Looking ahead to the best NHL UFAs of 2023

Take a look at the pending unrestricted free agents eligible to appear in 2023 and it’s easy to wonder if the upcoming offseason will be surprisingly similar to the current summer.

The Calgary Flames and John Klingberg certainly hope that isn’t the case.

Just as the 2022 class was defined by a high-scoring Flame (now ex) in Johnny Gaudreau, one of the best free agents on the market next year may be Jonathan Huberdeau, now in Calgary following the blockbuster deal that sent Matthew Tkachuk to Florida after a scorching season in southern Alberta.

Of course, Calgary also acquired defenseman MacKenzie Weegar in that deal. If he doesn’t sign an extension between now and next July, he will join Klingberg as one of the top defenders in what is a decidedly weak crop of UFA blue lines.

Klingberg, naturally, probably never expected to go through this process so quickly again after having his services available to the highest bidder this year. After a change of agents, he signed a one-year deal, as opposed to the six- or seven-year deal we all expected, with Anaheim rebuilding and now he could come back in 12 months and take another shot. term agreement.

Who knows, maybe Klingberg will find Southern California to his liking and sign an extension to stay in the sun. We can definitely count on Flames GM Brad Treliving trying to lock down one or both of Weegar and Huberdeau: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Freidman. reported Treliving recently broke bread in Montreal with the latter, with big commitments in the hope that next year will be much quieter in Calgary than this rowdy offseason has been.

Even if we do get some extensions in the coming weeks, next summer looks set to be a monster UFA market thanks to the sheer volume of top-tier strikers currently entering the final year of their deals. We’re talking about franchise-defining players here, so remove the aforementioned three guys from the equation and we still have no problem identifying a dozen interesting potential UFAs with 12 months to go for the next silly season.

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

Kane’s future will become the biggest subplot of the 2022-23 campaign about eight seconds after Colorado raises its flag. Chicago is already elbow deep in a rebuild and both sides are engaging in this semi-ridiculous dance of not wanting to be the party that triggers the next move.

Kane playing for another team is unavoidable right now, so it would be great if we all just got down to business. Most likely he will be traded before the trade deadline next winter, but that doesn’t stop him from leading the UFA class next summer. The only wingers with a better points-per-game record than Kane in the last five years are Nikita Kucherov, Brad Marchand and Kane’s former teammate Artemi Panarin. Even at 34 next summer, he would get a huge deal.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

It seems like every Colorado transaction from the past two years has been brought up in the context of knowing that MacKinnon’s special deal will end in 2023. The league, but it’s going to be very close. Still, the organization (remember, Chris MacFarland is now the general manager under hockey president Joe Sakic) has had its eye on the ball all the way here and it seems unthinkable that the defending champions and their best offensive player they won’t solve it in the long run. .

David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins

This situation is too interesting for the taste of Bruins fans. There’s a long way to go, but with so much up in the air in Boston – Patrice Bergeron will SURE be back and Pastrnak’s friend and compatriot David Krejci will also return to Massachusetts after a year abroad – Pastrnak hasn’t. he exactly sent out “Bruin for Life” vibes. Only five players have scored more total goals than Pastrnak in the last three years and he won’t turn 27 until next May.

J. T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks

A month ago, it looked like if Miller were to get an extension this summer, it might only happen after a trade to a new team. That sense seems to have changed a bit, as he’s obviously still a part of the Canucks with several big dates on the NHL offseason schedule having already passed.

Miller has found a new team in Vancouver and seems genuinely open to the idea of ​​staying. The caveat is that the dollars and cents of all this will be hard to work out, especially with Canucks captain Bo Horvat also eligible to become UFA next July.

Matt Dumba, Minnesota Wild

As mentioned, there’s not much to get excited about in terms of defenders to court next summer. Even if both Klingberg and Weegar hit the market, Dumba can expect some love. (An interesting note to file, though: Right-wing defenders tend to be in high demand, and all three — Klingberg, Weegar, and Dumba — are right-handed.)

