NHL Free Agency: One Player Each Team Needs to Keep at All Costs

Jason Sapunka@moreSapunkaCorrespondent IIJanuary 5, 2012

NHL Free Agency: One Player Each Team Needs to Keep at All Costs

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    NHL general managers are getting to the point of the season at which they must decide if they are buying or selling.

    Those who are selling will look to get as much possible for players they will not look to re-sign in the offseason.

    Still, every team has players they will want to keep beyond this year.

Anaheim Ducks

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Jason Blake, Niklas Hagman, George Parros, Nick Bonino, Jean-Francois Jacques, Rod Pelley, Francois Beauchemin, Sheldon Brookbank, Mark Fraser, Matt Smaby, Dan Ellis.

    Assuming the 41-year-old Selanne wants to come back for another season, he would undoubtedly be Anaheim's highest priority.

    He is still managing to lead the team in scoring, doing so at nearly a point-per-game pace, ahead of young stars such as Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan.

Boston Bruins

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Tuukka Rask, Chris Kelly, Zach Hamill, Greg Campbell, Benoit Pouillot, Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton, Joe Corvo, Johnny Boychuk.

    Tim Thomas is yet again one of the NHL's top goaltenders this season, but at age 37 he's not going to be around for much longer.

    The Bruins have a very good backup in Rask, who is set to be a restricted free agent this offseason. If Boston wants to lock up security in net after Thomas, Rask needs to be re-signed.

Buffalo Sabres

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Tyler Ennis, Brad Boyes, Jochen Hecht, Paul Gaustad, Patrick Kaleta, Colin Stuart, T.J. Brennan, Marc-Andre Gragnani.

    Ennis was drafted 26th overall in the 2008 NHL entry draft. The small 5'9", 157-pound center put up an impressive 49 points in his first full season in 2010-11.

    This year the 22-year-old has struggled with an ankle injury, but the skillful forward is someone the Sabres will want to keep.

    He will be a restricted free agent this summer.

Calgary Flames

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Blake Comeau, Olli Jokinen, Lee Stempniak, David Moss, Mikael Backlund, Brendan Morrison, Paul Byron, Tim Jackman, Cory Sarich, Scott Hannan, Derek Smith, Leland Irving.

    The Flames will have an extra $15 million or so to work with this summer due to this large group of free agents.

    Calgary's failure to be a competitive hockey team over the past three seasons means that their priority should be rebuilding. The team needs to keep younger players such as Comeau over veterans like Jokinen and Sarich.

    Comeau is having a down season this year, but definitely has the skills and potential to be at least a second-line forward.

Carolina Hurricanes

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Jamie McBain, Tuomo Ruutu, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Drayson Bowman, Jiri Tlusty, Jaroslav Spacek, Bryan Allen, Tim Gleason, Justin Peters.

    This was a close one, but the potential that McBain carries as an offensive defenseman makes him a priority over Tuomo Ruutu. Ruutu is a 28-year-old forward who is barely outscoring the young defenseman McBain.

    The 23-year-old McBain has 16 points in 34 games. He should be a quality offensive defenseman in the future, and the Hurricanes would be wise to hang onto the restricted free agent.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Ray Emery, Andrew Brunette, Dan Carcillo, Jamal Mayers, Sean O'Donnell, Sami Lepisto, John Scott.

    The Blackhawks are not really set to lose anyone significant through free agency.

    The team should keep toughness in the lineup by re-signing at least one of Carcillo, Mayers, O'Donnell or Scott, but in regards to overall value to the club, Emery should be the top priority.

    Emery has been a quality backup goaltender, taking a heavy load off starter Corey Crawford. Emery has had just three bad starts in 15 games this season.

    If Chicago can get Emery back in Chicago for a low price they could have a very cheap, but effective, goaltending tandem yet again next season.

Colorado Avalanche

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    Upcoming Free Agents: The entire NHL roster except for Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog, Chuck Kobasew, Brad Malone, Jan Hejda, Ryan O'Byrne, Stefan Elliot, Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastian Giguere.

