NHL’s Top 3 Unrestricted Free Agent Forwards: Rumours, Analysis, Projections

Nazem Kadri of the Colorado Avalanche battles for the puck with the Washington Capitals' T.J. Oshie (Image: All-Pro Reels)
Nazem Kadri is an unrestricted free agent this offseason is expected to earn a significant pay rise (Image: All-Pro Reels)

Although the 2021-22 NHL season isn’t over yet, teams across the league are already plotting their offseason moves. With plenty of big-ticket forwards hitting unrestricted free agency, this summer could define the next decade of play in the world’s premier hockey competition.

There’s scope for the Pittsburgh Penguins to break up their core, with Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang becoming free agents. In Boston, Patrice Bergeron’s future is unsettled: the Bruins’ long-term captain is considering retirement.

Elsewhere, Filip Forsberg’s time with the Nashville Predators could be coming to a close, while Ville Husso is unlikely to extend his tenure playing for the St. Louis Blues.

2022 NHL Offseason: Top 3 UFA Forwards

With that, here are the top three unrestricted free agent (UFA) forwards for the 2022 offseason.

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames, Left Wing

Johnny Gaudreau picked the perfect time to enjoy a career-year in the NHL, notching 115 points (40 goals, 75 assists) in 82 appearances for the Calgary Flames. He was one of only eight players to hit the 100-point mark this season, joining an elite group at the pinnacle of the sport.

The former fourth-round pick is set to earn a significant pay rise next term, with his asking price likely to exceed the $6.75 million wage he’s earned in Calgary for the last six years. Despite standing at only 5-foot-9, Gaudreau is a standout offensive player in the NHL, capable of his using speed and skill to unsettle opposition defences.

- UFA Forwards - Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames, sliding to thwart the Washington Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom (Image: All-Pro Reels)
Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames, sliding to thwart the Washington Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom (Image: All-Pro Reels)

The 28-year-old is attracting interest from across the league, with his close ties to Boston and New Jersey fuelling speculation about interest from the Bruins and Devils. Also of note: the rebuilding Philadelphia Flyers could accommodate his sky-high salary expectations.

Although the Flames are keen to resign Gaudreau, GM Brad Treliving said he’d move “heaven and earth” to keep him in Calgary, they’re in the midst of a cap crunch. Matthew Tkachuk is a restricted free agent this season, meaning he’s also due a pay hike. It’ll be tricky for the Albertan franchise to keep both.

Claude Giroux, Florida Panthers, Right Wing

“Florida was at the top of my list,” Claude Giroux said of his decision to join the Panthers at the trade deadline. “If there was a team I wanted to go to, it was here. I had a chance to play against them three times this year, watched a few of their games. Asked around about the guys on the team, the coach, management, and I didn’t hear a lot of bad things. I’m just happy the deal got done.”

With his contract expiring this offseason, star forward Giroux can re-sign in Miami if that’s what he desires. However, he’ll likely earn more elsewhere, and the Panthers may be less competitive next season after missing out on the Stanley Cup this time around.

- UFA Forwards - Claude Giroux, former captain of the Philadelphia Flyers (Image: All-Pro Reels)
Claude Giroux, former captain of the Philadelphia Flyers (Image: All-Pro Reels)

Ultimately, the 34-year-old has the power to decide his next move. His midseason trade to the Panthers was plain sailing until the second round of the playoffs but turned sour when the Tampa Bay Lightning came to town and shut down Florida’s power play and expensive rentals.

Giroux won’t earn $8.28 million per year wherever he plays next year, but he’s still worth a fistful of cash after scoring 65 points (21 goals, 44 assists) in 75 appearances for the Flyers and Panthers in 2021-22.

His likeliest landing spots include Florida and Philadelphia: will he return home next season? Considering how much the Panthers spent on acquiring Giroux, the latter feels more likely.

Nazem Kadri, Colorado Avalanche, Centreman

After earning $4.5 million against the salary cap in 2021-22, Nazem Kadri has earned an almighty contract hike. The 31-year-old notched 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) in 71 regular-season games for the Colorado Avalanche this term, adding 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 13 appearances to his account in the playoffs.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it, but you try not to focus on it too much,” Kadri said of his march to free agency earlier this season.

Unless he takes a discount to stay in Denver, it’ll be difficult – if not impossible – for Colorado to retain his services. GM Joe Sakic has already committed $16.25 million to Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, with Nathan MacKinnon due a sizeable raise next summer.

As a result, all signs point towards Kadri moving away from the Avalanche this offseason.

There will be no shortage of suitors for the Canadian, though his age and salary expectations will exclude some teams from the Kadri Sweepstakes.

If the Flyers want to make a splash, Philadelphia could be a match for Kadri – though the same could be said of the Detroit Red Wings, Anaheim Ducks, and New York Islanders.

Where will Nazem Kadri sign in 2022-23? Join the conversation by tweeting @BritIceHockey.

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