Shockingly, we’re more than two weeks removed from free agency’s opening and the top centreman and defenceman available are… well, still available.
A flurry of trades and signings have taken a toll on our Top 10 UFA board, and yet a few major names — and plenty of intriguing second-tier ones — remain team-less.
Here’s a quick rundown of the best UFAs still available in midsummer, and the latest on their situations.
Bargains are still there to be found.
1. Nazem Kadri
2021-22 salary cap hit: $4.5 million
The latest: One of 2021-22’s greatest bargains, Kadri over-delivered big-time on his $4-million salary.
Before temporarily going down to injury, Kadri was top-five leaguewide in scoring. The Cup champ enjoyed a phenomenal post-season, avoiding suspension, ripping hat tricks, scoring a big goal with a busted thumb, and proving the haters wrong.
Unless Kadri takes another discount, the cold math suggests there won’t be room for him in Denver.
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.
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.
“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.
Plenty of suitors came through with juicy offers, but some centre openings are now filled (Rangers, Penguins, likely Bruins).
Calgary has money to spend now, and Columbus sure could use a playmaker for Johnny Gaudreau.
Kadri is reportedly waiting for some interested teams to clear cap room.
Still, Colorado is Kadri’s first choice.
“How could it not be? The Kroenkes have been great supporters of mine and made it clear to me that they’d like me to stay also, but we understand that there’s a business aspect involved. We’re going to try to work together,” Kadri told Real Kyper & Bourne on June 29.
“I think I’ve shown what my worth is and just looking forward to things playing out.”
A league source told reporter Kevin Kurz that there were “rumblings” the New York Islanders were making a push for Kadri.
Lou Lamoriello signed Kadri’s last deal, and the offence-needy Isles have yet to make a summer splash, so this would make some sense.
2021-22 salary cap hit: $6.875 million
The latest: Despite his age, Bergeron is still an all-world player. It would be disrespectful not to keep the Bruins captain and five-time Selke champ high 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 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.”
Then came this eyebrow-raising report from plugged-in Boston reporter Joe McDonald:
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.”
3. David Krejci
The latest: The former (and future?) Bruins second-line pivot spent 2021-22 ripping up the Czech league (46 points in 51 games) because he wanted to be near his family.
But the durable veteran is back training stateside and kept in close touch with Boston GM Don Sweeney.
That Sweeney traded Krejci’s 2C replacement, Eric Haula, to New Jersey only fuels the sense that a double return of aging Bruins centres is in the works.
“I think we’re in a really good place with Patrice,” the GM said. “Just the timing and working out the details of his contract and allowing him to declare that he’s good to go could be any timeframe there. Just working through some of the stuff, letting some of this day pass. He’s the only one that’s going to make that final announcement. He has the final say.
“David Krejci, we’ve had numerous discussions throughout the day. Going to try to continue to find some common ground there. It remains positive. But I just don’t have a clear-cut answer for you.”
4. Phil Kessel
Position: Right wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $8 million
The latest: The slippery sniper has gone to great lengths to keep his ironman streak active, so there is no doubt Kessel wants to thrill us with another contract and, at least, one more season of hockey.
That massive eight-year, $64-million contract (shared by the Maple Leafs, Penguins and Coyotes) is finally over, and for the first time in his career Kessel will have to take a paycut.
The winger is a second- or third-line option who can pinch in on the power-play at this stage.
Of all the UFAs hanging around still in free agency, only two (Kadri and Bergeron) were more productive than Kessel (52 points) in 2021-22.
There’s still gas in the tank, and some loose Oilers rumours floating around.
5. Paul Stastny
Position: Centre / Left wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $3.75 million
The latest: Another aging forward, true. But one who thinks the game so well that his decline has been gradual.
Stastny managed 21 goals and 45 points while skating nearly 18 minutes a game and registering a plus-14 rating for an underwhelming Winnipeg Jets squad in 2021-22 — and did not hesitate to exert some hard-truth leadership at season’s end.
He’s also defensively shrewd and a face-off beast (56.6 per cent).
He’ll make some team better. Word is, he wants to link with a contender.
“Yeah, we talked to Stas’s group today,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said.
“I don’t think any doors are closed, but whether he has options or choices, that will be up to him, I guess. But I guess you just never say never to him.”
2021-22 salary cap hit: $5.5 million
The latest: Despite his age, the seventh-round wonder can still log meaningful minutes. Of all the remaining UFAs, only Klingberg averaged more ice time per night than Stralman (21:30), who left the Arizona Coyotes for the open market.
A smart penalty-killer, Stralman can still provide some offence (eight goals, 23 points) and play a position (right defence) that is highly sought-after. He’s just 70 games away from a silver stick.
We wonder if Montreal may be a fit.
7. Sonny Milano
Position: Left wing / Right wing
2021-22 salary cap hit: $1.7 million
The latest: The proud recipient of Trevor Zegras’s remarkable “Dishigan” pass, Milano is blessed with elite skill.
And yet the winger has already been cast off by Columbus and now left unqualified as a pending RFA by Anaheim.
There is plenty of potential here for a middle-six forward who scored 14 goals and 34 points in 66 games for the Ducks last season.
Needs to improve his defensive game, though. Milano started 70.9 per cent of his shifts in the O-zone and still saw half of the action sway to his own end.
Position: Right wing / Centre
2021-22 salary cap hit: $1 million
The latest: The undrafted Rodrigues took full advantage of an opportunity sent his way in 2021-22 with the Pittsburgh Penguins dealing with so many injuries up front.
An undrafted Toronto native, Rodrigues broke out late, crushing 19 goals, 43 points and a plus-three rating — career highs, all.
But with the Penguins reupping core veterans Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust and Jeff Carter, there was little left over to give Rodrigues the raise he has earned.
The day before free agency, Rodrigues changed representation, leaving Peter Fish and joining Darren Ferris at Quartexx Hockey.
The Canucks reportedly inquired on the middle-six forward, and the Flames, Red Wings and Devils are rumoured to have interest.
9. Calvin De Haan
2021-22 salary cap hit: $4.55 million
The latest: A serviceable left-shot defenceman who can also patrol the ride side, De Haan has extended his 520-game career by prioritizing defence.
The 2009 first-rounder’s offensive upside has taken a backseat on the back nine — De Haan put up eight points in 69 games for the Blackhawks this past season — but he skates a reliable 19 minutes a night and can help kill penalties.
As a second- or third-pairing guy, De Haan heard his name flying around the trade mill at the 2022 deadline but ended up staying in Chicago. He must be prepared for a pay cut on his next deal.
More notable UFAs: Tyler Motte, Zach Aston-Reese, Joe Thornton, P.K. Subban, Braden Holtby, Michael Stone, Zdeno Chara, Derek Stepan, Antoine Rousell, Jay Beagle, Jack Johnson, Sami Niku, Victor Rask, Sam Gagner, Tyler Ennis, Alex Galchenyuk, Sam Steel, Brian Boyle, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Bozak, Kris Russell, James Neal, Loui Eriksson, Daniel Sprong, Kyle Turris, Riley Nash, Cody Eakin, Jonathan Dahlen, Derick Brassard, Jimmy Vesey
All contract info via the indispensable CapFriendly.com.