    The truckload of 19 free agents Colorado will have to deal with this offseason is highlighted by Matt Duchene.

    Duchene is scoring at a pace for 51 points this season, which would bring his average total per 82 games to 58—an impressive stat for a 20-year-old in his third NHL season.

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Nikita Nikitin, Kristian Huselius, Samuel Pahlsson, Vaclav Prospal, Jared Boll, Derek MacKenzie, Derek Dorsett, Radek Martinek, Aaron Johnson, Curtis Sanford.

    Second-year defenseman Nikitin spent six seasons with Avangard Omsk of the KHL before making his NHL debut last season at the age of 24 with the St. Louis Blues.

    He is now property of the Blue Jackets after being traded straight up for defenseman Kris Russel.

    Nikitin has 14 points in 22 games since the trade, a pace of 52 points for a full season. If the sizeable offensive defenseman continues to improve in the NHL he could be a bright spot in the future of Columbus hockey.

Dallas Stars

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Jamie Benn, Radek Dvorak, Adam Burish, Jake Dowell, Toby Peterson, Tom Wandell, Alex Goligoski, Sheldon Souray, Nicklas Grossman, Mark Fistric, Philip Larsen, Jordie Benn, Richard Bachman.

    The 22-year-old Jamie Benn is improving yet again in his third season; he is nearly on point-per-game pace, set to total 75 for the season. This is after notching 41 and 56 in his rookie and second year, respectively.

    Benn is a budding NHL star.

Detroit Red Wings

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Nicklas Lidstrom, Jiri Hudler, Todd Bertuzzi, Tomas Holmstrom, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Brad Stuart, Mike Commodore, Ty Conklin.

    The seven-time James Norris Trophy winner has signed back-to-back one-year contracts, and will need another one this summer if he returns for another year.

Edmonton Oilers

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Sam Gagner, Ryan Smyth, Ales Hemsky, Darcy Hordichuk, Josh Green, Cam Barker, Andy Sutton, Theo Peckham, Alex Plante, Jeff Petry, Corey Potter, Devan Dubnyk.

    The Oilers have a few key free agents to consider this summer, but none are more valuable than the 22-year-old Gagner.

    Gagner has totaled more than 40 points for his first four NHL seasons, and is on pace to do so again this year.

Florida Panthers

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Kris Versteeg, Mikael Samuelsson, Marco Sturm, Krys Barch, Michal Repik, Tim Kennedy, Dmitri Kulikov, Keaton Ellerby, Jason Garrison, Scott Clemmensen.

    Florida's success this season is largely due to the scoring production of their top line.

    Tomas Fleischmann and Stephan Weiss combine with Versteeg, who is having his best season to date with 38 points in 38 games.

    The Panthers need to keep Versteeg as long as he continues to score with Fleischmann and Weiss.

Los Angeles Kings

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Dustin Penner, Jarret Stoll, Scott Parse, Colin Fraser, Trent Hunter, Willie Mitchell.

    Penner once scored 63 points in a single season and averaged more than 40 points per season over the past five years.

    Even though he is underperforming this season with nine points in 29 games, he's the Kings' most important upcoming free agent.

Minnesota Wild

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Guillaume Latendresse, Kyle Brodziak, Casey Wellman, Jarod Palmer, Brad Staubitz, Nick Johnson, Waren Peters, Greg Zanon, Mike Lundin, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk, Clayton Stoner, Josh Harding.

    Latendresse has suffered injury troubles over the past two seasons, playing in just a total of 27 games. However, the young Latendresse has been impressive when healthy.

    He scored 40 points in his last full season, and has 15 points in the 27 games since the start of the 2010-11 season.

    If Latendresse can remain healthy, he will be a quality forward for the Minnesota Wild.

Montreal Canadiens

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Carey Price, Andrei Kostitsyn, Travis Moen, Lars Eller, Mathieu Darche, Ryan White, Mike Blunden, Petteri Nokelainen, Hal Gill, Chris Campoli, Alexei Emelin, Raphael Diaz, P.K. Subban, Brendon Nash.

