NHL Free Agency: Top 15 Restricted Free Agents That Should Be Targeted

Suraj Sukumar@Sukumar_S87Correspondent IIJuly 20, 2012

NHL Free Agency: Top 15 Restricted Free Agents That Should Be Targeted

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    The Philadelphia Flyers and Shea Weber made a huge splash earlier this week, breaking the ice for the restricted free agent market to come alive.

    Who else is available? Well there aren't any bigger commodities than Weber, but there remains a good selection of players on the RFA market. 

    Added the fact that the unrestricted free agent market has been reaped for all it's benefit, the time has come for teams to look elsewhere if they want to make significant improvements for next year.

    The Flyers did just that. Moves like these not only encourage a player to find a new home, but push their current club to either sign him or let him go.

    Though there are players currently evaluating qualifying offers, or hoping for long-term deals with their current club, some could use...

    Financial motivation from another team? Seems to be working in Weber's case. 


    Here are the top 15 available restricted free agents remaining in the NHL.


    ** This is an in-depth look at what teams must do to sign a restricted free agent, provided by TheHockeyWriters. 

15. Sergei Kostitsyn

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    2011-2012 salary = $2,500,000, Nashville Predators

    Sergei Kostitsyn's attitude on the ice was definitely questioned throughout the Nashville Predators' postseason this year.

    However, Kostitsyn does have above-average offensive skill and can be a great complimenting forward on a second line with a great center—maybe the Carolina Hurricanes or the Pittsburgh Penguins?

    The real question is, does anyone want to take a chance on him? And on top of that, how much money will he demand?

    As much as he would like to ask for top-level dough, his statistics, performance and attitude speak volumes on the necessary fee for his services.

    With that said, Kostitsyn could be a nice fit on several teams in the NHL. The problem with this candidate is you don't know what you're getting. It would difficult to not only sign him, but give up draft picks as well. 

14. Jakub Voráček

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    2011-2012 Salary: $2,250,000, Philadelphia Flyers

    Jakub Voráček is still a very young winger with offensive upside. However, this past season, with the star-studded cast of the Philadelphia Flyers, Voráček only managed 49 points.  In fact, Voráček has yet to surpass more than 50 points in a single season.  

    With that said, it is difficult to grasp his true value, given he's only 22 years old.  If history suggests anything, Voráček is poised to be a 50-point player for the rest of his NHL career. If he has comparable numbers in Columbus and Philadelphia, that in itself demonstrates the consistency of his mediocre numbers.

    If there are NHL teams willing to take a chance on Voráček, he will surely surpass the $3 million mark. However, it depends completely on the level of risk the new team is willing to take, and given his career thus far, there may be better options.

13. Jonathon Blum

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    2011-2012 Salary = $941,667, Nashville Predators

    Yup, two Nashville Predators. Safe to assume there will be another. 

    Jonathon Blum has been in the shadow of a very good defensive corps. It would seem unlikely that Nashville would be willing to give up their younger defencemen, given the circumstances, and should try to keep Blum in a Preds jersey. 

    With the current level of importance and money being placed on NHL defencemen, it would be safe to assume that even Jonathon Blum will be in for a nice pay hike. 

    In 2011-2012, Blum played 33 games for the Predators and notched seven points (three goals, four assists). Playing behind Shea Weber and Ryan Suter did not help his totals, but he is definitely a skilled defenceman who should be looked at by other teams around the NHL. 

    In 2010-2011, Blum played 54 games for the Milwaukee Admirals and accumulated 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists), which demonstrates his ability to be a productive defenceman at the professional level. 

14. Kris Versteeg

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    2011-2012 Salary = $3,083,333, Florida Panthers

    Kris Versteeg has shown glimpses of high-end offensive talent. Though consistency has been an issue, he was able to reach career highs in goals (23) and points (54). His production last year proved one thing: if he plays with good players, he himself gets better.  

    If there were teams in need of a productive winger to compliment a high-end to elite-level center, Versteeg is definitely a good option. He is undoubtedly a top-six forward and can definitely benefit from playing with better talent. 

    Versteeg has played in many cities for a 26-year-old, but he seems to have found a home in the Sunshine State.

    Again, with his status as an RFA this year, teams can take advantage of this to not only acquire the player, but force Florida to sign him if they want him to stay. 

    In the end, Versteeg is not worth a first and a third round pick.

    If teams are really interested in paying for his services, they will most certainly not pass the $3.13 million mark. On the other hand, if the Panthers plan on keeping him, he will surely get paid more than this. 

