Gaudreau, Kadri among NHL's top free agents

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Buying season is almost upon NHL general managers.

Free agency opens Wednesday at 12 p.m. ET with plenty of intriguing situations and scenarios.

There are stars poised to potentially leave the only team they've ever played for. And after a busy stretch at last week's draft — and again Monday night — there's a big squeeze on hockey's most-important position.

The Canadian Press takes a look at some of the storylines to watch when the bell rings to open free-agent festivities:

STARS ON THE MOVE?

A disappointed Brad Treliving spoke with reporters for more than 15 minutes Tuesday night via Zoom after revealing that unrestricted free agent Johnny Gaudreau would not be returning to the Calgary Flames despite hopes to the contrary.

The Calgary Flames' general manager said the 28-year-old winger "agonized" over his decision and said the reasons for moving on, in the end, was a "family decision" and not about dollars.

Gaudreau, a fourth-round pick by the club in 2011, put up a career-high 40 goals, 75 assists and 115 points in 2021-22, becoming a more well-rounded player in the process.

Treliving, who had remained optimist until Tuesday that a deal could be reached with Gaudreau, said he will make some calls Wednesday morning and check what's available, but that he wasn't going to spend recklessly to replace his star player.

"You're not going to just go out and sign someone to replace Johnny. … The wrong move right now, I can tell you, is to knee-jerk reaction and just try to rush out and replace the player with the wrong response. We just have to take a deep breath. It's been a long process," added the GM.

Evgeni Malkin, meanwhile, reached an 11th-hour deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night. Malkin has signed a four-year, US$24.4 million contract that runs through the 2025-26 season and has an average annual value of US$6.1 million.

“Evgeni is a generational talent who will be remembered as one of the greatest players in NHL history,” said Penguins' GM Ron Hextall. “His hockey resume and individual accomplishments speak volumes about him as a player, and we are thrilled to watch him continue his remarkable legacy in Pittsburgh.”

The 35-year-old won three Cups with the franchise that selected him No. 2 overall in 2004, but played just 41 games in 2021-22 due to injury.

No. 1 defenceman Kris Letang re-signed with the Penguins last week and will continue his career alongside Sidney Crosby.

CREASE CONUNDRUM

A couple of teams have big goaltending holes to fill.

While the Toronto Maple Leafs went the trade route Monday night by acquiring Matt Murray from the Ottawa Senators, the Edmonton Oilers and Washington Capitals are among the clubs in need of significant help.

Jack Campbell, Toronto's No. 1 option last year, is set to become a UFA, while the organization traded free-agent bust Petr Mrazek to the Chicago Blackhawks at the draft to clear salary cap space.

That opened the door for the trade with Ottawa for Murray, which in turn signalled Campbell is almost sure to leave.

Edmonton might also need two new netminders in 2022-23. Mikko Koskinen decided to sign in Switzerland, and 41-year-old Mike Smith's playing status for next season remains up in the air.

Some other teams got crease clarity at the draft in Montreal, with the Colorado Avalanche trading for and signing Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers, and the Detroit Red Wings doing the same with Ville Husso in a deal with the St. Louis Blues.

The New Jersey Devils acquired Vitek Vanecek from the Capitals, while Marc-Andre Fleury re-signed with the Minnesota Wild. Washington then announced Monday it would not be offering a qualifying offer to Ilya Samsonov, which means the Capitals now need two goalies.

Campbell and Darcy Kuemper of the Stanley Cup-winning Avalanche are the only big names on the UFA list heading into Wednesday.

"It's seems a little bit similar to last year," Leafs GM Kyle Dubas said of the goalie carousel prior to the Murray acquisition. "You can change the names of the teams a little bit, but a team or a goalie may be left without a spot.

"Or a spot that either the team or the goaltender doesn't desire as much."

CENTRES OF ATTENTION

While the goalie market is getting thin, there are plenty of centres available — for the right price, of course.

Apart from Malkin, Nazem Kadri should command plenty of attention.

He starred for the Avalanche in their Cup win, and looks set for a big payday.

And then there's Patrice Bergeron, who's yet to re-up with the Boston Bruins, Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp of the New York Rangers, Vincent Trocheck of the Carolina Hurricanes and Paul Stastny of the Winnipeg Jets.

WINGING IT

Gaudreau is the star attraction on the wing, but there's lots of experience and skill set to become available.

Claude Giroux was acquired by the Presidents' Trophy-winning Florida Panthers at the trade deadline after spending his entire career with the Philadelphia Flyers, but appears again primed to hit the road.

Colorado's Valeri Nichushkin is off the board after he re-signed Monday with the Avalanche, but Andre Burakovsky is an enticing option, as are Edmonton's Evander Kane, Ondrej Palat of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida's Mason Marchment.

BLUE-LINE BOOST

Fewer higher-end prizes will be available on defence.

Plenty of possibilities remain, however, for GMs in need.

John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars tops the board after Letang elected to stay in Pittsburgh, followed by Colorado's Josh Manson and Florida's Ben Chiarot.

RFA SWING?

Most eyes will be on the UFAs, but there are also intriguing restricted free agents available for potential offer sheets.

A team that owns a player's RFA rights has the option to match or receive draft picks as compensation, but there have still been a few attempts in recent years.

Carolina matched Montreal's offer to Sebastian Aho in the summer of 2019. The Hurricanes then signed Jesperi Kotkaniemi to an offer sheet last August — a deal the Canadiens declined to match. Before that small flurry, the last offer sheet tendered was all the way back in 2013.

Calgary's Matthew Tkachuk tops this year's RFA list following a career-high 42 goals, 62 assists and 104 points.

Patrik Laine of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Winnipeg's Pierre-Luc Dubois — traded for each other in January 2021 — also have RFA status as of Wednesday unless something changes.

And then there's Leafs defenceman Rasmus Sandin, a left shot and former first-round pick waiting for a new contract as he sits behind Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin and Timothy Liljegren on Toronto's depth chart.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 11, 2022.

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Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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