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Five Pending NHL UFAs Looking for Big Payday After Playoffs

Here are five pending NHL unrestricted free agents who could turn a strong playoff into a big payday when the market opens this summer.
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When the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs begin, three distinct groups of pending unrestricted free agents will step onto the ice.

First, there are aging veterans such as Evgeni Malkin and Patrice Bergeron. They’ll both chase another Cup, and barring injury will certainly be offered a contract with their current teams, and field offers from other contenders leading into next season.

Next, there are the first time UFAs getting ready to cash in on years of hard work and personal equity. Johnny Gaudreau and Nazem Kadri fit this category after huge offensive seasons.

Finally, there are the pending free agents with something to prove and something to gain from the postseason. Here are five pending NHL unrestricted free agents who could turn a strong playoff into a big payday when the market opens on July 13, 2022:

Jack Campbell, G (Toronto)
Current Cap Hit: $1.65 million

Imagine Jack Campbell leading the Toronto Maple Leafs to their first Stanley Cup in 53 years. You can’t place a value on that. His health remains a concern, so a consistent and winning postseason could turn Campbell into a player the Leafs can’t afford to sign, and can’t afford not to sign. As a starter, Campbell is already underpaid. When you look at his stats, Campbell is already a bonafide NHL starter. Leading Toronto deep into the playoffs, and surviving the goaltending pressure cooker of a postseason in the GTA will get earn Campbell a meaningful bump. 

Evan Rodrigues, F (Pittsburgh)
Current Cap Hit: $1.0 million

When the season began, Evan Rodrigues looked like a player worth the $1-million a year he was making. He had 34 career NHL goals across six seasons. This year Rodrigues is challenging the 20-goal mark and has already crossed 40-points. In his seven-year professional career, Rodrigues has only two playoff games to his name, both coming last season. Perhaps no player has more to prove this postseason and more to gain than the Pittsburgh Penguins forward. At 28, however, Rodrigues has yet to put together consecutive productive seasons. A strong postseason could give cause to a team looking for a middle-six offense to take a financial risk on Rodrigues.

Andrei Burakovsky, F (Colorado)
Current Cap Hit: $4.9 million

Far from a bit piece in the Colorado Avalanche’s arsenal, Burakovsky, along with fellow winger Valeri Nichushkin, will seek a raise this summer, and will certainly get that, either from the Avalanche, or another suitor. Burakovsky, 27, could price himself out of a future in Colorado with a playoff performance similar to his 2020 campaign when he scored 17 points in 15 games. Last year, however, Burakovsky floundered, manageing only 4 points in 10 post-season games. He’s already hit a new career high in regular season points this year, and if the 2020 Burakovsky shows up for the post-season instead of the 2021 version, his off-season raise could be significant. 

Ilya Mikheyev, F (Toronto) 
Current Cap Hit: $1.645 million

If you were to look at Mikheyev’s entire body of work in the NHL, a minimal raise would be in order. If you examine his most recent work, Mikheyev looks like a budding force. He was seemingly unable to score, appearing snakebitten in his first 2.5 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now, Mikheyev has found his touch and might have teams believing, given a larger role than he has in Toronto, that he could be a consistent top six scorer. Carrying his upward trajectory through the end of the regular season is one thing, but duplicating it in the playoffs will be another. In 12 career playoff games with Toronto, Mikheyev has not registered a single point. If he can right that statistic, he’ll almost certainly see an offer he can’t refuse this off-season.

Andrew Copp, F (NY Rangers)
Current Cap Hit: $3.64 million

To be clear, Copp is going to get paid. He is a versatile middle-six forward who has consistently chipped in double-digit goal totals and drives team offense. Since arriving in Manhattan, however, Copp looks like he could be more than a valuable third-line player. His two-way game has never faltered in the postseason, but Copp’s scoring has not translated to playoff hockey. While maintaining his regular season point per game pace as a New York Ranger is unrealistic, timely scoring to compliment his well-rounded game could earn Copp a bigger role, and a bigger paycheck in free agency.

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