NHL Free Agency: Gazing into the Crystal Ball
With mere days until the opening of unrestricted free agency in the NHL, a number of big names are set to change addresses. And what a group it is. There’s something for everyone: high-scoring forwards, puck-moving defensemen, even twins.
With an eye towards salary cap constraints and team needs, here are the most likely destinations for some of the most prominent free agents.
Best Guess: Flames
Other Possibilities: Stars, Rangers, Canucks, Maple Leafs
Now that Calgary has traded for his rights, they obviously have the first and best crack at Bouwmeester. But they are not willing to pay him more than the $6.5 million they already pay Dion Phaneuf, so his tenure in Calgary could be rather short-lived.
If he gets to July 1 without a contract, the bidding war could be epic. Teams like the Flyers and Bruins would love to get their hands on him but can’t afford it. Any team with money is a possibility here. High bid wins.
Best Guess: Islanders
Other Possibilities: Rangers, Devils, Capitals
Bringing a decidedly different set of skills to the table than Bouwmeester, Komisarek will get a look from his hometown Islanders. He won’t come cheap, but the Isles are looking to build on the good PR from the John Tavares selection and would love to bring in a local boy as their shutdown defenseman.
While the Islanders are trying to get back to respectability, conference foes like the Rangers, Devils and Capitals could all use a player like Komisarek to tighten up their blue line and try to avoid the kind of postseason flame outs they had this year.
He may fit perfectly for the Rangers especially.
Best Guess: Panthers
Other Possibilities: Blue Jackets, Devils
His best days behind him, Kovalev can still provide electrifying offense on those occasions that he decides to show up. Signing with a team like the Panthers will give him a chance to work with a decent group of young forwards and not be subject to as much scrutiny as he has been in Montreal and New York.
He will also have much more leisure time.
A team such as Columbus could find him to be an intriguing option to work with Rick Nash and company on the power play, while the Devils could bring him in much like they did Alexander Mogilny a few years back.
Best Guess: Wild
Other Possibilities: Devils, Avalanche, Canucks
The longtime Canadien captain needs a change of scenery and seems most likely to fly the coop for Minnesota, where he can play with his brother Mikko and try to bring a more up-tempo game to the Wild. Minnesota might even get him at a discount.
There are several teams with big question marks for second-line centers, so Koivu could be in surprisingly high demand.
Best Guess: Canadiens
Other Possibilities: Avalanche, Wild, Thrashers
Of Montreal’s big three unrestricted forwards, Tanguay seems to be the one that they are most likely to keep. Regardless of where he ends up, he will still be overpaid if his salary is anywhere in the neighborhood of the $5.375 million he made last season.
Don’t rule out a return to Colorado, where the Avalanche are desperately thin at forward. Tanguay might also be the Plan B of several teams who miss out the Marians (Hossa and Gaborik).
Best Guess: Oilers
Other Possibilities: Avalanche, Lightning
Clemmensen proved his worth when Martin Brodeur went down with an injury last season, and he now stands to be rewarded handsomely for it. He will not want to sign on to be a full-time backup after sitting behind Brodeur for so long.
His most likely course of action would be to join a team where he can compete for a No. 1 job, as his short track record likely won’t inspire enough teams to hand him the reins as their top goaltender right away.
Best Guess: Devils
Other Possibilities: Blues, Sabres, Panthers
Oduya will be looking for a big raise from the $600,000 he made last season. The Devils may not want to cough up the necessary amount, but they might be forced to. Oduya has quickly become their best all-around defenseman and they cannot afford to let him walk.
There will be plenty of interest come July 1, so Lou Lamoriello will do everything in his power to keep Oduya in a Devils uniform. The Rangers or Islanders would love to lure him away from their division nemesis.
Best Guess: Predators
Other Possibilities: Senators, Maple Leafs
After an unbelievable 2005-06 season coming out of the lockout, Gionta has cooled off considerably in the last three years. The Devils probably will not (and should not) keep him around, as they would be better served to spend their money on retaining the likes of Oduya and John Madden.
Still, Gionta is just 30 and has speed to burn, so he will have a number of suitors. Whether or not he has to swallow his pride and take a pay cut from his previous salary of $4 million remains to be seen.
Best Guess: Rangers
Other Possibilities: Devils, Predators, Kings
Antropov fit in decently with the Rangers after coming over at the deadline from Toronto and brings a size element that is sorely lacking among the Blueshirts’ forward group.
