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NHL’s top 12 UFAs of 2023: Latest rumours, reports

Take a deep breath, general managers.

With a newsy trade deadline in the rear-view and plenty of the names on this list scratched off and/or changing sweaters, the next pressure point for NHL front offices won’t arrive for a few months.

The 2023 class of UFA forwards took a midseason beating, as David Pastrnak, Bo Horvat, Dylan Larkin, Joe Pavelski and Andrei Kuzmenko all inked extensions.

As a result, the July market will suddenly be thin on sure bets up front, particularly difference-makers in their prime, and more intriguing names on the back end could be in line for bidding wars.

Behold, the latest buzz surrounding the best dozen UFAs-in-waiting — ranked.

1. Patrick Kane

Age on July 1: 34
Position: Right wing
2022-23 salary cap hit: $10.5 million

The latest: Kane’s situation is arguably the most fascinating of any individual player this season.

Great player, horrendous team.

Massive trade, high expectations.

Holding all leverage, Kane orchestrated his emotional deadline deal to the New York Rangers. And while it should be a hoot to see the superstar back in the postseason, the cap-strapped Blueshirts have needed to dress a short bench to facilitate another star rental.

The Rangers can only carry 21 skaters for the rest of the regular season.

“It’s been a nutty two weeks, put it that way,” head coach Gerard Gallant told reporters. “But if they asked me to do it over again for the same result we’re going to get, I would say, ‘In a second.’ It’s well worth it.” 

Not unlike Claude Giroux’s jump to Florida at this time last season, Kane’s priority is finding a groove in a new city and comfort within his second NHL sweater.

Extending this commitment beyond rental status would require Kane to accept a severe pay chop and GM Chris Drury to make some hard decisions with his young RFAs in need of pay raises (K’Andre Miller, Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere).

This is all about borrowing a big-time star for some big-time games in spring — cap implications be damned.

“We definitely took that into consideration. There probably wasn’t another situation where we would have pushed the limits. But to get a Patrick Kane, you don’t get an opportunity like that very often,” Drury told reporters.

“I think Patrick recognized it was a good fit for him, and it’s a good fit for us. We’re certainly excited that he wanted to be traded and that it was to the New York Rangers.” 

2. Ryan O’Reilly

Age on July 1: 32
Position: Centre
2022-23 salary cap hit: $7.5 million

The latest: The St. Louis Blues prioritized locking up the next wave of Blues forwards (Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas) over its veterans during the summer of 2022, and O’Reilly agreed to set extension talks aside until midseason.

By then, it became apparent GM Doug Armstrong — who knows a contender when he sees it — would be selling.

O’Reilly (and Noel Acciari) helped Armstrong recoup useful draft picks, while the forwards felt rejuvenated by a high spot in the playoff race and the potential for a Stanley Cup run.

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas, who’s in a contract year himself, did not discuss an extension with any of his rental acquisitions.

The Leafs’ focus is entirely on the present. Contract decisions depend on what happens on the ice.

O’Reilly suffered a broken finger in just his eighth game with the Leafs but is expected to be ready for action before the postseason begins.

“There is the off-ice impact that he is made, which has been significant. He has come in and fit in seamlessly. His habits — the way he prepares and practices — were notorious before he arrived. Everything he has done since has backed that up,” Dubas says.

“On the ice, obviously, he has produced right off of the bat, but more importantly than the production, it is the way that he plays. No matter who we are playing against or what time it is, he is doing everything the exact way you have to play when you really want to win.

“There is a reason why he has the individual accolades he has and there is a reason why he has won before. He shows it every day.

The team and the Ontario returnee have sparked a quick, mutual love.

With Horvat and Larkin signing midseason, O’Reilly may be the most coveted UFA centre this summer — and the Blues have not closed the door on a return to his championship home.

As one of the game’s premier two-way centres, the Selke-winning O’Reilly could point to Nazem Kadri’s $7-million AAV in Calgary as a comparable.

But would he be willing to take a little less to remain a Maple Leaf?

