The Best Fit for Each of the Top Remaining 2013 NHL Free Agents

Carol SchramFeatured ColumnistJuly 9, 2013

The Best Fit for Each of the Top Remaining 2013 NHL Free Agents

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    This year's NHL free-agent period opened with a bang. Big names changed teams, and general managers dished out more contracts in one day than ever before.

    The flow of new deals has slowed to a trickle since the weekend, but plenty of useful players are still available.

    Here's a look at which teams could be the best fits for some of the top free agents still on the market.

    Where do you think they'll land? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Ilya Bryzgalov: Colorado Avalanche

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    New head coach Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche knows a thing or two about media scrutiny.

    The two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Montreal Canadiens forced "Le Trade" back in 1995 after a mid-game blowup with coach Mario Tremblay. It took four days for the Habs to make a deal. Roy went on to win the Stanley Cup that spring with Colorado. He added another championship with the Avs in 2001.

    Ilya Bryzgalov's history is not as storied as Roy's, but his departure from the Philadelphia Flyers was nearly as acrimonious. After just two years of a nine-year deal, the Flyers paid $23 million to buy out Bryzgalov and make him a free agent.

    The quirky Russian is a solid goaltender who found himself in a bad situation. At 33, he should have some good years left. A Colorado team under a new regime is looking to make changes that will help them move up from the Western Conference cellar.

    Colorado was 26th in the NHL in goals against in 2012-13 with goalies Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. If the Avalanche sign Bryzgalov to a one or two-year deal, he'd be working with a management group that could help maximize his potential—and help the Avs to win more games.

Mikhail Grabovski: Calgary Flames

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    Mikhail Grabovski is a talented top-six forward who comes with some serious baggage.

    After being bought out of the last four years of his contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Grabovski unleashed a tirade to TSN that's bound to raise some red flags with future employers.

    This is not the first time that Grabovski has looked like a difficult teammate. During his tenure as the Leafs' No. 1 center, Mark Zwolinski of the Toronto Star outlined earlier incidents in his career, such as his departure from his first team, Montreal, and his feud with fellow Belarusian Sergei Kostitsyn.

    Grabovski got married in Toronto on free-agent Friday. His agent, Gary Greenstin, told the Toronto Star that he has "several teams" inquiring, but the player is on his honeymoon and feels no pressure to make a quick decision.

    The Calgary Flames are in desperate need of centers and have been known to go out on a limb to sign players with talent. They also have enough cap space to position themselves as the highest bidders for Grabovski. A fresh start in Cowtown might be just what the doctor ordered.

Tim Thomas: Florida Panthers

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    Tim Thomas is ready to return to the NHL.

    He's 39, but he's just two years removed from his Conn Smythe-winning performance with the Boston Bruins.

    He played no hockey for the 2012-13 season, but won 35 games for the Bruins in 2011-12.

    At his age, a deal for more than one year is unlikely. The Florida Panthers are looking to Jacob Markstrom as their goalie of the future, but they could use a little veteran help between the pipes. Thomas would be a good fit in Florida—he's practically at retirement age himself!

Jaromir Jagr: Ottawa Senators

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    Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo's Puck Daddy has a good handle on the Jaromir Jagr situation. Citing various sources, he suggests that the most likely landing spots for the NHL's top-scoring active player would be the Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators or Carolina Hurricanes.

    Carolina has big money and big minutes committed to Alexander Semin on right wing, while Montreal just signed Daniel Briere. Both teams are also working quite close to the salary cap ceiling. Buffalo has roster and cap space, but is trying to get younger and has steered clear of big-name free agents so far this year.

    Ottawa has cap space available, and even with its acquisition of Bobby Ryan, it's thin on the right side. His brief tenure in Dallas last season notwithstanding, Jagr's an Eastern Conference guy. His leadership style is vastly different from Daniel Alfredsson's, but his veteran presence could be a great fit for a young team on the rise, like the Senators.

Ron Hainsey: New York Islanders

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    Ron Hainsey's a solid defensive defenseman who should still have gas in the tank at age 32.

    He signed a five-year free-agent deal with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2008 worth an average of $4.5 million per season. He won't command that much this time, but Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun suggests something in the $2.7-$3 million range is likely for a player who can assume a Johnny Oduya-type role with a contender.

    Weibe names the New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals as possible suitors for Hainsey. A steady blueliner who averaged 23 minutes of ice time per game with the Winnipeg Jets last season would help anchor the defense of an upstart team on Long Island.

Dustin Penner: Edmonton Oilers

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    Dustin Penner buffed up his reputation as the Los Angeles Kings ascended to the ranks of the NHL elite over the past two seasons. He scored some key playoff goals, but in the regular season, Penner lit the lamp just 11 times in 117 games with L.A.

    Penner has indicated a willingness to stay with the Kings, even if it means taking a pay cut. After they won the 2012 Stanley Cup, he came back for one year at $3.25 million. This summer, Los Angeles has just $5 million in cap space available, with RFAs Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis and Jordan Nolan still to re-sign.

    There may not be enough money or ice time available for Penner to stay in Los Angeles. His best bet might be to return to Edmonton.

    Penner's best year of his career was 2009-10, when he potted 32 goals and 63 points with the Oilers. He provides size and physicality up front that the Oilers forwards are lacking. At a reasonable price point and with two more years of big-game experience under his belt, a player like Penner could be a valuable mentor for Edmonton's young guns over the next couple of seasons.

Damien Brunner: Dallas Stars

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    When the Detroit Red Wings signed Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss on July 5, they put themselves over the salary cap ceiling. That essentially closed the door on their own free agents, Daniel Cleary and Damien Brunner.

    Brunner is 27, but spent his rookie year in the NHL after several seasons in the Swiss league. His regular-season performance was inconsistent, but he performed well in Detroit's unexpected playoff run.

    If he can't come back to the Wings, where better a place than Dallas? New Stars general manager Jim Nill spent 19 years in the Detroit front office and has quickly set about remaking his new team with the acquisitions of players like Sergei Gonchar, Tyler Seguin and Shawn Horcoff.

    The Stars have about $3 million in cap space remaining—just enough to get a deal done with Brunner.

     

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