NHL Free Agents 2012: One Dream Free Agent Each Team Would Kill to Sign
There's realistic aspirations for every team heading towards the trade deadline.
There are also wild, no-sense rumors across the NHL fueled by hopeful desires of fans who want everything for their favorite team.
During this upcoming NHL offseason, there are some big-name free agents available that many teams would love to acquire.
Some teams are lucky enough to have enough financial resources and cap space available to make a splash this offseason.
Others will have to make some big moves or just keep dreaming.
The Anaheim Ducks' entire second line is headed for free agency; Niklas Hagman, Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne all have no contract after this season.
Selanne could be nearing retirement and Koivu is no child at the age of 37. The team needs forwards.
If they could get Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils, it would be a great addition to the top line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. All four are under age 28.
The Boston Bruins are one of the best all-around teams in the NHL.
If there is one aspect they lack as a team, it's an elite goal scorer. No player on the current roster has ever scored more than 31 goals in a season.
Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals has scored more than that three times in his career, and he's been above the pace of a 31-goal scorer for the five seasons prior to this year.
Semin is having a down year; his 25 points would put him ninth on the Bruins. However, Semin has always played well when those around him are playing well.
Adding him to a talented Bruins team could turn him back into a 70-point player.
The Buffalo Sabres lack depth on offense. In order for that to improve, they will need to find a way to add cheap but effective players. (Essentially, the opposite of what they did this past offseason.)
One free agent who could be a bargain is the under-performing Dustin Penner, who recently survived an attack from pancakes.
Penner has just 12 points in 36 games this season, which could lower the price for the one-time 60-point player.
With some saved money, Buffalo could find additional affordable players.
(Or waste it all on players like Ville Leino).
The Calgary Flames are close to the eighth spot in the Western Conference. If they fail to make the cut, they will have missed the playoffs for three consecutive years.
With an aging team, rebuilding needs to be on the mind of Calgary management. However, the franchise insists on winning now.
A player that could fit both schemes is a young prospect who is already productive at the NHL level.
Matt Duchene has already had two seasons with more than 50 points at the young age of 21.
The Carolina Hurricanes have three defensemen set to be free agents this offseason. The team would love to replace one with a star.
Since the Hurricanes are near the bottom of the conference standings, the focus should not be on acquiring a "win now" veteran.
Instead, Carolina should look for youth. Erik Johnson is a 23-year-old point producer with good size.
He could provide the type of offensive production that was expected from Tomas Kaberle prior to this season, but Johnson could provide it for years to come.
The Chicago Blackhawks' penalty-killing unit is one of the NHL's weakest. The team should look to change that next season.
One free agent who could definitely help this area is Willie Mitchell.
Mitchell has the fourth-highest shorthanded playing time per game in the NHL.
The young Colorado Avalanche find themselves fighting for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
With players like Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog, Kyle Quincy, Ryan Wilson, Erik Johnson and goaltender Semyon Varlamov, the team's future is very bright.
What the club could use to make them a serious contender is a quality veteran leader.
Shane Doan, though very loyal to the Phoenix Coyotes, is an upcoming free agent without a contract. He would be just the type of player who could help Colorado.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Steve Mason and Curtis Sanford should not be blamed for the Columbus Blue Jackets' terrible season.
However, neither of them are at the level a playoff team would feel comfortable with. With expensive commitments to Rick Nash, Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski, Columbus needs to make sure they do not risk blowing that money with Mason or Sanford in net.
Mason has shown the ability to be a quality goaltender before. Within time, it is possible that he can find that form again.
Until then, Columbus should try a short-term, cheap solution such as veteran Tomas Vokoun.
The Dallas Stars' offense needs to improve. More specifically, the power play is atrocious and the roster lacks a quality point-producing blueliner.
Despite the cap space, Dallas lacks the financial resources to land a huge contract.
However, John-Michael Liles is a quality power-play contributor and could be relatively cheap in this offseason's defenseman market. He is on pace to have another 30-point season; at age 31, he's never dropped below that mark.
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings lack toughness, and within the next two to three years, they will lose one of the NHL's best defensemen and their biggest leader, Niklas Lidstrom.
There is only one upcoming free agent capable of replacing both the skill and leadership of Lidstrom: Shea Weber.
Weber was the runner-up to Lidstrom in last season's Norris Trophy voting. He would be quite expensive; not only would his salary be above $8 million, but as a restricted free agent, any team signing him would need to give Nashville hefty compensatory draft picks.
