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NHL Free Agency: Predicting Landing Spots for the Top 25 NHL Free Agents

NHL free agency is roughly two weeks away, so Matt MacKay is here to predict the landing spot for every top 25 unrestricted free agents (UFA) available on the free-agent market. Free agency officially begins at noon ET on July 13th.
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NHL Free Agency: Predicting Landing Spots for the Top 25 NHL Free Agents

After ranking the top 25 UFAs heading into 2022 NHL free agency, Matt MacKay will go one step further and predict where each player will end up lacing their skates in 2023.

1. Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames To Philadelphia Flyers

Johnny Gaudreau is an elite goal-scorer, finishing with 40 goals and 75 assists for Calgary in 2022. The 28-year-old left-winger would be a tremendous asset for his hometown team Philadelphia Flyers after their top point scorer finished with only 52 points last season.

2. Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh Penguins To Seattle Kraken

Kris Letang remains one of the best defensemen in the league despite being 34 years old. Seattle has a glaring need on their top defensive line, and investing in a proven veteran like Letang is a more immediate payoff than developing a draft prospect.

3. Filip Forsberg, C, Nashville Predators To San Jose Sharks

Filip Forsberg is a former 11th overall pick from the 2012 NHL Draft and has played his entire ten-year career in Nashville. Contract negotiations are ongoing, but Forsberg has all the leverage, scoring 42 goals and adding 42 assists to be a top-three player for the Predators in 2022. A team starved for offense, such as the San Jose Sharks, could make Forsberg an offer he cannot refuse.

4. Ondrej Palat, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning To Washington Capitals

Washington needs to strengthen their depth behind Alex Ovechkin, so they elect to sign Ondrej Palat from Tampa Bay after an impressive playoff run. Palat scored 11 goals, generated 10 assists for the Lightning during the 2022 postseason, and could gain a more significant role with the Capitals in 2023.

5. Nazem Kadri, C, Colorado Avalanche To Colorado Avalanche

After helping the Avalanche to their third Stanley Cup Finals win, there is little chance that Colorado's front office doesn't opt to re-sign Kadri to a more significant contract. Kadri is currently earning $4.5 million from the Avs.

6. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh Penguins To Chicago Blackhawks

Star veteran center, Evgeni Malkin, has the most significant contract amongst available UFA in free agency, earning $9.5 million from the Penguins. Durability is the primary concern with Malkin, who has played under 60 games for three consecutive seasons in Pittsburgh. Malkin lands in Chicago to help Patrick Kane and notably improves the Blackhawks' roster.

7. David Perron, LW, St. Louis Blues To Los Angeles Kings

The Kings love signing veterans, especially ones who still have an innate scoring ability. Therefore, David Perron joins his sixth team in his 16th season after scoring 27 goals and finishing with 57 points for the Blues in 2022.

8. Evander Kane, LW, Edmonton Oilers To Edmonton Oilers

Evander Kane was an immediate contributor and a good fit in Edmonton after being traded from San Jose mid-way through last season. Kane scored 22 goals and 17 assists in 43 regular-season games for the Oilers while scoring a whopping 13 goals in 15 playoff games. Kane will see his contract increase from its current $2.1 million salary.

9. Claude Giroux, C, Florida Panthers To Winnipeg Jets

15 years in Philadelphia gave way to a mid-season trade to Florida for the veteran center, Claude Giroux, in 2022. He's past his prime but currently earning a ton of money with the Panthers at $8.2 million, so will they continue to pay it? Or will Giroux walk as a UFA and lend his services to a team like Winnipeg, which needs the veteran presence? I lean toward the latter.

10. Valeri Nichushkin, RW, Colorado Avalanche To Pittsburgh Penguins

After an impressive regular season and a successful Stanley Cup Finals win, 27-year-old winger Valeri Nichushkin could be moving to a team needing a younger scoring talent from the wing. Pittsburgh only had one of their wingers score over 20 goals in 2022, so signing Nichushkin at $5 million per year saves the Penguins some money while also acquiring a highly-skilled winger for the next three to five years.

11. Mason Marchment, LW, Florida Panthers To Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton loads up with wingers in free agency, re-signing Evander Kane and investing in 27-year-old Mason Marchment after a breakout campaign with the Panthers in 2022. Marchment is earning under $1 million from Florida, so expect Edmonton to reward him with a $3 or $4 million salary bump to add his IQ and scoring ability to their top-three attack lines.

12. Nino Niederreiter, RW, Carolina Hurricanes To New Jersey Devils

Nino Niederreiter is an essential piece in Carolina, but his $5.25 million contract could be too much for the Hurricanes to re-sign at a higher salary in 2023. As a result, the former top-five draft pick will head to New Jersey to add scoring and experience to one of the league's youngest rosters.

13. John Klingberg, D, Dallas Stars To Columbus Blue Jackets

The 29-year-old Swedish defender, John Klingberg, had a solid season in Dallas, finishing with 41 assists, yet he's been unable to eclipse 50 points since the end of 2018. The Stars may want to move on from a $4.25 million contract, and Columbus would willingly sign the defenseman for a similar rate to improve their defensive struggles.

