The NHL salary cap for next season will be $82.5 million, up $1 million from this season. All teams are operating under it, yet money will still be flying once every player who has set his sights on unrestricted free agency becomes eligible to sign with new teams.
Here are the storylines to follow heading into free agency:
Gaudreau and Tkachuk staying in Calgary?
The Calgary Flames want to re-sign forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk to long-term contracts. Gaudreau can become an unrestricted free agent and Tkachuk a restricted free agent Wednesday.
Gaudreau was tied for second in the NHL this season with 115 points (40 goals, 75 assists). Tkachuk was eighth with 104 points (42 goals, 62 assists).
Flames general manager Brad Treliving has repeatedly said the focus is on getting both signed to long-term contracts and that will remain the plan unless or until it becomes unfeasible to do so.
The clock is ticking.
Video: Top 10 Johnny Gaudreau Plays from the 2021-22 Season
Malkin mania in Pittsburgh
Evgeny Malkin wants to return to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it’s become clear if they’re going to bring him back it will be on their terms, not his.
The Penguins prioritized re-signing Kris Letang and got that done Thursday, when the defenseman avoided free agency by signing a six-year, $36.6 million contract ($6.1 million average annual value).
Penguins general manager Ron Hextall said the plan is to still re-sign Malkin, but he didn’t give an indication that they are anywhere close to doing so.
Letang said he wants Malkin, a UFA, back. The Athletic reported Sidney Crosby went to Malkin’s home in South Florida to check on him. But with nothing done yet, it’s looking more and more likely that Malkin’s dominating run in Pittsburgh will be over.
The three-time Stanley Cup champion is the third all-time for the Penguins in goals (444), assists (702) and points (1,146). He’s second in games played (981).
Bergeron back with Bruins?
Patrice Bergeron said after the season ended that he would either re-sign with the Boston Bruins or retire. It’s possible the 36-year-old, a five-time winner of the Selke Trophy given to the best defensive forward in the NHL, doesn’t make his decision by Wednesday.
The Bruins will wait as Bergeron has indicated that he will only play for them. General manager Don Sweeney said he has spoken with Bergeron and he is leaning toward playing next season, but did not want to speak for the Bruins’ captain.
Bergeron had surgery to repair a tendon in his left elbow May 31 and was given a 10-12 week recovery timeline, which would have him ready to play by the start of next season.
Could Krejci return to Boston too?
David Krejci could be contemplating a return to the Bruins after the center played last season with Olomouc HC of the Czech Extraliga, the top professional men’s league in the Czech Republic. Krejci played the previous 15 seasons with the Bruins.
Sweeney said Krejci is discussing his options with his family.
If Krejci and Bergeron both return the Bruins will reunite the centers they had at the top of their depth chart for more than a decade.
Video: NHL Tonight on Bruins offseason outlook, new HC hire
Goalie carousel continues to turn
The Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabers are in the market for a No. 1 goalie.
But is the supply of goalies big enough to meet the demand?
The top two pending UFA goalies are Darcy Kuemperwho won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, and Jack Campbellwho was an All-Star with the Maple Leafs last season.
Braden Holtby, Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss and Martin Jones are also pending UFAs.
There are goalies who could be available in a trade too, including Matt Murray of the Ottawa Senators.
The New York Rangers need a backup to Igor Shesterkin after-trading Alexander Georgiev to the Avalanche.
The Avalanche have already made it known they’re walking away from Kuemper, but they still have plenty of other pending UFAs that they must make decisions on.
Nazem Kadri would likely be the most sought after of Colorado’s pending UFAs if the center hits the open market Wednesday. The 31-year-old had his best season with 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) in 71 games.
Forwards Valery Nichushkin, Andre Burakovsky, Nico Sturm and Darren Helmand defensemen Josh Manson, Jack Johnson and Ryan Murray could also become UFAs.
Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic said he knows they will not be able to keep them all, so they are prioritizing and trying to get deals done with some of them. Nichushkin, who had 52 points (25 goals, 27 assists) in 62 regular season games and 15 (nine goals, six assists) in 20 playoff games, should be a priority.
But whatever the Avalanche do will be with Nathan MacKinnon in mind. Their No. 1 center is going into the last year of a seven-year, $44.1 million contract ($6.3 million AAV) and Sakic said they expect to sign him to an extension this summer.
MacKinnon’s salary cap charge could double, or come close to it, in his next contract.
Palat of reasons to sign him
Ondrej Palat could be one of the steals of this free-agent class if the Tampa Bay Lightning can’t sign the forward before Wednesday.
