The excitement of free agent frenzy begins Wednesday, Avalanche lock up Nichushkin, Malkin stays, Gaudreau leaving, Rangers likely to lose Copp and Strome, qualify Kakko

As we draw closer to midnight before July 13th, there will continue to be many discussions on potential available players who could hit the market on Wednesday.

The free agent frenzy officially begins tomorrow afternoon. With that in mind, it’s time to take a glimpse into the biggest names of the 2022 FA Class. That could also include some players who could be on the move.

We’ve already seen some early activity. The Flyers acquiring defenseman Tony DeAngelo from the Hurricanes and then immediately signing him to a two-year contract worth $5 million per season. He joins the circus in Philadelphia with Kevin Hayes and John Tortorella. That should be interesting to follow.

After moving on from Stanley Cup winning goalie Darcy Kuemper by dealing for and signing Alex Georgiev to a three-year deal worth an average of $3.4 million, they re-signed Valeri Nichushkin to an eight-year contract for a $6.125 million AAV on Monday.

A good player who broke out with 25 goals, 27 assists and 52 points in 62 games, the former Stars first round pick also had a terrific postseason. He posted nine goals with six assists for 15 points to help Colorado win its third Cup.

Previously, Nichushkin never had over 13 goals or 27 points. Both recorded in ’19-20. A max contract worth north of six million is a risk. We’ll see if he’s worth it. When they broke the story yesterday, I guessed it was around $5.75 million. I was in the ballpark.

In addressing goalie by adding former Rangers backup Georgiev, who had a nice thank you post on his Instagram, and then getting the 27-year old Nichushkin done, the Avalanche still have $14.95 million in cap space left.

What that means is they’re unlikely to keep big free agent center Nazem Kadri. A vital player to their success, the former Maple Leaf achieved career bests in assists (59 assists) and points (87). He then produced in the postseason going 7-8-15. That included his huge goal in overtime of Game Four to put the Avs up three games to one on the Lightning.

All that production came in a contract year. This is a very good player who was a bargain at $4.5 million. At 31, his salary should more than double. He will break the bank when he hits the open market. It’ll likely be in the price range between $9.5 to 10 million.

This is the last big payday for Kadri. He will command dollars and term. By the start of ’22-23, he’ll be 32. How many teams are willing to invest long-term for a player who likely has three more good years left? If he wants seven years and gets it to take a little less money, it’s a big risk for whoever signs him.

If you believe the reliable Elliotte Friedman, the Rangers supposedly have interest along with the Islanders. The issue is they only have over $9.4 million to work with. That must change if they’re going to be in on Kadri or have any shot of adding a proven second center.

According to Arthur Staple of The Athletic, it looks like they’re out on re-signing Andrew Copp. A valuable player who was instrumental in the Rangers’ run to the Final Four.

If he doesn’t return and winds up going to the highest bidder, he’ll be strictly a rental. The Jets used the first round pick they received to select Finnish prospect Brad Lambert. A player who dropped despite his potential.

If Copp leaves along with Ryan Strome, that leaves a gaping hole that the Rangers must fill. In this business, it is what it is. They did the right thing going for it. The additions of Copp, Frank Vatrano and Tyler Motte made a big difference. Ditto for veteran defenseman Justin Braun. All will be unrestricted tomorrow.

Of the four, the versatile Copp could attract the most interest. He is likely to have a cost between $5.5 to 6 million. He’s a bit more proven than Nichushkin, who got paid. It helps that he can slide in at center and take face-offs. He plays power play and kills penalties. A good player for whoever gets him.

In a trade that just happened, the Senators have acquired Cam Talbot from the Wild in exchange for Filip Gustavsson. This comes on the heels of sending Matt Murray over to bitter rival Toronto yesterday to clear cap space.

I like it better for Ottawa. They were able to add Talbot, who can form a solid tandem with Anton Forsberg. It looks like they upgraded. Especially given the injury history of Murray. He has struggled to stay healthy since winning back-to-back Cups in Pittsburgh. Consistency hasn’t been there either. We’ll see if going to the Leafs can revitalize him.

While the Leafs only have over $5.5 million in space to work with, the Senators boast over $21 million. Having already added proven finisher Alex DeBrincat to the fold and now saving some money in net even though they’re picking up part of the tab on Murray, they could be players on Wednesday.

The Sens have been linked to MacKenzie Weegar. The right defenseman on the Panthers. However, they could be in on a stronger free agent blue liner like Josh Manson. A player who was a key contributor during Colorado’s run to the Cup. After making a base salary of $4.45 million, he is set to cash in.

There’s also the status of Evgeni Malkin. A free agent for the first time in his career, the 35-year old future Hall Of Famer couldn’t quite reach agreement on a new deal that would’ve kept him in Pittsburgh.

