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NHL’s top 10 remaining UFAs: Latest rumours, reports

NHL’s top 10 remaining UFAs: Latest rumours, reports thumbnail

Is anyone else’s head spinning?

A flurry of trades and signings on Wednesday took its toll on our Top 10 UFA board, and yet a couple of major names — and plenty of intriguing second-tier ones — remain on the market.

Here’s a quick rundown of the best UFAs still available the day after, and the latest on their situations.

1. Nazem Kadri

Age: 31

Position:
Centre

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 says there won’t be room for him in Denver.

Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic has already promised $16.25 million annually to younger core forwards Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel 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 felt 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 with Toronto 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.

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.”

I’m more optimistic Kadri comes back to #Avs now. Lots of moving parts though. But I like the odds better now. A couple of league sources are saying he wants to come back to #Avs now @ColHockeyNow

— Adrian Dater (@adater) July 14, 2022

Chris MacFarland on Altitude Radio discussed Nazem Kadri’s free agency: “We stay in touch with Naz’s camp. Right now they’re doing their thing and we’ll continue to monitor it.”

He said they’ll look at both internal options and the trade market if Kadri walks.

— Peter Baugh (@Peter_Baugh) July 14, 2022

2. John Klingberg

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Age: 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.

That Klingberg remains searching for the proper dance partner is curious.

A wild 24 hours suggested the Hurricanes, Kraken, Red Wings, and Senators were all in the mix here. Then, suddenly, the Stars were making a pitch to keep him in the fold.

A last-ditch return to Dallas fell apart, and the Hurricanes decided to trade for Brent Burns instead.

Where Klingberg — the top-rated D-man to hit the market — lands will be fascinating.

Stars assistant GM Scott White on John Klingberg: “We’ve had constant communication with John Klingberg for a long time. At the end of the day, we have a salary cap to deal with. Just didn’t work.”

— Matthew DeFranks (@MDeFranks) July 13, 2022

3. Patrice Bergeron

Age: 36

Position: Centre

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.”

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Then came this eyebrow-raising report from plugged-in Boston reporter Joe McDonald:

Hearing Patrice Bergeron has decided to return likely on a one-year deal with the Bruins.

— Joe McDonald (@JoeyMacHockey) June 24, 2022

GM Don 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.”

4. Nino Niederreiter

Age: 28

Position: Left wing

2021-22 salary cap hit: $5.25 million

The latest: The Hurricanes seemingly filled the departing Niederreiter’s void with Max Pacioretty (for free!), but the power forward should get some hard looks in this second wave of free agency.

Niederreiter quietly enjoyed a solid contract season, putting up 24 goals, 44 points, and a career-best plus-29 rating.

Teams that missed out on the top-tier wingers (Islanders?) should look here.

Nothing close yet on the Nino Niederreiter front, as of now. He continues to evaluate his options. Unclear at this point if a return to CAR remains possible.

— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) July 13, 2022

I will say, for a power winger who’s scored at a 20+ goal pace in seven of the last eight seasons, the lack of any kind of rumors, chatter, anything from Insiders regarding Nino Niederreiter today strikes me as pretty odd.

— Andrew Schnittker (@aschnitt53) July 14, 2022

5. David Krejci

Age: 36

Position: Centre

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 Sweeney.

That Sweeney traded Krejci’s 2C replacement, Erik Haula, to New Jersey on Wednesday 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 Wednesday. “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.”

Don Sweeney indicated that both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci contracts are going to be in the 1-year, lower salary with incentives structure fairly common with 35+ NHL players

— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) July 13, 2022

6. Dylan Strome

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Age: 25

Position: Centre / Left wing

2021-22 salary cap hit: $3 million

The latest: Welcome to Kyle Davidson’s rebuild, where the earth is so scorched, a 25-year-old, 22-goal-scorer has no place to get extended.

Strome’s rocky relationship with the Blackhawks — which saw him bounced around the lineup and often scratched – ended unceremoniously when he was not tendered a qualifying offer.

Still, the sense remains the best days of 2015’s third-overall pick may still lie ahead.

Several teams would be interested in a short-term, low-money gamble here, and you have to think Strome’s hometown Maple Leafs would be one of them.

Quiet morning for Dylan Strome’s camp, but things are starting to pick up on the 25-year-old UFA.

— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) July 13, 2022

7. Phil Kessel

Age: 34

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 on Day 2 of free agency, only two (Kadri and Bergeron) were more productive than Kessel (52 points) in 2021-22.

There’s still gas in the tank.

The lack of Phil Kessel free agency discussion on the timeline is honestly disrespectful.

— Devin MW – TheHockeyWriters (@CorsiForWhat) July 13, 2022

8. Paul Stastny

Age: 36

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 faceoff 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 on Wednesday.

“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.”

Def some interest in Paul Stastny, no rush on making a decision.

— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) July 13, 2022

9. Anton Stralman

Age: 35

Position: Defence

2021-22 salary cap hit: $5.5 million

The latest: Despite his age, the seventh-round wonder can still log meaning full 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.

We wonder if Montreal may be a fit.

UNLOCKED: The Coyotes won’t be major players when the NHL free agency period opens at 9 AM AZ time, but they could look for opportunities.

Also inside: An update on the Jakob Chychrun rumors and Anton Strålman’s future.

Via @PHNX_Sports & @PHNX_Coyotes https://t.co/6a4mIUT0ej

— Craig Morgan (@CraigSMorgan) July 13, 2022

10. Sonny Milano

Age: 26

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.

More notable UFAs in 2022: Calle Jarnkrok, Calvin De Haan, Tyler Motte, Danton Heinen, Zach Aston-Reese, Mattias Janmark, Alexander Radulov, Joe Thornton, P.K. Subban, Evan Rodrigues, Braden Holtby, Michael Stone, Zdeno Chara, Derek Stepan, Chris Tierney, Antoine Rousell, Jay Beagle, Micheal Del Zotto, Jack Johnson, Will Butcher, Sami Niku, Victor Mete, Zach Sanford, Rem Pitlick, Victor Rask, Sam Gagner, Tyler Ennis, Alex Galchenyuk, Sam Steel

All contract info via the indispensable CapFriendly.com.

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