NHL Free Agency: 15 Best Players Still Available and Where They'll Land

Al DanielCorrespondent IIAugust 9, 2012

NHL Free Agency: 15 Best Players Still Available and Where They'll Land

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    Challenging the mystery of when and if the 2012-13 NHL season will be able to commence, the hockey world’s topmost question is how similar or dissimilar the next installment of the Phoenix Coyotes will look from their 2011-12 squad.

    As this summer’s free agency pool continues to drain, the remainders are headlined by three seasoned Coyotes. Multiple exes of the Ottawa Senators and St. Louis Blues are worth more than a fleeting glance as well.

    Very few specifics, if any, are being mentioned as to the likeliest destinations for most of these players. But based on the assets they bring and what various teams could use, it is easy enough to make an educated prediction.

    As of Thursday morning, here are the NHL’s top 15 unclaimed free agents, what they can offer and which teams can best use their services.

15. Matt Gilroy

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    The former captain of the 2009 NCAA champion Boston University Terriers has an enticing combination of size, offensive aptitude and leadership. All of that has yet to fully blossom for Gilroy at the NHL level, but who’s to say the 28-year-old defender should be utterly abandoned right here and now?

    Hardly anything has circulated regarding Gilroy’s next employer, but given his potential plus points, he ought to land on his skates somewhere, somehow.

    Could he be a candidate for St. Louis’ seventh defenseman and a challenger for a regular roster spot, joining the same defensive core with former BU teammate Kevin Shattenkirk?

14. Bobby Butler

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    Bought out by the Senators after only two full professional seasons, Butler has ample time to redo his career liftoff and is reportedly attracting plentiful interest.

    According to the MetroWest Daily News, Butler’s agent “is searching for teams that need an extra forward, preferably one on a top-three line,” while his father said "there’s been interest from four Eastern Conference teams.”

    Of course, none of those teams were mentioned by name, forcing everyone to resort to speculation. But based on the shape of their rosters, those who match the descriptions of both Butler’s agent and father include Florida, the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay.

13. Daymond Langkow

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    Anyone for a veteran lower-six center?

    Odds are Langkow isn’t going be viewed as the right fit to fill any other team’s void. One team in apparent need of a center that was brought up, only to be shot down, per Pro Hockey Talk, was Chicago.

    The safest bet is that Langkow will ultimately sign a new pact to stay with the Coyotes, a move that ought not to yield much complaint from either party.

12. Brett Clark

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    Doubtlessly looking to start fresh after, shall we say, an off year in Tampa, Clark could still find new work if there are any takers for a depth defenseman.

    Regarding teams in apparent need of an additional blue liner, Clark has been directly referenced in one column about the Sharks and another about the Red Wings. But it is hard to imagine him fitting in with and/or satisfying the specific needs of either of those clubs.

    Meanwhile, although there is no mention of Clark, Adam Kimelman’s nhl.com assessment of the Dallas Stars concludes with a question on their bottom-two defensive pairs. Kimelman makes note of five established NHLers who, as the team is presently structured, figure to be internally competing with three unproven prospects.

    The 35-year-old Clark’s calling could very well be to spend the next one or two years giving the Stars a sixth veteran defenseman and playing the role of seat-warmer for those prospects.

11. Cristobal Huet

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    Although he has played overseas each of the past two seasons, the 36-year-old Huet’s name is now surfacing as a reported object of interest for two NHL teams. The Vancouver Province has him on the Canucks' radar while CBS Sports has mentioned the Los Angeles Kings.

    At this particular moment, parting with Roberto Luongo makes more sense for the Canucks than parting with Jonathan Bernier does for the Kings. Given the choice between the two, the better bet for Huet’s new NHL home would be Vancouver.

10. Carlo Colaiacovo

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    Pierre LeBrun of espn.com is among those who have mentioned the recent St. Louis Blues defenseman as a potential pickup for the bigger-market likes of Detroit and Philadelphia.

