Skip to main content

The Top 30 Unrestricted Free Agents of 2022

Even with several big-name UFAs already re-signing, the 2022 class remains deep at every position for now.
USATSI_17096134

Will summer 2022 mark the return of “normal” in free agency? The past two off-seasons were unforgettable because of COVID-19’s ripple effect. With league revenues crippled and the salary cap flattened in 2020, more players than normal signed one- and two-year contracts. With many of them back in the UFA pool in 2021, not to mention the Seattle expansion draft, this past off-season brought extreme roster turnover, too.

But with arenas filling up again and the possibility of a cap uptick in seasons to come, perhaps free agents are growing comfortable digging roots in again. Several of the top projected 2022 UFAs already re-signed with their teams: Aleksander Barkov, Morgan Rielly, Mika Zibanejad and Mattias Ekholm, for instance. Draft 1 of the top UFA list therefore looks somewhat underwhelming, and, with several of the remaining big names likely to re-sign before next summer, the 2022 UFA class might lack for star power. That said, it’s a deep group at the moment, loaded with above-average players at every position, including some future Hall of Famers.

Who are the major UFAs to watch? I present my first look at the top 30 for 2022. Ages listed as of July 13, 2022, the day free agency begins.

1. PATRICE BERGERON, C, 36
2021-22 cap hit: $6,875,000

He continues to maintain his all-time great standard of two-way play at his position, his scoring holds strong on Boston’s Perfection Line, and he’s probably a Bruins lifer. Only Ray Bourque and Johnny Bucyk have played more games for the franchise. Bergeron has indicated he won’t negotiate his next contract until after this season, but it sounds like his future decision is “Bruins vs. retirement” rather than “Bruins vs. another team.”

2. JOHNNY GAUDREAU, LW, 28
2021-22 cap hit: $6,750,000

He obviously doesn’t fit the “Darryl Sutter player” archetype, but 'Johnny Hockey' has actually produced under Sutter from the back third of 2020-21 through this season. That’s good news during his contract year. With the Flames looking like playoff material, he’s less likely to change teams via rental trade. But will his hometown Philadelphia Flyers come calling in the summer if he goes to market?

3. EVGENI MALKIN, C, 35
2021-22 cap hit: $9,500,000

The future Hall of Famer Malkin hasn’t even seen game action yet this season as he recovers from knee surgery. The more time he misses, the more likely the Pens are to slide out of the playoff picture, and the more likely it is that teams make offers for ‘Geno.’ It’s still difficult to picture him anywhere else. Since he’s won everything there is to win in the NHL, he seems a better bet to re-sign in Pittsburgh than chase glory on a new team – that is, unless a KHL homecoming tempts him like it did Pavel Datsyuk.

4. TOMAS HERTL, C, 28
2021-22 cap hit: $5,625,000

Will the San Jose Sharks’ surprisingly competent start up the odds of Hertl (a) remaining with them all season and (b) re-signing? It’s too early to know. As a highly effective two-way pivot with a beloved dressing-room personality, he’d have many suitors to drive up his price should he choose to test the market in 2022.

5. JOHN KLINGBERG, D, 29
2021-22 cap hit: $4,250,000

The Dallas Stars wisely speculated by locking up Klingberg to a seven-year pact that rapidly became a bargain at $4.25 million. Similarly to Roman Josi coming off his previous steal of a deal, Klingberg needs to get P-A-I-D this time around. That won’t be a problem for a right-shot puck-mover who ranks 10th among D-men in scoring since debuting in 2014-15.

6. FILIP FORSBERG, LW, 27
2021-22 cap hit: $6,000,000

The Nashville Predators re-signed Ekholm rather than position him as a deadline chip to sell off, but Forsberg’s fate remains undetermined. He’s currently on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. He seems a reasonable bet to go to market. Maybe he’d rejoin the 30-goal club if played with an elite center for the first time in his career.

7. KRIS LETANG, D, 35
2021-22 cap hit: $7,250,000

Letang has been relatively healthy by his standards for several seasons now and continues to play at a high level. He’ll thus still command a chunky AAV on a short-term deal. Does he still make sense for a Pittsburgh team that may be transitioning out of contention by summer 2022?

8. MARC-ANDRE FLEURY, G, 37
2021-22 cap hit: $7,000,000

His stay in Chicago might prove short given the Hawks' disastrous season to date. Fleury looks like a strong candidate to get traded to a contender. If his next team is a good fit, maybe he re-signs there. It also wouldn’t be a surprise if he returned to Pittsburgh to finish out his career.

