NHL Free Agency: Rounding up the latest rumours

There are less than two weeks to go before the opening of NHL free agency and there are already tough decisions to be made. Many cap-strapped teams need to assess their rosters in order to determine which players can be brought back and who must be replaced. Since the Minnesota Wild pulled the trigger on Wednesday, trading the rights to forward Kevin Fiala to the Los Angeles for a first-round pick and prospect Brock Faber, the ball got rolling and we expect many more moves to follow.

Gaudreau still undecided

The spotlight looms on Johnny Gaudreau, a prospective unrestricted free agent who just had a career season, setting highs in goals (40), assists (75), points (115, second in the NHL) and plus-minus rating (league-best plus-64). While Calgary general manager Brad Treliving has said the Flames will “move heaven and earth” to keep him, Gaudreau will come at a price. He made $6.75 million annually over the last six years, and that number will probably be in the $9 million range in his next deal.

With the NHL's free agency period looming, here's a round-up of the rumours surrounding players and teams around the league. (Getty Images)
All eyes are on Calgary as star forward Johnny Gaudreau weighs his options ahead of July 13. (Getty Images)

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has reported that a significant offer was placed on the table for Gaudreau, one that he does not believe rival teams will match.

This means it would all come down to what the star player wants to do, however Pierre LeBrun suggested on Thursday night’s Insider Trading on TSN that Gaudreau might be tempted to test the market.

“Ultimately, I think what it sounds like to me is that Johnny Gaudreau wants to keep Calgary in the fold, that he’s still interested in that offer, but may want to take a peek and see what’s out there and that’s not ideal if you’re Calgary.”

Gaudreau remains the most coveted pending free agent available this summer, but many others are getting attention from rival clubs.

Mikheyev looking for new home

Most likely inspired by what the Wild was able to receive in return for the rights to Kevin Fiala, the Toronto Maple Leafs have informed teams they’re open to trading the rights to pending unrestricted free agent Ilya Mikheyev. The 27-year-old is coming to the end of his two-year contract with a $1.645 million annual cap hit and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July, 13. He is coming off a career-best season, in which he recorded 21 goals and 32 points. He added two goals and four points in seven playoff games. TSN's Chris Johnston explained on Thursday nights’s Insider Trading that there is interest out there for the versatile hard-working forward, who will be looking for a pay raise.

“There are some that believe that as many as half the teams in the league will show some interest in him as a free agent. It’s not to say the Leafs will necessarily be able to make a trade for his rights because I think Mikheyev himself is curious to see what’s out there for him on the open market. This is going to be someone of high interest as we get closer to July 13th. He’s looking for a contract somewhere in the $4-million range or even above.”

Edmonton's lengthy to-do list

Money is tight in Edmonton and the Oilers are facing tough choices with Evander Kane, who proved to be a perfect fit on the roster. Kane joined the team midway through the 2021-22 season on a one-year deal after having his previous contract terminated by the San Jose Sharks. Kane put up 22 goals and 17 assists in 43 regular-season games for the Oilers, while adding 13 goals and four assists in 15 playoff games after signing for the team in January. We get why the Oilers want to keep him. However, the Oilers have only a few million dollars of cap space and need to address goaltending and potentially make an offer to defenceman Brett Kulak.

The Oilers also have to look at their pending RFAs in Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan McLeod and Jesse Puljujarvi. The latter however appears to be on his way out of Edmonton, as the forward is ready to move on for a fresh start elsewhere. In a trade for Puljujarvi, Sportsnet’s Mark Spector believes the Oilers could get a pick that could help Edmonton acquire a player they need for the coming season. He lists the Carolina Hurricanes, Arizona Coyotes, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks as possible landing spots for Puljujarvi.

Tampa rebounds

The Tampa Bay Lightning is getting ready for more heartbreak after losing in the Stanley Cup Final to the Colorado Avalanche. There are tough choices to make in order to respect the cap ceiling for 2022-23 and Elliotte Friedman reports that the Lightning is working with veteran defenceman Ryan McDonaugh to see if there’s a team he’d consider a trade to. McDonagh has four seasons remaining on a cap hit of $6.75M, with a full no-trade clause.

While he would prefer to stay in Tampa, the salary cap got even tighter on Friday as the Lightning signed forward Nick Paul to a seven-year contract extension worth $3.15 million annually. Paul was traded to the Lightning from the Ottawa Senators ahead of the 2022 trade deadline. The 27-year-old scored five goals and 14 points in 21 regular-season games with the Lightning, in addition to scoring 11 goals and 18 points in 59 regular-season games with the Senators. Paul ended up being a key addition in Tampa’s quest for a three-peat this year. He will be back to help the Lightning in another hunt for the Stanley Cup.

End of an era in Pittsburgh?

The Pittsburgh Penguins are also facing tough choices ahead of free agency with both Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang among the biggest names slated to become UFAs on July 13. In the latest update provided by Josh Yohe of The Athletic, the Penguins have reportedly offered Letang a three-year extension, but Yohe indicates he’s seeking a five-year deal worth between $8 million and $9 million annually. Letang is coming off a career-best 68-point season in the last year of an eight-year contract worth an annual cap hit of $7.25 million.

Malkin is willing to accept a pay cut from his current $9.5 million, but there is more and more uncertainty on how low he’ll go. Yohe believes the two sides haven't held regular contract discussions since the Penguins opened talks back in mid-May. According to numerous player agents who spoke to Yohe, it is unlikely the 35-year-old center will return to Pittsburgh. However, the Penguins might be hoping to seal the deal with Letang before shifting their attention to Malkin.

The clock is ticking.

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