A great player who’s battled injuries in recent years, Malkin still managed to score 20 goals and tally 42 points over half a season for the Penguins. Having felt slighted by GM Ron Hextall, who took care of Kris Letang and re-signed Rickard Rakell on Monday for six years at an AAV of $5 million, the popular superstar could actually leave the Steel City.

It would be a pity if he didn’t remain a Penguin for life. However, these things sometimes happen. See Jaromir Jagr. Who would’ve ever predicted that he’d basically play for every old Patrick Division team? Under new management, Mario Lemieux doesn’t have as much of a say. He wanted to keep Malkin after what happened with Jagr.

For a skilled player who’s lost some of his skating, Malkin probably shouldn’t get more than a three-year contract. Anything over would be very risky. Especially given his health. Whatever happens, he should be highly motivated. If not in Pittsburgh, what about Carolina, who is likely to lose Vincent Trocheck?

Buffalo Sabres contributor Brian Sanborn believes the Avalanche could be a likely destination for Malkin. He’ll definitely be cheaper than Kadri. Imagine a 1-2 punch of Nathan MacKinnon and Geno. It largely depends on what else the Avs do. They should focus on re-signing restricted free agent Artturi Lehkonen, who came up clutch with the Cup winner to dethrone the Lightning.

UPDATE: Malkin stays! He wanted that extra year and got it. Interestingly, he took a bit less to get it done. Good job by both the Geno and the Pens. It would’ve been a shame to see him leave.

What about Trocheck as a possibility? He’s definitely a good 2C. Interestingly, he just celebrated a birthday yesterday. So did Ryan Strome. Both turned 29. How’s that for irony. Each are good players who should command around $5.5 to 6 million on average. Term is the biggest issue for Strome.

Trocheck is a bit different from Strome. He’s better in the face-off circle. He won over 54 percent this past season. He also takes the body more and is solid overall. The thing is that despite an affordable cap hit of $4.75 million compared to Strome’s $4.5 million, he earned $6.25 million during the final season of the contract. So, he won’t be cheap.

Strome made exactly $5 million in ’21-22. Despite being a little down in the playoffs due to a pelvic injury he played through, he still had a career high 21 goals with 33 helpers for 54 points over 74 contests.

He was the center who Artemi Panarin preferred. They had good chemistry together. Strome also was a key player on the top unit. If he is gone, expect that role to be filled by Alexis Lafreniere, who’s ready for a significant role that could include top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.

If you’re looking at valuable two-way forwards who are available, few are better than the clutch Ondrej Palat. A fan favorite of Lightning fans, the former seventh round pick (208th in 2011) has been a key player for the Bolts.

Affectionately known as Pally by fans, all he’s done is score game-winning goals in the postseason. The pair he got against the Rangers doomed them in the Eastern Conference Final. It was a hard fought series. We’ll never know what might’ve happened had Palat not scored late in Games 3 and 5.

Now 31 and coming off a great playoffs where he might have been the Lightning’s best player scoring 11 goals with 10 assists for 21 points, Palat made $5.3 million on a long-term contract that expired following the Stanley Cup. As much as they want to bring him back after keeping Nick Paul and moving Ryan McDonagh to Nashville to free up salary, the Lightning might not be able to afford Palat.

If he is gone, that could leave several interested teams. The Senators might have interest if you buy the rumors. Of course, that must be taken with a grain of salt. I only trust reliable sources. Friedman, Darren Dreger, Frank Seravelli, Bob McKenzie, Kevin Weekes and Emily Kaplan come to mind.

I have always liked Palat. He’s a superb skater who can create off the rush and on the forecheck. His speed and compete level lead to strong possession statistics. He is a shorthanded threat who can play in any situation. Most of his production comes at even strength. A lot to like. How many years does he want?

That’s always the concern when you sign a player over 30. The skating is top notch. That makes me believe he should have some good years left. The cost will be over $6 million. Unless Tampa works some magic and they find a way to keep him.

As far as free agent goalies go, Kuemper tops the list. After proving he can win in Colorado behind a great team, the 32-year old veteran will likely seek a contract that pays him upwards of $6 million.

A good netminder who won 37 games with a 2.54 GAA, .921 save percentage and five shutouts, Kuemper went 10-4 in the playoffs with a 2.57 GAA and .902 save percentage. Considering that after they traded Vitek Vanecek to New Jersey, they didn’t qualify Ilya Samsonov, the Capitals are the favorites to sign Kuemper.

The other potential suitor would be the Oilers. They are expected to be without veteran Mike Smith, who will be on LTIR (long-term injured reserve) at the start of next season. They still need a legit number one goalie. Might they be interested in trading for John Gibson of the Ducks? If not, then look for soon to be former Leaf Jack Campbell to wind up in Edmonton.

