There are four restricted free agents of particular note who are still lacking a new deal, those being Jamie Benn, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan O'Reilly and PK Subban. However, even if their departure to a different franchise is so much as semi-realistic, their most logical arrangement is to remain where they are.
Conversely, with the most valuable UFAs still available, there is a greater range of suitable destinations and teams that could benefit from their input.
In alphabetical order, the top 10 UFAs and their best bet for an NHL employer in 2012-13 are as follows.
Arnott has one more Stanley Cup to his credit than all of the current Canucks combined, and he can still produce ideal third-line numbers. Inserting his depth and seasoning could be a crucial factor in Vancouver’s push to finally translate its unsurpassed regular-season success of late to postseason glamor.
The 39-year-old Blake, who had an overall respectable 2011-12 campaign considering he missed 37 games due to injury, still has something to offer by all accounts. In fact, he could fall right into the happy medium that would have him coming to San Jose from divisional rival Anaheim on a one-year deal and productively filling in/rotating with some of the young guns.
Looking for a change of scenery after a forgettable year in Tampa, Clark can land on his blades in Carolina if the Hurricanes decide to emulate the Ottawa Senators.
Ottawa was just a sliver above Carolina at the basement of a key defensive category last season, authorizing exactly 32 opposing shots on net per night. With 32.4 hacks per game at their goalie, the Canes were the worst in that department for the second consecutive season.
The Sens have since acquired two decently prolific shot-blockers in Mike Lundin and Marc Methot. Carolina could similarly serve itself well by giving the veteran Clark a clean sheet and a chance to flaunt his forte in hopes of getting himself back to 2010-11 form.
For what it’s worth, Clark’s fortunes in two years with the Lightning went largely hand-in-hand with his team, which went from conference finalists to playoff no-shows. In addition, a transfer to the Hurricanes would mean staying within the division―one that could, incidentally, be ruled by a couple of already retooled Tampa and Carolina clubs.
Two of the top three questions in the Penguins’ season preview feature on nhl.com pertained to their need to redress their defense.
They can pursue that redress by rolling the dice in one of two ways. One way would be to bring up youngsters such as Simon Despres and/or Dylan Reese and ask what might be a little too much, too soon of them.
Or, they can look past the 35-year-old, 627-game veteran Eaton’s history of trouble staying healthy in even a single season and give him a second term in Pittsburgh. After all, one of the brighter moments in Eaton’s history was playing a regular depth role on the Pens’ championship team in 2009.
He might not be able to add anything to the top two tiers of the blue-line brigade, but he will not need to. Rather, Eaton can provide another lineup option and healthy internal competition for ice time throughout the year and, if need be, offer proven seasoning during Pittsburgh’s next playoff run.
On the one hand, while there is no certainty either way, the aging Nikolai Khabibulin may have already seen the last of his NHL days, depending especially on the length of the lockout. This author is not the only one speculating that possibility.
On the other hand, the Oilers have Tyler Bunz, Yann Danis and Olivier Roy all as potentially stable backups for Devan Dubnyk. But the touted tandem of Bunz and Roy could still use a couple of campaigns spent predominantly in the AHL.
Johnson, a veteran of 11 seasons and 309 career NHL games, may be the best interim solution.
Furthermore, his recent flashes of instability aside, he would be going to a team (and division) that is still on the rise as opposed to an established Cup contender such as Chicago or Philadelphia, the other two teams that could potentially benefit from a second-string upgrade. In turn, there would be no room for claims of unnecessary pressure.
This assumes Langkow does not return to the Phoenix Coyotes, for whom he could still be a useful asset.
It is no secret that the reigning Southeast Division first-place team is short on offensive depth and has lost some key contributors―namely Jason Garrison and Mikael Samuelsson―while some divisional cohabitants have significantly shored up.
Furthermore, though, the Panthers have a modicum of veteran seasoning up front.
The offensively limited Jerred Smithson and the unskilled George Parros are their only forwards above the age of 30. Other than Stephen Weiss, none of their forwards have more than seven NHL seasons to their credit.
Although Langkow’s total output in 2011-12 dipped to its lowest single-season total since the end of the 1990s, that was partially owed to the fact that he was coming off a 2010-11 season where he missed all but four games.
Given that he is 36 years of age, there is no reason to assume Langkow cannot return to the 40-point range and tally a bushel of goals in the mid-to-upper teens. If he can do that, the Panthers will have an extra precious glimmer of hope in trying to keep up with the Hurricanes, Lightning and Capitals.
Between Eric Tangradi, Brandon Sutter, Tyler Kennedy and possibly Benn Ferriero―all 26 years of age or younger―the Penguins’ third line figures to be relatively unripe as it stands. That is especially the case given that Tangradi and Ferriero each have yet to play a full NHL campaign.
Rolston, a veteran who is densely familiar with the Atlantic Division, saw a productive resurgence in the 2011-12 homestretch after the lowly Islanders dealt him to the defending champion Bruins at the deadline.
Unless Boston can shed either Marc Savard or Tim Thomas’ cap hit, its odds of retaining Rolston are between negligible and impossible. In turn, one can assume he will need to find employment elsewhere, and the other black-and-gold band and second-most recent Cup winner out of the Eastern Conference could be the answer.
If he can once again feed off the generous talent and contender’s aura around him, Rolston could lend Pittsburgh some invaluable Bill Guerin-esque veteran presence and bottom-six depth for its next playoff run.
To borrow a little Monty Python lexicon, Spacek is fading, but his game is “not completely dead.” Meanwhile, the Islanders are looking to plug the bottom of their defensive depth chart with such rookies as Matt Donovan, Calvin De Haan and Griffin Reinhart.
It would not hurt anybody’s cause if the Islanders gave Spacek something to do for at least one more season and, in so doing, gave themselves some insurance and warmed the seat for the youngsters.
With Spacek, they would have six blueliners with substantive NHL experience, meaning they would not need to rush any prospects into too big of a role in case of an emergency.
If any of the top remaining UFAs make sense staying with their most recent NHL employer, Sykora is it.
After he pleasantly surprised in his return to North America last season and especially after the Devils lost Zach Parise and Alexei Ponikarovsky to free agency, New Jersey should be most keen on nabbing Sykora’s services.
If they come up short, they are losing three forwards capable of blowing past double-digits in the goal and assist column when they each play a full NHL season. In turn, their hopes of retaining a spot in the playoff bracket, let alone following up on their run to the 2012 finals, will dwindle all the more.
Conversely, if they still have Sykora―a two-time Cup winner and veteran of five finals, including three with New Jersey―and return to the postseason, they will have a productive veteran who shares the same craving for redemption as the other returnees.
White will certainly not replenish all that has been lost since Chris Pronger was last healthy, nor will he be a spot-on simulation of Matt Carle, who is bound for Tampa. White will not be the same type of minute-muncher or point-based playmaker those two have generally been.
With that being said, he can still hit and block shots in appreciable quantities and has drawn attention to his “grit and leadership.” Those tangible and intangible traits certainly could not hurt the Flyers’ cause given their blue line’s current state of affairs.