A Way Too Early Look at the 2022 NHL Free Agent Class

For the first time in a decade, Chuck Fletcher and the Philadelphia Flyers reminded us all what an active offseason looks like. They barely made it through 24 hours without making another blockbuster deal. The energy level and anticipation surrounding the moves brought a level of fun back to the organization that hasn’t been seen in a decade. While the money is going to be tight in the summer of 2022, if the Flyers intend to keep the party going for another year, who are some of the most intriguing options that could potentially hit the free agent market?

Forwards

Mika Zibanejad

Maybe the highlight of the 2022 free agent class is Rangers center Mika Zibanejad. One of the biggest storylines of the season for the Flyers will be the fate of Sean Couturier and whether or not he returns to the Flyers when his current contract expires after the season. If things do indeed go south and Couturier doesn’t comeback, and Zibanejad somehow makes it to free agency, he could be a potential target for the Flyers to replace their 1C. Zibanejad, 28, is a year-and-a-half younger the Couturier, and has quietly put together a very god run with the New York Rangers over the last few years. It’s unlikely that either scenario listed above happens, but if it does, keep an eye on Zibanejad.

Johnny Gaudreau

Did you know Gaudreau is from South jersey? It has always seemed like a matter of when, not if, Johnny Gaudreau would play for his hometown team, and it might finally be time for that homecoming to happen. While he has struggled to replicate his 99-point season from 2018-19, he is still putting up respectable numbers (107 points in 126 games during the pandemic era). The Flyers are top heavy on the wings right now, but if Gaudreau keeps the production up and agrees to forgo a bit of money to play for his hometown team, he could be a suitable replacement for someone already on the Flyers’ roster.

Filip Forsberg

The Nashville Predators have walked a fine line of being competitive hockey to impending rebuild for the last few years and if they fail to make the playoffs during the 2021-22 campaign, the writing may be on the wall for the Preds. Forsberg, who is coming off a six-year, $36 million contract, is also experiencing a slow period in his own play. He’s now four years removed from his last (and second overall) 30-goal season, and his point totals have slowly dipped over the last three from 64 in 17-18 to just 32 in 20-21. If he puts up another average season, he may be a low-risk, high-reward player to sign for next season.

Joe Pavelski

Joe Pavelski has been surprisingly effective 15 years into his career and could make a perfect, cheap, veteran addition to the bottom six. He has found a niche on the Stars’ powerplay since he signed in Dallas, and if he can keep his play up for another year, he may be a low key signing with massive positives if he hits the open market for the second time in his career.

Rickard Rakell

Feels like just yesterday Rakell, a former first round pick, made his debut for the Anaheim Ducks, but his first game of the 2021-22 season will be the 500th of his career. He has worn various hats for the Ducks over his seven-and-a-half year career, from bottom six center to second line winger. While Rakell has struggled to produce during the current rebuilding era Anaheim is in, he does have two 30-goal seasons under his belt. If the Ducks opt to trade Rakell at the deadline, or let him walk in free agency in favor of their continued rebuild, Rakell would be a nice fit in Philly as a utility man who can do a little bit of everything.

Defense

Colton Parayko

The biggest, literally and physically, defenseman on the 2022 free agent radar is Blues star Colton Parayko. The Flyers rolled the dice on acquiring Rasmus Ristolainen this year, who is also on an expiring contract, so if he doesn’t work out during his time in orange and black and the Flyers’ opt for another big man on the right side, Parayko is their guy. He isn’t the biggest scorer, but he is consistently among the highest in defenseman shots on goal category, yet keeps both his hits and penalty minutes in check, an impressive feat for a man who is 6’6 and 230lbs.

Ryan Pulock

Ryan Pulock has quitely become of of the best defenseman in the league. his partner in crime Adam Pelech just got an eight-year, $46 million extension from the Islanders, and next summer it’ll be Pulock’s turn to cash in. This one seems the most unlikely to happen because the Isles will have plenty of cap space to play with next summer, but if for some reason the negotiations go south and his return to Long Island, expect him to be a very popular free agent that many teams, including the Flyers, should throw blank checks at.

Josh Manson

There are some people around the league that would be a perfect fit for the Flyers, and Anaheim Ducks defenseman Josh Manson would be a prototypical Flyer if ever there was one. A big, physical, defenseman who can eat heavy minutes, yet be responsible is a sexy addition. If he makes it to the open market, he could be a Ristolainen replacement who may come a tad cheaper than Risto, but play a similar role. Hell, even if the Flyers re-sign Ristolainen, Manson should be on their radar regardless. He’d be a great add on the shallow right side defense for the Flyers.

Mattias Ekholm

Mattias Ekholm has been no stranger to the Flyers when it comes to trade rumors over the last year or so, so it’s not impossible to believe the Flyers are keeping tabs on him if he makes it to free agency next summer. This one seems unlikely simply because the Flyers are incredibly top heavy on the left side with the recently-signed Travis Sanheim and young guns Cam York and Egor Zamula, but if they wanted a veteran for the main roster Ekhlom may still be their guy. Where there’s smoke there’s fire.

Goaltending

Marc-Andre Fleury

Given Marc-Andre Fleury, rightfully so, went kicking and screaming to Chicago and threatened to retire, who knows if he’d even be willing to come back for another season to begin with, but if he does, there’s a perfect option to backup Carter Hart, on a much cheaper deal than his current $7 million AAV contract. It is worth noting that Fleury is about to turn 37 and his magical rebirth late in his career won’t last forever, but if he is interested in one more kick at the can, and be willing to take a back seat to a younger player, is there a better tandem than Carter Hart and Marc-Andre Fleury?

Joonas Korpisalo

Rumor has it the Flyers were sniffing around Korpisalo’s availability this offseason, but a trade never came to fruition. Korpisalo has been entrenched in a battle for the Blue Jackets’ number one role for his whole career, first with Sergei Bobrovsky and now with Elvis Merzlinkins. If he ultimately loses that role this year, he could look to test his luck elsewhere in the league. Korpisalo made $2.8 million per season on his current deal, so if he looks for a similar cap hit, the Flyers may be priced out, but if he gets closer to the $2 million price tag, there’s no reason to not pursue him as your 1B option to Hart.

By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)

photo credit: thehockeywriters.com / prohockeyrumors.me

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