Aleksander Barkov, Mika Zibanejad, and Morgan Rielly headline 2022 NHL Free Agency

mika zibanejad extension
May 6, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) during the first period against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL is still dealing with stragglers left over from Free Agent Frenzy in 2021, but it’s never too early to look at the 2022 UFA class.

This past summer, the biggest deal was signed by defenseman Dougie Hamilton who got $9M per year from the NJ Devils. The next highest contract came from the Seattle Kraken when they gave goalie Philipp Grubauer $5.9M a season. Several other players hit an AAV of $5M or more in Zach Hyman ($5.5M), Philip Danault ($5.5M), Jaden Schwartz ($5.5M), Mikael Granlund ($5M), and Linus Ullmark ($5M).

You can fully expect the 2022 UFA class will cash in a lot more monster deals. Especially if some of these players hit the market.

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Aleksander Barkov and Mika Zibanejad would break the bank

The two biggest names that would command salaries of $10M or more are centers Aleksander Barkov and Mika Zibanejad. These two stars are coming off of great deals and have the stats to back up monster contracts.

Barkov, 25, is going into the last season of a deal that pays $5.9M annually. The eight-year veteran posted a team-high 26 goals along with 32 assists for 58 points, second on the Panthers, in 50 games this season. This marked his sixth straight season scoring 20 or more goals. He led the Panthers in scoring in 2018-19, his best season, with 96 points (35 goals, 61 assists).

Zibanejad, 28, has one year left at an AAV of $5.35M. In the last two seasons he has scored 65 goals and 125 points in 113 games. That’s worth big time money, and if he hits the open market next summer he should get 7 years at $10 million per season. That’s regardless of the current flat cap situation expected to stay around $81.5 million for the next few seasons.

While both are expected to re-sign with their current teams, there are other big names available. Forwards Evgeni Malkin, Patrice Bergeron, Claude Giroux, Phil Kessel, Johnny Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Strome, and Tomas Hertl would all fetch hefty deals on the open market.

Morgan Rielly leads the UFA class on defense

2022 NHL Free Agents
May 22, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) stretches during the warm-up before game two of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs are going to have to find a way to keep Morgan Rielly. At 27 years of age he’s a top pair defenseman who scored 35 points in 55 games last year. For his career, Rielly has registered 305 points in 572 contests. Toronto has enjoyed him at a great price coming in at $5M against the cap, expect that number to be $8M or more on his next deal.

Another defenseman that could command a similar salary is John Klingberg in Dallas. The 29 year-old scored 36 points in 53 games for the Stars and will make a lot more than his current $4.25M AAV. Anaheim’s Josh Manson is another that teams will pay a premium for. The 29 year-old doesn’t put up great offensive numbers but he’s big and plays the game hard.

Other well known names on the market will be PK Subban, Mattias Ekholm, Kris Letang, and Colton Parayko.

Marc-Andre Fleury is the goalie to get in 2022

The 36 year-old Fleury won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender in 2020-21. He is due to earn $7 million in 2021-22 and will be a UFA at season’s end. He went 26-10-0 with six shutouts to go along with a 1.98 goals-against average and a career-high .928 save percentage in 36 games this past season. It’s no wonder the Blackhawks wanted him.

Beyond Fleury, the goalie market is scarce and will likely only get scarcer once the Blue Jackets sign Elvis Merzlikins and trade Joonas Korpisalo. Both are scheduled to be UFA’s in 2022.

Anyone who misses out on MAF will turn their attention to Braden Holtby who signed a one year deal in Dallas. After that Martin Jones could get a look should he bounce back in Philadelphia this season.

-Salary cap information comes from CapFriendly
-Stat information from Hockey-Reference