NHL's Top 12 UFAs of 2022: Latest rumours, reports

Watch as Edmonton Oilers forward Evander Kane completes his second natural hat trick of the playoffs, over a six-minute span in the second period against the Calgary Flames.

Team MVPs and top scorers.

Stanley Cup champions and No. 1 goaltenders.

All-Stars and bargain breakouts.

Yes, even with a few talents inking team-friendly extensions swiftly after elimination — Bryan Rust and Mark Giordano, for example — and avoiding the stress of free agency, the NHL’s 2022 UFA class is still percolating with plenty of compelling names.

And with the salary cap set to rise by $1 million, those spendy general managers will have a little more incentive to splash the pot on this summer’s Dougie Hamilton or John Tavares.

Here’s a rundown and ranking of hockey’s best impending unrestricted free agents, plus the latest buzz circulating about their future as most of the league has already shifted to off-season mode.

Free agency opens July 13.

We're less than a month away.

1. Johnny Gaudreau

Age on July 13: 28
Position: Left wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $6.75 million

The latest: Gaudreau’s future has been a constant source of consternation in Calgary.

A fabulous regular-season scorer who crushed the 115 points and played his way deep into the Hart Trophy conversation, Johnny Hockey has taken flak for not carrying the Flames deep in the post-season. That and his close ties to Boston and New Jersey have occasionally fueled spurts of trade speculation.

And yet, instead of exploring a swap, Calgary GM Brad Treliving held conversations about a Gaudreau extension last summer and is trying to get him locked up again now.

Where Gaudreau’s price has gone so far is through the roof. Check the comparables.

The all-star winger has earned praise from coach Darryl Sutter for improved defensive responsibility and posted an NHL-best plus-64 rating.

Assistant GM Craig Conroy told Sportsnet 960, on Feb. 23, “That’s a done deal. We’re gonna get that done.... You know what they call me. They call me Santa Claus giving contracts.”

During his April 17 appearance on After Hours, Treliving said just because the sides agreed to keep things quiet, that by no means does that suggest the Flames don’t want to re-sign Gaudreau.

They’ll “move heaven and earth” and “do everything we possibly can to get Johnny back,” Treliving said. 

Gaudreau followed up his superb regular season with the most productive playoffs of his career. He sounded torn at his season-ending availability.

“Obviously, Calgary has a special place in my heart,” Gaudreau told reporters.

“I’ve been part of this organization for 11 years now. Ever since Day 1 I got here, the fans, the organization, my teammates, even (the media). Sometimes, when I’m playing bad, you guys give me a hard time. But that’s alright. But everything about this city I love. My wife loves it here. 

“You guys can tell on Twitter, my uncle, my dad, my mom, my sisters, my brother, everyone loves Calgary. It’s a special place in our heart, and we love it here, so we’ll see what happens.

Fellow 100-point man RFA Matthew Tkachuk also needs a new deal. This won’t be easy, but Treliving will do his best to make it work.

2. Kris Letang

Age on July 13: 35
Position: Defence
2021-22 salary cap hit: $7.25 million

The latest: “Of course,” Letang said, he’d like to re-up with the only team he’s known to keep trying to win Cups alongside Sidney Crosby until the wheels fall off.

Pittsburgh’s new shot-callers, GM Ron Hextall and president Brian Burke, face a number of delicate decisions to make this summer. Even after extending Jeff Carter and Bryan Rust at reasonable rates, they still have a few impending UFAs.

What Letang’s heart wants seems clear, though.

“You hear about those guys who decide to go with another team trying to look for another Cup or bigger salaries,” he said. “The thing we built in Pittsburgh with Sid and Geno, I think it's special. Obviously, there's always an end to an era. I cannot predict when it's going to be done.”

Letang leads all impending free agents in time-on-ice and all impending free agent D-men in points — and neither race is even close.

