NHL Free Agency Predictions: Ideal Landing Spots For Each of The Top 20 Free Agents
NHL FREE AGENCY PREDICTIONS: IDEAL LANDING SPOTS FOR EACH OF THE TOP 20 FREE AGENTS
Whether restricted or unrestricted, the 2022 free-agent class is one of the best we've seen in quite some time. Johnny Gaudreau, Patrice Bergeron, Evgeni Malkin, and Nazem Kadri are just a few of the names that will entice front offices across the league once the clock strikes noon ET on Wednesday, July 13th.
Matt MacKay is here to explore which teams will be the best fit for the top 20 free agents and will help explain why each player should wind up at their predicted destinations.
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1. JOHNNY GAUDREAU, LW, CALGARY FLAMES (PHI, NJ, ANA)
Much speculation has surrounded Johnny Gaudreau departing Calgary in favor of returning to play for his hometown team Philadelphia Flyers. Realistically, the salary cap shuffling will have to be immense for the Flyers, so Gaudreau could land in New Jersey or Anaheim due to their massive $25 million salary cap availability. Gaudreau is coming off a career year with the Flames, finishing with 115 points and 40 goals, so expect him to relocate to a big city with an even bigger contract.
2. FILIP FORSBERG, LW, NASHVILLE PREDATORS (CAR, COL)
Filip Forsberg led the Predators with 42 goals and added another 42 assists in his tenth NHL season during a career year. The 27-year-old winger has plenty of goal-scoring left in his arsenal, but he wants more than the current $6 million contract he's earning with the Preds. Teams like Carolina and Colorado rank inside the top 12 franchises with the most cap space and could benefit from adding a sure-fire left-wing on their top attack line in 2023.
3. MATTHEW TKACHUK, RW, CALGARY FLAMES (NJ, DET)
Calgary could be losing two of their elite players in free agency, with Matthew Tkachuk currently sitting on the market as a restricted free agent (RFA), earning $7 million with the Flames. However, new Jersey and Detroit need a talented right-wing on their top line to rejuvenate their attack and have plenty of cap space to pull off the signing. Tkachuk scored 42 goals and 62 assists for Calgary in 2022 to complete the best season of his six-year career.
4. EVGENI MALKIN, C, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (COL, CAR, BOS)
Durability has been the only factor limiting star veteran center Evgeni Malkin from consistently generating elite production for the Penguins in recent years. The 35-year-old has scored 20-plus goals in three of the past four seasons while playing no more than 68 games during this span. However, talented centers with experience are not common, so expect teams like Colorado or Carolina to match or exceed Malkin's current $9.5 million contract. Boston is another intriguing fit, especially if Patrice Bergeron leaves; however, the Bruins only have $2.3 million in cap space.
5. JOSH MANSON, D, COLORADO AVALANCHE (EDM, NYI)
Veteran defenseman Josh Manson is set to hit free agency as an unrestricted free agent (UFA) and could see his brief time with the Avs come to an end, as Colorado traded for Manson mid-way through last season to bolster its defense behind star Cale Makar. The 30-year-old defenseman is an aggressor in the defensive zone, using his 6-3, 218-pound frame to bully opponents off of pucks to create possessions for the offense. $4.1 million is not too steep for teams in need of defensemen, so queue Edmonton and the New York Islanders as a couple of realistic landing spots for Manson.
6. JASON ROBERTSON, LW, DALLAS STARS (DAL, CGY, SEA)
One of the top RFAs in the 2022 free-agent class, Jason Robertson, is set to make substantial money no matter his landing spot. The 22-year-old winger substantially improved in 2022, scoring 41 goals and adding 38 assists to get Dallas into the postseason. Suppose the Stars don't want to pay up for their young rising star, which they can afford with $18.6 million in cap space, expect Calgary and Seattle to attempt signing Robertson. Especially if Johnny Gaudreau leaves the Flames, Robertson will be a solid replacement. Meanwhile, the Kraken had a massive haul in the draft but need experienced scorers to facilitate their top attack lines in 2023.
7. NAZEM KADRI, C, COLORADO AVALANCHE (BOS, NYI, CHI)
After over a decade in the NHL, 31-year-old center Nazem Kadri enjoyed a career year and topped it off with a Stanley Cup Finals win with the Colorado Avalanche. Kadri scored 28 goals, facilitated 59 assists in the regular season, and returned after injury to help lead the Avs to victory in the Finals. As a result, Kadri's current $4.5 million can be upped by Colorado, or they can opt to let teams such as Boston, Chicago, and the New York Islanders throw their cap space money to recruit the talented center to bolster their offenses heading into next season.
8. PATRICE BERGERON, C, BOSTON BRUINS (MTL, COL)
It's exciting to think about players returning to play for their hometown teams, which would be the case if Patrice Bergeron signs with Montréal during free agency. Unfortunately, the Canadiens don't have much space in their salary cap at under $2 million; however, they can move several players in favor of acquiring the talented veteran center, especially with their massive haul during the 2022 NHL Draft. If that doesn't work out, Bergeron could also head to Colorado to replace Nazem Kadri if he accepts a big contract with another team.
9. JESPER BRATT, LW/RW, NEW JERSEY DEVILS (NJ, PIT, WPG, ARI)
The New Jersey Devils weren't a powerhouse in 2022, but their point leader, Jesper Bratt, tied the team lead in goals (26) and was the only player to exceed 40 assists (47) during his fifth year in the league. The Devils have plenty of cap space to re-sign Bratt, but if they want a more high-profile winger, Bratt could be on the move to lend his improved production in the offensive zone to teams such as Pittsburgh Winnipeg, or Arizona.
