Calgary Flames star Johnny Gaudreau avoided the distraction around his pending unlimited free choice and he dodged defenders this season.
With contract talks on hold once the season started, Gaudreau helped lift the Flames to the Pacific Division title. He scored 115 points in his career, placing him second in the league behind Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, and won Game 7 overtime against the Dallas Stars in the first round.
With the Flames ousted in the second round, Gaudreau will talk to his agent this week to find out what’s best for him and his family. Although he is from New Jersey, he spoke highly of Calgary during his last media session of the season.
“It’s clear Calgary holds a special place in my heart,” said 28-year-old Gaudreau, who expects a big increase from last season’s $6.75 million. “I’ve been part of this organization for 11 years now. … All about the city I love.”
OUT OF SEASON: Stanley Cup Champion Colorado avalanche† Tampa Bay Lightning faced with busy summers
SPORTS NEWSLETTER: Sign up now for daily updates sent to your inbox
General manager Brad Treliving, who previously said he would “move heaven and earth” to redraw the winger, wants to make Gaudreau a flame for life.
“I think he has a shot at being one of the best ever in franchise history, and there have been some great ones,” he said.
However, Treliving must also sign restricted free agents Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington.
Gaudreau was fourth in the Hart Trophy voting and a first All-Star team left. Tkachuk was the second right wing of the All-Star team.
Gaudreau said he appreciates the efforts to get him to stay.
“My neighbors, I’m pretty sure they’ve been shoveling my snow all year to get me back,” he said. “You go to Starbucks, you go out for dinner and everyone is so welcoming and really wants me back here. It’s great.”
A very early look at other potential unlimited free agents (age as of July 13 free agency date):
Nazem Kadri, Avalanche, 31: He was suspended six times in his career, including three times in the playoffs, and had an incident-free season scoring a career-best of 87 points. Although the Blues criticized him for a clash with goalkeeper Jordan Binnington, it was unintentional. Kadri, who is of Lebanese descent, had to… dealing with threats via social media and racial comments after that scored a hat trick in the next game. He had six goals and 14 points in 13 games before need thumb surgery after they boarded by Evander Kane. He returned to score in overtime from Game 4 of the Finals. Kadri is robust with a scoring touch, a combination that teams covet.
Claude Giroux, Panthers, 34: The longtime Flyers captain waived his no-trade clause to join the Panthers, where he scored 23 points in 18 regular season games and helped Florida reach the second round for the first time since 1996. The seven-time All-Star, including this past season, is a leader. He is still looking for his first championship so he will be looking for a contender.
Filip Forsberg, Predators, 27: He comes from a season of 42 goals and 84 points, both highlights of his career. But he has not played a full season since 2016-17. He has been offered an eight-year contract, but general manager David Poile said:,,Filip should deliver something to sign in the coming weeks.”
Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, Penguins, both 35: GM Ron Hextall says he wants both back. They want to go back, although Malkin says he would understand if the team chose younger players. Malkin is productive when he plays, but has had two seasons full of injuries. Letang had a career-best 68 points. The Penguins re-signed Bryan Rust to a six-year team-friendly deal, but Malkin and Letang would have to give a hometown discount to stay.
Andrew Copp, Rangers, 28: The versatile attacker can move up and down the lineup and play center or wing. He had a career-best 21 goals and 53 points this season.
Darcy Kuemper, Avalanche, 32: Colorado lost goalkeeper Philipp Grubauer to free agency last season. They may not want to do the same with Kuemper, who had 37 career best wins this season and won the Stanley Cup†
John Klingberg, Stars, 29: The defender is coming from a team-friendly deal and will be looking for more money. After a slow start, he took the lead during Miro Heiskanen’s illness and finished with 47 points.
Vincent Trocheck, Hurricanes, 29: A strong two-way center on one of the NHL’s top teams.
Ondrej Palat, Lightning, 31: He and the Lightning have reached at least the third round in six of the last eight seasons. He has had 11 play-off goals this season and has 12 play-offs winning goals†
Marc-Andre Fleury, Wild, 37: The goalkeeper wants to play another season and Minnesota suited him well, even though the team lost in the first round. The Wild will be tied with over $12 million in buyout money for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, so Fleury should make less than last year’s $7 million.
Ryan Strome, Rangers, 29: He has played his best since joining the Rangers in 2018/19. He was delayed by a pelvic injury in the playoffs.
David Perron, blue, 34: It fits perfectly in St. Louis. As his agent points out, this is Perron’s third stint with the Blues.
Nino Niederreiter, Hurricanes, 29: A six-time goalscorer of 20 goals. He scored 24 this season while playing a third-line role.
Jack Campbell, Maple Leafs, 30: The late bloomer was All-Star for the first time this season and had a season of 31 wins despite an injury. He is the result of a big increase from his $1.8 million last season.
Evander Kane, Oilers, 30: He was investigated multiple times by the NHL and suspended for violating COVID-19 protocol. Released by the Sharks, he signed a one-year deal with Edmonton. He averaged almost a point per game in the regular season and had 13 goals in the playoffs, but was one match suspended for a hit on Kadri. “I thought it went really well, probably even better than I expected, to be honest,” he said of his time with the Oilers. GM Ken Holland said Kane had a big impact on the team and expressed interest in bringing him back but noted he would take up more cap space. Kane has a complaint pending against the Sharks. “There’s a lot to figure out and figure out,” he said.
Josh Manson, avalanche, 30: The defender plays a physical shutdown style. He scored in overtime in Game 1 of the second round. He had three goals and eight points during the Avalanche’s Stanley Cup run.
Valeri Nichushkin, avalanche, 27: The winger is on his best season with 52 points in 62 games. He has strong playoffs and was dominant in the first two games of the Stanley Cup final.
Ben Chiarot, Panthers, 31: He made a name for himself as a shutdown defender leading up to the Montreal final in 2021. He hasn’t been as strong this season.
Andre Burakovsky, Avalanche, 27: His 22 goals, 39 assists and 61 points are career highlights. He scored the overtime winner in Game 1 of the final.
Mason Marchment, Panthers, 27: He was third to Florida in points per 60 minutes and took 47 points in 54 games. But he only has 91 NHL experiences.
Phil Kessel, Coyotes, 34: He is a playmaker rather than a goalscorer at this point in his career. He needs eight games to break the iron man streak that Keith Yandle set last season.
Ville Husso, Blue, 27: He defeated Binnington in the regular season and was shutout in the playoff opener. But he lost the runway until Binnington was injured. Husso had a strong Game 6 as the Blues were ousted by the Avalanche.
Patrice Bergeron, Bruins, 36: He would be near the top of this list based on his talent and leadership. But he has said that if he doesn’t retire, he would return to the Bruins alone.
Others to watch: Nick Paul, Lightning, 27; Nick Leddy, Blues, 31; Evan Rodrigues, Penguins, 28; Rickard Rakell, Penguins, 29; Reilly Smith, Golden Knights, 31; Frank Vatrano, Rangers, 28; Max Domi, Hurricanes, 27; PK Subban, Devils, 33.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL News, Rumors: An Early Look at the Top 25 NHL Free Agents (UFAs)