With his long-serving agent, Kent Hughes, landing a gig as GM of the Montreal Canadiens, naturally there has been speculation that Letang might play out his career for his hometown.

“That noise been in my ear for eight years, so it doesn’t really matter. You know, at the end of the day, I’m like, 34 years old. I’ve been through those things. It doesn’t really bother me anymore,” Letang said on March 2, laughing.

When the Penguins made their fourth opening-round exit in as many years, Letang doubled down: “The main goal is to stay here and play in Pittsburgh.”

Mark Madden of Trib Live floated a four-year extension at $8.6 million per season would be fair.

Extension talks with Letang and Hextall are ongoing. The GM said he’d like to make the D-man a Penguin for the rest of his career.

There is a sense that if Letang wants to maximize dollars and term, however, he’ll go to market.

The Athletic’s Rob Rossi reported the club’s best offer had been three years at $15 million. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman had caught wind of a four-year extension at a bit less than Letang’s current AAV of $7.25 million.

“Certain players, if they want the most money, they’re probably going to go elsewhere,” Hextall said on Jan. 27.

Regardless, Letang is priority No.1 right now.

3. Filip Forsberg

Age on July 13: 27
Position: Left wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $6 million

The latest: David Poile’s Nashville Predators went through a mini reset after watching Pekka Rinne retire and shipping out Ryan Ellis and Viktor Arvidsson in off-season trades.

Which has thrust Forsberg and Poile to a crossroads. Having already been run through the rumour mill in 2021, uncertainty around Forsberg’s future has lingered throughout the winter, past the trade deadline and now into the off-season.

Forsberg was especially displeased with the Arvidsson move, but certainly put that behind him in his first 40-goal, 80-point campaign.

On the open market, would the impact winger command more than $8 million? Perhaps.

Poile prefers to keep Forsberg’s salary under captain Roman Josi’s $9.06 million; Forsberg would like more than the $8 million Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen earn.

The sides have been banging away in an effort to find a happy medium for months now.

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

Polie told Adam Vigan of The Athletic in late November that he’s not putting a timetable on a Forsberg decision.

“Guys sign when it’s the right time, and teams do the same thing. It takes two to find a common denominator. There’s been some reporting that there hasn’t been much happening, but we’ve stayed in contact with his agents. It’s just a process. I think both sides would like to be together.”

Poile shot down Andy Strickland’s Feb. 23 report that he was shopping his best forward. Surely, he’s received calls.

"No, I'm not trying to trade Filip Forsberg. I'm trying to sign Filip Forsberg," Poile told 102.5 The Game in Nashville on March 1. "It hasn't been done. I don't know when it's going to get done. I don't have the crystal ball to say it will get done. Both sides want it to happen, but it hasn't happened now.

"As of today, I can tell you, clearly, we are trying to sign Filip Forsberg."

Poile was still singing from that same songbook at his season-ending press conference.

"For today, and for the next month, or however long it takes, we're going to concentrate” on extending Forsberg, Poile said. “I can tell you Filip has been a great player for us. There is mutual interest in having him remain a Nashville Predator for the foreseeable future.”

Forsberg appeared onstage at CMA Fest in mid-June, and the Nissan Stadium crowd started chanting, “Re-sign Forsberg!”

Forsberg replied, “Thank you, guys. Let’s do it.”

4. Nazem Kadri

Age on July 13: 31
Position: Centre
2021-22 salary cap hit: $4.5 million

The latest: One of this season’s biggest bargains, Kadri has over-delivered big-time on his $4-million salary.

Before temporarily going down to injury, Kadri was top-five leaguewide in scoring. He’s having a phenomenal playoffs, avoiding suspension and ripping hat tricks.

GM Joe Sakic and Kadri (who owns a 10-team no-trade list) are content to ride out the post-season before hunkering down and negotiating.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it, but you try not to focus on it too much,” said Kadri, who ramped up his focus and training over the summer in anticipation of his contract showcase.

