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Gaudreau and Kadri among players to watch in NHL free agency

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Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau (13) carries the puck past Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (18) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, January 11 2018, in Tampa, Florida.  NHL executives are expecting a lot of movement before free agency opens on Wednesday, July 13, 2022. Several high-profile players, including Gaudreau and Palat, could still sign contracts before entering the market free.  (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, file)

Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau (13) carries the puck past Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (18) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, January 11 2018, in Tampa, Florida. NHL executives are expecting a lot of movement before free agency opens on Wednesday, July 13, 2022. Several high-profile players, including Gaudreau and Palat, could still sign contracts before entering the market free. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, file)

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The top players who should be available in NHL free agency include an MVP candidate who may have the chance to return home and a veteran who flipped his old playoff script to become a Stanley Cup champion.

Each had a career year at the perfect time.

Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau and Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri may be the richest beneficiaries of free agency when it opens on Wednesday. Seven-year contracts worth up to, if not more than, $10 million per year are possible.

That is, unless Gaudreau stays with the Flames. “Johnny Hockey” can sign for eight years until midnight EDT Tuesday night.

“These are big decisions,” Calgary general manager Brad Treliving said. “These are life decisions. If he doesn’t sign with us, he’s earned the opportunity to watch the market. It is something he must consider.

One thing Gaudreau might consider is the allure of playing for the Philadelphia Flyers team he rooted for when he grew up in Carney’s Point, New Jersey. They would need to clear significant cap space to make room for Gaudreau, who recorded a career-high 40 goals, 75 assists and 115 points last season in leading Calgary to the Pacific Division title and second round. playoffs.

Gaudreau, who turns 29 in August, finished fourth in voting for the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player.

Kadri was one of Colorado’s most valuable performers poised to lift the Cup for the first time with that core led by Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen and the third time in franchise history.

Acquired three years ago after back-to-back playoff suspensions, he rebounded from another lengthy ban in the 2021 playoffs to rack up 87 regular-season points and 15 more in 16 games of the League Cup run. ‘Avalanche.

But the future 32-year-old might be one of the oddest men out there, given Colorado also has wingers Valeri Nichushkin and Andre Burakovsky and defensemen Josh Manson and Jack Johnson who will be unrestricted free agents.

“We know we won’t be able to sign everyone,” said Joe Sakic, who was promoted Monday from general manager to president of hockey operations. “We know that. But we have our priority, and then we’ll see. I think some players will test the market and see what’s available to them and see if they want to come back, but time will tell.

Here are some other interesting players who could test the market at noon EDT on Wednesday:

DARCY KUEMPER

The Colorado Cup-winning goalie won’t be back after a trade to the New York Rangers to make Alexander Georgiev the starter. Kuemper was solid, unspectacular, backing the Avalanche to the title with a 2.57 goals-against average and .902 save percentage, though that stability may be what another high-scoring contender has. need.

The 32-year-old could be a perfect fit for the Toronto Maple Leafs, another team looking to make the playoffs with a solid game in net. They’ve already cleared cap space by trading Petr Mrazek to Chicago and are in place to move into the most important position in hockey.

JACK CAMPBELL

Toronto’s newest starting goaltender could return or see what else there is for a 30-year-old who showed he can handle the load in the regular season and succeed in the playoffs.

Campbell as recently as the first round in 2021 posted a 1.81 GAA and .934 save percentage, which wasn’t enough to help Toronto progress, but with the right amount of points. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers would be able to provide that, and Campbell is an upgrade from boom-or-bust 40-year-old Mike Smith.

EVGENI MALKIN

Sidney Crosby’s 16-year-old Batman Robin is a superstar in his own right like Scottie Pippen was to Michael Jordan with the NBA’s Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. The big question now is whether 36-year-old Malkin , will stay with the Pittsburgh Penguins or flee for a new opportunity.

A person familiar with the decision said Malkin opted to jump into the free agent market and see what his options were. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Monday because neither Malkin nor the Penguins have announced plans to test the waters in free agency.

Penguins general manager Ron Hextall predicted last week to strike a deal with defenseman Kris Letang soon and a day later finalized a six-year, $36.6 million deal. In the same breath, Hextall said talks with Malkin were on a different level — further from a sure thing.

Malkin scored one point per game last season after returning from right knee surgery.

JOHN KLINGBERG

In a free agent class far ahead and shallow on the blue line, Klingberg is by far the best defender available.

The Dallas Stars knew before the trade deadline that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to re-sign Klingberg before free agency began. Just last week, general manager Jim Nill acknowledged that the soon-to-be 30-year-old Swede will speak to other teams as each team assesses what is best going forward.

Klingberg is a coveted right-handed defenseman who can run a power play and skate long minutes. The seven-year, $63 million deal Dougie Hamilton signed a year ago with the New Jersey Devils is a good comparison.

CLAUDE GIROUX

The longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain who joined the Florida Panthers at the deadline helped them reach the second round of the playoffs, but the Presidents’ Trophy winners were then swept in the second round by the Lightning from Tampa Bay. Giroux chose Florida as the destination because of the no-move clause in his contract, and he could return even if nothing is signed until Wednesday.

Another option is to go close to home and join the Ottawa Senators, who are moving from rebuilding to the early stages of the competition and showed it by acquiring winger Alex DeBrincat from the Chicago Blackhawks. Giroux hails from Hearst, Ont., and would be exactly the kind of veteran the Senators’ young core needs to lead the way to victory.

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

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