Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman may be on the hunt for a defenseman come July. What's available to the 'Hawks as they attempt to upgrade on the back end?
Bowman has failed to put together a defensive corps that coach Joel Quenneville has faith in the last two seasons. His top pairing of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith is carrying a big share of minutes for Chicago. Quenneville is going to need to play his third pairing with more confidence than he had this past campaign.
It would also be nice to see a physical defender who can alleviate traffic in front of the net on the second pairing. Whether Bowman goes out with a plan to address one or both of these needs depends on how things shake out at home in the next month.
The 'Hawks need to decide if UFA Johnny Oduya is worth re-signing. At the right price, Oduya could play 15 minutes a night on the third line and be an asset. Steve Montador's health status will also be a factor. Bowman and Quenneville must also agree on whether Dylan Olsen is ready to be used on a nightly basis.
Depending on those three players and how the market breaks, Bowman could move forward two ways. He could be looking for a top-three defender at a premium rate. He also could be aiming for a $2-3 million dollar signing to provide depth.
Here are 10 unrestricted free agents who could fit the bill on one of these two counts.
Vitals: 6'1", 200 pounds, 27 years old
2011-12 Stats: Seven goals, 39 assists, plus-15 in 79 games with Nashville
What He Brings: Suter is coming into his prime years and was a plus-35 over the last two seasons. He would be a welcome addition to anyone's blue line. That's why it seems like everyone wants to sign this guy.
Suter is right up there with Duncan Keith as far as an ability to handle a heavy work rate. He has a big shot from the point. There's the question of how he will fare without Shea Weber as a partner, but Suter has an excellent overall game and is the jewel of free agency if Nashville doesn't retain him.
There is a sentiment that Suter could be had due to Chicago's proximity to his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin as well as a family history with the 'Hawks. Will that make a difference when it comes down to dollars and cents?
Price: Remember that cap cushion that Bowman created by trading Brian Campbell? Plan on using most of that to bring Suter aboard.
Vitals: 6', 205 pounds, 27 years old
2011-12 Stats: Four goals, 38 assists, plus-four in 82 games with Philadelphia
What He Brings: Like Suter, Carle is coming into free agency in his prime with three solid seasons of over 35 points. He's a good skater, not real physical, but he is a fine passer and can get the ball rolling for the offense coming out of his own zone.
Carle is very capable of skating big minutes and adding to the offensive rush.
Price: I'd say the bidding starts at $5 million.
Vitals: 6'2", 218 pounds, 27 years old
2011-12 Stats: 16 goals, 17 assists, plus-six in 77 games with Florida
What He Brings: Garrison scored nine power play goals, thanks to a huge point shot. He played big minutes for the Panthers on both special teams, and he has the size and speed to complement the 'Hawks, with over 120 hits and blocks last season.
Garrison put up career numbers that coincided with Brian Campbell coming to town. It's fair game to wonder about his prospects away from Soup.
Price: He may not be in line for the payday of some of the top names, which could give Bowman cause for a longer look.
Vitals: 6', 200 pounds, 29 years old
2011-12 Stats: 11 goals, 35 assists, minus-eight in 82 games with Washington
What He Brings: Not known for physical play, Wideman still had 113 hits and blocked 132 shots in 2011-12. He averaged almost 24 minutes a game for the Capitals and could be the tonic to help revive the Blackhawks' power play.
Wideman is still not a crease clearer, and the last time he had a plus/minus that was in the black for a season was 2008-09. On the other hand, he has a right-handed shot which would be welcome in Chicago.
Price: He could get too pricey for another puck-moving type. I could see him getting $6 million in this market.
Vitals: 6'3", 230 pounds, 28 years old
2011-12 Stats: Three goals, 17 assists, plus-two in 76 games with Colorado
What He Brings: O'Brien has good size, along with the ability and willingness to use it. He is a defenseman who will drop the gloves and can move forwards from the crease.
O'Brien is going to have trouble handling quicker forwards, but he provides a much-needed physical element to a game.
Price: $1.5 to 2 million
Vitals: 6'4", 258 pounds, 35 years old
2011-12 Stats: Three goals, 15 assists, minus-two in 69 games with Tampa Bay and Philadelphia
What He Brings: Kubina is not going to win a lot of races but would add a physical presence as well as a right-handed shot. How much is left in his tank? Earlier in his career, he was a consistent 35-40 points a season, but it would be hard to expect that now.
Price: Kubina made $3.5 million last year. At a steep cut in pay, he could be a player worth a look.
Vitals: 6'5", 226 pounds, 31 years old
2011-12 Stats: One goal, 13 assists, minus-one in 82 games with Carolina
What He Brings: Allen would bring more play of the aggressive variety. He was fourth among NHL defensemen with 188 blocked shots. For a player as big as Allen, he moves pretty well and could aid the penalty kill.
Price: At his current salary ($3.125 million), he's a bigger, older, more physical version of Niklas Hjalmarsson. For less money, Allen could provide a type of player Chicago needs.
Vitals: 6', 205 pounds, 31 years old
2011-12 Stats: One goal, 12 assists, plus-20 in 81 games with St. Louis
What He Brings: Well, Jonathan Toews can feel a bit safer when skating against the Blues.
Jackman would be a good fit in terms of defensive responsibility. He would be an asset on the penalty kill and provides leadership as well.
Price: Right now, Jackman is making $3.5 million. It's hard to say if that price comes down this summer.
Vitals: 6'1", 202 pounds, 31 years old
2011-12 Stats: Three goals, 11 assists, plus-11 in 80 games with Anaheim
What He Brings: Brookbank would bring rugged play on the bottom pairing. Though he does not have much skill, he is a team player and could provide depth.
His older bother Wade played in Rockford on a AHL contract the last two seasons. Perhaps Brookbank would accept a two-way deal to provide some organizational depth.
Price: Should be under a million per season
Vitals: 6'3", 212 pounds, 37 years old
2011-12 Stats: Nine goals, 16 assists, plus-seven in 69 games with Vancouver
What He Brings: Salo offers more than you think, but it comes with a huge injury caveat. Salo is nearing the end of the line but played over 20 minutes a game on the nights he wasn't nursing an injury. He isn't physical, but he has a big right-handed shot and could add something to the special teams.
His 69 games played in 2011-12 is his most post-lockout. He's going to get hurt. It's just a matter of when and for how long.
Price: Signing Salo for, say, $1.5 million and getting 50-60 games on the third pairing would be an upgrade in this area. Let Bowman beware if he goes down this road, because he's not getting 82 games from this pickup.