NHL Free Agency 2012: Evaluating the 10 Biggest Free Agency & Trade Rumors

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst IJune 26, 2012

NHL Free Agency 2012: Evaluating the 10 Biggest Free Agency & Trade Rumors

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    In less than a week, the NHL free-agent market will be open for business.

    As the clock ticks down every second until July 1st, the airwaves continue to overflow with rumors, reports and speculation surrounding the 312 unrestricted and 286 restricted free agents set to hit the market this summer.

    From the most prominent household names—Ryan Suter and Zach Parise—to the most obscure minimum-wage drifters—Steve MacIntyre and Brad Mills, to name a few—a plethora of players will be moving somewhere new this summer.

    But then there's also the trade market, which packs the potential to be even more attention-grabbing than free agency. Veteran goalie Roberto Luongo and All-Star playmakers Rick Nash and Bobby Ryan have each been lighting up headlines lately and could shake up the league in a major way if dealt this offseason.

    An evaluation of all of the biggest trade and free agency rumors at this time falls on the 10 coming slides.

Roberto Luongo Wants Trade to Panthers

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    According to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch, disgruntled Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo—who has been seeking a trade from the Canucks for months—is making full use of his contract's no-trade clause:

    Told by very good source #Canucks G Roberto Luongo has - to this point -- declined to waive no-trade clause to go to #Blackhawks or #Leafs.

    — Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) June 25, 2012

    The 33-year-old goalie played 317 games for the Panthers from 2000 to 2006 before heading to Vancouver, where recent playoff meltdowns have cost Luongo his starting job in favor of young Cory Schneider. He'd apparently like to return to his old Florida glory days:

    Only place Luongo is willing to be traded, as of today, is back to the Florida #Panthers.

    — Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) June 25, 2012

    However, while the Cats have been reportedly interested in adding a goaltender, it's questionable whether they'll truly be willing to take on Luongo's enormous $5.3 million cap hit (which extends through 2021) with capable veteran Jose Theodore also on the roster.

Flyers' Pursuit of Bobby Ryan Fizzling

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    Bobby Ryan wants out of Anaheim. Now.

    "Anaheim...has shown me nothing to prove that they want me here, unfortunately," Ryan told Courier-Post's Randy Miller on Friday. "For me, if I'm moved, Philadelphia would be a very ideal and comfortable place for me.”

    However, the Ducks aren't interested in giving Ryan up without a significant haul of their own—and the Flyers don't seem willing to pay that price. As explains Miller yesterday via Twitter:

    For #Flyers to get Bobby Ryan, it probably would cost them Brayden Schenn, Coburn and a No. 1. I don't see #Flyers trading Coburn or Schenn.

    — Randy Miller (@RandyJMiller) June 25, 2012

    Without James van Riemsdyk, who was traded to Toronto on Sunday, the Flyers do have an opening in their top nine forwards. Nevertheless, they could be more interested in free agents like PA Parenteau to address that need instead.

    Right now, however, the Flyers seem far more interested in another former Duck—young defenseman Justin Schultz, who's apparently determined to enter unrestricted free agency come July 1st.

Penguins Targeting Ryan Suter...

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    As reports Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Times-Tribune, the Penguins have now become interested suitors in one of the most desirable free agents of 2012—Ryan Suter.

    Trades of Staal (to Carolina) and defenseman Zbynek Michalek (to Phoenix) on Day 1 of the draft opened $6 million in annual salary-cap space for the Penguins. They are nearly $15 million under the projected $70 million upper limit for next season, pending terms of a new collective bargaining agreement.

    The Penguins crave a top-pairing partner for Letang...[and] Suter is the target. They are open to including defensive prospect Simon Despres in a potential deal to land a top-shelf defenseman.

    Suter racked up 39 assists—his fourth straight campaign of at least 30 helpers—and 46 points last season for the Nashville Predators, in addition to ranking fourth on the team with 116 blocked shots.

