns are a big issue for the 35-year-old star. While it’s clear that Malkin is no longer the same caliber of player he was throughout Pittsburgh’s recent Stanley Cup runs, he can be a very valuable addition for most teams, assuming the contract length doesn’t run for more than a few years.

Nazem Kadri | C | Colorado Avalanche

  • 2021-22: 28 goals, 59 assists, 87 points
  • Career: 219 goals, 293 assists, 512 points

Not many players turn in career years at 31, but that is what Kadri did last season. And it’s why there might be a little bit of buyer beware tag for teams looking at Kadri on the free agency market. The temptation to shell out a pile of cash to sign him will be strong, but it’s also important to remember that Kadri tallied 11 goals and 32 points in 56 games with the Avalanche in 2020-21. Kadri’s true value is somewhere in the middle, and he can be a strong top-six addition for the right price.

Claude Giroux | C | Florida Panthers

  • 2021-22: 21 goals, 44 assists, 65 points
  • Career: 294 goals, 629 assists, 923 points

It will be interesting to see what Giroux decides to do this summer. The possibility of him being a Flyer for life ended last season when he was traded to the Florida Panthers ahead of the trade deadline. Now, Giroux has a decision to make. Even at 34-years-old, Giroux will probably get some substantial offers in free agency, but would he be willing to take less money and chase a Stanley Cup with a real contender?

Marc-Andre Fleury | G | Minnesota Wild

  • 2021-22: 2.90 GAA, 0.908 Sv%
  • Career: 2.57 GAA, 0.913 Sv%

Don’t let those 2021-22 numbers fool you. Fleury played 45 games behind an atrocious Chicago Blackhawks team that was one of the worst in the league in terms of allowing scoring chances against. As one might expect, his performance did improve after being traded to the Minnesota Wild, and he is only one year removed from taking home the 2021 Vezina Trophy. Fleury can still be a solid option for an otherwise strong team that needs help between the pipes.

Andre Burakovsky | LW | Colorado Avalanche

  • 2021-22: 22 goals, 39 assists, 61 points
  • Career: 123 goals, 172 assists, 295 points

With the Avalanche bringing back Valeri Nichuskin after his incredible performance in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, there is less room for Burakovsky under the salary cap. That is good news for any franchise looking to add some pop to its forward group. In 191 regular season games with the Avalanche, Burakovsky netted 61 goals and added 81 assists. He might not offer much to write home about on defense, but Burakovsky more than makes up for that with what he brings in the offensive zone.

Nino Niederreiter | RW | Carolina Hurricanes

  • 2021-22: 24 goals, 20 assists, 44 points
  • Career: 181 goals, 187 assists, 368 points

Niederreiter has quietly been a consistent goal-scorer throughout his career. In six of his last nine seasons, Niederreiter has scored at least 20 goals. Players like that don’t grow on trees, and he has been a finisher in the offensive end for the Hurricanes. Niederreiter may not get many headlines, but will immediately improve the offensive outlook for whichever team signs him.

Ondrej Palat | LW | Tampa Bay Lightning

  • 2021-22: 18 goals, 31 assists, 49 points
  • Career: 143 goals, 280 assists, 423 points

Few players in this free agency class can present a postseason resume on par with Palat’s. In the Lightning’s last three Stanley Cup Final runs, Palat has scored eight game-winning goals. If there is a concern with Palat, it’s a question about how he will perform away from the Lightning. Will he be as effective without Steven Stamkos or Brayden Point centering his line?

Darcy Kuemper | G | Colorado Avalanche

  • 2021-22: 2.54 GAA, 0.921 Sv%
  • Career: 2.48 GAA, 0.918 Sv%

The case of Kuemper is interesting. He had an excellent regular season with the Avalanche in 2021-22, and he was fourth in the NHL with 25.19 goals saved above average, per Natural Stat Trick. But in the playoffs, Colorado had to overcome Kuemper’s shortcomings to win the Stanley Cup. He posted a .902 save percentage and allowed 4.27 goals above expected in those games. Still, Kuemper has been rock solid for most of his NHL career, and that large sample size should warrant trust that he will return to form next year.

