Big-name stars make up the star-studded NHL free agent class

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This class of free agent in the NHL already boasted the most high-end talent for several years. Then Evgeni Malkin let it be known that he was testing the market.

Longtime Pittsburgh cornerstone, Colorado Stanley Cup champions Nazem Kadri and Darcy Kuemper, Calgary MVP candidate Johnny Gaudreau and Dallas defenseman John Klingberg lead one of the groups of agents deepest freedoms in recent history. Even though the salary cap only increases by $1 million per team, record earnings were achieved for the first increase since 2019, paving the way for big cash flows when the market opens on Wednesday.

“There’s money to spend there,” Carolina general manager Don Waddell said. “I think there were 21 teams that were cap teams last year and another five or six that were very close. There’s money to be spent and the players are going to make a lot of money.

Probably none more so than Gaudreau, who set career highs with 40 goals, 75 assists and 115 points in leading the Flames to the Pacific Division title. His next contract will almost certainly break the richest contract signed last year: $63 million to Dougie Hamilton of New Jersey.

Gaudreau, a South Jersey native who grew up with the Flyers, has unsurprisingly been linked with Philadelphia and also the New York Islanders, although Calgary has put up an all-court press to keep the dynamic winger who will have 29 years old in August.

“Johnny is a really good player – there’s going to be a lot of attention,” Calgary general manager Brad Treliving said. “These are big decisions. These are life decisions. If he doesn’t sign with us, he’s earned the opportunity to watch the market.

That market improved when Malkin signaled his intention to the Penguins on Monday to see what other options he might have. The 36-year-old scored one point per game last season, even after returning from knee surgery.

Teams looking for a younger option in the middle have Kadri, who like Gaudreau had a career year and extended that production deep into the playoffs. Kadri, who turns 32 on opening night, was one of the Avalanche’s best players on their Cup run with 15 points in 16 games sandwiched around a broken right thumb that he crossed in the final.

His teammate Andre Burakovsky, longtime Flyers captain turned Panthers forward Claude Giroux, Rangers center Ryan Strome and Blues winger David Perron are also among the many intriguing options up front.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Waddell said. “It looks like there’s an abundance of forwards and not as many defenders.

The best in this shallow pool is Klingberg, coveted as a right-handed defender who can lead the power play. Think Hamilton money for the soon-to-be 30-year-old Swede, who picked up 47 points last season.

Waddell joked that he and the Hurricanes aren’t looking for a goaltender for the first time in many years, but there’s no shortage of teams. Kuemper, who supported the Avalanche at the Cup, is available after acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the Rangers, as is Jack Campbell with the Toronto Maple Leafs, moving to Matt Murray, whom they acquired from Ottawa.

After inconsistencies in their net cost in the playoffs, the Edmonton Oilers should be big players in the goaltending market. So will the Washington Capitals after general manager Brian MacLellan ‘jumped into the fire’ by trading Vitek Vanecek to the Devils and redoubled his efforts to remake his goaltender by not making a move. qualifying offer to Ilya Samsonov.

Whether by trade or free agency, the Capitals now need two goalies and know the price given the high demand and low supply.

“Given the environment, I think it will be high,” MacLellan said.

The precedent was set for many free agents after Colorado re-signed Valeri Nichushkin to an eight-year, $49 million deal on Monday. Nichushkin got it after nine goals and six assists in the playoffs, so his annual cap of $6.125 million could be the floor for Tampa Bay playoff star Ondrej Palat unless he takes advantage of a hometown throw-in to try and help the Lightning win the Cup for a third. time since the start of their streak of success in 2020.

With or without Palat and team defenseman Jan Rutta, the Lightning could shop the bargain aisle again as they did last year when they added veterans Corey Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Zach. Bogosian, who were key parts of a third straight run to the final. .

“You start with, what holes do I need to fill and what are the best options to fill those holes, given the cap space I have and the cap space I’m going to need to sign these players” , said Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois. .

Filling out the roster with depth players could take a while, not just for Tampa Bay, but across the league. Many executives are still expecting the usual free agent frenzy starting at noon EDT Wednesday, though that may not be the only time for the vast majority of signings like most years.

“There will still be the rush to sign some players, but because of the tight cap situation, will there be other situations that happen after that time frame?” said All-Star General Manager Jim Nill. “This could be a year where it drags on a bit longer.”

Follow AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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