The 31-year-old is a two-time Stanley Cup champion who had 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists), including three game-winning goals, in 23 playoff games this year. He has 94 points (48 goals, 46 assists) in 138 playoff games.
The Lightning said Palat was “like a deadly assassin” during the Eastern Conference Final because of his ability to score clutch goals. He’s typically the grinder that plays with skilled forwards and if you ask around, all of Tampa Bay’s top players want him on their line.
Rangers need a second-line center
It appears Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp will become unrestricted free agents on Wednesday, which means the odds of either forward re-signing with the Rangers are slim.
That leaves the Rangers in the market for a No. 2 center to play behind Mika Zibanejad and likely with left wing Artemi Panarin. Filip Chytil is an internal candidate to fill that role, but the Rangers want more depth at the position and likely a bigger name to play in that spot.
They could get it through a trade or the free-agent market.
Strome and Copp are likely looking for contracts that will be six or seven years in term.
Klingberg on the move?
John Klingberg is expected to become an unrestricted free agent with the Dallas Stars so far unable to agree on a new contract with the defenseman.
With Letang off the market, Klingberg would be the top defenseman available if he gets there.
Klingberg, who turns 30 on Aug. 14, had 47 points (six goals, 41 assists) in 74 games this season, his last on a seven-year contract. Klingberg is third all-time among Stars defenseman with 374 points (71 goals, 303 assists) in 552 games.
Hurricanes will be spenders
The Carolina Hurricanes expect all their pending UFAs to hit the open market, general manager Don Waddell said Thursday. At the top of the list are forwards Vincent Trocheck and Nino Niederreiter.
Trocheck, a 28-year-old who plays center, will be in demand. In fact, if the Penguins walk away from Malkin, Trocheck could be in their sights. He is from Pittsburgh.
Niederreiter, 29, could fill an important middle-six role on a contending team. He scored 24 goals and was part of the Hurricanes most consistent forward line all season, joining with Jordan Staal and Jesper Fast in a checking role.
Waddell said the Hurricanes likely will be spending their money elsewhere and remain a team that spends to the salary cap, making them a team to watch during free agency.
Kane could be headed to another new team
Evander Kane is not close to a new contract with the Oilers, general manager Ken Holland said last week.
It’s likely that the forward will hit the free-agent market and play for his fifth franchise (Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets, Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks and Oilers).
Kane hit it big with the Oilers after signing a one-year contract Jan. 27. He had 39 points (22 goals, 17 assists) in 43 games and then led them with 13 goals in 15 playoff games.
Giroux to the Senators?
Claude Giroux and his family have an offseason home in Ottawa and the forward might now be enticed to think about signing with the Ottawa Senators after they showed they’re pushing to be a potential playoff contender this season by acquiring forward Alex DeBrincata 41-goal scorer, from the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday.
Reports have also linked Giroux, 34, to the Oilers if they’re unable to re-sign Kane.
Giroux was always considered a pure rental acquisition when the Florida Panthers got him from the Philadelphia Flyers ahead of the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline. He had 23 points (three goals, 20 assists) in 18 regular-season games and eight points (three goals, five assists) in 10 playoff games with Florida.
Big Decisions for the Blues
David Perron can become a UFA on Wednesday. The 34-year-old forward has enjoyed success in his third tour with the St. Louis Blues.
He just finished a four-year, $16 million contract ($4 million average annual value) and within that timeframe had 221 points (94 goals, 127 assists) in 251 games plus 38 points (20 goals, 18 assists) in 47 playoff games, helping St. Louis win the Stanley Cup in 2019.
But Perron and the Blues could be parting ways.
It’s also possible the Blues eventually move on from forward Vladimir Tarasenkowho has one year remaining on his contract and still has a trade request that has not been fulfilled since he asked for one before last season.
The 30-year-old had 82 points (34 goals, 48 assists) in 75 games this season. He is the fifth leading scorer in Blues history with 524 points (252 goals, 272 assists) in 606 games.
Defenseman Nick Leddy can also become a UFA.
Subban, Kessel looking for new contracts
It’ll be interesting to see what the market is for veteran players like defenseman PK Subban and forward Phil Kessel. If this were five years ago, they would be the big names on the market, but Subban is 33 and Kessel is 34 and they aren’t the top-end players they used to be.
But Subban and Kessel are both still impactful players who could help teams on short-term contracts.
Subban, who won the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL in 2012-13 with the Montreal Canadiens, had 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 77 games with the New Jersey Devils last season.
Kessel, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Penguins, had 52 points (eight goals, 44 assists) in 82 games with the Arizona Coyotes. He scored 20 goals in 56 games in 2020-21. Kessel turns 35 on Oct. 2.