The Oilers have over $14 million to spend. They must also decide if Evander Kane is worth keeping. On the ice, he performed well. Playing mostly with Connor McDavid, he scored 22 goals in 43 games. The power forward then led all scorers with 13 goals in the postseason.

Kane is the most polarizing player in the game. Having been released by the Sharks for violating Covid protocol, he has a lawsuit filed against them. If the arbitrator rules in favor of him, Kane would return to San Jose where he signed a seven-year, $49 million dollar contract. That original deal has three years remaining on it through 2025.

What about what former wife Anna Kane posted on her Instagram? It’s well documented that they had an ugly split. She accused Kane of assault with some disturbing videos last summer. He was also investigated by the NHL for gambling debts. A serious problem. Yet they are now linked up with Draft Kings and other sports books like many other professional leagues.

Regarding what Anna Kane posted on social media, it looks bad for both her and Evander Kane. Neither person comes off good. Such serious accusations should be taken seriously by the league and any team considering signing him. However, it should be presumed innocent over guilty. Something that often is ignored by judgmental people. It’s the world we live in.

The sad aspect is she’s using their daughter Kensington in a custody battle with her estranged husband. I’ve watched some of the videos. She verbally harassed him with the poor baby on the floor, using expletives. It’s not a healthy environment for any child to grow up in.

Will this stop teams from offering Kane big money? Probably not. The Oilers and Flames are possible suitors. For Calgary, it depends on top free agent Johnny Gaudreau. Johnny Hockey put it altogether in ’21-22 by setting personal bests in goals (40), assists (75), points (115) and plus/minus (64).

After his last contract expired in which he earned $6.75 million, the 28-year old Jersey native is looking to make a splash. His next contract could hit at least $10 million on average. Something Seravelli believes. He just broke some huge news on the Gaudreau front.

I doubted him in the earlier tweet. Most of the time, it usually is about money. But once again, Seravelli was accurate. If it’s indeed true that Gaudreau has decided to leave Calgary, what a big blow that is. They had such a great year. But fell short against McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Oilers.

So, where will Gaudreau wind up? Would he actually consider coming home to play for the Devils? They’re still not there yet. But imagine if they landed him.

Everyone is expecting the Flyers to figure out a way to get Johnny Hockey. They have less than five million on their current cap while the Devils have north of $25 million. Jesper Bratt is due a significant raise. Miles Wood is headed to arbitration. Jesper Boqvist is an RFA along with Pavel Zacha, who’s expected to get moved.

As Hasan noted in his recent post, their track record isn’t too good. They aren’t usually aggressive when it comes to signing big names. But they did pay Dougie Hamilton last year. Maybe they’ll surprise fans by being in on Gaudreau.

There are other free agents that can be had. One of those is veteran David Perron. He’s always played better in St. Louis. At 34, he’s still a productive player who does well on the power play due to his shot. If he departs the Blues, where will he go?

Patrice Bergeron has been my favorite player for a while. I’ve always loved his game. A classic two-way center who has been a fixture in Boston, the affable 36-year old is considered the game’s greatest defensive forward. All while producing for the Bruins and winning face-offs. He made $6.875 million.

The definition of a clutch player, Bergeron is a winner. He centered Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. Known as The Perfection Line, they terrorized opponents due to their unique combination of skill, speed, grit and intelligence. I can’t see Bergeron anywhere but Boston, who also could be bringing back David Krejci.

Claude Giroux is the other savvy vet that’s available. Rented by the Panthers, he did well after the Flyers traded their revered captain. He went 3-5-8 in the playoffs which ended in a disappointing second round sweep at the hands of bitter rival Tampa Bay. More of a playmaker than scorer, he could wind up back home in Ottawa.

Other players to consider are Dylan Strome, Nino Niederreiter, Mason Marchment, Reilly Smith, Andre Burakovsky, John Klingberg and Ilya Mikheyev.

Of the players I listed, Dylan Strome is a player I have interest in. He had 22 goals and 26 assists for 48 points on the Blackhawks. He also did well on draws going 52.3 percent. By far his best. Only 25, he’s younger and will be more affordable than his older brother or Copp/Trocheck.

It wouldn’t be the worst idea for the Rangers to sign the younger Strome and slot him in between Panarin and either Kaapo Kakko, who was qualified, or Vitaly Kravtsov. He played with DeBrincat and Patrick Kane.

With the Chicago in Blackhawk Down mode for Connor Bedard next year by not qualifying either Strome or Dominik Kubalik, there are a few fans in favor of seeing Drury kick the tires on Patrick Kane. I get why. He and Panarin were great together when the Bread Man entered the league.

