NHL Free Agents: Assessing Last-Minute Rumors Before 2014 Draft

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NHL Free Agents: Assessing Last-Minute Rumors Before 2014 Draft
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Get ready for a whirlwind of activity over the NHL offseason.

As each NHL franchise looks to improve over the summer, expect to see many faces in new places once the dust settles. Teams will get this done in a variety of ways.

The 2014 draft is just hours away, the free-agency period begins on Tuesday and the possibility of blockbuster trades always looms large. However, things have already been set in motion, as teams are able to reach out to potential free-agent targets due to the league's courting period.

Before the draft heats up on Friday night, let's take a look at a few juicy free-agent rumors currently floating around the Web.

 

Wild Offseason Activity

Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

The Minnesota Wild finished with a decent 43-27-12 record last season. However, with a goal differential of just plus-one, the team could certainly use some upgrades at both ends of the ice.

According to a report from Michael Russo of the Star Tribune, the team is already working on bringing in some talent via free agency:

It's not believed the Wild had any formal sit-downs yet, but General Manager Chuck Fletcher contacted at least the agents of defensemen Matt Niskanen and Willie Mitchell, goal scorer Thomas Vanek and center Paul Stastny, NHL sources confirmed. At a minimum, Fletcher is expected to meet with Niskanen's agent, Neil Sheehy, and Vanek's agent, Steve Bartlett, while they're all in Philadelphia this week for the NHL draft.

After all, according to a tweet from Niskanen's agent Neil Sheehy, the defenseman is indeed headed to free agency:

Niskanen would offer an immediate improvement to the Wild. Very capable at both ends of the ice, he had a fantastic year last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, scoring 10 goals and recording 36 assists while leading all defensemen with a plus-33 rating.

Stastny came away with 25 goals and 35 assists last season despite playing in just 71 games. His plus-nine rating was also his best since the 2007-08 season.

 

Red Wings Getting Defensive

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Although the Detroit Red Wings finished with a 39-28-15 record last season, the team did allow 230 goals. To little surprise, it is taking a look at some very capable free-agent defensemen.

Like the Wild, Detroit has reportedly taken a liking to Niskanen.

"The Wings think so highly of Niskanen that a source close to the team says they're willing to offer him a seven-year deal if that's what it takes to sign the 27-year-old Minnesota native," writes Art Regner of Fox Sports.

This is certainly with good reason.

Due to Niskanen's age, potential, lethal shooting ability and solid defending, he'll become a highly coveted target for many NHL teams. Expect to see a bidding war for his services in the near future.

Regner also reported the team is looking at 37-year-old defenseman Dan Boyle, a pending unrestricted free agent whose rights were acquired by the New York Islanders earlier this month.

According to this tweet from Busted Coverage, Boyle is clearly moving on from his time in San Jose:

While he may not be as exciting of an acquisition as Niskanen, Boyle is a mobile, scoring defender who put up 12 goals and 24 assists last season with the San Jose Sharks.

 

Blues Seeking Offense

JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press

There was nothing wrong with the St. Louis Blues offense last season. The team put up 248 regular-season goals, which was good enough for fourth in a very difficult Western Conference.

Still, there's nothing wrong with adding a little more firepower.

According to a report from Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Blues are eyeing up center Paul Stastny:

The Blues have begun courting at least one potential free-agent center. According to a league source, they have placed a call into Colorado center Paul Stastny, who will be one of the top players available if he is not re-signed by the Avalanche before July 1.

Well, yet again it appears the Wild have some more competition. After all, like with Niskanen on defense, Stastny will be one of the more coveted offensive players in this year's free-agency period.

It appears as though more teams will be in the mix, based on this tweet from theScore:

The Colorado Avalanche have until July 1 to re-sign Stastny. However, according to a report from Adrian Dater of The Denver Post, the center may be willing to test the waters of free agency:

Stastny wants to "see what's out there", [Joe] Sakic reports. So, we are officially entering into the period where teams are free to call Stastny and [Stastny's agent Matt] Keator and put on the full-court press. BUT, as I reported yesterday: essentially Stastny/Keator have made a vow to Sakic and the Avs: that they will circle back Colorado and give them the right of first refusal to keep him.

It looks like we'll have to wait and see what happens in Colorado before we know if any of these teams have a legitimate shot at landing the center.

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