11. Jaroslav Janus

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    2011-2012 Salary = $658,333, Tampa Bay Lightning

    Clearly, the biggest hole in the Lightning roster was goaltending. With Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon manning the net in the 2011-2012 season, it was obvious that Steve Yzerman was going to make the right moves to improve the goaltending situation in Tampa Bay.

    Making a huge trade with the Nashville Predators, the Lightning were able to acquire the services of Anders Lindbäck. Lindbäck has the potential to take over the starting role in Tampa for the near future, making the goalie situation very interesting. 

    Enter Jaroslav Janus. 

    In the 2011-2012 AHL season, at the age of 22, Janus started 34 games for the Norfolk Admirals. In those games, Janus supported a 2.36 GAA and a .914 SV percentage. 

    Even though it would be in the best interest of the Lightning to keep Janus in Tampa Bay, the other 29 teams, especially with goalie problems, should definitely look into him. 

10. Tyler Ennis

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    2011-2012 Salary = $875,000, Buffalo Sabres

    This could be a one-sided argument, but there is a little Patrick Kane in this guy.  

    He looks good. I mean, really good.

    In fact, this goal by Ennis reminds me a lot of Kane's goal to win the Stanley Cup back in 2010.  

    He's small, fast, and has great hand. Just like Patrick Kane, he does a very good job of making his lack of size go unnoticed. 

    Last season with the Buffalo Sabres, Ellis only played in 48 games due to an ankle injury. However, in those 48 games he amassed 34 points (15 goals, 19 assists).  These are very good numbers for a guy who plays for a very defensive team and is only 22 years old. 

    Tyler Ennis is not talked about very much, but he will definitely be a top-six force in the NHL for years to come.

9. Eddie Lack

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    2011-2012 Salary = $900,000, Vancouver Canucks

    Okay, just for a quick overview:

    1. Roberto Luongo, the starting goalie of the Canucks, is set to make over $5,000,000 for the next 10 years.  

    2. Cory Schneider, the backup goalie, is set to make $4,000,000 till 2014-2015.

    Those, by the way, are not the numbers of a regular backup goaltender.  

    To recap, a backup being paid $4 million and a depreciating starter making $5,000,000 till 2022... does anyone else notice a significant problem here? 

    Safe to say the days of "LOOOOUUUUU" chants in Vancouver are numbered. 

    But who is Eddie Lack? Well, Eddie Lack is a goaltender who has been playing in the AHL, and considering the current goalie situation in Vancouver, it's easy to understand why he might fly off the radar.

    However, he looks like a diamond in the rough.  

    With two seasons in the AHL, Lack sports a career 2.29 GAA and a .926 SV percentage. And his performances in the playoffs were even better. In 17 games played, Lack has a 2.05 GAA and a .928 SV percentage. 

    Similar to Janus, both goalies could be in for a substantial pay-hike due to the need for proper goaltending in the NHL. On top of that, the situations of their current teams suggest that a move could be on the horizon. 

8. Dmitry Kulikov

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    2011-2012 Salary = $1,325,000, Florida Panthers

    Dmitry Kulikov is a defensive gem in the making, and with a few more years under his belt an offensive surge could be in the cards for the young Russian.  

    In the last two seasons, Kulikov has surpassed 25 points both years. Considering he only played in 72 and 58 games in the last two seasons respectively, the offensive totals prove that the talent is well on it's way.

    With that said, injuries seem to be a problem for the blueliner, and with him still being so young, questions will always arise regarding his health and longevity. 

    Nevertheless, Kulikov's potential is sky-high.  

    Given the going rate on defencemen, Kulikov will surely see some financial benefits as well.

7. John Carlson

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    2011-2012 Salary = $845,833, Washington Capitals

    John Carlson is actually similar to Kulikov in many ways. 

    They both have 40-point potential at the NHL level. In addition, they both have the ability to throw the body very well and can block shots in their own end. 

    Though Kulikov may have the offensive edge in this comparison, there is one major reason Carlson deserves the edge versus many young defencemen in the NHL. 

    In the past two seasons, where Kulikov has struggled, Carlson has played all 82 games of the year.  

    The edge in experience and durability gives Carlson a much higher value at the NHL level, and he should be in for a large pay hike, whether from the Capitals or elsewhere. 

6. Ryan O'Reilly

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    2011-2012 Salary = $900,000, Colorado Avalanche 

    In one game shy of a full season, Ryan O'Reilly saw career highs in goals (18) and assists (37), giving him a total of 55 points last year.

    In addition, O'Reilly put up 15 powerplay points, showing his abilities with the man advantage. With the level of young talent in Colorado, O'Reilly stands to benefit tremendously if he stays with the Avs.  