    But his report differs from others in that he also mentions the Nashville Predators, who presently have only five NHL-ready/seasoned defensemen under contract, two of whom have yet to finish their entry-level pacts.

    LeBrun on Colaiacovo: “He’s a good puck-mover and solid character guy.”

    He may not bring enough to supplement all that was lost when Ryan Suter left for Minnesota, though one would be hard-pressed to find that in this free agency class. But Colaiacovo will add some quality and quantity to the Nashville defensive corps and might embrace the opportunity to play a bigger role, which the Preds could potentially provide.

9. Dan Ellis

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    The former Ducks backup could very well have a choice between either of the Stanley Cup finalists from 2010.

    Two summers ago, after that very series, there was speculation that the Philadelphia Flyers would try to reel in Ellis.

    With Ellis exiled from Anaheim and the risen-and-fallen Michael Leighton their current top option to back up Ilya Bryzgalov in Philadelphia, it might not hurt the two parties to try one another now.

    Upon reviewing the other 28 goaltending stables in the NHL, the only other franchises that could realistically open a spot for Ellis are Chicago or Vancouver. But the Canucks, as was noted in the Huet slide, appear to have other plans to supplant Luongo as Cory Schneider’s new colleague.

    Conversely, given the barely-.900 save percentages and barely less-than-3.00 goals-against averages of both Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, the Blackhawks would be even more blameless than the Flyers for taking a chance on Ellis.

    This proposition has already been raised by CBS Chicago and it would not be an unpleasant surprise if it were brought to fruition.

8. Brian Rolston

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    The aging winger saw a resurgence in productivity when he transferred at the trade deadline from the lowly Islanders to the defending champion Bruins. He went from tallying nine points in 49 games in Long Island to 15 points in 21 outings in New England.

    The quiet on Boston’s front all summer strongly suggests Rolston will have to go look for a “Help Wanted” sign somewhere else for 2012-13. But his last homestretch clearly indicates he can turn incentive into contribution if he is surrounded by a viable supporting cast, which should make other Cup contenders crave his services.

    Could he fill the same basic role with the Rangers as he most recently did with the Bruins, namely shoring up the third line and thriving on motivation and conviction?

    That would be a sensible move on New York’s part, especially in case the Blueshirts can’t come through in the competitive Shane Doan derby.

7. Petr Sykora

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    With Mike Knuble officially ushered out, the Washington Capitals could stand to add a new veteran forward, preferably one with more winning experience and more of a scoring touch still left. Sykora qualifies in that regard, as he is on the heels a 21-23-44 campaign and a fifth-career appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.

    Add the fact that Washington has brought in Adam Oates, who spent the past year working with Sykora, an assistant in New Jersey, as its new head coach. Familiarity never hurts when considering new personnel.

6. Pavel Kubina

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    The latest news on Andrej Meszaros, on top of the uncertainty surrounding Chris Pronger and the recent failure to lure Shea Weber away from Nashville, all means it makes more sense for Kubina to stay in Philadelphia.

    Granted, Kubina’s latest cap hit of $3.85 million slightly exceeds the space the Flyers have at the moment, but there ought to be a way to alleviate that scenario. After all, his cap hit went down by $1.15 million in the summer of 2010 and Philadelphia’s front office must have had a plan up its sleeve for if it had won the Weber derby.

5. Michal Rozsival

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    Rozsival was one of three recently listed in the Detroit Free Press as possible fits for the Red Wings. There is another free-agent blue liner, though, who would make more sense in Detroit, one not mentioned by Free Press reporter George Sipple (more on that later).

    He is also a conceivable option for the Flyers, but his recent history of injury could make him off-putting to that particular organization.

    Elsewhere, the Edmonton Oilers are currently with only one defenseman in his 30s in Andy Sutton. Jonathan Willis of the Edmonton Journal included the 33-year-old Rozsival among six potential pickups for the Oilers blue line and deemed him “the best fit.”

