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Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau headlines strong NHL free-agency class

NHL general managers get the opportunity to open their checkbooks four weeks from Wednesday.

This year’s list of potential unrestricted free agents — as always — offers some intriguing opportunities for executives looking to alter the course of their franchises.

There’s also been a significant amount of buyer’s remorse through the years.

The Canadian Press takes a look at some of the headline-grabbing options with the NHL market set to open July 13.

Johnny Gaudreau

2021-22 salary cap hit: US$6.75 million

The Flames star tied for second in the league’s overall scoring race with a career-high 115 points during the regular season.

Gaudreau, who turns 29 in August, can still of course sign a long-term extension with Calgary — the club has the advantage of being able to offer an eight-year contract compared to the seven available to the NHL’s other 31 organizations.

The clock, however, continues to tick for a player coming off personal bests in goals (40) and assists (75) on a team that topped the Pacific Division, but couldn’t get past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

A slick winger from Salem, NJ, Gaudreau has said he’s open to staying in Alberta, and the Flames have been bullish in their desire to keep him. But there’s also no doubt a draw to return east, with the team he cheered for as a kid — the Philadelphia Flyers — rumored to have interest.

Nazem Kadri

2021-22 salary cap hit: $4.5 million

The gritty, skilled center was one of the big stories of the post-season for the Colorado Avalanche before getting injured in the Western Conference final.

Kadri signed a team-friendly deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016 only to be traded in the summer of 2019 following consecutive playoff suspensions.

The 31-year-old should command a lot of interest this summer after putting up a career-high 87 points in 2021-22 before adding 14 more in 13 post-season contests.

WATCH | Kadri penalized for hit to head against Blues:

Avs’ Nazem Kadri receives match penalty for hit to the head

Colorado forward Nazem Kadri is ejected from the game after a high hit on St. Louis defenseman Justin Faulk.

Filip Forsberg

2021-22 salary cap hit: $6 million

The Nashville Predators center is another pending UFA coming off a career year.

Much like Gaudreau, Forsberg set new personal bests in goals (42), assists (42) and points (84) in just 69 games in 2021-22.

And at 27, he’s the youngest big-name fish poised to become available.

But also like Gaudreau and the Flames, Nashville is the only team with the ability to offer that eighth year on a long-term deal.

John Klingberg

2021-22 salary cap hit: $4.25 million

The Stars defenseman has said he’s open to staying in Dallas—for the right price.

It’s no secret negotiations have been difficult, with Klingberg voicing his frustration publicly back in January at the lack of progress on a new contract.

Stars blue-liner Miro Heiskanen’s contract carries an annual average value $8.45 million through 2028-29, while Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn remain big tickets up front.

It remains to be seen if there’s room for Klingberg, who turns 30 in August, with the NHL’s pandemic-depressed salary cap only rising $1 million to $82.5 million in 2022-23.

Evander Kane

2021-22 salary cap hit: $2.1 million

The controversial winger combined to score 35 goals in 58 regular-season and playoff games with the Edmonton Oilers after his contract was terminated by the San Jose Sharks in January.

Kane, who subsequently signed on in the Alberta capital for the balance of the 2021-22 schedule, had terrific chemistry with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, scoring 13 times in the playoffs, which still topped the stats page heading into Wednesday’s opener of the Cup final.

There’s no doubt the soon-to-be-31-year-old can put the puck in the net, but teams will also have to weigh other factors for a player already with his fourth organization.

WATCH | Kane notches hat trick in series against Flames:

Kane’s hat trick propels Oilers to victory over Flames, take 2-1 series lead

The Vancouver native scored 3 straight goals as part of a 4-goal 2nd period for Edmonton, who came away with a 4-1 win.

Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang

2021-22 salary cap hits: $9.5 million (Malkin), $7.25 million (Letang)

Sidney Crosby’s partners in crime — the trio have won the Cup three times together in Pittsburgh — are poised to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in their careers unless there’s a re-up with the Penguins before July 13.

Malkin, who turns 36 this summer, was limited to just 41 games in 2021-22 because of injury, but still put up 42 points.

The 35-year-old Letang, meanwhile, finished in a three-way tie for points this season by a defenseman with 68 — one more than his previous career-high.

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