    On the other hand, it has been very difficult for some teams—this is where I cough and say, Toronto—to develop and maintain high-end talent at the center position.  

    With O'Reilly being the best center in the restricted free agent pool, many teams would benefit from acquiring him.  

    The question is, do the Avalanche let him go? Probably not, if they can help it. 

5. P.K. Subban

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    2011-2012 Salary = $875,000, Montreal Canadiens

    P. K. Subban has benefited from a lot of attention in Montreal. Not only was he a force in their playoff run during his first stint with the team, but he has become a true member of this club.  

    It seems very difficult to picture Subban leaving the Canadiens. But again, defencemen are the hottest commodity right now in the NHL, and Subban happens to be one of the best available on the restricted, and unrestricted, free agent markets. 

    In both of the last seasons, Subban has approached 40 points and has been able to develop his defensive skills at the same time. He improved from a minus-eight to a plus-nine in the last two seasons, showing his defensive game is getting better.  

    Expect Subban to stay in Montreal, but he is nonetheless one of the best defencemen available on the RFA list. 

4. Evander Kane

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    2011-2012 Salary = $3,100,000, Winnipeg Jets

    Evander Kane is arguably the best forward available in the restricted free agency pool. Though my next candidate has the edge, Kane is definitely getting paid for his efforts thus far in his career.

    At just the age of 20, Kane has already had a 30-goal season under his belt. In addition, on a team with a goal differential of minus-21, Kane managed a team-high plus-11.

    He will be a force in the NHL until he decides not to be. 

    Kane has yet to play a full season, and given his current production, a 60-point season with over 200 hits is definitely in the cards for him.  

    The Winnipeg Free Press has already reported that Kane and the Jets are working on a deal that should keep him there for the near future.

    But if there is a team looking for their next breakout superstar, this is a guy to take a chance on.

3. Michael Del Zotto

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    2011-2012 Salary = $1,087,500, New York Rangers

    The New York Rangers seemed to have everything going for them last season.  

    Frankly, they still do, and Michael Del Zotto is a big part of that.

    The reason he falls in the top three of this list is because he beat out all of his counterparts. In a comparison of young defencemen who could potentially hit the 40-point mark, Del Zotto did just that last year with 41 points.

    On top of that, Del Zotto played 77 of 82 games and managed a plus-minus of plus-20, which is very good for a defenceman at his age. 

    Another reason he gets the edge is because he was a big part of his team's run throughout the NHL playoffs, where many of his counterparts did not experience the same success. 

    Again, it seems more than likely that he would like to stay in New York.

    If a team was looking for a potential elite-level defenceman for years to come, Del Zotto could be just that. 

2. Jamie Benn

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    2011-2012 Salary = $821,667, Dallas Stars

    If there is anyone who deserves a hefty pay increase, and will probably laugh at his current qualifying offer, it's Jamie Benn. 

    Benn enjoyed another great season following a breakout year in 2010-2011. After recording 56 points in just 69 games, Benn followed that up with 63 points in 71 games. He was also a plus-15 with seven game-winning goals and looks ready to make the jump to elite level soon.

    He can score, pass and hit. What else could you want in a top-line center?

    With his brother Jordie Benn also a restricted free agent, maybe a team would like to get in on the brotherly connections? 

    The Staals and the Schenns have been reunited, maybe the Benn brothers will find a new home. 

    Doubtful. Jamie Benn will most likely stay in Dallas, and hopefully, with his brother too. 

1. Shea Weber

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    2011-2012 Salary = $7,500,000, Nashville Predators

    Yup. A third, and final, member of the Nashville Predators.

    He happens to be the best one, too. 

    After the departure of Ryan Suter, both the Nashville Predators and Shea Weber had a lot to think about. On one hand, the Preds are thinking, "There goes another player we developed."  On the other hand, Weber's thinking, "How am I going to win in a city where nobody wants to stay?"

    Actually, this is what I think they're pondering, but I doubt I'm far off.  

    Interestingly, the Philadelphia Flyers are trying to help Weber's cause. With an offer sheet worth over $100 million over 14 years, Weber has indeed broken the ice for the remaining crop of restricted free agents in 2012. 

    It will be difficult for any team to top the offer from Flyers, or much less want to.  

    Nashville has a serious problem on their hands and must decide whether or not to match this monstrous contract. If they do, they keep their captain for the next 14 years, at a hefty price. If they don't, well, we watch the Preds crumble while the Flyers become the most dangerous team in hockey. 

    Good luck to all parties involved.

    Let the Offer Sheet Bonanza begin!