Kane is the greatest American player in NHL history. No disrespect to Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios or Mike Modano. There’s never ever been a better player than Showtime.

On the Hawks, he had 26 goals and 66 assists for 92 points. Fifth on the all-time scoring list for American players with 1180 points (430-750-1180), the 33-year old from Buffalo has done it all. He’s won three Cups, an Art Ross, a Hart Trophy and Conn Smythe.

A remarkable skater with blazing speed, Kane is one of the game’s best passers. Although he’s not scoring as much lately, he has a lethal shot from the circle. He can snipe. A phenomenal scorer who can dominate at five-on-five or on the power play, he’s must see.

With Chitown now the next Arizona as a dumping ground, why would he or Jonathan Toews want to stick around? Both are entering the final year of long-term deals that pay them an AAV of $10.5 million. Kane has a lot more left.

If they passed on adding a center and found a taker for Patrik Nemeth ($2.5 million), the Rangers could be a player for Kane. That’s without even the likelihood that the Hawks would pick-up half the tab ($5.25 million) so they could get more young players and draft picks back.

As tempting as it is to bring Kane to Broadway, I’d pass. I’m not interested in seeing Chris Drury part with a combo of Chytil, Kakko, Brennan Othmann, Zac Jones and future firsts. It doesn’t make sense.

The Rangers don’t have a small window. They should be competing for the Cup over the next five years. They’ll have Igor Shestyorkin for a while. They will not lose him to free agency. There’s plenty of time to develop Dylan Garand.

What I would like to see is Drury find a taker for Nemeth’s contract even if that means attaching Nils Lundkvist and a pick to it. Lundkvist is blocked anyway by the strong right side of Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba and Braden Schneider. He will likely be dealt. There’s no room for him.

Given the surplus of D prospects they have which include Jones and Matthew Robertson, it makes sense to deal from a position of strength. I’m hoping Nemeth winds up on Arizona. Sign either Thomas Greiss or Jaro Halak for the backup. Oddly enough former Isles who would be good fits for that role behind Igor.

Before concluding this extended post on free agency, I also wanted to address J.T. Miller. As many of you know, I’m a huge fan of our former 2011 first round pick who had a remarkable season with Vancouver.

At 29, it was indeed Miller Time for the Canucks. He was unbelievable. In ’21-22, Miller set new personal bests across the board in goals (32), assists (67), points (99), even strength goals (24), even strength points (59), power play points (8-30-38) and shots on goal (206). He also won 54.1 percent of face-offs.

He’s become a great player. Kudos to him on sticking with it. The interesting dilemma for the Canucks is they have a tough decision to make. Miller is signed only through next year. He has a team friendly cap hit of $5.25 million.

Either they can try to sign Miller to a contract extension, or decide to shop him. It’s the same situation they were in at the trade deadline. They chose to keep him. Miller nearly willed the Canucks into the playoffs along with Thatcher Demko. Had Bo Horvat not gotten hurt, they probably squeak in.

The interesting part is they’re a good team. Why even consider trading their best player now? Bruce Boudreau did a great job after taking over. He’s back. They have a good supporting cast that includes Elias Pettersson, recently re-signed Brock Boeser, Horvat, Demko, Quinn Hughes, Tyler Myers, Conor Garland and youngsters Vasily Podkolzin, Nils Hoglander plus KHL import Andrei Kuzmenko.

With a nucleus like that, they should be thinking playoffs. If I were them, I keep Miller for now. See how it plays out. That division isn’t that good. There’s a good chance the Canucks can make the playoffs. Once you’re in, anything can happen. Look no further than the Rangers.

If things don’t go well, then they can always deal Miller next year at the deadline. It would send the wrong message to the fans to unload him now.

If I’m the Rangers, I wait. By that, I mean they can always take care of what needs to be done for now. Then fill any holes next March. That’s logical. Why part with good young players for a potential one-year rental? That also applies to Kane.

Let’s assume both Copp and Strome are gone. They still have some choices. If they can’t find the right center, you can always find out about Chytil. After how well he played in the postseason, why not. But then instead add a proven top six forward like Palat or Smith. Or that unique combo of grit and skill such as Marchment. Teams should be interested.

In a perfect world, they’d bring back Copp and Motte. Then plug backup goalie and extra D. It isn’t that way in the salary cap era. It’s wait and see now.

At high noon Wednesday, NHL Network will air their July FA Frenzy special. Get ready for some fireworks 🎆 🎇🧨.

I hope you enjoyed this detail oriented post. They take longer, but are fun to do. Best of luck to Tyler Wall. He wasn’t qualified due to better goalies in the system. I hope he catches on elsewhere.


About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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