As is human nature, the 2021-22 season has not even started and discussion of the 2022 off-season has already begun. Tracking the impending free agent class, whose numbers inevitably decrease each year, is part of every season. Some will sign extensions soon, others will wait and see how the season progresses, and others are bound for the open market (and possibly the rental trade market beforehand). Pierre LeBrun writes for The Athletic that some of the biggest names among potential 2022 UFA’s are unlikely to become available. In fact, he believes the prize of the market, Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov, has quietly been making steady progress on a new deal and could sign soon. LeBrun also reports that the Dallas Stars and John Klingberg are having “good and constant dialogue” on an extension while, unsurprisingly, future Hall of Famer Patrice Bergeron will have the deal of his choosing from the Boston Bruins if he feels healthy this season and decides to extend his career. Less certain are the futures of Tomas Hertl and Morgan Rielly, who could be the top targets on the free agent market if they don’t re-sign with their current teams. The San Jose Sharks are still hopeful they can re-sign Hertl, but that could very well depend on their success this season and whether a continued relationship makes sense, especially if Hertl could be a trade deadline gold mine. LeBrun feels Hertl’s days in San Jose are numbered. Barring an unforeseen disaster, Rielly will remain with the Toronto Maple Leafs all year, but the team will have to do some serious work early next summer in order to clear the cap space for an extension. LeBrun does not expect a resolution, one way or another, until after the season. Pittsburgh Penguins veterans Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are expiring contracts whose futures are still too early to call, among many others across the league including restricted free agents as well. There will plenty to watch, as usual, over the course of the coming season.
- The New York Islanders are already facing some concerns in net. The team was taking a risky approach to their net depth as is by entering the season with cold veterans Cory Schneider and Ken Appleby as the backups to their NHL tandem of Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov. They may now be forced to call upon one of the two right away, as Newsday’s Andrew Gross reports that Varlamov will not play in either of the Isles’ final two preseason games and is unlikely to be available for opening night, per head coach Barry Trotz. Schneider and Appleby played a combined nine games last season, all with AHL Bridgeport. Appleby has not played an NHL game since 2017-18 and Schneider has a .903 save percentage and 3.07 GAA over his last 79 NHL appearances. If the Islanders need to rely on either at the NHL level for an extended period of time this season, it could mean trouble. New York is hoping Varlamov can get back to action soon.
- The Colorado Avalanche dealt with their own goaltending depth problems last season when backup Pavel Francouz was lost for the year. While Philipp Grubauer was a workhorse for Colorado, the absence of an established understudy led to young Hunter Miska receiving NHL experience and eventually the acquisition of Jonas Johansson, who performed well late in the year. Fortunately for the Avs both are back this season, as Francouz is already back in the injury spotlight. Francouz suffered a lower-body injury in Tuesday night’s preseason game, reports Colorado Hockey Now’s Scott MacDonald. While head coach Jared Bednar denied that the issue was related to Francouz’s 2020-21 issues, it is hard to feel confident about the veteran goaltender playing on two surgically-repaired hips when he is already experiencing another injury. There is expected to be an update on Francouz’s condition later this week. Johansson would be the next man up if Francouz is unable to start the season, though new starter Darcy Kuemper is capable of being a workhorse himself if need be.