    When the Canadiens traded away Jaroslav Halak after using him in the 2010 playoffs, Montreal made a statement that Price would be their starting goaltender.

    The 24-year-old has done a fine job so far, but that just means Montreal is going to have to spend a lot to keep the restricted free agent.

Nashville Predators

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Colin Wilson, Sergei Kostitsyn, Jordin Tootoo, Brian McGrattan, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Francis Bouillon, Jonathon Blum, Jack Hillen, Anders Lindback.

    Nashville proved last season that they cannot afford the type of contract that Shea Weber wants.

    By the same token, they will likely be unable to afford Ryan Suter; as an unrestricted free agent in a weak defensive market, he will be able to land a big contract.

    Forward Colin Wilson is improving on his 34-point season last year. With 22 points in 37 games, the 22-year-old is beginning to show his potential.

    Nashville should attempt to lock him up with a long-term deal.

New Jersey Devils

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Zach Parise, Ryan Carter, Petr Sykora, Cam Janssen, Tim Sestito, Bryce Salvador, Kurtis Foster, Matthew Taormina, Mark Fayne, Martin Brodeur, Johan Hedberg.

    Both Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg are backup-quality goaltenders. If Brodeur comes back with New Jersey, he shouldn't be making the $5.2 million he is this season.

    This could open up the space to keep captain Zach Parise in New Jersey.

New York Islanders

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Al Montoya, Brian Rolston, Jay Pandolfo, P.A. Parenteau, Matt Martin, Tim Wallace, Frans Nielson, Mark Eaton, Steve Staios, Milan Jurcina, Mike Mottau, Evgeni Nabokov, Mark Katic.

    The Islanders need scoring from Parenteau and Nielson for sure, but this team needs a reliable starting goaltender more than anything.

    Al Montoya shows potential to hold down the position which Rick DiPietro has been a disaster at.

New York Rangers

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Wojtek Wolski, Ruslan Fedetenko, Erik Christensen, Brandon Prust, John Mitchell, Michael Del Zotto, Anton Stralman, Steve Eminger, Jeff Woywitka, Stu Bickel, Martin Biron.

    The young Del Zotto is turning into a quality NHL defenseman. He is second in the NHL with a plus-27 rating and leads all Rangers defensemen with 22 points.

    At just 21 years old, Del Zotto will only improve.

Ottawa Senators

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Erik Karlsson, Nick Foglino, Peter Regin, Jesse Winchester, Zenon Konopka, Kaspars Daugavins, Filip Kuba, Brian Lee, Matt Carkner, Alex Auld.

    The leader in All-Star voting among defensemen, the 21-year-old Karlsson also leads defensemen in points this season with 37.

    He is a quality offensive defenseman on pace for 76 points in his third season, after notching 26 and 45 in his first two.

    The restricted free agent is sure to cost Ottawa a lot of money.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Jake Voracek, Jaromir Jagr, Ian Laperriere, Harry Zolnierczyk, Blair Betts, Matt Carle, Marc-Andre Bourdon.

    Philadelphia does not have much cap space to work with this offseason; they will likely lose either Voracek, Jagr or Carle.

    The team extended defenseman Braydon Coburn's contract, who was set to be a free agent this summer. The team has not done the same for Carle, making it seem unlikely that he will be re-signed.

    As essential as Jagr has been for the Flyers this season, he is old and showing a slight proneness to injuries. With Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell getting older, the Flyers need to lock up young forwards like Voracek.

Phoenix Coyotes

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Shane Doan, Daymond Langkow, Ray Whitney, Andy Miele, Cal O'Reilly, Taylor Pyatt, Patrick O'Sullivan, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Kyle Chipchura, Michal Rozsival, Adrian Aucoin, Kurt Sauer.

    The Coyotes want to keep their captain. Doan wants to stay in Phoenix.

    A deal should be worked out between the two sides. If not, Doan will be a very much sought-after asset.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Upcoming Free Agents: James Neal, Steve Sullivan, Arron Asham, Steve MacIntyre, Richard Park, Joe Vitale, Matt Niskanen, Robert Bortuzzo, Brent Johnson.

