The NHL offseason is in full swing with the draft in the books. Now teams across the league will shift their focus toward free agency, which gets underway Wednesday, July 13, at 12 p.m. ET.
There won't be a ton of star power up for grabs after the Nashville Predators . However, Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau will easily be the crown jewel of the 2022 free-agent class, especially after having the best year of his NHL career.
Many teams have a chance to change their fortunes once free agency begins. Here's a look at what teams most need to land some key free agents prior to the 2022-23 season.
As was mentioned above, Johnny Gaudreau is by far the top free agent in the 2022 class. There's a ton of pressure on the Flames after winning the Pacific Division and having a strong season that resulted in them winning a playoff series. Calgary needs to do whatever it takes to keep Gaudreau on its roster for the foreseeable future. It's certainly possible that Gaudreau will command $10 million-$12 million in AAV on the open market, so there will be plenty of competition for his services. The New York Islanders are among many teams that have been linked to Gaudreau leading up to the start of free agency. After a career-best 115-point season, Gaudreau's value will never be higher and his importance to the Flames' franchise can't be measured. Their future depends on this deal getting done and keeping him in a Flames uniform for potentially the remainder of his career.
The Bruins could potentially have a gapping hole at the center position depending on how the 2022 offseason plays out. Captain Patrice Bergeron is set to become an unrestricted free agent and is weighing whether he'll return for his 19th NHL season. New head coach Jim Montgomery has been in contact with Bergeron since taking the job. If Bergeron comes back for another season, there's a fairly good indication that it'll be with the Bruins. Boston also has been in contact with veteran center David Krejci, who spent the first 15 years of his professional career with the Bruins before playing in the Czech Republic in the 2021-22 season. Krejci registered 46 points (20 goals and 26 assists) playing for Olomouc HC, so he clearly can still produce at a high level.
If the Bruins are able to add the two veteran centers to the 2022-23 roster, it would go a long way toward stabilizing the position. Aside from current projected top-line center Charlie Coyle, the team's other centers (Erik Haula, Tomas Nosek and Oskar Steen) combined for just 23 goals last season. It's safe to say that the Bruins need to address the middle of the ice and bringing back at least one, if not both, Bergeron and Krejci would be huge.
The Panthers had a phenomenal 2021-22 season that resulted in winning the Presidents' Trophy. Despite having the league's most points, Florida only won one playoff series and was swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now the Panthers' roster could look quite a bit different next season. The team acquired Claude Giroux at the trade deadline from the Flyers, but Giroux is set to become an unrestricted free agent. The former Flyer should have plenty of interest on the open market and Florida doesn't have much in the way of cap space. Some clever maneuvering will be required in order to add talent to the forward group. Giroux could be on his way out the door and to make matters worse, winger Anthony Duclair had to have surgery to repair an Achilles tendon injury and will likely miss at least the first half of the 2022-23 campaign. Simply put, the Panthers need to add some scoring firepower to their roster.
The Devils had a strong start to their offseason when they landed the top defenseman in the 2022 draft in the form of Simon Nemec and traded for goaltender Vitek Vanecek. Now the franchise needs to shift its focus toward finding some secondary scoring behind Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt. New Jersey scored just 3.0 goals per game last season, which was 19th in the league. If the Devils want to become a player in the Eastern Conference, they're going to need more scoring from the wing, especially on the second line. It also wouldn't be a huge surprise if the Devils made a run at Gaudreau since they do have a ton of cap space. Hughes centering a line with Gaudreau would certainly be fun to watch.
The Oilers took the next step and advanced all the way to the Western Conference Final. However, it was Mike Smith's performance in net that ultimately led to Edmonton's demise. Smith had an absolute meltdown in Game 4, which helped the Colorado Avalanche finish off the series. Smith is in the final year of a two-year contract, but could end up on long-term injured reserve. In addition, backup netminder Mikko Koskinen signed a deal to play in Switzerland, so goaltending help should be a top priority. There aren't a ton of top options out there and Darcy Kuemper probably isn't happening given the price tag. Jack Campbell wouldn't be a bad middle-of-the-road signing.
The Blue Jackets have missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons as they try to retool their roster. One of the biggest items on their offseason agenda has to be to strike a long-term deal with star winger Patrik Laine, who is set to become a restricted free agent. The luxury that Columbus does have is that it can trade Laine if he agrees to a massive contract with another team. However, the Blue Jackets clearly want to keep Laine as a cornerstone of the franchise after acquiring him from the Jets just two seasons ago. Laine is the driving force on the team's top line and keeping him in the fold is easily the Blue Jackets' biggest priority as free agency begins.
This one is more about the moves that don't need to be made. Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher already traded for offensive-minded defenseman Tony DeAngelo and parted with significant draft capital to do it. The Flyers have also been linked to Gaudreau, who is originally from the southern New Jersey suburbs outside of Philadelphia. This is a team that is coming off a season in which it had the second-fewest wins in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers need to resist the temptation of backing up the Brinks truck for Gaudreau and build around young players like Owen Tippett, Joel Farabee, Cutter Gauthier and Carter Hart. A few mid-level signings to shore up the center position in the form of Dylan or Ryan Strome wouldn't be a bad idea, but lofty contracts are not what this team needs right now.