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Who are the top NHL free agents at center this offseason?

We go over the top centers on the open market for 2022 NHL free agency.

Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New York Rangers in Game Six of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 13, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

The NHL offseason has been pretty exciting so far with a few big moves. The Chicago Blackhawks have gone full rebuild mode and shipped LW Alex DeBrincat to the Ottawa Senators. We’ve seen plenty of movement in the goalie ranks as well. One position that will be coveted in free agency is center. There aren’t any high-profile names in their prime unless you want to count a certain Stanley Cup champion. Here we’ll highlight a few of the top centers on the open market this offseason.

2022 NHL Free Agency: Centers

Nazem Kadri, Colorado Avalanche

2021-22 stats: 28 goals, 59 assists

Kadri should be highly sought after this offseason, coming off a career-high 87 points at age 31. The former Toronto Maple Leafs center should command a high average annual salary, somewhere in the $7-8 million range. What it will come down to is years. Kadri will turn 32 at the beginning of the 2022-23 season. Anything longer than 5-6 seasons could be a deal breaker. Any contract that goes past that may look bad toward the end. Is Kadri more of a product of his team than anything else? One could argue it. Kadri has 155 points in 178 games with the Avs. Previously he had 357 points in 561 games with Toronto. That’s 0.87 points per game with the Avs and 0.63 with the Leafs. Still, there’s a premium at the position considering there aren’t many top-6 centers in their prime available.

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

2021-22 stats: 20 goals, 22 assists

Chances are Malkin will head back to Pittsburgh this offseason. He’s spent his entire career with the Pens and has won the Cup three times over 16 seasons. Malkin has achieved pretty much everything you could hope for in the NHL. Conn Smythe trophy, Hart trophy, Art Ross trophy, Calder trophy. He produced 42 points in 41 games in 2021-22, missing half the season due to injury. A healthy Malkin can still produce at a PPG clip in the right situation.

Does that mean a team could go over the top on the Penguins and overpay Malkin? We’ve seen it done before.

The Pens were able to get a deal done with Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby is signed through the next three seasons at a reasonable rate. Malkin likely doesn’t get more than Crosby’s $8.7M annually.

That could help other teams land Malkin. Would a bloated contract for less term be appealing? Possibly.

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

2021-22 stats: 25 goals, 40 assists

Bergeron is an interesting case. Many believed after the Bruins were eliminated from the playoffs by the Carolina Hurricanes that it would be it for Bergeron, who turns 37 toward the end of July. Bergeron hasn’t made a decision yet and one may not come until later in the offseason. If that’s the case, it’s either returning to Boston or retirement. If we see some interest early in free agency, we know Bergeron is looking for a short-term deal with another team to try and win a Cup. Bergeron only has one championship under his belt, though that’s enough for most. If it isn’t for him, signing for one more season to try and chase another ring makes sense. The Bruins are heading more toward a rebuild than a retool. Bruce Cassidy is out as head coach.

Even at this point in his career, Bergeron is regarded as the best two-way center in the NHL. He just won another Selke Trophy for just that, the fifth time he’s won the award in his career. Does that continue into 2022-23? He just underwent elbow surgery this offseason and has a very, very lengthy injury history. You’d think retirement is the most likely avenue. Bergeron does have some incentive to return sitting at 982 career NHL points. Reaching 1,000 would be quite the accomplishment. That shouldn’t impact Bergeron entering the Hall of Fame one day.

Other centers available: Claude Giroux, Ryan Strome, Vincent Trocheck