    From an Edmonton standpoint, springing for Rozsival at no cost outside of a cap hit makes more sense than one of Willis’ previous ideas to give up pieces for Jay Bouwmeester. Like Bouwmeester, Rozsival can still log single-season assist bushels in the 20s, but he has a more respectable, relatively consistent history on the home front.

4. Andrei Kostitsyn

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    Who, if anybody, is going to take a chance on the forward who, on the one hand, has yet to match a career-high 53-point campaign from 2007-08 but, on the other, is still relatively young at 27 years of age?

    If any contenders for a playoff spot, let alone a title, pursues Kostitsyn, they will surely do so with a little hidden hesitation. Hence the fact that looking up his name in the news section of search engines has not yielded anything that really jumps off the screen of late.

    With that said, the St. Louis Blues already have six forwards scattered across their top nine, who are in their mid-to-late 20s and seven who have proven they can finish in the 40- or 50-point range.

    Kostitsyn fits that description, which means he could be a sound addition, and potentially a mild production upgrade on Jason Arnott, to a St. Louis strike force that implicitly relies more on balance and depth than celestial leaders.

    In addition, having an intense personality like Ken Hitchcock as his head coach should alleviate worries about Kostitsyn staying in line with the Blues as opposed to most other organizations.

    Do not be surprised if free agency takes Kostitsyn on a leap across the Mississippi River from Nashville to St. Louis.

3. Jason Arnott

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    As noted by Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, Arnott is definitely not returning to St. Louis. Meanwhile, the top two Vancouver papers, the Sun and the Province, are both detailing the Canucks’ pursuit of the 37-year-old pivot, presumably to anchor the third line.

    It’s a proposition that is kind of hard not to buy. Arnott can still produce respectable numbers for his ranking on the depth chart and has won a Cup, scoring the clincher in double-overtime to give the Devils the 2000 title.

    That is one more Cup than any of the currently rostered Canucks can speak of. That along with the added depth could not hurt Vancouver’s cause as it tries once again to translate regular-season success to the playoffs.

2. Jaroslav Spacek

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    He will turn 39 in the middle of next season and has seen his last two campaigns shortened by injury, but Spacek still has something to offer.

    Despite playing only 37 games with the Hurricanes after a trade from Montreal, he finished second only to Tim Gleason with a plus-four rating, one of only five positives for Carolina in that category. The change of scenery during the 2011-12 campaign may have also helped him break a power-play goal-scoring drought that had spanned 123 games.

    In his final full season with the Canadiens, he led the team with a plus-nine rating, identical to a rating that was second-best on the club in 2009-10. Previously, he was fifth among the Buffalo Sabres with a plus-seven in 2007-08 and second among Sabres defensemen with a plus-20 in 2006-07.

    If only for one, or possibly two seasons, Spacek should bring a combination of veteran presence and decent tangible aptitude to any team needing a boost on its blue line.

    With all of this in mind, he would make substantial sense for Detroit, which needs added veteran presence and a little offense on the blue line after the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom and the departure of Brad Stuart.

    While the Red Wings are waiting on the likes of Brendan Smith, Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet to fully blossom, Spacek could be a suitable option to pass the time productively.

1. Shane Doan

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    Appropriately enough, the most valuable free agent is also the one posing the trek that is most difficult to predict.

    On the one hand, it is tempting to say that the career Coyote will follow through on his expressed preference to stay in Phoenix. On the other hand, the persistent lack of certainty surrounding the franchise makes one wonder if that is guaranteed.

    Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News observantly noted Doan’s multitude of personal and family connections to the Vancouver area. And Doan’s fruitful physicality would be an overwhelmingly welcome asset to the Canucks.

    On the other hand, upon further review of Vancouver’s salary cap chart, it might not be possible to incorporate Doan, especially if the aforementioned Arnott and Huet predictions come true.

    There are, of course, other suitors, but the likeliest scenario at this point has Doan, even if not 100 percent satisfied, happy enough with Phoenix’s future to secure his own future in the city. The latest business news is not yielding any guarantees, but sounds promising enough.