    His relatively expensive $3.5 million cap hit is also now easily affordable for the Pens.

...But the Predators Want to Keep Him

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    While the Ryan Suter-to-Pittsburgh rumors keep flying, Josh Cooper of The Tennessean notes that, despite all of the speculation, there's been no definitive report that Suter is even interested in hitting the market:

    On top of this, Suter is a midwest guy, who likes the anonymity of playing in Nashville. The laid-back nature of playing a majority of games in  Western Conference markets—many of which aren’t nearly as rabid as Eastern Conference teams—fits his personality.

    Suter has given the Predators no indication he won’t re-sign there, and if General Manager David Poile trades Suter’s rights, it would likely hamper his ability to attempt to bring Suter back following July 1.

    Suter, after all, was drafted by the Predators seventh overall back in 2003 and has played all seven of his NHL seasons with them; while hitting the market could be an exciting experience, Nashville is an up-and-coming Stanley Cup contender where Suter is both well-liked and comfortable.

    There are no clear reasons why the 27-year-old defenseman would want to go to another team this summer.

Steve Ott on the Market?

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    Physical winger Steve Ott could be an under-the-radar item on the trade market this summer, as reports ESPN's Pierre LeBrun:

    The Dallas Stars are getting calls from other teams on...Steve Ott.

    Ott especially got traction before the deadline, but the Stars ultimately decided to hold on to him as they were sitting in a playoff spot at the time. The rugged winger, who can pot some goals, has two more years left on his deal paying him $3.2 million a year in salary but with a $2.95 million cap hit. 

    He’d be a good addition for a team looking to bulk up in a second-line role.

    LeBrun also piped in with one particular team in contention via Twitter:

    Steve Ott remains in play ... My own personal belief is that he'd be a great fit in Montreal. He's got size and skill, defend some teammates

    — Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) June 25, 2012

    Ott, 29, had 11 goals, 28 assists and 156 penalty minutes—the sixth-highest total in the league—in 74 games for the Stars last season. He's a tough, reliable grinder who's tallied at least 135 PIM in every full season of his career.

Lubomir Visnovsky May Ditch Islanders

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    The New York Islanders acquired puck-moving defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky during the first round Friday night, but the 35-year-old veteran may not intend to stay on Long Island for long.

    In an interview with Slovakian newspaper Hokej Portal (translated by Yahoo!'s Greg Wyshynski), Visnovsky explains:

    "I can say that I get a bid from Russia and I [will] think about them. [My wife and I] have already talked about the fact that [I cannot go to] New York, and I'll take any offer from the KHL...because I have such opportunities. We'll see where I end [up]."

    Sunday, Visnovsky attempted to clarify the confusion in a discussion with Newsday's Arthur Staple:

    Visnovsky says Slovak website interview was from before the trade. Was asked if he'd stay in Slovakia or go to KHL if there was a lockout.

    — Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) June 24, 2012

    However, the interview clearly references the Islanders, a discrepancy which only adds more uncertainty to this ongoing puzzle. The Isles will clearly have to wait to see if their latest acquisition is truly committed to joining the team.

Rick Nash's Asking Price Too High?

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    While there's no denying the presence of superstar winger Rick Nash on the trade market, he continues to remain there without any significant action—a testament due mostly to the colossal price tag that Columbus GM Scott Howson has placed on him.

    Michael Arace of the Columbus Dispatch published an extremely disheartening, down-to-earth editorial on the entire saga Sunday, calling out the entire team on its utter lack of action:

    Howson looked red-eyed and weary as he left the floor of the Consol Energy Center yesterday. Behind the scenes, Nash’s agent, Joe Resnick, appeared agitated, but he will not speak on the record. As for Nash, he is incommunicado.

    Somebody, step up. Please.

    Nash is tough to move, yes. He carries an annual cap hit of $7.8 million through 2018, at which point he will be 34 years old. Howson is asking for three to five pieces, a combination of high-end prospects, NHL talent and draft picks.