3. Vladimir Tarasenko

Age on July 1: 31
Position: Right wing
2022-23 salary cap hit: $7.5 million

The latest: Tarasenko proved in 2021-22 that he can put personal wishes (i.e., to be traded) aside and still deliver on the ice.

The Russian sniper enjoyed a return-to-form campaign in which he ripped 34 goals and hung a career-best 82 points in 75 games — both team highs. (Anyone else wonder why the Seattle Kraken didn’t swipe Tarasenko for free in the expansion draft?)

In July, reports surfaced that Tarasenko had not rescinded his year-old trade demand. So, it came as little surprise to see the pending UFA rented to the mighty New York Rangers well ahead of the trade deadline.

“It’s something we’ve been looking at for a while,” Drury told reporters. “When the pieces started to come together, I didn’t really see any reason to wait.”

As mentioned, the Rangers need to build with their young forwards and don’t have the salary room to accommodate Tarasenko’s next contract.

We feel safe declaring the power forward a pure rental who will be one of the most sought-after wingers on the July market.

4. Dmitry Orlov

Age on July 1: 31
Position: Defence
2022-23 salary cap hit: $5.1 million

The latest: In a swift plot twist, Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan waved the white flag at the trade deadline, shipping UFAs Orlov and Garner Hathaway off to Boston in a rich-get-richer rental splash.

Orlov, a Cup champion with skill and smarts at both ends of the rink, can play in any teams’ top four. Of the entire ’23 UFA class, no one logs more ice time per game (22-plus minutes).

The Bruins’ future cap picture is clearer with Pastrnak signed, and with 10 pending free agents on GM Don Sweeney’s all-in roster, there is some flexibility here.

Right now, Orlov’s services are cheap. He’s costing Sweeney just $1.275 million the cap due to retained salary. Turning “Bobby Orrlov” into more than a rental won’t be cheap.

He was looking for a seven-year commitment from the Caps for big dough, and MacLellan only wanted to go three or four years, Elliotte Friedman reports.

5. Matt Dumba

Age on July 1: 28
Position: Defence
2022-23 salary cap hit: $6 million

The latest: Boy, time flies.

It feels like yesterday that the cap-crunched Minnesota Wild and Dumba agreed to a five-year, $30-million extension.

Now Dumba, a right shot in his prime, is skating toward the open market. No stranger to trade rumours, Dumba surely understands that GM Bill Guerin’s cap space is extremely limited in 2023-24, when Ryan Suter and Zach Parise’s buyout penalty jumps to $14.74 million and Matt Boldy’s new raise to $7 million kicks in.

He should also understand that the price for top-four D-men isn’t coming down, and with so few of them heading to unrestricted free agency, there will be options.

Guerin held steadfast that would not move Dumba midseason unless it was for a comparable return. Multiple teams — Edmonton, Vancouver, and Ottawa among them — have reportedly kicked tires at times.

No offer came close to getting a trade done.

“And we wouldn’t have done it,” Guerin told reporters. “Matt is playing too well right now, helping us too much. The last month he’s been fantastic.”

The hype around Dumba — now projected to be Minnesota’s “own rental” — has cooled.

But consider this: He is the only pending UFA defenceman who shoots right, skates 21 minutes a night and is under 30 years old.

“Dodged another one,” a smiling Dumba told reporters after the March 3 deadline passed.

“You guys can’t get me out of here. It feels good though. It’s where I want to be. I want to help this team. I definitely want to win. I want to go further than I have. This is one of the best teams I’ve ever been a part of in Minnesota. I’m excited.”

6. Patrice Bergeron

Age on July 1: 37
Position: Centre
2022-23 salary cap hit: $2.5 million

The latest: While 2022-23 certainly carries all the feels of a last dance — for real this time — the Boston Bruins captain and reigning Selke champ still deserves to be on this list.

Even if 2023-24 signals another Boston-or-bust negotiation for this all-business star whose decline seems forever on hold.

Bergeron considered the toll hockey has taken on his body and seriously weighed retirement before reupping last summer for a team-friendly, one-year contract. Now, Boston is the runaway favourite to hoist the Presidents’ Trophy.

