NHL Free Agency: Predicting the Biggest Suitor for 15 Big-Name Free-Agents-to-Be
The Winter Classic will quickly be in the rearview mirror, and the trade deadline will become the focus of the NHL. With so many teams dealing with injuries and being underwhelmed by their stars this season, trades might change the futures of many free-agents-to-be.
What follows is a look at 15 players that will be free agents in July. Where they end up could be determined by a trade, but here are some teams that will be in the mix if these guys hit the open market.
Top Suitor: Edmonton
Jones will be 28 when next season begins, and could be coming off consecutive 40-point seasons. His 27 goals last year opened eyes, and he's been pretty good this year so far. He'll be coming off a one-year, $2.5 million deal and will probably be looking for a nice mid-range deal with a solid raise involved.
A team in need of secondary scoring like Anaheim might make a play for him, as could some teams in the new-look conferences made up of Eastern Conference teams. But Edmonton, who could be looking to replace Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky up front, will have plenty of cap space to add a player like Jones to their young lineup.
Top Suitor: St. Louis
Gaustad, 29, is a big, physical center who wins faceoffs, hits and blocks shots effectively. He might not be the most sexy name on this list, but he's the kind of player that takes a good roster to the next level. If Buffalo doesn't keep him around, he'll get a lot of attention this summer. His current cap hit is $2.3 million.
He would make great sense in St. Louis, a team that plays a physical game that could use a big center in their new conference with Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota (among others). With over $5.6 million coming off the books with Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner leaving, there's plenty of space to add a guy like Gaustad to the Blues.
Top Suitor: Carolina
Carle has been solid in Philly, but it's become clear he isn't in the plans of Paul Holmgren moving forward. With Chris Pronger's season over, it's hard to imagine they'll look to move Carle (unless it's for a top-pair D-man), but it's harder to see the Flyers affording him next year.
Joni Pitkanen is the only veteran defenseman under contract next year for the 'Canes, who are in desperate need of adding some quality to their blue line. With over $30 million in cap space and a couple youngsters like Justin Faulk and Jamie McBain (who is an RFA this summer) developing, a guy like Carle could be a great pick-up for a team like Carolina.
Top Suitor: Montreal
Gleason isn't a household name, but he's going to get a lot of attention in trade rumor blogs between now and the trade deadline. He's relatively young, has an affordable cap number and plays a smart game. The odds that he finishes the year in Carolina are shrinking with each loss, and the odds that he returns there next season are smaller than that.
The Habs have a lot of money they'll need to spend just looking at the RFAs on their books (specifically PK Subban and Carey Price), so adding an affordable, quality piece like Gleason would make sense. But whomever trades for Gleason at the deadline will likely do so hoping to keep him around longer than the stretch run.
Top Suitor: Anaheim
Boychuk could be looking for a nice raise this summer, but it might come from the team that holds his rights now. He's a solid defenseman who could see his cap number jump to around $3 million on his next deal.
Anaheim needs to invest in their blue line, and Boychuk might be the right player (and price) to fill their needs.
Top Suitor: Detroit or Toronto
Doan is a free agent this summer, and while his loyalty to the now-Phoenix franchise has never been questioned, his willingness to move to a new home with little/no potential of winning a Cup is doubtful. Basically, if he's leaving Arizona, it'll be to a winner.
Detroit could be a good match because they'll have the money and will be looking to fill a leadership void if/when Mr. Lidstrom retires. Just as they did with Mike Modano last year, a one-year deal for Doan wouldn't be out of the question in Detroit.
Top Suitor: Toronto
It's hard to imagine the Leafs letting him go after investing as much time and energy as they have into him. He's been productive for them the last couple years, and Burke might look to add around him rather than replace him in their lineup.
Top Suitor: Los Angeles
Hudler's an interesting player because a lot of Detroit people haven't been thrilled with his performance over the last couple years, but he's been better this year. Looking at the success enjoyed by another former Red Wing, Ville Leino, there's a chance Hudler looks to get paid outside Detroit.
With Dustin Penner's $4.25 million coming off the books in LA, Hudler, 27, might be a young addition up front to be a part of their core.
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