The Edmonton Oilers' offensive future rivals that of the Pittsburgh Penguins' post-lockout drafting of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.
With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, the franchise has three budding superstars.
On defense, there is no matching counterpart.
John Carlson of the Washington Capitals is a 22-year-old in his second season. He is improving every season, and he's on pace for 41 points in 2011-12.
The Florida Panthers have an excellent top line of Kris Versteeg, Stephan Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann. The line is responsible for scoring 38 percent of the Panthers' goals this season.
Clearly, the team needs additional depth. Luckily for them, they also have plenty of cap space (roughly $10 million right now) to use.
The team could get a bargain on 24-year-old Chris Stewart.
Stewart has 19 points through 43 games and will likely not reach 40 points this season, so he should not demand much of a raise this offseason.
Stewart's current cap hit is a relatively low $3.25 million, not bad for a player who scored 117 points in 139 games in the two seasons prior to 2011-12.
With a quality, low-cost addition like Stewart, Florida can look to improve their depth with the extra cap space leftover.
Los Angeles Kings
What does the team with the lowest goals scored total need besides offense?
Los Angeles is tight on cap space, but in a dream world, they would love to somehow land an affordable forward that can perform now.
Jake Voracek is on pace for a third consecutive season with more than 45 points. At age 22, he could be set to breakout with more playing time than he is getting on a stacked Flyers offense.
Plus, without outstanding numbers, he could be affordable as well.
The Minnesota Wild are a good defensive team, having given up the eighth-fewest goals this season.
However, the offense is not as fortunate; only the Kings have scored fewer goals. Their offense is balanced amongst the top two lines, but there is a glaring lack of production from the blue line.
Their top two point-scoring defensemen have combined for a mere 28 points.
The team could really use an offensive defenseman. They have enough money to try adding a big name like Mike Green.
Green has had injury trouble over the past two seasons, but the former Norris Trophy candidate can deliver more than 70 points when healthy.
Montreal has the worst power play in the NHL. Aside from Erik Cole, nobody on the team contributes very much on the man-advantage.
If the team does not re-sign left-winger Andrei Kostitsyn, they would have the money and roster spot to potentially make a move for James Neal of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who is set to become restricted free agent.
Neal is having a breakout season at age 24, and he's among the league leaders in goals. Twelve of his goals have come on the power play.
Only two Canadiens have more than 12 goals total.
The Nashville Predators' two best defensemen are upcoming free agents. They are not going to have the financial resources to re-sign both of them.
Shea Weber is the better player of the two and would be the easier (but more expensive) one to keep since he is a restricted free agent. Suter is an unrestricted free agent.
Regardless of who else is available, keeping Weber should be a priority. Defensemen as good as him come around once every decade or so.
New Jersey Devils
Both Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg are elderly goaltenders no longer efficient as starters in the NHL.
Tuuka Rask of the Boston Bruins is a high-quality backup who is capable of being an effective starter in the NHL.
Boston would like to keep the 24-year-old as Tim Thomas' eventual replacement, but New Jersey would love to have security in net for the future.
New York Islanders
A free buyout of Rick DiPietro, plus Tuukka Rask.
Not only has DiPietro been a disaster for the Islanders in net, his contract is a cap-ruining nightmare.
The last time the collective bargaining agreement ran out in 2005 (it runs out again this summer), there was a window for buyouts without a cap penalty. The Islanders would be extremely lucky to have that option.
The team has not been stable in net since Mike Millbury decided to trade away Roberto Luongo. Getting a proven goalie like Rask would be the best option for the young team.
New York Rangers
Michael Del Zotto is a restricted free agent this upcoming offseason, but the Rangers are tight on cap space.
After adding big free-agent Brad Richards last summer, New York does not have to make another big splash.
Keeping the 21-year-old defenseman would be a big move in itself; Del Zotto has 23 points and a plus-20 rating so far this season.
The Senators have quickly risen to being one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference after a poor 2010-11 season.
If the Senators are to address a need, it would be finding some youthful defensemen. Sergei Gonchar, Filip Kuba and Chris Philips are 37, 35 and 33, respectively.
The team has enough cap space to go after one of the better free agents this offseason, such as the 26-year-old Ryan Suter.
With Chris Pronger's career in doubt after a season-ending concussion, the Flyers are without not only their best leader, but an excellent defender as well.
