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2022 NHL free-agency rankings: Top options, best values, boom-or-bust players

ESPN

There are different ways for teams to enter the NHL free-agent pool. There are big splashes for star players. Other teams methodically wade in, making sure their feet (and their finances) remain grounded. Some just dip their toes in.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche, currently playing in the Stanley Cup Final, were both active in the pool last summer. The Lightning signed veteran forwards Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare -- the latter of whom came from the Avalanche, no less. Pat Maroon, an integral part of Tampa Bay's back-to-back Cup wins, was a free-agent signing in 2019.

Colorado added veteran forward Darren Helm and defenseman Jack Johnson last offseason. In 2019, the Avalanche signed winger Valeri Nichushkin at the low point of his NHL career. He scored 25 goals for them this season.

The 2022 free-agent pool is a deep one, with one franchise player, Johnny Gaudreau; elite offensive talents Filip Forsberg and Claude Giroux; and some famous names, including Evgeni Malkin, Patrice Bergeron and Marc-Andre Fleury, who saw their contracts expire.

Here's a look at the field of unrestricted free agents, organized into tiers. We've opted not to include restricted free agents, as offer sheets remain a rarity in the NHL. Unless, of course, the Carolina Hurricanes are feeling spiteful.

Which players are you hoping your team will sign this offseason?