Everyone loves a winner, that's a fact. And you can't do much better in the NHL than the Stanley Cup champions, which is why a number of players who recently won titles have cashed in as free agents. Erstwhile Tampa Bay Lightning Cup winners such as Barclay Goodrow (New York Rangers) and Blake Coleman (Calgary) both parlayed strong post-seasons into long-term pacts in new towns and this year's finalists both have pending UFAs who will receive a lot of interest on the open market if they don't return to their current clubs.
The following list is made up of players from both the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning. Even though the Bolts lost to the Avs in 2022, as back-to-back winners before that, everyone knows what their culture can create. Now, will your team have to pony up term and perhaps overpay for some of these players? Quite possibly so. But if you want your squad to being running around an arena like schoolchildren next June, there is always a price.
Ondrej Palat, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning
The Bolts basically have no cap space and a bunch of long-term, big money contracts on the books, so it's hard to envision a scenario where Palat can be re-signed (but never say never when it comes to Tampa). Assuming he hits the open market, the veteran winger will be coveted by pretty much any team that has designs on a long playoff run: Palat is versatile, skilled and does all the little things on a scoring line to make things hum. If your roster seems like it's missing a piece up front, Palat is probably that piece. His last cap hit was $5.3 million and even being on the wrong side of 30 won't stop him from demanding a couple million more than that.
Nazem Kadri, C, Colorado Avalanche
The hero, the legend, the Not-a-Liability. Kadri bravely played through a broken hand in order to help the Avalanche win the Cup and thanks to a breakout regular season, his value should be very high. Kadri's 87 points this year beat his previous high by 26 and while he is turning 32 in October, he clearly has a lot of gas left in the tank. Kadri is the perfect No. 2 center for a Cup contender and his physical edge is well known. While the Avs do have cap space, they also have a lot of decisions to make. I can almost guarantee Kadri will at least test out the open market - whether he comes back to Colorado will come down to numbers, because it's clearly a match for both sides in terms of fit.
Valeri Nichushkin, RW, Colorado Avalanche
Cale Makar was the obvious Conn Smythe winner - but Nichushkin was really good, too. Not only did he provide key secondary scoring throughout the playoffs, but he was clutch when the Avs needed him in the final and an absolute terror on the forecheck. Nichushkin's size and speed would be coveted by any team and for a player who has finally realized his full NHL potential, his timing could not have been better. Nichushkin's outgoing cap hit was $2.5 million. You can probably double that this summer, easily.
Nick Paul, C, Tampa Bay Lightning
Paul was one of the best trade acquisitions made by Tampa Bay GM Julien BriseBois this season and his efforts certainly helped propel the Lightning to the final series. Big, talented and versatile, Paul scored clutch goals, killed penalties and was genuinely one of Tampa Bay's most consistently dangerous forwards in the final. At 27, he's still got a lot of time in the league and I'm sure a lot of teams will see a player with even more offense to unlock now that he's played on a championship-caliber squad. Paul is coming off a $1.3 million cap hit and like Nichushkin, he'll be getting a lot more than that this summer.
Josh Manson, D, Colorado Avalanche
Andre Burakovsky would be another option for this spot, but Manson's unique skill set has been hard to find in the NHL recently. He's a burly, physical defenseman but also showed off his offensive hops during Colorado's march to the Cup and it's not like Anaheim didn't want him; the rebuilding Ducks' timeline for success just wasn't going to line up - hence the trade deadline deal to Colorado. But Manson still has plenty of good years in him and will be able to demand more than the $4.1 million cap hit he is coming off. Now, does he stick with the Avs, who could still use his size and strength on the back end? It's certainly a possibility. But he'll have suitors, that's for sure.