Previewing the 2022 NHL UFA Class: Over-30 Edition

With the off-season coming to a close, we’re now looking way ahead to next summer’s free agency, which promises to be a pretty good one with a lot of big names. Here's a look at a few of the top veteran names to watch for in 2022.
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Phil Kessel

With the off-season coming to a close, we’re now looking way ahead to next summer’s free agency, which promises to be a pretty good one with a lot of big names. 

In case you missed it, here’s Part 1 featuring forwards and Part 2 featuring defensemen and goalies, all of whom are under 30 years old.

The 30-and-over group is also highlighted by some household names, but some of them are unlikely to play for any other team. This includes Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in Pittsburgh, Claude Giroux in Philadelphia, Patrice Bergeron in Boston, Dustin Brown in Los Angeles, or even David Perron in St. Louis, who has played for four other teams but has only signed contracts with the Blues and certainly enjoyed his best seasons with them.

Those players are not included in this list, which is not meant to be exhaustive. Instead, this list highlights some veteran players who may move onto other franchises even though most of them are past their prime.

Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes, $6.8 million AAV

There’s zero doubt that Kessel will be moving out of the desert by the end of the season. He will turn 34 in October, but he’s still got plenty of goals left in him after scoring 20 in 56 games last season, a big bounce-back performance after a disappointing first season in Arizona. Kessel could be a good playoff rental and the Coyotes have cap space to retain salary. Despite 15 seasons in the NHL, this is the first time Kessel gets to explore free agency, and it’ll be interesting to see which teams pursue him.

Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars, $7 million AAV and Alexander Radulov, Dallas Stars, $6.25 million AAV

The Stars are at crossroads. They’re one of the older teams in the league and while Pavelski and Radulov have aged like fine wine, by the end of the season the Stars will have to decide if they want to keep their Cup window open by retaining their veterans or shift towards a youth movement. Both players are still in the hunt for their first ring and certainly have the ability to keep playing.

Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning, $5.3 million AAV

It would be surprising to see Palat become a free agent considering how much depth the Lightning have lost, but their cap crunch is expected to continue for at least another season. When Brayden Point’s $9.5-million AAV extension kicks in for the 2022-23 season, it won’t leave much room for Palat. He deserves a raise and plenty of teams will find room for a responsible, two-way left winger, but for Palat, perhaps the pasture isn’t always greener on the other side.

Nazem Kadri, Colorado Avalanche, $4.5 million AAV

Kadri’s an effective No. 2 center who plays with an edge; his problem is that he consistently goes over that edge. He was missed by the Maple Leafs and Avs in key playoff games due to suspensions and it was definitely a contributing factor to their playoff exits. His skill set will be in demand, but his new team – should he leave the Avs – have to consider how his past behavior may negatively affect the team.

Jason Spezza, Toronto Maple Leafs, $750,000 AAV and Joe Thornton, Florida Panthers, $750,000 AAV

We’re lumping the two veterans together because everyone wants to see them win the Cup. Thornton is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and Spezza is 30 points away from becoming the 92nd player to score 1,000 points. At 42 and 38 years old, respectively, both continue to defy the odds and find ways to contribute despite their limited playing time. They’re going season-by-season, but we shall see if a full 82-game schedule starts to wear them down.

P.K. Subban, New Jersey Devils, $9 million AAV

The Devils are an easy sell because they’ve got so much talent coming through the pipeline. Subban, 32, is still looking for his first Cup ring and he has a chance to be part of a potentially special group, but it will also require a lot of patience on his behalf because they’re still years away from contending. Subban won’t attract lucrative offers anymore, but as a right-hand shot with plenty of mobility, he could be a serviceable No. 3 or 4 defenseman, provided his new team and coach can stomach his swashbuckling style.

Mark Giordano, Seattle Kraken, $6.75 million AAV

If Giordano plays well and the Kraken live up to lofty expectations, re-signing him is an easy decision. But at 37 years old, Giordano likely doesn’t have many seasons left in him, and his role and production had diminished over his final two seasons with the Flames. It’s a fresh start for him and there’s plenty of excitement and motivation playing for a new franchise, and at the very least he provides some veteran leadership as the team’s oldest player. His next contract is difficult to predict because there are so many factors in play, but Ryan Suter turned 36 this season and landed a four-year contract with the Stars this summer so there are teams who don’t mind taking on the risks associated with a 35-plus contract.

Mattias Ekholm, Nashville Predators, $3.75 million AAV

Re-signing Ekholm is a priority for GM David Poile and with significant salary coming off the books after the season, there’s no reason to think the Preds can’t get it done. Ekholm has been one of the league’s underappreciated defensemen for far too long and deserves a hefty raise from his current AAV even though aging curves aren’t kind to players signed to big contracts in their 30’s. A lot of Ekholm’s future will be tied with the Preds’ success; remember, Ekholm’s name was in the rumor mill when the Preds were toying with the idea of being sellers at the trade deadline. Could the same happen again this season? Ekholm and Filip Forsberg, who is also a UFA in 2022, could fetch quite the return.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Chicago Blackhawks, $7 million AAV

Fleury’s tenure with the Blackhawks has gotten off to a horrible start. First, there were reports that he didn’t want to play there, and when they had managed to change his mind, they welcomed him on social media by misspelling his name. If last season was any indication, Fleury is still an elite goalie, but it would also seem awfully incongruous to not see him return to Pittsburgh and retire alongside Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, even if it means he has to sign a deal with an AAV well below his market value. As a free agent, it would give Fleury a chance to finish his career the way he wanted to after the Pens reluctantly made him available to Vegas, who then sidelined him for Robin Lehner and traded him rather unceremoniously to a team he didn’t really want to play for.

Darcy Kuemper, Colorado Avalanche, $3.5 million AAV and Pavel Francouz, Colorado Avalanche, $2 million AAV

Of the current storylines and the ones yet to emerge, the Avs’ goaltending situation is definitely already at the top of the list. In the midst of the Avs’ Cup window, potentially resorting to Jonas Johansson as their starter should Kuemper and Francouz miss time due to injury isn’t ideal. If Kuemper can stay healthy, he can earn a lucrative contract on a talented team, but that’s a big if for the 31-year-old who has played more than 31 games just once in nine seasons. The good news is, should both goalies falter, the Avs enter the 2022 summer with a clean slate and will be free to go in a completely different direction if need be.

Braden Holtby, Dallas Stars, $2 million AAV

Holtby has not been good over the past three seasons but no one can take away his Vezina and Cup ring. It’s kind of astonishing the 31-year-old’s play has fallen off so quickly, but the Stars are a strong defensive team. There’s a logjam in net though Ben Bishop’s status is TBD and Jake Oettinger is still on his entry-level deal, so perhaps there’s a chance for Holtby to remain in Dallas long term provided he regains his form.

Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs, $1.65 million AAV

The Leafs go into the season with a 1A and 1B situation but it’s unclear which one Campbell will be. Based on last season’s performance, Campbell should have the edge over Petr Mrazek even though Mrazek has more experience as a No. 1, but nothing is set in stone. With Morgan Rielly also set to become a free agent in 2022, the Leafs don’t have a lot of cap flexibility and if Campbell has another outstanding season, they’ll have a hard time re-signing him. With tandems and timeshares all the buzz around the league, Campbell could be an ideal goalie to pair with an injury-prone veteran or mentor an up-and-coming talent for another team. 

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