When the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs begin, three distinct groups of pending unregulated free agents will set foot on the ice.
First, there are aging experts such as Evgeny Malkin and Patrice Bergeron. They will both be chasing another cup, and if the injury is ruled out they must be offered a deal with the current team, and field offers from other leading contenders next season.
Since then, for the first time, UFAs have been preparing for years of hard work and cashing in on personal equity. Johnny Goudreau and Nazem Qadri fit into this category after a huge offensive season.
Finally, there are pending free agents to prove something and gain some from the post season. Here are five pending NHL unregulated free agents that could turn a strong playoff into a big payday when the market opens on July 13, 2022:
Jack Campbell, G. (Toronto)
Current cap hits: 1.65 million
Imagine Jack Campbell leading the Toronto Maple Leafs to their first Stanley Cup in 53 years. You cannot set that value. His health remains a concern, so a consistent and winning season could turn Campbell into a player who the Leafs can’t sign and can’t afford to sign. As a starter, Campbell is already underpaid. When you look at his stats, Campbell is already a true NHL starter. Taking Toronto deeper into the playoffs, and post-season in the GTA, will give Campbell a meaningful push to survive in the goaltending pressure cooker.
Evan Rodriguez, F (Pittsburgh)
Current cap hits: $ 1.0 million
When the season started, Evan Rodriguez looked like a player worth $ 1-million a year he was making. He had 34 NHL goals in six seasons. This year Rodriguez is challenging the 20-goal mark and has already crossed the 40-point mark. In his seven-year professional career, Rodriguez has only two playoff games to his name, both coming up last season. There is probably no player in Pittsburgh Penguin Forward who has more to prove this post-season. At 28, however, Rodriguez has yet to put together a continuous productive season. A strong post-season could see a team look for mid-six offenses to take financial risks on Rodriguez.
Andrei Burakovsky, F. (Colorado)
Current cap hits: 4.9 million
Some distance from the Colorado Avalanche arsenal, Burakovsky, along with fellow winger Valerie Nichushkin, would like to increase this summer, and of course get it, either from Snowfall or another suitor. Burakovsky, 27, could value himself with a play-off performance like his 2020 campaign in Colorado when he scored 17 points in 15 games. Last year, however, Burakovsky was pushed, managing just 4 points in 10 post-season games. He has already reached the heights of a new career at regular season points this year, and his off-season growth could be significant if 2020 shows Burakovsky post-season instead of the 2021 edition.
Ilya Mikheyev, F. (Toronto)
Current cap hits: 1.645 million
If you look at Mikheev’s entire work in the NHL, there will be a minimal increase in sequence. If you examine his latest work, Mikhiev looks like a rising force. He was seemingly unable to score, having been bitten by a snake in his first 2.5 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now, Mikheev has found his touch and because of his bigger role in Toronto, teams can believe he could consistently be the top six goal scorer. One thing is to carry his upward trajectory towards the end of the regular season, but another thing to imitate it in the playoffs. In the 12 playoff games of his career with Toronto, Mikheev did not register a single point. If he could fix that statistic, he would almost certainly see an offer that he could not turn down this off-season.
Andrew Cope, F (NY Rangers)
Current cap hits: 3.64 million
To be clear, Copp is going to pay. He is a versatile middle-six forward who has consistently scored two doubles goals and driven the team’s offense. Ever since coming to Manhattan, the Cop looks like he could be more than a valuable third-tier player. His two-way game in the post-season never failed, but the Cup scoring did not translate into play-off hockey. Maintaining his regular season points at the speed of every game as a New York Ranger is unrealistic, scoring on time could give Cope a big role and a big paycheck in free agency to appreciate his good round game.