John Klingberg | D | Dallas Stars

  • 2021-22: 6 goals, 41 assists, 47 points
  • Career: 71 goals, 303 assists, 374 points

This year’s free agent class is very light on impact defensemen, and Klingberg will be the beneficiary of that. He will be the best defenseman on the market, and I could see a team overpaying to address a need at that position. Klingberg was still fairly effective for the Stars last year, but he did take a step back. He does bring the ability to generate offense from the blue line, and that will be very attractive to teams trying to acquire a puck-moving defenseman.

Ryan Strome | C | New York Rangers

  • 2021-22: 21 goals, 33 assists, 54 points
  • Career: 130 goals, 227 assists, 357 points

It will be fascinating to see how Strome fares in another situation, assuming he leaves New York. Strome has spent a lot of time with Atremi Panarin on his line, and that can inflate the numbers of any player. That’s not to take anything away from what Strome has done with the Rangers. He has been a productive forward, but how I’d be wary of overpaying him to drive play in the top six.

Evander Kane | LW | Edmonton Oilers

  • 2021-22: 22 goals, 17 assists, 39 points
  • Career: 286 goals, 259 assists, 545 points

Kane joined the Oilers in the middle of last season, and he found instant success. In 43 regular season games, Kane scored 22 goals, and added 13 more in the postseason. Of course, many of those goals came while playing on a line with the best player in the league, Connor McDavid. Kane still has a scoring touch. That much is clear, but will he be able to create his own offense on another team?

Role players

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Calgary Flames

USATSI

Josh Manson | D | Colorado Avalanche

  • 2021-22: 6 goals, 10 assists, 16 points
  • Career: 28 goals, 92 assists, 120 points

Manson had a somewhat underwhelming regular season with the Ducks and Avalanche. However, he found a way to elevate his game a bit in the postseason, and he played fairly well in a depth role. He might be able to do the same on another team, and he could get some decent money after the Avs’ Stanley Cup run.

Alex Edler | D | Los Angeles Kings

  • 2021-22: 3 goals, 16 assists, 19 points
  • Career: 102 goals, 326 assists, 428 points

At the end of his time in Vancouver, Edler’s career looked like it was over. However, he looked like a completely refreshed player on the Kings. The team controlled a solid majority of the scoring chances with Edler on the ice, and he will be an affordable option in a weak free agency class for defensemen.

Phil Kessel | RW | Arizona Coyotes

2021-22: 8 goals, 44 assists, 52 points

Career: 399 goals, 557 assists, 956 points

One of the most fascinating men in hockey is on the open market. Kessel’s goal-scoring went into the tank this past season, but he did post a career low shooting percentage of 4.6%, and the lack of talent around him probably didn’t help. If an otherwise strong defensive team wants an offensive upgrade, Kessel would be a good fit.

Ben Chiarot | D | Florida Panthers

  • 2021-22: 9 goals, 17 assists, 26 points
  • Career: 31 goals, 87 assists, 118 points

Chiarot is a divisive player. Ask the more traditional hockey fan, and they will probably have a high opinion of him. As someone from the analytics community, and they will probably explain why Chiarot is overrated. It doesn’t help that Chiarot was pretty underwhelming in the Panthers’ second-round playoff exit.

Paul Stastny | C | Winnipeg Jets

  • 2021-22: 21 goals, 24 assists, 45 points
  • Career: 284 goals, 516 assists, 800 points

Stastny is entering his 17th NHL season, and he keeps churning out productive seasons. He won’t break the bank for any team, and he would slot in quite nicely as a third-line center on a short-term contract.

P.K. Subban | D | New Jersey Devils

  • 2021-22: 5 goals, 17 assists, 22 points
  • Career: 115 goals, 352 assists, 467 points

The version of Subban that was in the Norris Trophy conversation every year no longer exists, but he did perform well in a third-pairing role for the Devils this past season. Subban would be a good depth signing for a contender looking to solidify its defense.

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