2012 NHL Free Agents: Predicting the 8 Largest Contracts of Free Agency

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst IJuly 1, 2012

2012 NHL Free Agents: Predicting the 8 Largest Contracts of Free Agency

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    July 1st is not a day for the frugal.

    From noon's opening bell on, 30 general managers from around the NHL will kick off free agency 2012 with a rather cash-laden bang.

    Where will Zach Parise land? No one can answer that question yet, but at least one part of the deal is certain: This 27-year-old Minneapolis native will soon have a bank account worthy of multi-millionaire status.

    Of course, he'll be joined in that category by a plethora of other early-July signees, all of whom will enter next season with sky-high expectations and copious paychecks.

    A liberal prediction of who those 10 players will be—and exactly how much money their profuse salaries will entail—falls on the coming slides.

    Note: Contracts ranked by total cash value, not annual cap hit.

8. Shane Doan

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    Eleven-time 20-goal scorer Shane Doan recently indicated that, after a whopping 16 years with the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise, that he would like to "test the free-agent market" this summer.

    At 35, the veteran winger is still going strong. His 22 goals and 50 points in 2011-12 marked the ninth consecutive season in which Doan has hit the 50-point plateau—a feat no other 2012 free agent has done. 

    However, the excessive need for first-line wingers around the league—and the relative shortage of UFA options to choose from—could earn Doan a contract more justified for a player five to 10 years younger. Expect a surprisingly high paycheck to be headed Doan's way soon.

    Projected Contract: $13.5 million (three years, $4.5 million cap hit)

7. Jason Garrison

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    One of the NHL's unheralded breakout stars of 2012, Jason Garrison's annual cap hit may be poised to septuple this summer.

    The 27-year-old defenseman, who was never drafted into the league, blasted home a whopping 16 goals last year in only his second full NHL season—a total which ranked third among all league blueliners. Only Erik Karlsson and Shea Weber, with 19 each, managed to top that mark.

    Now, Garrison would like to return to his home province of British Columbia, and the Vancouver Canucks have come calling. Don't expect them to land him without paying a pretty penny, though. Garrison is likely looking for a huge raise after making only $675,000 last season.

    Projected Contract: $14 million (four years, $3.5 million cap hit)

6. P.A. Parenteau

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    Late-blooming star P.A. Parenteau is due for some extra cash this summer.

    The former ninth-round pick didn't complete his rookie season until age 28, but what a first-year campaign it was. Parenteau's 20 goals and 53 points in 2010-11 ranked third on the Islanders and skyrocketed the Quebec native from AHL journeyman to NHL stalwart in a six-month span.

    Parenteau then topped those statistics last season by putting an impressive 67-point total beside his name.

    Now, he plans to hit the free-agent market today as one of the top-five UFA forwards around.

    He'll get a nice raise by doing so, too; Parenteau's new contract could very well triple his 2011-12 cap hit of just $1.25 million.

    Projected Contract: $17.5 million (five years, $3.5 million cap hit)

    Actual Contract: $16 million (four years, $4.0 million cap hit with Islanders)

5. Jiri Hudler

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    Behind the All-Star likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, undersized 5'10" center Jiri Hudler has quietly become a reliable playmaker on one of the NHL's most balanced offenses.

    Hudler's 25 goals this past season set a career high for the 28-year-old, and his 50 overall points trailed only his 2009-10 total of 57 as the second-highest total of Hudler's career. 

    Today, however, Hudler is looking to move out of the Hockeytown shadow and into a first-line spotlight somewhere else around the league. He shouldn't have much of a problem finding that opportunity.

    Projected Contract: $20 million (five years, $4.0 million cap hit)

    Actual Contract: $16 million (four years, $4.0 million cap hit)

4. Matt Carle

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    As the UFA defenseman market grows shallower than an inflatable kid pool, Matt Carle is perfectly content to stand by and watch.

    With every passing signing, his next contract just gets bigger.

    Despite being somewhat turnover-prone—Carle's 55 giveaways were tops on the Flyers last season—the Alaska native's shot-blocking skills (he led Philadelphia with 164 blocks in '11-'12) and playmaking expertise (he averaged 34 assists each of the last three seasons) make him easily the second-best defenseman on the market this summer.

    Justin Schultz, Dennis Wideman, Barret Jackman and quite a few others have already dropped off the books. Now it's Carle's turn to collect his cash and do the same.

    Projected Contract: $25 million (five years, $5.0 million cap hit)

    Actual Contract: $33 million (six years, $5.5 million cap hit)

3. Alexander Semin

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    Former 40-goal scorer Alex Semin, like all of the other top-tier free agents on this list, is also looking to sign a big contract this month.

    Unlike many of his fellow A-grade UFA's, conversely, it won't be Semin's first humongous payday.

    Semin has already signed three prior contracts with cap hits well over $4.0 million, including two consecutive one-year, $6.7 million hauls. That money level may not increase with his latest deal, but the length of time almost certainly will.

    A questionable attitude has worn out Semin's welcome with the Capitals, but many a GM will still be willing to open up his account for this pure-born scorer. The 28-year-old Russian has scored 187 goals in the last six years alone, and his 21 strikes and 54 points in 2011-12 were considered a major disappointment for the former 13th overall pick.

    Don't expect much of a pay cut for Semin this summer, no matter what the critics say.

    Projected Contract: $26 million (Four years, $6.5 million)

2. Ryan Suter

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    The indisputable king of the defensive market, Ryan Suter, will have plenty of high-priced offers from around the NHL today—from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to Dallas to Detroit.

    Further, he'll be making a boatload of money wherever he chooses to go. The All-Star defenseman made a sizable $3.5 million in 2011-12, and he is both deserving and expected to get a great deal more than that next year.

    But, however much money Suter does receive, it would be unfair to label him overpaid.

    Suter, after all, is a true NHL great in all sense of the word.

    The 27-year-old Wisconsin-born rearguard is well-known for his humble personality, active off-ice charity work and, of course, fantastic hockey talents. Suter has recorded at least 33 assists in each of his last four seasons and isn't about to start slumping off of those numbers, but he's also impeccable in his own end as well.

    Despite the whopping paycheck, the team that lands Ryan Suter this summer will get its money's worth out of every dime.

    Projected Contract: $52.5 million (seven years, $7.5 million cap hit)

    Actual Contract: $98 million (13 years, $7.5 million cap hit)

1. Zach Parise

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    At this point, all 30 NHL general managers need be informed of only two things:

    1. Zach Parise is alive.

    2. At noon, Zach Parise will indeed be an unrestricted free agent.

    Cha-ching. It's paycheck time, Parise.

    You choose the team. They hand over the millions.

    Projected Contract: $88 million (11 years, $8 million cap hit)

    Actual Contract: $98 million (13 years, $7.5 million cap hit)