NHL Free Agency: Predicting the Biggest Suitor for 15 Big-Name Free-Agents-to-Be

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IJanuary 2, 2012

NHL Free Agency: Predicting the Biggest Suitor for 15 Big-Name Free-Agents-to-Be

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    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.

David Jones

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    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.

Paul Gaustad

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    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.

Matt Carle

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    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.

Tuomo Ruutu

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    Top Suitor: Anaheim

    With Teemu Selanne, Jason Blake and Saku Koivu all unrestricted free agents, the Ducks could be looking at a major overhaul between now and October. Ruutu could be a physical forward who can score the puck on a team that, right now, is four forwards deep. They'll have around $26 million in cap space, and a guy like Ruutu might be on their short list in July.

    However, it's hard to know now what the Ducks roster will look like in July. Will one of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry be gone?

John-Michael Liles

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    Top Suitor: Minnesota

    If the Wild continue to compete for a division championship, they'll enter the 2012-13 season in a conference with Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis with expectations for the first time since the North Stars were the hockey team in Minnesota.

    They only have two defensemen, Marek Zidlicky and Nick Schultz, under contract next year, and they could use a guy like Liles. The pressure of expectations might be enough for the Wild to spend some money on a defenseman.

Tim Gleason

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    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.

Ales Hemsky

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    Top Suitor: Winnipeg

    The Jets will have money to spend and could use some firepower up front. Hemsky isn't going to get people to buy more season ticket packages, but he's an effective forward who knows how to score. Looking around the Jets roster, their blue line is pretty locked up and they'll have roughly $30 million to sign Evander Kane, a goalie and add quality up front.

Johnny Boychuk

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    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.

Dennis Wideman

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    Top Suitor: Edmonton

    Right now, there are only three veteran defensemen under contract for the Oilers next year: Tom Gilbert, Ryan Whitney and Ladislav Smid. And, when the summer of 2013 rolls round, Whitney and Smid will be free agents as well. Adding a strong veteran like Wideman makes great sense for a young team that might also be shopping for a new goalie.

Shane Doan

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    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.

    The only forward on the Leafs' NHL roster with a contract after the summer of 2013 is Phil Kessel. There's a lot of young talent in Toronto, and Brian Burke might see a great class-act veteran like Doan as the missing piece.

Mikhail Grabovski

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    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.

Jiri Hudler

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    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.

Alexander Semin

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    Top Suitor: Russia?

    There have been questions about Semin's compete level for years, and the struggles of the Caps this year will likely mean the last team looking to sign Semin this summer is Washington. He has a truckload of talent, but takes nights (weeks) off and it hurts his team. There have been rumors that he wants to go home to play in Russia, and he might be the big-name splash the KHL wants to make.

Ryan Suter

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    Top Suitor: Detroit

    Whether or not the Red Wings lose Lidstrom to retirement, they'll have enough cap space that making a play for a 26-year-old All-American defenseman makes perfect sense in Hockeytown.

    The only caveat we'll place on this prediction is the reality that, once the Preds choose if they'll keep Suter or Weber (it's doubtful both stick around), the odd man out will probably get traded to a team that wants to sign him. But if Suter hits the open market, he would probably just have to drive to Michigan for a new home.

Zach Parise

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    Top Suitor: New Jersey

    The reality with Parise is that the most likely team to have him on the ice in 2012-13 is the team with whom he ends the 2011-12 season. The Devils would love to keep him (and, frankly, need to keep him), and they went as far as naming him their captain. But if he makes it clear he won't stay in Jersey, they'll trade him to a team that wants him to stay.