20 NHL Free Agents Who Should Be on Every Team's Watch List
July 1st is just around the corner and that marks the opening of the NHL's free agent signing period.
Last year, Brad Richards was the biggest catch. He ended up signing with the New York Rangers and had a productive season on Broadway, helping the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference final.
This year, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise are the two highest-ranked free agents available. We will now examine the top 20 available players as of July 1st.
Some ground rules: I am only including unrestricted free agents (UFAs) on this list. Restricted free agents (RFAs) are unlikely to change teams unless their present clubs choose not to bring them back.
Also, I have excluded players like Martin Brodeur and Teemu Selanne, as they will either re-sign with their present teams or retire, but are almost certainly NOT going to test the free agent market.
It is possible some of these players will sign new contracts before free agency actually gets underway, but here—in no particular order—are 20 free agents who should be on every NHL team's watch list.
Zach Parise may be the ultimate free agent. Look at his check list:
In the prime of his career? Check. Over the summer, the son of former NHL star J.P. Parise will turn 28.
Good goal scorer? Check. He has scored 30 or more goals for the last five seasons he's been healthy.
Responsible defensively? Check. Parise is not a liability in his own zone and checks well when called upon.
Leadership capacity? Check. Parise served as captain of the Devils and just led them to the Stanley Cup final.
Parise also is on a team that may not be able to afford him, not so much due to the salary cap, but due to the financial struggles Devils ownership is presently experiencing. Parise is in demand and the bidding may become too rich for the Devils' blood.
If you can sign Zach Parise, get him.
Ryan Suter and Shea Weber are the one-two punch on the Nashville blueline. Suter is an unrestricted free agent and Weber is an RFA. Nashville may struggle to sign one of them, let alone both.
Suter is just 27, has great passing skills, can help quarterback the power play and has been a plus player in all but one season of his NHL career.
Any team would benefit from Suter's skills, leadership abilities and consistency, and he will be the foundation of the defensive corps of any team he signs with.
Yes, Jaromir Jagr is 40 years old and, no, he's not the player he was when he was 25, but that doesn't mean the future Hall of Famer doesn't still have plenty to offer at this point in his career.
Jagr still scored 19 goals for the Flyers last year and was a good mentor to the team's younger players (especially Claude Giroux). He is also still effective on the power play when there's a little more room to maneuver.
Jagr isn't a game breaker all the time like he was in his prime, but on any given night, you can see enough of Jagr the superstar to make a difference in a game.
Jagr has been moody at times during his career and an unhappy Jagr can be a negative in the locker room, but when he's happy, Jagr can be a strong one or two season addition to any NHL team.
Jackman is not an offensive threat like Ryan Suter, but he is a tough, gritty and physical player who, at 31, is still in the prime of his career. He is also a good leader and has served as an alternate captain for the Blues.
Jackman's play fell off in the second round of the playoffs, so the Blues may not spend too much to keep him, but his experience and consistency in his own zone will make him a good choice for teams seeking a steady defenseman.
Goal scorers are always in demand, so some NHL team is going to take a chance on Alexander Semin (if he doesn't sign with a team in the KHL).
The 28-year-old is in his prime, but he hasn't been the same player the past two seasons, producing only 21 goals this season after scoring 40 in 2009-10.
Semin is more of a one-dimensional player and his attitude and work ethic have been questioned, but if he's properly motivated, Semin is a legitimate sniper and a benefit to any NHL team.
Dustin Penner had a terrible regular season, scoring just 17 points in 65 games. But in the playoffs, Penner found his game and totaled 11 points in 20 games while adding an important physical element to the Kings run to their first ever title.
Penner is just 30 and has already won a pair of Stanley Cups. He stands 6'4" and weighs 240 pounds. A team like the Maple Leafs or Canadiens that needs size could be very enticed by what Penner provides.
If properly motivated, Penner may also provide more offense to his new team. His career high of 32 goals came in 2009-10.
Jiri Hudler has been a consistent producer in the NHL, KHL and Czech League. Last year, he popped in 25 goals and 50 points, roughly the type of offensive numbers you can expect from the 28-year-old winger.
Hudler has lots of playoff experience, and while he isn't a big time scorer, he is a great second-line player who can fill in on any line when necessary.
Late bloomer P.A. Parenteau nearly had the label of career minor leaguer before the Islanders gave him a chance, and he found a spot on the club's top line alongside John Tavares and Matt Moulson.
Parenteau had a career year in 2011-12, totaling 49 assists and 67 points. He is an excellent passer and an asset on the power play.
The Islanders would love to have him back, but it's not clear how much they are willing to spend to keep him. At 29, this is Parenteau's first and best chance to earn a big NHL contract.
Hulking Hal Gill stands 6'7" and weighs 240 pounds. He is a very experienced defenseman who adds leadership and hockey smarts.
If he can stay healthy, Gill can still intimidate opponents, play plenty of minutes and help clear opponents away from his own crease.
