The NHL's annual free-agent period begins at noon ET on Wednesday, July 13. With the salary cap for 2022-23 rising by just $1 million to $82.5 million, 20 of the 32 clubs have less than $20 million to invest in acquiring talent through free agency or trades. Nevertheless, this year's crop of unrestricted free agents will hope to land lucrative new contracts.

Teams are prohibited from speaking with eligible UFAs until the market opens, so we expect a frenzy of signings on the first day as general managers attempt to outbid each other for the best talent. That could lead to several players being overvalued and overpaid by the time the dust settles.

Look no further for an example than the Seattle Kraken signing Philipp Grubauer to a six-year, $35.4 million contract last summer. It was assumed he'd benefit with a solid defense corps in front of him. Instead, the 30-year-old netminder struggled with his new team throughout last season.

Another example was the Buffalo Sabres signing Taylor Hall to a one-year, $8 million contract. Expected to pair up with then-Sabres captain Jack Eichel to provide additional punch to their offense, Hall managed just 19 points in 37 games before being shuffled off to the Boston Bruins at the 2021 trade deadline.

Here's our take on five of this summer's pending NHL unrestricted free agents who could end up getting paid more than their actual worth. Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below.

 

Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs

Inconsistency plagued Jack Campbell's performance in 2021-22 with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In his first full season as a starting goaltender, the 30-year-old won 17 of his first 25 games with four shutouts and a .939 save percentage. However, his save percentage plummeted to .888 in the second half despite winning 14 of 24 games.

A rib injury that hampered Campbell through February would eventually sideline him for 10 games. He was unable to regain his solid first-half form upon his return. When the Leafs were eliminated from the opening round of the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games, his save percentage in three of their four losses was .886 or worse.

Completing a two-year contract with an annual average value of $1.65 million, Campbell could be heading to the open market. On June 21, the Toronto Sun's Terry Koshan reported the Leafs lack the $5 million per season right now that Campbell could command as a free agent.

Campbell's uneven performance and his limited experience as a starter are red flags. However, the lack of elite goalies available in this summer's free-agent market could work in his favor. A general manager desperate for an upgrade between the pipes could offer up a five- or six-year contract worth between $5.5 million and $6 million annually.

 

Nazem Kadri, Colorado Avalanche

Enjoying a career-best 87 points during the regular season, Nazem Kadri also enjoyed a solid postseason performance with 15 points in 16 games with the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche. Completing a six-year contract with an annual cap hit of $4.5 million, the 31-year-old center could cash in big as an unrestricted free agent on July 13.

Kadri will attract plenty of suitors drawn to his offensive skills and agitating style of play. It could put him in line for a six- or seven-year contract worth between $7 million and $8 million annually. With $25.7 million in cap space for next season and free agents such as Darcy Kuemper, Valeri Nichushkin, Josh Manson and Artturi Lehkonen to re-sign or replace, the Avalanche won't be able to match that type of bid.

However, it remains to be seen if Kadri can replicate his impressive 2021-22 performance with another club. Skating with a deep Avalanche roster contributed to the significant increase this season over his previous career best of 61 points with the 2016-17 Toronto Maple Leafs. He could struggle to exceed 60 points on a lesser club.

Kadri's age and style of play should also be a warning against inking him to a long-term contract. He missed 11 regular-season games and four playoff contests because of injuries in 2021-22. A big-money deal could become increasingly risky, especially in the final half of the deal.