2022 NHL Free Agency: Predicting Landing Spots for the Top 20 Remaining Free Agents
2022 NHL Free Agency: Predicting Landing Spots for the Top 20 Remaining Free Agents
Since the moment NHL free agency opened, many of the top available players were snatched off the market by teams eager to upgrade their respective lineups. The Columbus Blue Jackets pulled off the most stunning move of the first 48 hours, signing star winger Johnny Gaudreau to a 7 year, $68 million contract. Vincent Trocheck, Andrew Copp, Ondrej Palat, and Claude Giroux were among the other notable players to ink deals with new teams.
For fans of teams that have yet to make a splash, fear not. A plethora of players remain available on the free agent market, meaning that teams still have the ability to fill key holes in their squads. There are also a few high-end players who are restricted free agents (RFAs), meaning that they are susceptible to offer sheets until they sign with their current teams (if they opt to do so). Here are my predictions for the landing spots of the top 20 remaining free agents, both restricted and unrestricted.
1. Nazem Kadri (UFA)
After nearly a decade in Toronto, center Nazem Kadri landed with the Colorado Avalanche during the 2019 offseason. This past season, in his third year with the Avs, Kadri put together the best campaign of his career, grabbing 87 points in 71 regular-season games and topping it off with a Stanley Cup. With the Avalanche struggling to fit everyone under the cap, however, Kadri has hit the open market. He is due for a mammoth raise in salary, and Colorado seems unlikely to offer that type of contract over a long term given their other commitments. I predict that Kadri will land with the Calgary Flames, who are desperate to fill the hole left by Johnny Gaudreau's exit.
2. Patrice Bergeron (UFA)
Patrice Bergeron has been one of the NHL's premier centers for the better part of a decade. In 2021-22, he put together perhaps his best defensive season ever, capturing his fifth Selke trophy for the NHL's best defensive forward. He is technically an unrestricted free agent, but all signs point to him re-signing with the Boston Bruins on a short-term deal.
3. Matthew Tkachuk (RFA - CGY)
After a career year in which Tkachuk produced 42 goals and 62 assists in 82 games, the Flames will need to come to an agreement with him on a new deal to retain his services. It seems unlikely that the Flames would deal him after losing Johnny Gaudreau, and an offer sheet would be an oddity in a league that unofficially frowns upon poaching players through that channel. Thus, Tkachuk will almost certainly remain a Flame through the 2022-23 season, although his future after that point is up in the air.
4. Jason Robertson (RFA - DAL)
Jason Robertson just missed out on the 2021 Calder trophy to Russian phenom Kirill Kaprizov, but not for lack of trying. Robertson put up 45 points in the 51 games he played during the shortened season, a campaign that largely flew under the radar due to his lack of hardware. He then followed it up with a stellar 2021-22 season, netting 41 goals and adding 38 assists in 74 games. The Stars will look to build around him as they construct their long-term forward core, and that will likely start with a big-time offer to Robertson before the beginning of next season.
5. John Klingberg (UFA)
Klingberg is the top remaining defenseman on the UFA market, and there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding his landing spot. Ottawa seems like a plausible destination for the former Dallas blueliner, given their aggressiveness in the past few weeks. They traded draft picks for Alex DeBrincat, signed Claude Giroux, and traded for goaltender Cam Talbot. It is clear that the Senators are trying to accelerate their transition to playoff contention, and locking down a high-end defenseman such as Klingberg would go a long way towards that end.
6. Jesper Bratt (RFA - NJD)
Bratt enjoyed a breakout 2021-22 season, grabbing 73 points in 76 games despite being on one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference. The Devils are reportedly looking to secure his services over the long term; we can expect Bratt to sign a major extension with NJ in the coming months. A trade or offer sheet would come as a shock.
7. Jake Oettinger (RFA - DAL)
Similar to Robertson, Jake Oettinger is viewed within the organization as a long-term franchise cornerstone. After his spectacular effort in the first round of the playoffs, his stock has risen enough to warrant a major contract. Even if the Stars are unwilling to invest that type of money in a goaltender with just one year of NHL experience under his belt, they will at least offer him a bridge deal. Barring a shocking turn of events, Oettinger will be a Star in 2022-23.
8. Nino Niederreiter (UFA)
The Carolina Hurricanes opted not to qualify Niederreiter, allowing him to hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent. The power winger was a 20-goal scorer in each of the last two years, putting up over half-a-point per game in both seasons. The rumor mill has been strangely quiet on the Niederreiter front, so his next team is 100% up in the air. In my opinion, a team like the Islanders would make a lot of sense. They were a finalist in the Gaudreau sweepstakes, but missed out after being outbid by the Blue Jackets. Niederreiter would fit their style of play well and is the best winger still available on the UFA market. The Islanders would do well to snatch him up.