    The Penguins are lucky to have another young emerging star to go along with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordin Staal. Unfortunately, James Neal is having a career year in the last year of his contract.

    Neal is among the league leaders with 21 goals. The 24-year-old has never scored at least that much in his first four seasons.

    Pittsburgh needs to re-sign the player who is on pace for 78 points.

San Jose Sharks

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Jamie McGinn, Torrey Mitchell, James Sheppard, Brad Winchester, Benn Ferriero, Frazer McLaren, Andrew Murray, Andrew Desjardins, Jim Vandermeer, Colin White, Justin Braun, Anterro Niittymaki.

    San Jose fortunately does not have a big free agent to worry about.

    McGinn should be a priority, the 24-year-old has the most points and is arguably the best player among this particular group of free agents.

St. Louis Blues

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Brian Elliot, Chris Stewart, Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, T.J. Oshie, Scott Nichol, Chris Porter, Ryan Reaves, Barret Jackman, Chris Colaiacovo, Kent Huskins.

    Elliot has either broken out as a great goaltender, or is riding a hot streak in a career year.

    Either way, the Blues would be foolish not to try keeping their top netminder, who is among the league leaders in both save percentage and goals-against average.

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Steve Downie, Dominic Moore, Ryan Shannon, Adam Hall, Tom Pyatt, Blair Jones, J.T. Wyman, Pavel Kubina, Evan Oberg, Brett Clark, Matt Gilroy, Bruno Gervais, Dwayne Roloson.

    Like the Sharks, Tampa Bay does not have many notable free agents to deal with this summer.

    Downie is among the league leaders in penalty minutes, but draws just as many penalties as he takes (1.2 per 60 minutes).

    He can hit, and scores plenty for an energy-line player, with 16 total points this season.

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Upcoming Free Agents: John-Michael Liles, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Matt Frattin, Joey Crabb, Darryl Boyce, Jay Rosehill, Cody Franson, Keith Aulie, Korbinian Holzer, Jonas Gustavsson.

    Liles is a premier offensive defenseman in the NHL. He is an essential part of the Maple Leafs power play; 10 of his 21 points have come that way.

    Toronto has some notable free agents to deal with along with Liles such as Grabovski and Franson, but Liles should be the priority.

Vancouver Canucks

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Cory Schneider, Mason Raymond, Byron Bitz, Aaron Volpatti, Dale Weise, Andrew Ebbett, Sami Salo, Aaron Rome, Alexander Sulzer.

    The inconsistent play of Roberto Luongo this season after last season's Stanley Cup Finals breakdown should be a cause for concern to Vancouver fans.

    As long as Luongo continues to be shaky, the Canucks should look to keep Cory Schneider.

    The 25-year-old has been very impressive as a backup, and will eventually take the starting role away from Luongo if Vancouver can sign him to a long-term deal.

Washington Capitals

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Mike Green, Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble, Jeff Halpern, Mathieu Perreault, Jay Beagle, Dennis Wideman, John Carlson, Tomas Vokoun.

    The Capitals have a lot to consider this offseason in terms of free agents; Green, Semin, Wideman, Carlson and Vokoun are all key parts of the team.

    Semin is already overpaid, and there is no way Washington will be able to sign the big-name forward in the offseason without wasting money.

    Vokoun can be replaced by the young Michal Neuvirth.

    Carlson is more valuable at 22 than Wideman at 28, but former James Norris Trophy nominee and 26-year-old point-producing factory named Mike Green should be a priority over both.

Winnipeg Jets

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    Upcoming Free Agents: Evander Kane, Eric Fehr, Jim Slater, Tanner Glass, Kyle Wellwood, Tim Stapleton, Johnny Oduya, Randy Jones, Derek Meech, Mark Flood, Chris Mason, Ondrej Pavelec.

    The Jets definitely have some key players to consider this offseason such as Wellwood, Oduya and Pavelec.

    As high as Pavelec's potential is as a netminder, the team leader in points, Evander Kane, is who the Jets need to consider re-signing first.

    Kane is on pace to score more than 60 points in his third NHL season at just 20 years old.