2022 NHL free agents: Best players still available after first wave of contracts

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2022 NHL free agents: Best players still available after first wave originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

NHL free agency began on Wednesday, and while most of the top players available have already signed new contracts, there is still plenty of talent on the market.

In fact, the second-best unrestricted free agent on most rankings remains unsigned.

Nazem Kadri is coming off the best season of his career. He tallied 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) in 71 games. He also played a key role in the Colorado Avalanche winning the Stanley Cup. Kadri is a legit top-six center and plays with the kind of toughness that most general managers covet.

Early Bruins lineup projections with and without Bergeron, Krejci

Kadri should be looking for $7-8 million per season in his next contract. That would be a reasonable ask for a player of his caliber. The issue for Kadri is not many teams have that kind of salary cap space. Just 13 of the league's 32 teams have more than $6.8 million in cap room right now, per CapFriendly. Only two of them, the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators, made the playoffs last season.

The top defenseman still available is John Klingberg. He's a legit top-four blueliner with a strong offensive skill set. However, Klingberg will be 30 years old on Opening Night in October, so giving him a long-term deal would be pretty risky, especially for a team close to the salary cap.

There are plenty of solid middle-six forwards unsigned as well. One of them is Phil Kessel. He's not an elite goal scorer anymore, but even at 34 years old, the two-time champion is still a quality offensive player (52 points in 82 games last season) and can upgrade a team's power play.

Here's a list of the best free agents still unsigned (excluding Patrice Bergeron, who said in May that he doesn't see himself playing for a team other than the Bruins if he plays next season).

  1. Nazem Kadri, C

  2. John Klingberg, D

  3. Phil Kessel, RW

  4. Nino Neiderreiter, C

  5. Calvin de Haan, D

  6. Paul Stastny, C

  7. Sonny Milano, LW/RW

  8. Evan Rodrigues, C

  9. Danton Heinen, LW/RW

  10. Ryan Donato, C