9. TUUKKA RASK, G, 35
2021-22 cap hit: UFA

Don’t forget about Rask, who remains a UFA this season and thus still technically projects to be one next summer. It’s not inconceivable that he sits out the entire season to heal his hip if he doesn’t see a logical fit for a mid-season signing.

10. CLAUDE GIROUX, LW, 34
2021-22 cap hit: $8,275,000

Will the Philadelphia Flyers part ways with their longest-serving captain? They and Giroux agreed to table all contract talks until after this season, so the situation doesn’t scream, “He’s staying.” He could chase a championship as supplementary piece on a contender or join a young, rising team in need of veteran leadership. His off-season home is Ottawa…

11. VINCENT TROCHECK, C, 29
2021-22 cap hit: $4,750,000

It took him a while to recover from his horrific broken ankle sustained in 2018, but he’s all the way back now, producing for the Carolina Hurricanes as one of the better No. 2 centers in the league. He’s playing his way into a raise over his $4.75-million AAV.

12. ONDREJ PALAT, LW, 31
2021-22 cap hit: $5,300,000

Salary-cap constraints have forced the Tampa Bay Lightning to eschew one important veteran after another. Will Palat be next? He’s been a fixture on Tampa’s top line through the back-to-back championships and plays a heady two-way game, but the Bolts are already projected to exceed the cap next season, so GM Julien BriseBois will have to get creative to re-sign Palat.

13. HAMPUS LINDHOLM, D, 28
2021-22 cap hit: $5,205,556

Lindholm never developed into a high-end offensive force but has solidified himself as a steady, mobile defensive defenseman capable of playing in a contender’s top four. He was expected to be a mid-season rental trade candidate, but the Anaheim Ducks are playing far better than they were supposed to in the early going.

14. DAVID PERRON, RW, 34
2021-22 cap hit: $4,000,000

Perron is a pro’s pro. He scores year in, year out, on any line, and he’s playing the best hockey of his career in his 30s. His career path has led him back to St. Louis repeatedly, so maybe he just won’t leave this time.

15. NAZEM KADRI, C, 31
2021-22 cap hit: $4,500,000

Kadri remains a time bomb capable of making violent mental mistakes on the ice at any time, but he remains a versatile, feisty pivot who has enough skill to play at the top of a team’s lineup in a pinch.

16. DARCY KUEMPER, G, 32
2021-22 cap hit: $4,500,000

Entering this season, Kuemper had only reached the 30-start mark once in his career, so 2021-22 marks a crucial test for him. If he proves capable of being a workhorse on a Stanley Cup contending Colorado Avalanche squad, he can score a nice dollar figure and term on his next deal.

17. RICKARD RAKELL, LW, 29
2021-22 cap hit: $3,789,444

He's been missing his scorer’s touch since 2017-18, when he notched 34 goals, but Rakell still has the talent to return to first-line production in the right situation. He’s also reaching the age at which he might look for a new start on a team closer to a Cup.

18. ANDRE BURAKOVSKY, RW, 27
2021-22 cap hit: $4,900,000

It feels like Burakovsky has been around for a while, but he’s one of the younger UFAs on the market, offering reliable secondary scoring with a big frame.

19. RYAN STROME, C, 29
2021-22 cap hit: $4,500,000

Strome never broke through to match the potential that made him 2011’s fifth-overall pick, but he’s found a nice groove as a New York Ranger, typically centering Artemi Panarin. Will Strome be as productive if he joins a new team minus 'The Bread Man,' though?

20. JOE PAVELSKI, RW, 38
2021-22 cap hit: $7,000,000

He continues to defy his age, having delivered an elite season at both ends of the ice in 2020-21 on Dallas’ top line alongside Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz. Assuming Pavelski keeps that standard up, he may be able to stave off the “one-year-deal” phase that precedes a longtime star’s retirement. Maybe he gets one more multi-year pact, though whoever signs him has to price in the risk of a sudden decline.

21. NINO NIEDERREITER, LW, 29
2021-22 cap hit: $5,250,000

As a strong play driver who can fill a top-nine role in a contender’s lineup, Niederreiter won’t have trouble finding suitors next summer. His skill set also suits what his current team needs in Carolina, of course, so it’s possible he re-signs.

22. JOSH MANSON, D, 30
2021-22 cap hit: $4,100,000

Manson's style of play taxes his body, so he’s the type of player who may not age well in his 30s. Still, he’s a rugged, right-shot, top-four defenseman. Plenty of teams will pay up for immediate help even if his contract takes on water quickly.