Of every player on this list, we’ll label him Least Likely to Be Traded.

Several people close to the team can see Bergeron returning for yet another season if this one doesn’t end in a parade. Surely, the door for another extension is open.

Ditto David Krejci.

7. Tyler Bertuzzi

Age on July 1: 28
Position: Left wing / Right wing
2022-23 salary cap hit: $4.75 million

The latest: Bertuzzi, an impactful power forward, is wrapping a two-year bridge pact and erupted for career bests in goals (30) and points (62) last season. He’s had a number of health issues in the past and suffered an upper-body blocking a shot on Oct. 16 that kept him sidelined until January.

Despite expressing Bertuzzi’s wish to commit to Motown — “I want to be a Red Wing,” he said — Detroit GM Steve Yzerman got realistic about his club’s position in the standings.

Yzerman committed to Larkin but cut his centreman’s good pal, Bertuzzi, loose at the deadline in favour of both a first- and fourth-round pick.

“I did have some discussion early in the season with Tyler’s representative, Todd Reynolds,” Yzerman told reporters.

“We really didn’t get anywhere. Talked briefly before the trade deadline, and it really didn’t lead to anything.”

No doubt, Reynolds will be gunning for the type of payday hard-on-the-puck forwards like Zach Hyman and Andrew Copp found on the open market. (How does six times six sound?)

Bertuzzi’s brand certainly falls in line with Bruins hockey.

and is certainly the type of power forward contenders would covet.

8. Tristan Jarry

Age on July 1: 28
Position: Goaltender
2022-23 salary cap hit: $3.5 million

The latest: Due to his youth and pedigree, Jarry tops our list as the most desirable pending free agent between the pipes (apologies, Frederik Andersen).

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Number 1 bounced back lovely from a shaky 2020-21 outing and delivered a .919 performance in 2021-22, boosting optimism for the final campaign of his three-year bridge and first taste of UFA life.

Even in these cap-tight times, the best goalie available come July 1 typically gets paid handsomely (see: Jacob Markstrom, Philipp Grubauer, Jack Campbell).

Jarry would rather not let negotiations linger that long, though.

The softspoken B.C. native told reporters at training camp that he is hopeful a fresh contract is signed before season’s end.

GM Ron Hextall isn’t rushing to take care of Jarry’s business and said in July that his preference is to not negotiate such deals in-season.

Hextall’s down-to-the-wire extensions with Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin in 2022 show a willingness to press core pieces.

The sense is that management would rather wait to see how the oft-injured Jarry — who could ask for an AAV in the $6 million range — performs in spring.

For all his regular-season success, Jarry has never won a playoff series, and the pressure now falls on him just to make the dance.

9. John Klingberg

Age on July 1: 30
Position: Defence
2022-23 salary cap hit: $7 million

The latest: When one of those long-term, generational-wealth-establishing offers never emerged for Klingberg as the top UFA D-man of 2022, he switched agents and bet on himself.

Inking a one-year pact with the rebuilding Anaheim Ducks set up Klingberg for (a) plenty of ice time and power-play cookies and (b) a trip to the deadline rental market, where his acquiring team could spike the trade with the type of multi-year extension he’s been targeting.

Well, signing with a tanking team hasn’t exactly set Klingberg up for success.

In his Jan. 11 interview with The Orange County Register, Klingberg revealed that he had spoken with the Oilers as a UFA.

Prior to Jan. 1, Klingberg reduced his full no-move clause to a 10-team no-trade list. Naturally, he preferred his next stop to be with a contender.

“I know I’m going to be trade bait too,” Klingberg said. “I’ll take it day by day. I’m just looking at my own game. I haven’t been happy with the way I’ve played here. It’s been a lot different than I thought it would be.

“I don’t want to end up getting traded where I don’t feel like they have a chance to win. Or that I have a chance to play a big role, where it’s a meaningful role where I can prove myself and prove to the team.”

Good news for Klingberg: He landed on the Wild, a playoff-calibre squad.

Bad news for Ducks GM Pat Verbeek: His return in the Klingberg flip — a fourth-round pick, Andrej Sustr, and the rights to Nikita Nesterenko — was underwhelming.