He will likely never reach his full potential, but there are still plenty of teams willing to pay him in the $3 million range for his services.
Best Guess: Oilers
Other Possibilities: Sharks, Sabres
Knuble isn’t flashy at all, but you can’t argue with the results of his four years in Philadelphia. The Flyers would love to re-sign him, but salary cap constraints make that near impossible.
He would seem to fit in well on Edmonton, which has a young group of forwards sorely in need of some veteran leadership. He could also bring second line scoring help to a team like Buffalo or might be the missing piece for a club like San Jose.
Best Guess: Sharks
Other Possibilities: Oilers, Wild, Maple Leafs
After a solid season with the Flames, Cammalleri is due a pay bump from the $3.6 million he was making. Will the Flames be willing to give it to him? It depends largely on whether or not they can sign Bouwmeester, who would eat up too much cap to keep Cammalleri.
Cammalleri just seems like a Western Conference kind of player, so look for him to stay out that way. The Flames liked what they saw this year, but he might be one and done in Calgary.
Best Guess: Capitals
Other Possibilities: Hurricanes, Stars
Havlat certainly picked the right season to bounce back, proving that he can stay healthy and be an impact player on a contending team. Chicago will have a tough time keeping him around, however, because they will have to spend big money on the likes of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in the near future.
Havlat may be able to get an offer matching the $6 million he was making, in which case he would have no trouble packing his bags and leaving the Windy City. It might save the Blackhawks a lot of headaches if they don’t sign Havlat, as it could be a repeat of last year’s mistake of signing Brian Campbell.
Best Guess: Avalanche
Other Possibilities: Lightning, Oilers
Khabibulin had a fine year for Chicago, but it really would make no sense for them to bring him back when Cristobal Huet is already eating up so much salary cap space at the goaltending position.
Could he find his way back to Tampa, where he helped lead the Lightning to the Stanley Cup five years ago?
Another seemingly suitable destination is Colorado. With Andrew Raycroft’s contract thankfully up and the erratic Peter Budaj a restricted free agent, the Avs could really use some shoring up between the pipes. It won’t come cheap, though.
Best Guess: Red Wings
Other Possibilities: Ducks, Stars, Rangers, Penguins (just kidding)
For the second year in a row, Hossa will be the most sought-after forward on the market. He will likely command about $8 million per year, leaving precious few teams willing to pay him to begin with.
Hossa obviously only wants to play for teams that he believes are serious contenders. And even though he now looks like a big idiot after leaving Pittsburgh for Detroit last offseason, that won’t dissuade teams from ponying up big money.
Best Guess: Ducks
Other Possibilities: Wild, Canucks, Kings
The biggest question mark on the free agent market, oft-injured Gaborik could pay huge dividends for the team with enough guts to make him an offer he can’t refuse. Or he could turn out to be a colossal waste of money. There is a decent chance of him returning to Minnesota
With all of their talented right-hand shots up front (Getzlaf, Ryan, Perry), the Ducks could use a left-handed sniper of Gaborik’s caliber. The recent trading of Chris Pronger gives them a little more cap space, although they will have to pay Scott Niedermayer’s usual ransom. Still, they should have enough left for a big splash like Gaborik.
Best Guess: Stars
Other Possibilities: Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Sabres
Ohlund has been in the Canucks organization for 15 years, but that time appears to have reached its conclusion. With longtime Star Sergei Zubov possibly finding work elsewhere, Dallas will certainly be in the mix for a defenseman of Ohlund’s caliber.
Several Eastern Conference teams will also have an interest in the veteran blueliner, such as the Canadiens (money to burn thanks to losing several free agents), Maple Leafs (run by Ohlund’s former GM Brian Burke) and Sabres (thin at defense).
Best Guess: Maple Leafs
Other Possibilities: Canucks, Canadiens, Kings
Henrik and Daniel will only sign as a package deal, so that automatically eliminates any team who doesn’t have $10-$12 million total per year to spend on them. They would like to stay in Vancouver but are asking for 12-year contracts.
Keep an eye to the east, as Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, the man who wheeled and dealed to draft both of them ten years ago when he ran the Canucks, is sure to make a strong offer.
They would also look good in the bleu, blanc et rouge of Montreal since the Habs figure to lose several key players to free agency.