“I just want to play out the season and focus on one game at a time, because I feel like that’s the best mentality and best preparation for it.”

Unless Kadri takes another discount, the cold math says there won’t be room for him in Denver next fall.

Sakic has already promised $16.25 million annually to younger core forwards Mikko Rantanen and Landeskog, and he must begin carving out serious cap space ($12 million?... more?) for Nathan MacKinnon in the summer of 2023.

Further, the Avs don’t have a single NHL goalie under contract beyond this season and will have other holes to patch.

Paying Kadri — what, $7 million? — into his mid-30s feels like a luxury they won’t be able to afford.

Kadri switched agents, from Brian MacDonald to Darren Ferris, in anticipation of finding the best possible deal this summer.

Why?

“I just felt like it was time, you know. Through my career, I feel like I've given myself an opportunity to explore, and I've had the same agent for a long, long time now. And I just wanted to see what else was out there for me,” Kadri explained.

“It was just difficult to do, in general. [MacDonald] was a great friend of mine. And we formed a great relationship. So it's always tough to have those conversations, but at the end of the day, I think I owe it to myself, and it's something that I've definitely earned.”

Ferris negotiated Mitch Marner’s lucrative 2019 deal and got creative with Taylor Hall’s one-year bid in Buffalo as a UFA in 2020.

Philadelphia is ready to spend to regain relevance. That is just one team to keep an eye on when the Kadri sweepstakes open up.

5. John Klingberg

Age on July 13: 29
Position: Defence
2021-22 salary cap hit: $4.25 million

The latest: Much like Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm, a younger Klingberg signed a sweetheart team-friendly deal and is finally due a meaningful raise.

While Klingberg’s production has dipped from his 67-point performance in 2017-18, top-four right-shot blueliners who can play in all situations never fail to command bidding wars.

The Stars have already committed significant money to Miro Heiskanen ($8.45 million) for eight years, Esa Lindell ($5.8 million) for four, and Ryan Suter ($3.65 million) for four. Giving Klingberg his due will make for a pricy D corps in 2022-23.

In October, Sportsnet's Jeff Marek reported that Klingberg was looking for a deal worth between $62 to $66 million on an eight-year term.

The Fourth Period’s David Pagnotta reported in January that Klingberg had requested a trade in the fall, after extension talks hit a wall.

"I don't think it's entirely true. It's not like I've been going out there and asking, 'I want to get traded now,' or something like that," Klingberg responded. "It's something that's been going on with the negotiations and stuff like that. I'm not going to lie — it's been a few frustrating years individually.

"Other guys have signed right before the season before. I wanted to do that as well. Lately, it has been going more quietly and quietly. For me, as a player, I don't feel that I've been appreciated in that way when we don't even negotiate. It's quiet. For me, as a player, my agent, we talked to Jim a couple months back. He agreed that we could start talking with other GMs and see where we were at. Negotiation-wise, the Stars have been very quiet."

Klingberg is coveted, but with the Stars in playoff contention, they held firm at the deadline.

Elliotte Friedman suggested that Klingberg — a classic “own rental” — could ultimately sign with the Seattle Kraken.

Despite the in-season drama, Klingberg maintained that he’d prefer to re-sign in Texas.

"At the end of the day, I always want to stay here," Klingberg told reporters, after playoff elimination. "This is the only team I've been talking to, obviously. With [Nill] and on our side, we've been trying to find different ways to get it done. Year length, money-wise, just trying to get something we're both happy with."

Nill was more accepting that money could be a hurdle here, but he later shuffled Ben Bishop’s contract off to Buffalo. So, that helps.

"John has an opportunity to be a free agent, and I don't blame him," the GM said. "He's got to look after his family. He'll see what the market is, and we'll see what the market is, and get a feel for that and see if it's a fit for both parties. It all depends on term and money. He knows where we're at; I know where he's at. He's earned this right, and I give him full credit for that."