10. ANDRE BURAKOVSKY, LW/RW, COLORADO AVALANCHE (CHI, TOR, NYR)
During Colorado's title run, a significant contributor was 26-year-old winger Andre Burakovsky. He scored 22 goals and 39 assists in the regular season, adding another eight points in 12 postseason games. Burakovsky was also part of the Washington Capitals during their Stanley Cup Finals win back in 2018, so he offered a winning pedigree and ascended into the next stage of his development in 2022. Chicago, Toronto, and the New York Rangers have plenty of cap space to exceed Burakovsky's current $4.5 million contract to enhance their scoring depth in 2023.
11. CLAUDE GIROUX, C, FLORIDA PANTHERS (DET, PIT, CBJ)
Claude Giroux is another veteran center with plenty of talent and scoring upside left to entice teams during free agency. The 34-year-old scored 21 goals and 44 assists between his final stint in Philadelphia and a brief run with the Florida Panthers. Giroux is a versatile center who can also play wing, but his large $8.5 million contract is a burden for teams without much salary cap. Expect teams needing a veteran presence and scoring output, such as Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Columbus, to make big offers to land Giroux.
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12. PIERRE-LUC DUBOIS, C, WINNIPEG JETS (OTT, CAR, DAL)
Despite playing six seasons in the league, Pierre-Luc Dubois is still only 23 years old and nearly eclipsed his career point total (61) with Winnipeg in 2022, scoring a career-high 28 goals and adding another 32 assists for the Jets last season. Dubois can afford to make more; thus, his present $5 million contract with Winnipeg could pale compared to offers from teams needing a complete two-way center like Ottawa, Carolina, or Dallas.
13. ONDREJ PALAT, LW, TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (CGY, ANA, NSH)
Ondrej Palat doesn't impress with his stats, but he's a reliable winger on both ends of the ice. The 30-year-old spent his entire career in Tampa Bay, producing his career-high early back in 2015. Palat has a sturdy frame at 6-0, 194 pounds, and can be an asset on any attack line in free agency. His current $5.3 million contract could easily be exceeded by needy teams with salary-cap space like Calgary, Anaheim, and Nashville.
14. EVANDER KANE, LW/RW, EDMONTON OILERS (EDM, NJ, WAS, LAK)
Evander Kane stepped into Edmonton and immediately produced after being traded from San Jose last year. The 6-2, 210-pound winger has scored 22 or more goals in four consecutive seasons and is earning only $2.1 million, with the Oilers heading into free agency. However, several teams could exceed this contract in need of his scoring ability, including Edmonton, so Kane could wind up staying put or provide a jolt to offenses in New Jersey, Washington, and Los Angeles.
15. NICK LEDDY, D, ST. LOUIS BLUES (NYI, DAL, EDM)
St. Louis will likely look to dump Nick Leddy's $5.5 million contract as he is an UFA in a market that needs a lot of two-way defenders with experience. Leddy has played for three teams in the past two years, including a mid-season trade from Detroit to St. Louis in 2022, where he did not perform well in either location. Perhaps teams who need competent defenders on their second or third-line, such as the Islanders, Stars, or Oilers, will scrounge up enough coin to sign Leddy.
16. RYAN STROME, C, NEW YORK RANGERS (ARI, CBJ, OTT)
Ryan Strome is currently earning $4.5 million with the Rangers, where he surpassed 20 goals for the first time in his nine-year career. However, New York has plenty of scoring depth, so they could move off of Strome and let a more anemic offense, such as Arizona, Columbus, or Ottawa, pay up to land the talented center with plenty of years left to be a high-level contributor.
17. JOHN KLINGBERG, D, DALLAS STARS (SEA, BUF, PIT)
Dallas was a year early in their rebuild but did get an excellent season out of 29-year-old defenseman John Klingberg. He finished with 41 assists but only six goals while racking up 77 blocks and 57 hits. Klingberg can give any team big minutes enforcing or setting up plays, making him a complete defenseman for teams to utilize in various strategies. Unfortunately, the Stars have seen Klingberg's best days back from 2016 thru 2018, so they will likely move off his $4.25 million contract and let defensive-starved teams like Seattle, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh bite instead.
18. PHIL KESSEL, RW, ARIZONA COYOTES (PIT, CBJ, SJ)
Phil Kessel continues to produce despite entering his 17th season in the league, but he did experience a career-low eight goals with the Coyotes in 2022. The 34-year-old winger is earning quite a bit of money at $8 million with Arizona, so teams in free agency will need to have a big salary cap to match or exceed this high-priced veteran contract. However, Kessel's veteran presence, deceptive speed, and elite vision will be assets for top-heavy rosters or younger teams like Columbus, San Jose, and Pittsburgh.
19. DAVE PERRON, RW/LW, ST. LOUIS BLUES (WAS, LAK, VAN)
David Perron has experienced a revival late in his career, producing 57 points or more in three consecutive seasons for St. Louis. The versatile winger has scored 20-plus goals in three of his past four years and is only earning $4.5 million from the Blues, so expect a lot of teams to desire Perron's goal-scoring ability and veteran presence on teams like Washington, Los Angeles, or Vancouver.
20. PATRIK LAINE, RW, COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (EDM, DET, ANA)
It's wild to hear that Patrik Laine is only 23 years old in his seventh season in the league, but this is encouraging for front offices seeking an experienced scoring prospect with plenty left to offer across the next decade. Laine had a down season with Columbus in 2021 after being traded from Winnipeg mid-season, but he drastically improved his play in 2022, finishing with 26 goals and 56 total points for the Blue Jackets. He's an RFA earning $7.5 million, so teams like Edmonton, Detroit, and Anaheim seem like plausible landing spots for the talented winger due to their salary cap availability and need to improve their offense.
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.