14. Ryan Strome, C, New York Rangers To New York Islanders

Ryan Strome was fifth in total points (54) for the New York Rangers in 2022. The Islanders need offense much more desperately than the Rangers, who enjoyed high-caliber play from Mika Zibanejad, ultimately forcing Strome onto the second line. Strome will earn big minutes and be the Islanders' focal point without having to leave New York City.

15. Andre Burakovsky, LW, Colorado Avalanche To Boston Bruins

Colorado can move in several directions in free agency due to the number of UFAs, draft picks, and overall talent they currently roster. The Avs will save some money and let Andre Burakovsky walk, despite a career season with 61 points in 2022. He will slot in nicely behind Brad Marchand and Taylor Hall in Boston.

16. Reilly Smith, RW, Vegas Golden Knights To Ottawa Senators

Reilly Smith has seen the best years of his career happen in Vegas, which is why he's currently earning a $5 million salary. However, the 31-year-old winger has not scored over 20 goals in two seasons, so the Golden Knights may want to shed his contract and send him to a team like Ottawa due to their lack of depth and offensive talent.

17. Antoine Roussel, RW, Arizona Coyotes To Buffalo Sabres

Antoine Roussel was buried on Arizona's depth chart in 2022, playing 53 games but only averaging 12 minutes on ice. He scored four goals and four assists, and it's a near certainty that the Coyotes don't want to pay his $3 million salary with all of their premium draft compensation. The veteran winds up in Buffalo to help their young roster.

18. Vincent Trocheck, C, Carolina Hurricanes To Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild have talented wings, but their centers were a liability in 2022, with only Joel Eriksson scoring above 20 goals. Vincent Trocheck is only 28 years old and scored over 20 goals with Carolina for the first time in four seasons. He is earning $4.75 million from the 'Canes, but the Wild could be willing to add Trocheck at a higher pay rate.

19. Rickard Rakell, C, Pittsburgh Penguins To Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh's decision to move on from Evgeni Malkin leaves them in need of centers, so they opt to pay Rickard Rakell after acquiring him in a trade with Anaheim at the deadline. Rakell scored 30-plus goals in consecutive seasons for Anaheim back in 2017 and 2018, so he's certainly capable of filling Malkin's void.

20. Jack Campbell, G, Toronto Maple Leafs To Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto may have some gripes with Jack Campbell's consistency, but quality netminders are challenging to find in the NHL. The Maple Leafs will retain Campbell based on his .914 save percentage, and they can afford to increase his contract from the current $1.65 million rate. Toronto's front office will hope that Campbell's 2.64 GAA from 2022 dips below 2.50 in 2023.

21. Darcy Kuemper, G, Colorado Avalanche To Philadelphia Flyers

After winning Lord Stanley's Cup a few days ago, goaltender Darcy Kuemper's stock has never been higher. Kuemper cashes in and lends his services to Philadelphia to improve their horrendous goaltending that was on display in 2022. He will have a much more arduous task behind a lower-tier roster, but the Flyers have a few draft picks to improve their outlook.

22. Max Domi, LW, Carolina Hurricanes To Carolina Hurricanes

After a trade from Columbus sent Max Domi to Carolina at the deadline last season, the Hurricanes opt to re-sign the undersized winger in 2023. Domi scored three goals and three assists across 14 games in the playoffs for Carolina, and an entire offseason will allow him to acclimate even more to create chemistry with the rest of the roster.

23. Paul Stastny, C, Winnipeg Jets To Calgary Flames

Paul Stastny stays north of the border but departs Winnipeg for Calgary. The Flames only had one center, Elias Lindholm, return enough value as an 82-point scorer last season. Stastny is not as talented as Lindholm, but the 36-year-old veteran scored 21 goals for the Jets in 2022 and showed he can still be elusive despite his age.

24. Dustin Brown, RW, Los Angeles Kings To Detroit Red Wings

Detroit is a young team needing talented veterans who can score, which is what Dustin Brown offers. The 37-year-old winger scored 28 points for the Kings and has not left Los Angeles in his 18-year career. However, his $5.8 million contract is much better suited to a team like the Red Wings, who need talent at the right-wing position.

25. Ben Chiarot, D, Florida Panthers To Dallas Stars

Ben Chiarot was traded from Montreal to Florida last season and was utilized as an enforcer on both teams. Dallas needs a player with Chiarot's size (6-3, 226 pounds) and soft touch in the offensive zone. He does not have a high ceiling in terms of point production, but Dallas will need to address the departure of John Klingberg by paying Chiarot to lock down the defensive zone in 2023.

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Matt is an avid writer, editor, and researcher. He enjoys analyzing the game within the game which is fantasy sports and sports betting. Music is another constant in his daily life. Matt loves spending time with his wife and three pets. He likes to read, listen to podcasts, and is constantly motivated to create the most accurate and engaging content in the sports betting industry.

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