Heading into this offseason, there were few notable free agent defencemen, so most expected John Klingberg – one of the game’s better offensive blueliners for over half a decade – to get paid handsomely. However, now two weeks into free agency, the 29-year-old remains without a contract.
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While there is no doubt that Klingberg will be on an NHL team for the 2022-23 season, he won’t get the deal he or anyone in the hockey community expected. Still, there are teams with ample cap space that could use a power-play specialist, and the former Dallas Stars defenceman fits that bill perfectly. Here are the three most probable teams to add him before the 2022-23 season.
At this point, the Seattle Kraken seems to be Klingberg’s most likely destination. The NHL’s newest team struggled in their inaugural 2021-22 season, but they have a great chance to improve in 2022-23. Not only did they select Shane Wright fourth overall at the 2022 NHL Draft, but they also signed Andre Burakovsky and traded for Oliver Bjorkstrand.
However, the Kraken have done little to improve their blue line so far this offseason. While they added Justin Schultz via free agency, they could still improve, and there is no better option than Klingberg. He would not only be able to play top-four minutes at even strength but could also quarterback their top power-play unit, which struggled immensely this past season.
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The Kraken have just over $2.2 million in cap space, which wouldn’t be enough to sign Klingberg. However, that doesn’t account for Chris Driedger’s $3.5 million cap hit, which will be placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) after the netminder recently had ACL surgery. That should open up enough space to sign the Swedish rearguard if they wish to do so.
After advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in 2021, the Montreal Canadiens came crashing down last season, finishing dead last in the league with a pitiful 22-49-11 record. However, there is plenty of room for optimism moving forward.
Not only are Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield continuing to grow into star players, but the Canadiens landed Juraj Slafkovsky with the first-overall pick at this year’s draft. They also have a few bounce-back candidates for 2022-23, including Brendan Gallagher and Mike Hoffman, and are hoping to get a healthy Jonathan Drouin back. That said, their blue line is lacking talent, so adding a player of Klingberg’s talent should be crucial for general manager (GM) Kent Hughes.
The issue here is cap space, as the Habs have less than $300,000 available. However, they have options. The most likely is to find a trading partner for Christian Dvorak, who they have been shopping for some time now. Moving his $4.45 million cap hit would go a long way toward landing Klingberg. The other option depends on Carey Price, as his status remains unknown, meaning he could still land on LTIR. That said, there is plenty of optimism about his status, meaning option one is far more likely (from ‘Stu Cowan: Former Habs goalie coach thinks Price will be ready to start season,’ Montreal Gazette, 07/20/22).
The Ottawa Senators have had a fantastic offseason, one that has many believing they could be playoff bound in 2023 for the first time since the 2016-17 season. With the addition of Claude Giroux and Alex DeBrincat, their top-six forward group will be among the most dangerous in the NHL. Their blue line, however, still leaves plenty to be desired.
While Thomas Chabot is a top-pairing defenceman, there isn’t much else to get excited about on the Senators’ back end. The hope is that Jake Sanderson will be able to come in and make an immediate impact, but that is a lot of pressure to put on a 20-year-old. Bringing in Klingberg to help mentor the youngster while also giving head coach D.J. Smith an option to pair with Chabot on the top pairing would be a solid upgrade.
Also, despite bringing in several players this summer, the Senators still have over $10 million in cap space. If general manager Pierre Dorion hopes to get his team back into the playoffs, he will need to improve his blue line between now and the beginning of the season, and Klingberg is likely his best option to do so.
No Rush for Klingberg to Make Decision
While he surely would have liked to have a deal done by now, the offers must not have been what Klingberg or his agent were expecting in free agency. Given where we are now, there is no need for him to rush into signing a deal, as teams continue to try to free up cap space and could still make him an offer that he considers fair value. That said, at this time, the teams listed above appear to be the three best fits for the offensively gifted defenceman.