6. Patrice Bergeron

Age on July 13: 36
Position: Centre
2021-22 salary cap hit: $6.875 million

The latest: Despite his age and potential retirement, Bergeron is still an all-world player. It would be disrespectful not to keep the Bruins captain and five-time Selke champ on our list.

Bergeron announced in the fall that he’d skate out the final year of the eight-year, $55 million contract he inked with Boston back in 2013 before making a call on the next stage of his career.

His body has been through the spin cycle. There is a chance he simply retires elite.

Upon a Round 1 elimination by the Carolina Hurricanes, Bergeron said that were he to continue skating, he only has interest in Boston. But he wants time to rest and ponder signing a one-year deal with the B’s.

Club president Cam Neely wants to give the captain his space but would prefer an answer soonish.

“He understands that we have decisions to make coming up here,” Neely said. “I hope he feels good about his game still, because he had a pretty damn good year. So, hopefully he’s mentally prepared to have another one. You’ve got to give him some time to digest all that and talk with his family about it. But we have decisions to make coming up as well.

“It’s tough to find a Bergeron. Hopefully, he does come back. But if he doesn’t, we’ve got to go to work.” 

Speaking again in early June, Bergeron said he is in no rush to make a retirement call. 

"I still think I have a lot of time ahead of me to make that decision," Bergeron said. "I'm going to make sure that I take all the time I need to make the right one."

Sweeney won’t rush his first-ballot Hall of Famer into a choice. Still, what a pressure point for the organization.

"You could look at plans B and C and such, but let’s be honest: You don’t replace that type of player and what he means to our organization. That might take years to replace that player in that sense," Sweeney said. "He’s given us indications that he’s not going to hold us up in terms of what we may have to do subsequent to making a decision. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t think there’s a timetable on it."

7. Evander Kane

Age on July 13: 30
Position: Left wing / Right wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $2.1 million

The latest: The Edmonton Oilers’ heavily debated signing of Kane was proven to be the most impactful midseason acquisition in hockey.

Not only did the top-six winger immediately contribute during the regular season — 22 goals and 39 points in 43 games — but through two rounds of the post-season, he led all goal-scorers and was averaging one even-strength point per game.

In recruiting Kane, GM Ken Holland asserted, “I believe in second chances.” That belief paid off in a bargain.

There will be mutual interest in making Kane something more than a half-year rental, but it’s complicated. The power forward’s former contract with the San Jose Sharks is still under grievance, and the player has dealt with bankruptcy and desires a payday.

Logic suggests the more money Kane can claw back from the Sharks, the more flexible he can be on working out a slightly team-friendly deal with a contender.

When Kane hired new agent Dan Milstein to negotiate his Oilers deal, roughly half the league expressed some level of interest in the sudden UFA. Interest will only spike after this playoff performance.

With Holland’s only other pending UFAs being depth skaters, Kane should join goaltending as top priority this off-season.

“I've been very happy with my time here,” Kane told reporters upon elimination. “The fans have been phenomenal. The people in the city have been phenomenal. This has got to be the best organization I've played for. So, I have no complaints and, just like everybody else, I'm curious looking forward to see what happens.”

Holland’s take: “I can sign anybody. But someone's gotta go,” the GM reasoned. “If you love everybody, somebody's not staying.

“Can you keep him? I can keep anybody. But I can't keep ‘em all.”

Kane issued this statement in June:

8. Andrew Copp

Age on July 13: 27
Position: Centre / Wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $3.64 million

The latest: Controlling his fate in Winnipeg and opting not to sign long-term, the steadily improving Copp was a sensible trade target for the New York Rangers.

Their hand forced, the Jets moved Copp plus a sixth-rounder to the Big Apple in return for Morgan Barron, two conditional second-round picks and a fifth-round pick in 2023.

One of those seconds improved to a first-rounder once Copp and the Blueshirts reached the Eastern Conference Final.