23. MARK GIORDANO, 38
2021-22 cap hit: $6,750,000

Giordano has made it clear he intends to play into his 40s, so we can forget about any retirement talk. With the Seattle Kraken looking more like a typical expansion team than the miracle 2017-18 Golden Knights so far, the odds of Giordano changing teams next season increase. Is a Calgary reunion inevitable?

24. ALEXANDER RADULOV, RW, 36
2021-22 cap hit: $6,250,000

The hope was that Radulov, with a nagging core injury finally healed, could return to his star-caliber level, but the results so far in 2021-22 suggest age is catching up to him. Is there a chance he returns to the KHL after this season?

25. JACK CAMPBELL, G, 30
2021-22 cap hit: $1,650,000

What a journey for Campbell, from elite prospect to flop to redemption story to solid NHL backup to 1B to, now, a viable NHL 1A playing at an elite level. His personality and relationship with his teammates makes him a strong bet to remain a Toronto Maple Leaf if they can find the cap space to give him a significant pay hike.

26. VALERI NICHUSHKIN, RW, 27
2021-22 cap hit: $2,500,000

Nichushkin never became the premier power forward his first-round draft pedigree promised, but he’s settled in as one of the top defensive wingers in hockey. He’s useful to the Avs, but he’d help plenty of other contenders, too.

27. PAUL STASTNY, C, 36
2021-22 cap hit: $3,750,000

Even in his mid-30s, Stastny is a proven play driver albeit not a great finisher. He’s still good enough for a top-six role. He has shifted to the left wing in Winnipeg but can still play center.

28. MAX DOMI, C, 27
2021-22 cap hit: $5,300,000

Domi, whose analytical profile skews heavily toward offense over defense, still puts up points when healthy. It would be interesting to see him join a high-octane contender on which he didn’t need to be the star.

29. PHIL KESSEL, RW, 34
2021-22 cap hit: $8,000,000

Kessel is a “Liam Neeson in Taken” type of player in that he has a very particular set of skills. Still capable of potting 20-plus goals and augmenting a team’s power play, he’s likely to commence a gun-for-hire phase of his career now, perhaps on a series of short-team deals.

30. REILLY SMITH, RW, 31
2021-22 cap hit: $5,000,000

Original Golden Knight Smith has been a serviceable top-six forward for pretty much his whole NHL career. He has to be a cap casualty in Vegas though, right? With Jack Eichel in town, the Golden Knights are way over the cap already. It’s tough to imagine a scenario in which they can afford to re-up Smith for 2021-22 and beyond.

OTHER 2022 UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS TO WATCH: Ryan Murray, Rasmus Ristolainen, Ryan Getzlaf, Joonas Korpisalo, P.K. Subban, Jeff Carter, Calle Jarnkrok, Nikita Zadorov, Brayden McNabb, Calvin de Haan, Andrew Copp, Alexander Edler, Dustin Brown, Frank Vatrano, Thomas Greiss, Zach Aston-Reese, Nick Leddy, Mattias Janmark, Ilya Mikheyev, Jaroslav Halak, Will Butcher, Alex Goligoski, Justin Schultz, Chris Tierney, Ian Cole, Keith Yandle, Cal Clutterbuck, Zach Sanford, Nick Paul, Ben Chiarot, Zach Parise, Justin Braun, Andreas Athanasiou, Robert Hagg, Olli Maatta, Josh Archibald, Colin Blackwell, Mikko Koskinen, Noel Acciari, Ryan Lomberg, Dmitrij Jaskin, Robby Fabbri, Vladislav Namestnikov, Troy Stecher, Alexander Barabanov, Rocco Grimaldi, Nick Cousins, Braden Holtby, Marcus Johansson, Jason Spezza, Ilya Lyubushkin, Erik Gustafsson, Kevin Lankinen, Victor Rask, Nico Sturm

TOP HEADLINES

Carey Price
Play

Price Reportedly Suffers Setback in Knee Rehab

Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price will reportedly need to re-start his rehab from off-season knee surgery after suffering a setback.

John Klingberg
Play

Dallas Stars Could Move John Klingberg Soon

John Klingberg's recent frustration over his stalled contract extension talks raised conjecture over his future with the Dallas Stars. Now it appears the club might not wait until the trade deadline to move him.

Cale Makar
Play

Three Things We Learned in Week 14 of the NHL Season

Winter is slowing everyone down but it's not slowing down the stories in the NHL. Avry Lewis-McDougall is back to look at three more top stories to start the week.