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NHL Free Agency: 10 Big Deals We Would Like to See Happen on July 1

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistJune 28, 2012

NHL Free Agency: 10 Big Deals We Would Like to See Happen on July 1

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    It's not just about the money.

    For some players, when free agency hits on July 1, a big-money, long-term contract will be the motivating force in deciding where they play. It's an important factor and there's no denying it. When you are in professional sports, you have a limited window of opportunity and you have to take advantage of it.

    But there is more to it than money. The teams have to decide which players fit their system and their coaching staff best. Players have to decide if they will be going to a team where they will fit and be productive, or if they are better off staying with their original team.

    This year's free-agent marked is headed by New Jersey's Zach Parise and Nashville's Ryan Suter. Here's our take on how the 10 biggest deals should play out.

Center Olli Jokinen, Calgary Flames

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    Jokinen is a maximum-effort center who probably fits the role of the No. 2 pivot.

    He had 61 points last season—including 23 goals—and he clearly can convert scoring opportunities when he has the chance. He is not going to sacrifice defense for offense. He will make plays on the defensive end and he showed he had tremendous courage by playing most of the last two months with a torn stomach muscle. He had surgery after the season, but he refused to give into the pain.

    The Vancouver Canucks need to look into a player with Jokinen's heart and character. They seemed to shrink last year after losing in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals. They need to earn back their swagger with their play on the ice. Jokinen would be the right player for them and he deserves the chance to play for a team that has legitimate championship aspirations.

Left Wing Ray Whitney, Phoenix Coyotes

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    At 40 years old, Whitney is nearing the end of the line.

    He knows he probably doesn't have more than one big contract left in him and he would like to capitalize.

    This sniper has the hands and goal-scoring ability to help many teams that need a marksman. He scored 24 goals and 53 assists last year and that means he is still viable.

    The New York Rangers finished first in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, but fell short of winning the Eastern Conference Finals in large part because they did not have enough scoring. John Tortorella could use a sniper who can take advantage of his scoring opportunities and create them himself when he must.

    Whitney fits the bill and would be a good choice for New York.

Right Wing Jaromir Jagr, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Jagr made an excellent return to the NHL after playing in the Russian KHL for three years.

    The 40-year-old is not a dominant superstar anymore, but he still has great size and strength and knows how to use it. The ability to create his own shot and move to the open areas is instinctive for him and Jagr can still put the puck in the net. He scored 19 goals last year for the Philadelphia Flyers and he should be able to score 20 to 25 goals next year.

    He could go back to Philadelphia next season, but a better fit might be with the Montreal Canadiens.

    The Flyers have plenty of scoring, but the Canadiens need strong, assertive players who know how to succeed. Jagr can't outrace defenders any more, but he can beat them with skill and strength and the Habs would hold him in high esteem. Jagr considered the Canadiens before signing with Philadelphia last year, and now Montreal gets another chance.

Right Wing Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes

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    Shane Doan is a classic power forward. He plays with a nasty streak and he will score goals. He will take a hit to make a play, but Doan will make sure he gets the license plate number so he can pay back the offending player at some point during the game.

    Doan, at 36 years old, is probably not a 30-goal scorer the way he was earlier in his career.

    But whatever he's lost in speed or quickness, he has the savvy to make up for it. Doan has played the role of captain well during his long run with the franchise. His rookie year of 1995-96 was the team's last year in Winnipeg. That will probably make it difficult for him to ultimately make the decision to leave.

    But it won't make it impossible.

    If Zach Parise does not re-sign with the New Jersey Devils, his hard-hitting and take-no-prisoner style would be perfect for a franchise that would probably feel heartbroken at losing Parise. They would gain a good chunk of leadership by bringing Doan into the fold.

Defenseman Matt Carle, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Carle seems to get a lot more respect outside of Philadelphia than he does from Flyers fans.

    While Carle will turn the puck over on occasion and make some mistakes, he has the size and puck-handling ability to be a major factor on an every-game basis.

    Carle has had a positive plus-minus statistic in each of his four seasons in Philadelphia, but his plus-30 in 2010-11 was clearly a lot more impressive than the plus-4 he put on the board this year.

    It certainly seems that the Flyers want him back and that Carle wants to return. A hometown discount appears to be part of the picture as well.

    But what happens if a team like Nashville comes at him with a $6 million offer after losing Ryan Suter, while the Flyers are only offering somewhere in the $4 million range?

    Carle is only human.

    That situation could play out since Suter is the most attractive free agent blueliner and it doesn't seem as if he is going back to Nashville.

    Look for Carle to spurn the Flyers if the Preds beat the Flyers' offer by more than $1 million per year.

Center Jiri Hudler, Detroit Red Wings

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    Hudler is coming off a 25-goal, 50-point season and he has shown the ability to create plays and be an important factor for the Red Wings offense.