Bruising and productive, Copp only elevated his game even further since the deal. The versatile two-way forward has cracked the 20-goal and 30-assist marks for the first time in his career. He proved even more valuable in the playoffs, skating more than 20 minutes a night, scoring big goals, and contributing to special teams.

The Rangers have decisions to make on a number of free agents — Alexandar Georgiev, Justin Braun, Kaapo Kakko, Tyler Motte, Ryan Strome, Frank Vatrano — but with how seamlessly he’s fit in, Copp is worth keeping as more than a rental.

His new AAV should come in around $4.5 million.

Is it as simple as GM Chris Drury making a choice between Strome and Copp? Affording both is unlikely.

9. Darcy Kuemper

Age on July 13: 32
Position: Goaltender
2021-22 salary cap hit: $4.5 million

The latest: Another tense off-season awaits Avs GM Sakic in ’22.

Of his dozen impending free agents — a list that includes Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Valeri Nichushkin, and Josh Manson — Kuemper may be the most compelling. (No small wrinkle: MacKinnon will also become eligible to sign an extension this summer.)

Scrambling to fill his crease once UFA Philipp Grubauer bolted for Seattle, Sakic paid a hefty price to Arizona for one year of Kuemper: a 2022 first-round draft choice, a 2024 third-round draft choice, plus defenceman Conor Timmins.

By extending backup Pavel Francouz mid-season (two years at $2 million a pop), Sakic at least ensured he’d have an NHL-level goalie under contract for 2022-23. But he’ll need more than that to contend again.

Yes, Kuemper once again battled injuries, but his sparkling 37-12-3 record and .921 save percentage through 57 appearances gave the Avs stability. And 2022’s UFA market will be thin on starters at the game’s most important position. He’ll reap plenty of interest.

Both sides are taking a patient approach. Certainly Kuemper and the Avs reaching the Stanley Cup Final does not hurt his stock.

10. Evgeni Malkin

Age on July 13: 35
Position: Centre
2021-22 salary cap hit: $9.5 million

The latest: Like Bergeron in Boston, there is a sense time is running out to win (again) with the aging core in Pittsburgh, and Malkin is but one of a few key impending UFAs.

Even as Malkin slows down, his production has rebounded back to a point per game: 20 goals and 42 points over 41 games played in 2021-22.

A fitting comparable might be the deal veteran centre Joe Pavelski signed as a UFA in Dallas a few years back: three years, $21 million.

Hextall & Co. have opened extension talks with Malkin mid-season, and those have carried on after playoff elimination.

"We've had discussions with both guys. Certainly, they're a top priority for us. We have a limited amount of cap space to squeeze everybody in, but that's certainly our goal,” Hextall said on Jan. 27.

“Negotiations have been fine, and we'll continue on.”

Having raked more than $116 million in career earnings, Malkin said in December that his next isn’t weighing on his mind.

"No, no, I'm not thinking about my contract. I'm not thinking about money. I'm, like, a pretty rich guy," Malkin said with a smile.

"I know it's a little bit not easy, but I want three, four more years. And I feel like I can."

Hextall reiterated on May 23 that “in a perfect world” Malkin retires a Penguin and that he would not place a timeline on an extension.

"I believe I am still a good player, and I believe good players sign good contracts. I hope we sign a good deal,” Malkin said at locker cleanout.

“I only can say right now I want to play, like, three or four years. Money is not a big deal, but I have family. I have parents. I want a good future for them."

11. Jack Campbell

Age on July 13: 30
Position: Goaltender
2021-22 salary cap hit: $1.65 million

The latest: Until it’s signed, the topic of Campbell’s next contract won’t go away.

There were reports that Leafs GM Kyle Dubas tiptoed into extension talks early in the season before Campbell’s stellar first-half performance vaulted him to his first all-star game nod.

“Whoever said we’re talking is full of crap,” Campbell’s agent Kurt Overhardt told Postmedia in November. “I can tell you that there’s been no material discussions [with the Leafs]. Jack just wants to play hockey. That’s it.”

