With the 2022 Stanley Cup Final underway, fans and pundits will soon turn their attention toward the NHL’s offseason business. That will include the start of the annual free-agent period beginning at noon ET on Wednesday, July 13.
Contract negotiations should soon intensify among this summer’s noteworthy unrestricted free agents and their current clubs. Some of them could end up signing contract extensions, following the examples of San Jose Sharks center Tomas Hertl, Dallas Stars forward Joe Pavelski and Pittsburgh Penguins winger Bryan Rust.
Most, however, will likely test the market on July 13.
The notable forwards could feature Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin. John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars could draw attention from teams seeking a puck-moving defenseman. Those in the market for a starting goaltender could pursue the Colorado Avalanche’s Darcy Kuemper.
Here’s our look at this summer’s top potential unrestricted free agents.
This list comprises 20 names based on CapFriendly’s listing of this year’s NHL unrestricted free agent class at all positions. We’ve evaluated the top 10 based on their level of talent, current contract, what they could seek on their next deal and recent media speculation.
We’ve excluded Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron from this ranking. On May 16, the 36-year-old center told the Boston media that his intention is to sign with the Bruins or retire.
Approaching July, our initial group is as follows in no particular order:
Ville Husso, St. Louis Blues
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Andre Burakovsky, Colorado Avalanche
Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning
Marc-Andre Fleury, Minnesota Wild
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
Vincent Trocheck, Carolina Hurricanes
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs
Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators
Darcy Kuemper, Colorado Avalanche
Andrew Copp, New York Rangers
John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
Claude Giroux, Florida Panthers
Nazem Kadri, Colorado Avalanche
Evander Kane, Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Strome, New York Rangers
Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights
David Perron, St. Louis Blues
Valeri Nichushkin, Colorado Avalanche
10. Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs
It was a tale of two seasons for Jack Campbell. In his first 25 games, the 30-year-old goaltender had a record of 17 wins, five losses and two overtime losses with a sparkling .939 save percentage. Hampered by a rib injury that sidelined him for 10 games, Campbell still won 14 of his final 24 games, but his save percentage sunk to .888 during that stretch.
Campbell finished the regular season with 31 wins, a 2.64 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage with five shutouts. His playoff stats were also a hodgepodge of the good and the bad. In all three of the Leafs’ victories against the Tampa Bay Lightning, his save percentage was .914 or better. In three of their four defeats, however, it was .886 or worse, though it was .920 in their Game 7 elimination.
This season was Campbell’s first as a full-time starter over a full 82-game schedule. His inconsistency could raise concerns over whether he can handle the workload and improve going forward. He is completing a two-year contract with a $1.65 million cap hit and could seek over $5 million annually on a long-term deal.
The limited number of starting goaltenders in this summer’s free-agent market could work in Campbell’s favor. He shouldn’t have difficulty finding a new home if the Leafs won’t pay up. Suitors could include the Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild and New Jersey Devils.