NHL free agents who can shake up the offseason

Several big names came off the board over a fascinating draft weekend in Montreal. Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Filip Forsberg received offers lucrative enough to stay in their respective markets, taking a little bit of the potential sting off the NHL free agency window.

Still, there are some intriguing names out there. Let's run down a few that could shake up the NHL offseason.

Johnny Gaudreau

Gaudreau is the prize in free agency. He's coming off a season worthy of Hart Trophy consideration and has at least seven years of his prime remaining on the odometer, making him the sort of free agent teams can aggressively pursue without much need for hesitation. Gaudreau can be that immediate impact piece or something to pair with up-and-coming cores to build around.

The downside of the top-of-the-food-chain free agent is it seems only a few teams, mainly unestablished ones, can involve themselves in the conversation. Therefore, Gaudreau is in some ways a lower-end candidate in terms of shaking up the league.

It feels like either a return to the Calgary Flames or a low-leverage spot to cash in like the Seattle Kraken or Philadelphia Flyers is in store for Gaudreau. Potentially more meaningful landings spots — albeit slightly — like the New York Islanders or New Jersey Devils may be options.

The chaos, really, is in the potential ruin Gaudreau can leave behind. One has to wonder what direction the Flames will choose if Gaudreau exits without even a modicum of compensation.

Johnny Gaudreau, left, and Ondrej Palat, right, could shake up the NHL this summer.  (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
Johnny Gaudreau, left, and Ondrej Palat, right, could shake up the NHL this summer. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Ondrej Palat

Palat determining there are greener pastures would be a major development in free agency.

After the Tampa Bay Lightning moved Ryan McDonagh to the Nashville Predators and re-signed Nick Paul to a team-friendly deal, the expectation was that Palat would soon work out an agreement to stick around. But with the clock winding down and the chance to truly explore free agency just around the corner, perhaps the utility forward will listen, and listen intently, from other interested parties, paving the way for an exit after more than a decade in the Tampa organization.

Palat has the potential to either elevate a team on the cusp as a player with a proven track record of success in big games and big moments, or he could look to cash in on a career of largely unheralded but rock-solid work.

Palat would leave a significant wake if he indeed exits, bolstering any team he joins without breaking the bank, while also forcing the Lightning to compete in the open market. There is potential here for a massive exchange of power.

Nazem Kadri and Valeri Nichushkin

Two members of the Colorado Avalanche's Stanley Cup roster seem capable of accomplishing just about anything in free agency with Nazem Kadri and Valeri Nichushkin wielding a great deal of leverage.

There is a path back to the Avalanche for both, if either are willing to accept less in order to stay. It's a concession Darcy Kuemper wasn't willing to make, which has left a little bit of spare change between the couch cushions for others.

It's also possible both look to maximize what is the highest point of each of their respective earning potentials. Kadri is coming an incredible 87-point season, and stands to be the best centerman available in free agency. Nichushkin, a two-way wiz, was among the handful of best players for the Avalanche throughout the playoffs and more specifically the Stanley Cup Final. In their own lanes, they are the best available — which means bags of money will be dangled in front of them.

The third option for Kadri and Nichushkin is a hybrid of the two— which is a balance between profit and opportunities to win. Like Palat, these two players could have everything in front of them when the free-agent window opens, providing them with an opportunity to alter the landscape in the league depending on their priorities.

Claude Giroux

Giroux is an interesting case. He called his shot as an expiring asset last season, landing in his preferred destination in South Florida. Now it seems entirely likely his stay with the Florida Panthers will be a short one, primarily due to financial interests.

Giroux's value hinges on what sort of role he desires as a 34-year-old who has competed in over 1,000 games in his career. If it's a Letang-like deal he covets, and a contract that will carry him deep into his late 30s, it will likely have to be with a team still finding its footing. The Ottawa Senators, who can provide Giroux with a homecoming of sorts, would fit that bill.

If it's a Stanley Cup Giroux seeks, however, he might have to enter into much more manageable discussions when it comes to term and average annual value. Giroux has been loosely linked to teams like the Avalanche, Oilers and Maple Leafs, or teams that would allow him to have a sheltered impact for a contender at a lower freight.

The thing is he already spurned the Avalanche, which would indicate lifestyle factors are just as important as an opportunity to take on a bit role. Stay tuned.

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