A concerning post-Christmas dip in performance may have reduced his bargaining power and shaken his confidence, but Campbell rebounded nicely down the stretch and was the Leafs’ undisputed No. 1 in the post-season.

There has been mutual interest between player and club in extending the relationship. But at what cost?

If Dubas wishes to commit long term, one trick will be manoeuvring around the $3.8 million AAV he gave Campbell’s backup, Petr Mrazek, as a UFA last summer.

“Winning here means everything to me,” Campbell said after the Round 1 defeat. “I love the city of Toronto, I love the fans, the support. My teammates are absolutely incredible, the coaching staff, really everything.

“I absolutely love being a Leaf.”

Would he take a little less than market value to remain one?

“As far as me loving the city and doing everything I can to stay here,” Campbell replied, “that’s up to Kurt and Kyle to discuss.”

Campbell’s career earnings fall under $4.2 million. This summer is his chance to hit it big.

With RFAs Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren and Pierre Engvall needing raises too, keeping Campbell’s number reasonable is imperative.

“I think I would put Jack in the same grouping in terms of him, Ilya Mikheyev, Mark Giordano (since re-signed), Ondrej Kase (actually an RFA) and Ilya Lyubushkin that are unrestricted free agents. We will sit down as a group here in the coming days and weeks,” Dubas said.

“(Assistant GM) Brandon Pridham will get to work in speaking to their representatives and get an idea of what the expectations are. We will begin to look at the marketplace and then make our decisions from there.”

The Leafs fired goaltending coach Steve Briere, with whom Campbell had a close relationship, and negotiations had been slow to gain momentum through early June.

12. Claude Giroux

Age on July 13: 34
Position: Centre / Right wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $8.275 million

The latest: When the all-in Florida Panthers adopted the former face of the Philadelphia Flyers, Giroux looked like he’d been playing in Sunrise his whole life.

Better than a point per game, the veteran added more firepower and another power play weapon to a roster that has already established itself as the league’s most dangerous.

Then the Lightning came to town and unravelled the Presidents’ Trophy winners, their power-play, and their pricy rentals.

Considering the price GM Bill Zito paid to bring Giroux into the fold, and considering the player handpicked his landing spot, one must imagine re-signing the accomplished playmaker will be a priority — even with the Panthers’ tricky cap situation.

"Florida was at the top of my list," Giroux said. "If there was a team I wanted to go to, it was here. I had a chance to play against them three times this year, watched a few of their games. Asked around about the guys on the team, the coach, management, and I didn't hear a lot of bad things. I'm just happy the deal got done."

An opportunity to re-up will be there, as Zito is interested in extending the relationship.

But Giroux holds the leverage here. More money is likely to be found elsewhere.

“As crazy as it might sound, I haven’t really talked about it or thought about it yet. I think it’s very important to have a few weeks to turn off the brain before you go back to thinking business, before you go back to training. A little time off is very important so you don’t go crazy,” Giroux told The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun on June 8.

“Me and my family, we’ll obviously talk about it, do a little bit of homework, and see how things are going. But I’ve definitely enjoyed my time in Florida."

More notable UFAs in 2022: Marc-Andre Fleury, Ville Husso, Vincent Trocheck, Valeri Nichushkin, Reilly Smith, Phil Kessel, Mason Marchment, Alexander Radulov, Ondrej Palat, David Perron, Rickard Rakell, Max Domi, Joe Thornton, P.K. Subban, Evan Rodrigues, Nick Leddy, Andre Burakovsky, Josh Manson, Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome, Paul Stastny, Ilya Mikheyev, Martin Jones, Braden Holtby, Andreas Athanasiou, Michael Stone, Calle Jarnkrok, Nick Paul, Marcus Johansson, Craig Anderson, Scott Wedgewood, Casey DeSmith

All contract info via the indispensable CapFriendly.com.

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