NHL Rumors: Avalanche and Lightning could lose key players to free agency

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Today’s NHL Rumors focuses on the two teams that played the last game of the 2021-22 season.

The Stanley Cup Final ended with a dramatic 2-1 win for the Colorado Avalanche over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday night.

Almost as soon as the Cup was being passed from one Avs’ player to another, questions surrounding what both these teams could look like next season began. That’s because the Avalanche have 12 free agents (10 UFA, 2 RFA) and the Lightning are looking at four (all UFA).

Per CapFriendly, the Avs have $25M in space and the Bolts need to shed $1.9M just to become cap compliant.

NHL Rumors: Colorado Avalanche

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Jun 26, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning players shake hands after their game in game six of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the Colorado Avalanche list of free agents:

Aubé-Kubel, NicolasW26RFA$1.075M
Lehkonen, ArtturiW26RFA$2.3M
Burakovsky, AndréW27UFA$4.9M
Cogliano, AndrewW35UFA$1.133M
Helm, DarrenF35UFA$1M
Kadri, NazemC31UFA$4.5M
Nichushkin, ValeriW27UFA$2.5M
Sturm, NicoC27UFA$725K
Johnson, JackD35UFA$1.15M
Manson, JoshD30UFA$4.1M
Murray, RyanD28UFA$2M
Kuemper, DarcyG32UFA$4.5M
Avalanche Free Agents (source: CapFriendly)

The Avs will look to lock up both of their RFA’s with Aube-Kubel likely in line for a one-year deal and Lehkonen a multi-year contract.

Where things get real precarious for GM Jos Sakic are with two key UFA’s that will certainly get paid if they hit the market on July 13.

Both Nazem Kadri and Darcy Kuemper are already two of the most sought after players less than three weeks away from Free Agent Frenzy. Should they lose both, it will present a challenge for the Avs aspirations to repeat next season.

Of the two, Kuemper seems to be the most likely to re-sign with the Avs on a contract similar to his current $4.5M. That would keep their starting goalie in net for next season.

As for Kadri, he’s getting a big increase along the lines of $7M to $8M per season. That would eat a large portion of their available cap space and make it difficult to re-sign other players like Andre Burakovsky, Valeri Nichushkin, and Josh Manson.

The consensus among most insiders is that Kadri is destined to play elsewhere next season.

NHL Rumors: Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning are in a far more difficult situation as they need to clear space before signing any players.

Here’s their list of free agents:

Nash, RileyF33UFA$750K
Palat, OndrejW31UFA$5.3M
Paul, NicholasF27UFA$1.35M
Rutta, JanD31UFA$1.3M
Lightning Free Agents (source: CapFriendly)

GM Julien BriseBois will certainly look to re-sign trade deadline acquisition Nicholas Paul to a new contract. While he’d love to retain Ondrej Palat, they simply do not have the cap space to do it.

In the end, Tampa needs to sign Paul and at least two more players to fill out a roster for next season. That means creating cap space via a trade. Which makes forward Alex Killorn and his $4.45M cap hit for one more year a top candidate. The rugged forward has a 16-team no trade list.

Erik Cernak on defense is another possibility to be moved. He has one-year remaining with an AAV of $2.95M.