The Predators would love to keep him, but since they need to re-sign both Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, they may not have the money to do so.
Josh Harding is 28 years old and after spending the past few years backing up in Minnesota, feels he is ready to become a full-time NHL starter.
Harding had his best season this year, but still only appeared in 34 games. Injuries have hindered his development, but when Harding has played, he has been a consistently good goalie on an up and down team.
This year, he had a goals against average of 2.62 and a save percentage of .917. He will look for a full-time starting job elsewhere after spending the last four seasons in Minnesota.
Dennis Wideman is hoping for a big raise as he hits free agency at age 29.
Wideman is the type of defenseman who is a great offensive threat on the second pair. He can pitch in on the power play as well and usually puts up between 40 and 50 points per season.
Teams looking to add offensive punch from the blueline who either cannot afford or do not sign Ryan Suter will do well to pursue Wideman.
The Predators have already announced that they will not be re-signing Radulov and will try to trade his rights. Although he is an RFA, the talented Russian is now available to any team willing to acquire his rights, and so he is on our list.
Radulov is the ultimate gamble. He is 25 and has tons of offensive talent. But Radulov is an enigma. He has already skipped out on his contract with Nashville and headed to the KHL, and there are rumors he may return to Russia again next season.
In the playoffs this year, Radulov broke curfew and was suspended for a pair of games in the series against Phoenix, which the Predators eventually lost.
The talent is definitely there, but is Radulov mature enough and reliable enough to pay him the amount of money his talent should command? Some team will be willing to find out, and they will either hit a home run or strike out swinging when they sign him.
Anybody who watched the Devils play during the playoffs saw how valuable veteran defenseman Bryce Salvador was to the team.
While he didn't score at all during the regular season, Salvador scored four goals and 14 points in 24 playoff games for the Devils, most of them in clutch situations.
Salvador is a leader and solid in his own zone. At 36, he still has a few years left in him and would be a great pickup for a contender looking to add leadership and experience and is willing to sign him to a two-year deal.
Matt Carle just entering his prime at 27 and is a very reliable defenseman. He led all Flyers blueliners in ice time last season and is effective in all three zones on the ice.
Carle is smart, makes a good first pass out of his own zone and can be put down for between 35 and 40 points per season. Carle also is an effective point man on the power play.
This should be a big contract for Carle. He will be a cheaper alternative to Suter and may be a better value even though signing him would be less glamorous.
At 33, Olli Jokinen still should have some good hockey left in him. He is a center who can produce decent offensive numbers and teases teams when he goes on hot streaks that sometimes carry his team for a week or two at a time.
But as often as Jokinen can get hot, he also tends to disappear for long stretches, and when Jokinen isn't putting up offensive numbers, he usually isn't helping his team.
There is another problem with Jokinen: He has played 1,042 regular season games in his NHL career but only six playoff games. He does not have a reputation of being clutch.
Some team will take a chance on the veteran Finn, and if they don't overspend to get him, they can come away with a player who can provide scoring as a second-line center.
He may not be a household name, but guess who was third among all NHL defenseman last season with 16 goals? Yes, Jason Garrison.
It was a breakout season for Garrison, but even if he doesn't match it, you have to figure at 27 he is just now entering his prime.
The biggest concern for GMs looking to sign Garrison may be this: He started the season off hot but had only three goals after January 20.
The math is simple: The Senators need to give Erik Karlsson a big raise, so it is unlikely they will be able to pay Filip Kuba unless he takes a big pay cut.
Kuba was Karlsson's defensive partner last year. At 35, he provided veteran savvy to complement the young offensive defenseman who is likely to win the Norris Trophy this season.
Kuba can provide secondary offense and is reliable in his own zone. He will make a nice addition to somebody's blueline next season.
It is unlikely that Shane Doan signs with a team other than the Phoenix Coyotes. He has spent his entire career with the Coyotes/Jets franchise and serves as their captain. He will almost certainly give the Desert Dogs some kind of home town discount to re-sign with them.
But if he opts to sign elsewhere, Doan would provide a lot of leadership and quality scoring production for his new team. At 35, he still has some good hockey left in him.
It would take a very big offer to get Doan to change his mind and sign elsewhere, but hey, you never know.
Signing a player like Paul Gaustad isn't going to generate a lot of headlines, but every good team needs a quality third- or fourth-line center like Gaustad to win in the playoffs when things get tight.
Gaustad is big, rugged and tough. He is also one of the best faceoff men in the NHL and a great penalty killer.
Gaustad does the little things right and at 30 remains in the prime of his career. The Predators would love to have him back, but may not be able to afford him.
We've been hearing for years how Ray Whitney is too old and will be slowing down this season. He's 40 now, and still put up a season of 24 goals and 77 points.
Whitney is smart and adept at finding open space on the ice, especially in the offensive zone. Whitney has seen it all and has been a positive influence on a young Coyotes team the past two years.
He may only sign a one-year deal, but Whitney would be a fine addition to any team looking for short-term offensive production.