    Get it done anyway.

    Howson also told Aaron Portzline of the Dispatch “I thought there might be (more interest at the draft). But there wasn’t.”

    After five long months, the Nash situation continues to be just as cloudy as ever, and other teams are beginning to turn to other routes—the Hurricanes grabbed Jordan Staal and the Flyers finally dealt James van Riemsdyk this past weekend. 

    But, as for now, there's no resolution in sight.

Still, Suitors for Nash Remain

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    Despite the incredibly high price tag sitting on Rick Nash, the 28-year-old's fantastic game-changing ability has kept him on the target board of at least a few contenders.

    Nash's skill is unquestionable—the winger has scored 547 points in 674 career games, including two career 40-goal seasons and five straight 30-goal seasons, all on a Blue Jackets team made the playoffs just one time over that nine-year span.

    Those numbers are why a few teams still have him, at least, pegged on their list of possible acquisitions. 

    The Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline says that the New York Rangers and San Jose Sharks are interested, while ESPN's Pierre LeBrun speculates that the Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes—even after the Jordan Staal trade—are also in the mix.

    However, another recent Portzline report via Twitter rules out one more club that was once part of the trade talk:

    Told Ottawa is not on #CBJ Rick Nash's approved list, that he'd have to alter his list before he could be traded to #Sens.

    — Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) June 23, 2012

Defensemen on the Move

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    Keith Yandle Receiving Offers

    Young Coyotes' blueliner Keith Yandle, who has emerged as an All-Star offensive defensemen in recent years with three consecutive 40-plus point seasons, reportedly hit the market last week and drew at least one major offer from the Edmonton Oilers.

    CBS's BD Gallof via Twitter:

    Per #nhl source, #oilers offered Gagner & Paajarvi for Yandle of #yotes during #nhldraft

    — BDGallof (@BDGallof) June 24, 2012


    Paul Martin Dump Coming?

    Looking to free up cap space to use on Ryan Suter and/or Zach Parise, the Pittsburgh Penguins are actively trying to ship off overpaid shutdown 'D'-man Paul Martin. Per InsidePittsburghSports.com:

    "The Penguins had multiple trade discussions...about 31-year-old defenseman Paul Martin...who carries a $5 million cap hit and has $14 million left on the remaining three years of his contract. Among two of the teams Pittsburgh had talks with during the draft weekend included the Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning, sources confirmed."

    However, it's not a completely open market for Pens' GM Ray Shero to work with. HNIC's Elliotte Friedman explains through Twitter:

    One note about Paul Martin. He has limited protection. PIT knows where he can't go and where it can send him...should it choose to do so.

    — Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) June 24, 2012


    Many Targeting Justin Schultz

    Rearguard Justin Schultz, 21, has had a turbulent ride through the ranks of upper-level hockey throughout his career but is hitting the NHL's UFA market this summer and will have a boatload of potential suitors. 

    Michigan Live's Ansar Khun reports that the Detroit Red Wings, looking to add more top-end talent to their shrinking defensive cast, are in talks with Schultz's agent. Larry Brooks of the New York Post claims that the Rangers are also interested, and the Toronto Sun points out that the Maple Leafs will come calling, too. 

    TSN's Bob McKenzie (tweeted by Dustin Leed) adds the Canucks, Oilers and Flyers to that list, as well.

Notable RFA's Not Given Qualifying Offers

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    Monday was the deadline for qualifying offers to restricted free agents; those who did not receive one are now set to be unrestricted come July 1st.

    The list of original RFA's who were not given an offer is lengthy, but a few specific notables stand out:

    C Peter Mueller (Avalanche)

    LW Blake Comeau (Flames)

    LW Wojtek Wolski (Panthers)

    LW Guilllaume Latendresse (Wild)

    LW Benoit Pouliot (Lightning)

    D Marc-Andre Gragnani (Canucks)

    For a full list of all RFA's who did not receive qualifying offers by the deadline, visit our complete compilation here