With salary already retained and Minnesota’s cap situation only getting tighter in 2023-24, this feels very much like a rent-and-wait situation.

10. Michael Bunting

Age on July 1: 27
Position: Left wing
2022-23 salary cap hit: $950,000

The latest: Bunting has a tight relationship off the ice and nice chemistry on it with franchise star Auston Matthews — whom the organization will attempt to re-sign long-term come July 1.

Why wouldn’t a serious commitment to Bunting double as a selling point to keep Matthews around?

Further, the passionate left winger is a candidate for a slight hometown discount, as proven by his willingness to accept a value deal to come home as a UFA in the summer of 2021.

The Leafs are making out like bandits on Bunting’s expiring two-year pact at a $950,000 AAV. Bunting broke out for 23 goals, 63 points and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy last season. He’s already hit 20 goals this season.

“I’m a Toronto boy. I love playing for the Maple Leafs. This is my home. I grew up in Scarborough, and, yeah, it’s so much fun putting on that sweater every single night. That’s what I will say about it, and I hope everything else figures out itself,” Bunting said as his contract campaign began.

Both GM Kyle Dubas and Bunting’s agent, Paul Capizzano, may be amenable to a long-term deal to keep his AAV in check once negotiations begin.

But first, Dubas wants to see playoff improvement from Bunting and his other free agents.

”We want to see what the rest of the year brings before we commit to anything necessarily,” Dubas says.

Stray thought: Does the arrival of O’Reilly make Bunting less of a priority in Toronto on July 1?

11. Shayne Gostisbehere

Age on July 1: 30
Position: Defence
2022-23 salary cap hit: $4.5 million

The latest: Bill Armstrong’s Arizona fire sale included shipping minute-munching defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere to powerhouse Carolina.

Hurricanes GM Don Waddell said he’d been in discussions about acquiring the left shot for six weeks leading up to the deadline, and now the offensive-minded blueliner (12 goals and 35 points through his first 55 games) has his best shot to win a playoff series.

While Gostisbehere’s stock dropped toward the end of his Philadelphia days, the power-play maestro thrived in the desert and out of the spotlight.

A deep Hurricanes run would do wonders for his market value this July.

12. Max Domi

Age on July 1: 28
Position: Centre / Left wing
2022-23 salary cap hit: $3 million

The latest: One week into March, and the only unsigned UFAs-to-be to hit the 50-point mark are David Krejci and Domi. How’s that for a surprise?

Bouncing around the league, Domi accepted a one-year, bet-on-yourself contract with rebuilding Chicago, and played it perfectly. He developed some chemistry with Kane, took advantage of extra ice time, and earned himself a trade to a legit contender.

“They’re built to win,” Dmi said. “Huge honour to get the call to join this group.”

Domi is set to enjoy his first 20-goal, 50-point campaign since 2018-19 in Montreal, setting himself up for much more attention on the open market this summer than he commanded last summer.

Stars GM Jim Nill told reporters he’s had an eye on Domi for a while: “I’ve known him ever since his junior days in London, watching him as a draft pick. I played against his dad, and I know the family well. We watched him last year in the playoffs for Carolina, and he did a good job for them. His pedigree speaks for itself.”

More notable UFAs in 2023: Alex Killorn, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Toews, Frederik Andersen, Connor Brown, Damon Severson, Ivan Barbashev, David Krejci, Vladislav Gavrikov, Brian Dumoulin, Ryan Graves, Cam Talbot, Jonathan Quick, James van Riemsdyk, Paul Stastny, Phil Kessel, Kyle Okposo, Evgeni Dadonov, Corey Perry, Gustav Nyquist, Alexander Kerfoot, Craig Smith, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Nedeljkovic, James Reimer, Justin Holl, Sean Monahan, Jonathan Drouin, Jason Zucker, Evan Rodrigues, Erik Gustafsson, J.T. Compher, Jordan Staal, Scott Mayfield, Martin Jones, Antti Raanta, Semyon Varlamov

All salary info via the indispensable


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