The NHL’s 2022 free-agent market opens July 13 at noon ET. As with every opening day of free agency, we can expect a frenzy of activity within the first hours as teams engage in a bidding war for the best available players.
This year’s crop of free agents features superstars such as Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin and Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron. While they could opt to stick with the only NHL teams they have ever played for, they will draw considerable interest if they decide to test the unrestricted free-agent market.
Malkin and Bergeron aren’t the only noteworthy players who will attract attention if they hit the open market. Those seeking a goaltender will attempt to sign the Minnesota Wild’s Marc-Andre Fleury. The Dallas Stars’ John Klingberg will be pursued by teams seeking a puck-moving defenseman while the Calgary Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau will draw clubs looking for a top-scoring winger.
Some of these players could end up re-signing with their current clubs, but there will be others who might be available to the highest bidder. Here’s a look at the ideal landing spots for this summer’s top eight unrestricted free agents. You can express your views on this topic in the comments section.
John Klingberg: Los Angeles Kings
John Klingberg’s public unhappiness with Dallas Stars management over his stalled contract talks made him a hot top for midseason trade speculation. While the Stars opted against shipping him out at the trade deadline, the 29-year-old defenseman seems destined to hit the open market in July if the two sides fail to work things out.
The Los Angeles Kings could be among Klingberg’s suitors on July 13. While general manager Rob Blake’s rebuilding efforts over the past two seasons have made them a playoff contender this year, they need another experienced top-four defenseman to take some of the burden off first-pairing blueliner Drew Doughty.
On Oct. 16, Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek reported Klingberg sought an eight-year deal from the Stars worth between $62 million and $66 million. That breaks down to between $7.75 million and $8.5 million annually. League rules limit UFAs signing with other clubs to seven-year deals but he could seek the same salary range on the open market.
With $61.2 million committed to 14 active players in 2022-23, the Kings have the cap space to take on Klingberg. Given his age, they could prefer a five-year deal closer to that $7.75 million range. He could be a solid addition to their defense corps, providing experienced puck-moving skills that could bolster their offensive attack and power play.
Marc-Andre Fleury: Pittsburgh Penguins
A year removed from winning his first Vezina Trophy, Marc-Andre Fleury split this season between the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild. The 37-year-old goaltender indicated he intends to play next at least another season. If the opportunity presents itself, he could return to the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he spent 13 of his 18 NHL seasons.
Fleury sported a record of 19 wins, 21 losses and five overtime losses with the rebuilding Hawks, along with a respectable 2.95 goals-against average, a .908 save percentage and four shutouts. Shipped to the playoff-bound Wild at the trade deadline, he’s won seven of eight starts with a 2.64 GAA and a .918 save percentage.
A strong finish to the regular season and a solid performance in the upcoming playoffs should ensure Fleury’s stock remains high in this summer’s free-agent market. His days of getting long-term deals worth $7 million per season are over. Perhaps the Penguins will consider a reunion if he’s willing to entertain a one-year, bonus-laden deal taking him up to $5 million.
Current Penguins starter Tristan Jarry is signed through next season with a cap hit of $3.5 million while backup Casey DeSmith is due to become a UFA. Fleury could come in as a mentor for Jarry to help him elevate his game while also challenging him for playing time. It would allow him the opportunity for one more shot at the Stanley Cup if they also manage to re-sign Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.