The NHL has had a busy offseason the past couple of days with re-signings, retirements and trades. With the NHL free agency period just nine days away, it is that time of year for a discussion on this year’s unrestricted free agents. New Jersey’s left winger Ilya Kovalchuk and San Jose’s left winger/center Patrick Marleau are at the top of the class. After that, there are many other solid players, especially defensemen, who will be highly sought after, as well. This free agent class is among one of the weaker ones but once July 1 hits, the frenzy begins once again, just like any other year.
Although teams build through the draft, free agency provides the opportunity to land the missing piece. Here, the top five free agents at each position will be provided and a prediction will be made as to where they may go. Keep in mind that a team may trade a player’s rights, like Nashville did with Dan Hamhuis. Teams also have exclusive negotiation ability from now until free agency begins.
Center (This list takes a big hit with Plekanec re-signing with Montreal.)
1. Matthew Lombardi, Phoenix – Wouldn’t be surprised to see him go back to Calgary.
2. Matt Cullen, Ottawa – Goes to his home state of Minnesota.
3. Saku Koivu, Anaheim – I think that he does whatever Selanne does: either retires or stays in Anaheim.
4. Olli Jokinen, New York Rangers – He will go to the KHL.
5. Dominic Moore, Montreal Canadiens – Phoenix.
1. Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey – Los Angeles has the cap room. I’ll say the chances are: Los Angeles, re-signing with the Devils and going to the KHL in that order.
2. Patrick Marleau, San Jose – Since he has played mostly at LW the past few years, he is listed here. He can also play center. He will re-sign with San Jose.
3. Alexander Frolov, Los Angeles – The Islanders in a bit of a shocker.
4. Ray Whitney, Carolina – Pittsburgh. Put him on Crosby’s wing and let them provide magic together.
5. Alexei Ponikarovsky, Pittsburgh – A bust with the Penguins after being traded there. He would fit in well with former teammate Nik Antropov on the Atlanta Thrashers.
1. Maxim Afinogenov, Atlanta – Pittsburgh. Put him on Malkin’s wing.
2. Colby Armstrong, Atlanta – I could see Pittsburgh. I’ll say Toronto.
3. Mark Recchi, Boston – He will re-sign with the Bruins or retire.
4. Teemu Selanne, Anaheim – Anaheim or retirement.
5. Lee Stempniak, Phoenix – He should re-sign with Phoenix.
Defenseman (With Niedermayer’s retirement, Kubina moves into the top five.)
1. Anton Volchenkov, Ottawa – Washington. He’d be a perfect complimentary partner to Mike Green.
2. Paul Martin, New Jersey – Lamoriello will keep him with the Devils.
3. Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburgh – I don’t see him back with the Penguins. Just a wild guess: Anaheim.
4. Zbynek Michalek, Pittsburgh – Ottawa Senators. Plays with his brother Milan and replaces Volchenkov.
5. Pavel Kubina, Atlanta – He would be a nice fit on the Islanders.
1. Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose – I could see him going to Washington, a team that is ready to win. He can also help mentor Varlamov.
2. Marty Turco, Dallas – Philadelphia. Philadelphia needs a top goalie. Turco is probably the best fit for a team that was on the cusp of winning the cup. Other alternatives are the other goalies listed and trade options like Thomas in Boston and Vokoun in Florida.
3. Chris Mason, St. Louis – Montreal. They need a veteran goalie to work with Price.
4. Dan Ellis, Nashville – San Jose. I don’t think Nabokov will return and Ellis is a solid goalie for a tandem with Thomas Greiss.
5. Jose Theodore, Washington – He’ll stay in the southeast division and sign with Tampa Bay Lightning.
Other stories to keep an eye on: Where will Kaberle be traded to? Will he even be traded? Where will Souray be traded to? Which restricted free agents will be signed to offer sheets?
One thing is for sure: it will certainly continue to be a crazy offseason.