If Pronger is to be stuck on the long-term injury reserve again next season, the team could look to utilize the $4.9 million in cap relief.
The only way to replace Pronger is to acquire an impact player of the same level. The only man available in that light is Shea Weber.
The Flyers are tight on cap space, but with expensive upcoming free agents such as Jaromir Jagr, Matt Carle and Jake Voracek, the Flyers could find a way to work Weber into their plan.
For the long term, both Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell's contracts (combined salary above $10 million) expire after next season.
The Coyotes' offensive attack is led by a group of players including Shane Doan, Ray Whitney and Daymond Langkow.
The three players are all 35 or older. The team is going to need to find some youth to take on the point-scoring load once these veterans decline in ability or near retirement.
With difficult finances in Phoenix, it is unlikely the club will spend big. Like the Panthers, Phoenix could look to get a deal on the under-performing Chris Stewart.
James Neal is having a breakout season in 2011-12, which is excellent news for Penguins fans.
However, his status as an upcoming free agent, is not. The Penguins do not have a plethora of cap space to use on Neal, but the team could certainly get the restricted free agent re-signed for a reasonable price.
Pittsburgh's best free-agency option is with a player already on their team. There is no need to look elsewhere when a player like Neal is available.
San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks are excellent defensively, with one of the fewest goals-allowed totals in the NHL. However, the penalty kill is relatively terrible, as one of the least effective in the league.
The team seems to lack the type of player who can be effective shorthanded.
All but seven San Jose forwards are entering free agency this offseason. With this flexibility, the club could look to add a penalty-killing specialist.
Blair Betts of the Philadelphia Flyers has been out of action the entire season due to a knee injury. If he can recover to a healthy status, San Jose would benefit from adding him to their fourth line.
St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues are managing to accumulate on of the NHL's highest points totals this season by being effective defensively; they has given up the fewest goals of any team.
The offense is not as effective, so adding a point scorer would be a wise choice for the franchise.
St. Louis has a youthful squad; 10 of their top 12 point scorers are under the age of 27. Adding a veteran scorer would be the team's best option.
If Shane Doan goes to free agency, he would be the best bet. A secondary option could be 33-year-old Kristian Huselius of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Huselius has been limited in playing time due to injuries over the past two seasons, but he can score more than 60 points when healthy.
Tampa Bay Lightning
It is no secret that the Tampa Bay Lightning need a new goaltender; both Dwayne Roloson (42) and Mathieu Garon (34) are on the back ends of their careers, and neither really belong in the role of a starter.
The team has the potential to make a deep playoff run, as evidenced by last season's conference finals appearance.
Finding a relatively young, but starting-capable goaltender should be their priority.
Carey Price's contract runs out after this season. Though he is a restricted free agent, he is just what the Lightning need; he is only 24 years old, but he's had plenty of NHL experience.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Like the Predators, Rangers and Penguins, the Toronto Maple Leafs should focus on keeping their own important upcoming free agent.
John-Michael Liles has the second-most points of any Toronto defenseman, and his four-year, $16 million contract ends this summer.
Liles can shop around as an unrestricted free agent, so general manager Brian Burke is going to have to present a quality deal for the 31-year-old.
The Vancouver Canucks can be bullied. Their best fighter, Dale Weise, ran away from Shawn Thornton of the Boston Bruins when challenged to a fight.
If one of the NHL's most skilled teams does not change that, matchups against tough, physical teams will go just as the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals did.
In the current NHL, skating a heavyweight enforcer is becoming less common. However, it is quite clear that Vancouver needs players capable of handling that type of hockey.
George Parros, Krys Barch and Darcy Hordichuk are available for that role.
The team could also add a second, smaller physical player like Brandon Prust, Zenon Konopka or Dan Carcillo.
The plan in Washington should be keeping as many of the valuable free agents as they can.
Point-scoring forward Alex Semin, elite offensive defenseman Mike Green, breakout defenseman John Carlson and starting goalie Tomas Vokoun are all set to be free agents this summer.
It is unlikely that all will stay with the Capitals, but if they do, it will be nothing short of excellent work by George McPhee.
Teemu Selanne is a beloved character in Winnipeg more than 15 years after being traded from the first Jets franchise to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
It is unlikely that Selanne would play for a team other than the Ducks if does not retire, but the city would love to have him play for the second version of the Winnipeg Jets.
B/R Featured Columnist Jason Sapunka is available on Twitter.