It seems we’ve been talking about Dumba as a potential trade bait for years. Now, with Minnesota enduring a dead-capital crisis thanks to buyouts from Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, we may finally be entering the final days of Dumba, who just turned 28, in a wild uniform.

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

If the NHL had a ‘Comeback Player of the Year’ award, Tarasenko might as well have claimed it. After playing just 34 games in 2019-20 and 20-21 combined, and making an unfulfilled trade request along the way, the Russian tank had a career season with 82 points in 75 starts last season.

Even with Tarasenko, who turns 31 in December, and the Blues in a much better position, this could very well be the right winger’s last round in Missouri. (Spoiler alert: This won’t be the last significant St. Louis name you see on this list.) However, Tarasenko will have no trouble finding a new home if his play next season is like the one we saw last year.

Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins

On the one hand, it seems like sticking with the team that selected and developed him, and has Sidney Crosby on him, would be a no-brainer for Jarry. On the other hand, if Jarry has another good season, he could enter the market clearly as the best option for a team looking to improve his line.

Frederik Andersen, even Semyon Varlamov or Jake Allen, might have something to say about it. But Jarry, who turns 27 next April, is at least five years younger than all those guys, making it that much more likely that he’ll get an offer than half a decade long.

Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues

Look, if you had to bet a dime on whether the Blues would keep O’Reilly or Tarasenko, you’d definitely put it on O’Reilly. The two-way center has been so integral to the Blues’ identity, including winning playoff MVP during their 2019 championship run, that you almost forget he’s actually only been there four years.

O’Reilly turns 32 in February and as St. Louis throws the keys to the likes of Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou, O’Reilly is such a dependable player that it’s hard to imagine him and St. Louis parting ways while the team is still in a window to compete. Could you craft a contract that reflects the fact that he can take on a reduced offensive role for years to come while still being counted on to compete against other teams’ top lanes? You know he’s the kind of battle-tested player that another club might look at and think, “That’s the guy we need to get us over the playoff hump.”

Damon Severson, New Jersey Devils

Not much went right in New Jersey last season, but Severson, another right-hander, quietly put up a career year with 46 points and his production over the past four seasons basically equals that of a 40-point defenseman. He turns 28 on Sunday, which means he’s still in that age range where d-men sometimes take the last leap.

With Dougie Hamilton already entrenched on the right side and both Luke Hughes and 2022 second overall pick Simon Nemec headed to the Devils’ blue line, perhaps the writing is on the wall for Severson. Producers like this guy don’t grow on trees.

Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames

Relatively recently, the idea of ​​Monahan going on the open market would have created cold sweats for Flames fans. However, in the past three years, his production has plummeted, so it will be interesting to see if he can do anything this coming year to repair his reputation after undergoing hip surgery last spring.

However, it seems like there’s a decent chance he’ll make it out of the Flames books. When he considers that the same also applies to Milan Lucic in 2023, he gets an idea of ​​how the club could cobble together big deals to keep Huberdeau and Weegar.

Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings

Would the kid from Michigan and the team captain walk away just as things start to change? At some point, the kid who grew up rooting for Cup-winning clubs in Detroit is going to want some playoff action of his own beyond the five games he had when he was 19 in 2016.

Larkin, who just turned 26 on July 30, would attract all kinds of attention on the open market given what he has accomplished playing for mediocre squads in Detroit. Still, it’s hard to imagine him not re-signing with the hope that the next chapter will be much more enjoyable than the first seven years of his career.

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

Various veterans, from Max Pacioretty to Father Time-dodging Joe Pavelski, hope to generate more interest than Toews does next summer, but his name is fun to mention here nonetheless. After missing the entire truncated 2021 season due to chronic immune response syndrome, Toews needed 26 games to score his first goal last year.

However, once he got going, the Blackhawks captain played at a 50-point pace in the 2022 portion of the NHL schedule. Working hard on a lousy team, his underlying numbers were completely passable. With another season under his belt, Toews, who turns 35 next April, could still look very attractive to a contending club that could land one of the game’s most prominent players in a friendly deal with the team if it means he gets another chance or two on a fourth ring.

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