    He likes playing in Detroit and he especially likes playing with Henrik Zetterberg and Valtteri Filppula. The Red Wings appreciate everything Hudler can do and general manager Ken Holland has acknowledged his talent and contribution.

    Still, it's not likely that the two sides will get together on a deal. They may like each other a lot, but the dollars won't make sense for the two sides to finalize a contract. Hudler probably wants $4-plus million and the Red Wings don't want to pay that much.

    Could Hudler go north of the border to the Toronto Maple Leafs? Brian Burke needs everything, and a player with Hudler's skill definitely qualifies. But they also need size, and at 5'10", Hudler is no help there.

Right Wing P.A. Parenteau, New York Islanders

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    Parenteau has helped his cause quite a bit in the last two years after scoring 53 points in 2010-11 and 67 points in 2011-12. He is a creative player who can pass the puck and shoot it quickly and he knows what to do on the power play.

    But Parenteau still has a lot of work to do and his biggest issue may be his lack of physical strength. He often loses battles for the puck and goes down too easily. But his ability on the offensive end makes up for that.

    Parenteau's agent has indicated that he will not return to the Islanders.

    The Boston Bruins and the Los Angeles Kings won the last two Stanley Cups while struggling on the power play during the majority of their championship runs. The Bruins would like to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals and if they can move Tim Thomas' contract to a team that needs to get to the salary cap floor, they will have room for Parenteau.

    Don't be shocked if the power-play conscious Bruins shock the hockey world and make a serious effort to sign Parenteau.

Right Wing Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals

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    Meet Alex Semin, designated scapegoat.

    No, it's nothing official, but if you listen to those who are interested in protecting the other Alex in Washington, it's Semin who gets the blame for not playing responsible defensive hockey.

    Semin does not want to be a role player and he is not going to return to Washington. He made that clear after the Capitals' season ended. Semin has always enjoyed playing in Washington and the people in the organization, but according to his agent Mark Gandler, Washington Capitals" href="http://www.hockeyworldblog.com/2012/05/15/agent-says-alexander-semin-will-not-re-sign-with-washington-capitals/" target="_self">Semin doesn't like the way the organization has used him on the ice.

    Whether that would change under new coach Adam Oates is merely speculation. At this point, Oates probably doesn't know how he would use Semin. That means Semin is almost certainly leaving Washington.

    The Montreal Canadiens could use a scorer of his ilk, but they may not make the same sales pitch that Ken Holland and the Detroit Red Wings will make. Semin will rock the red with the Wings.

Defenseman Ryan Suter, Nashville Predators

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    Ryan Suter has been recognized as the top free agent among defensemen since before the start of the season.

    Nothing has changed that perception during the year. Suter is clearly Robin to Shea Weber's Batman in Nashville. There is no resentment, but Suter wants to get the deal that would show the hockey world that he is an elite player and that will require him to move on.

    The Minnesota Wild, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings all want to have Suter put his signature on a contract. All have a lot of money to spend.

    The Penguins have approximately $14 million to spend, the Red Wings appear to have about $19 million and the Wild may have close to that. Pittsburgh helped clear its cap room with the trade of Jordan Staal last week. Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher is committed to improving his team right now. But Detroit has an important spot to fill.

    Nicklas Lidstrom was a fixture in Detroit for years but he will not be back in 2012-13. He has retired. The Red Wings can pitch Suter on stepping into Lidstrom's spot. Ken Holland can pitch it as a legacy move. That should be enough for Suter.

    Pittsburgh and Minnesota can make attractive offers, but Detroit's deal can have more meaning.

Left Wing Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils

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    If the New Jersey Devils lose Zach Parise on July 1, they might as well play the 2012-13 season without their heart and soul.

    On the surface, there's nothing very imposing about him. Parise is 5'11" and 195 lbs, about as average-sized as an NHL player can get. But there is nothing average about the way he plays the game. He is a fast and agile skater with a quick wrister and a hard slap shot. He can go in close to the net and excel in the dirty aspects of the game or he can dominate from the outside.

    It's not just about offense with Parise. He plays hard defense and he can deliver punishing checks. He excels on the forecheck, where he turns defense into offense in the blink of an eye.

    While the Devils want him back badly, so do the Minnesota Wild, the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins. All three of those teams will offer him more than the Devils.

    Expect a full-court press from the Wild. They will get his attention because he's from Minnesota and they will present him with a boatload of money. But in Pittsburgh he can play on a potential championship team and he can play with Sidney Crosby.

    The two are joined at the hip. While Crosby was the best player on the 2010 Canadian Olympic Team, Parise filled that same role for the United States. They both played at the Shattuck St. Mary's prep school in Minnesota. They both have an appreciation for each other.

    It might take some time, but a pairing of Crosby and Parise could be the stuff of legends... and championships. Parise will sign with the Penguins.

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