9. Pierre-Luc Dubois (RFA - WPG)
Dubois' rights are still held by Winnipeg due to his RFA status, but it is increasingly likely that his time as a Jet has come to a close. Montreal seems like a good candidate to procure his services, a transaction that would occur via a sign-and-trade. He has openly expressed a willingness to sign a long-term contract with the Canadiens, so it will depend solely on the ability of those two teams to hammer out a trade.
10. Martin Necas (RFA - CAR)
By allowing Niederreiter to walk to free agency, the Hurricanes made clear their intent to retain Necas' services. The decision to keep Necas on the team is the correct one — Necas had a much-improved season in 2021-22, securing 40 points in 78 games. It was his first full season of NHL hockey, meaning that he still has room to improve moving forward. It would be surprising if the Hurricanes do not come to terms with Necas in the coming weeks.
11. Patrik Laine (RFA - CBJ)
Laine was set to ink a new deal with the Blue Jackets, but the signing of Johnny Gaudreau has thrown a wrench into those plans. Columbus now lacks the cap space to extend Laine, meaning that they will either create cap space via other moves or trade Laine to another team. My prediction is that the Jackets will facilitate an extension by making a couple of trades that free up the necessary cap space to secure Laine.
12. Paul Stastny (UFA)
Stastny is 36, but he is still more than capable of centering a middle-six line on a contender. Keep an eye out for Toronto, who could grab Stastny on a short-term contract to anchor their third line. They are not his only possible destination, but a union between the veteran center and the Leafs is, in my opinion, the modal outcome at this point.
13. Oliver Kylington (RFA - CGY)
Kylington burst onto the scene in 2021-22, logging 34 points while also performing at a high level on the defensive end. The 25-year-old was Calgary's best all-around defenseman over the course of the season, and it seems likely that they will want to retain his services moving forward. They have the cap space to extend him, and they should (and probably will) do so.
14. Rasmus Sandin (RFA - TOR)
With an impending backlog on the back-end for Toronto, a trade could be on the horizon. However, I find it unlikely that a team as analytically-inclined as the Maple Leafs would deal Sandin at this point, given his stellar underlying numbers to this point (albeit in a limited role). Muzzin seems like a more plausible trade candidate; I predict that Sandin will extend with Toronto.
15. Sonny Milano (UFA)
It came as a surprise that the Ducks did not qualify Sonny Milano as an RFA. Milano produced 34 points in 66 games during the 2021-22 season, but his contributions extended beyond just goals and assists. His play-driving was borderline-elite, as his ability to create offense off the rush and the cycle while also suppressing opposition in his own zone was top-notch. I see him landing in Edmonton, who have already signed two free agents at solid value in Brett Kulak and Jack Campbell.
16. Jesse Puljujarvi (RFA - EDM)
With reports circulating that the Oilers intend to deal Puljujarvi for a draft pick, I'm led to believe that his time in Edmonton has come to an end. The Finnish winger is highly productive; he excels at forechecking, retrieves pucks in the defensive zone at a high rate, and consistently improves his team's puck possession numbers when he's on the ice. I predict that Edmonton trades him to Detroit, a team that tends to make smart, analytically-based decisions. The Red Wings made multiple signings during the initial flurry of free agency, demonstrating their interest in upgrading their roster for next season. Adding a strong middle-six winger such as Puljujarvi would continue advancing that goal.
17. Phil Kessel (UFA)
The 34-year-old winger is no longer the elite goal scorer he once was, but he still produced 52 points in 2021-22 despite playing on the abysmal Coyotes. He would be a solid addition for any team looking to make a jump next season, and I think that Nashville fits that profile. Kessel would help the Predators pad their depth at wing, and he would also be a nice addition for their power-play.
18. Andrew Mangiapane (RFA - CGY)
It will be tough for the Flames to re-sign Mangiapane if they sign Nazem Kadri while also extending Tkachuk and Kylington, but I think that they find a way to get it done. Mangiapane produced 55 points in 2021-22 while also seeing excellent underlying numbers at both ends of the ice. It would be a major loss for Calgary if they were forced to trade him.
19. Evan Rodrigues (UFA)
Rodrigues doesn't offer elite offensive upside, but he is one of the league's premier shutdown forwards. He fits the mold of a team like Boston, who would look to Rodrigues to stabilize their bottom-six. I predict that he signs with the Bruins on a two or three-year deal.
20. P.K. Subban (UFA)
With Subban remaining unsigned on the third day of free agency, I see him circling back to New Jersey on a cheap, short-term contract. The Devils have made clear their intent to upgrade for next season, and retaining Subban at an affordable cap hit would not be a terrible idea for them.
Jason Yamaguchi is an avid New York sports fan. He has a proven record of providing +EV bets by combining traditional handicapping tactics with advanced statistics. You can follow him on Twitter @TopMoneyPicks to view all of his bets, including NFL, NHL, and MLB picks.