Five of the NHL's Top 2010 Free Agents: Where Do They Play Next Year?
If you listen to the rumblings of hockey experts, you will have heard that there is a pretty thin crop of free agents this year.
With the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrick Marleau and Paul Kariya on the list, I'm not sure I would call it weak.
Let's have a quick look at five players who, in my opinion, can still have an impact on a different team.
You will likely think there are some notable absences on this list—there probably will be—but if they aren't here, I either think they won't be much of an impact wherever they end up, or they should just retire...fair enough?
On February 4th, 2010 the unthinkable happened for fans of the Atlanta Thrashers hockey team, they lost their Captain and star player, Ilya Kovalchuk.
From the time he was drafted in 2001 until now, Kovalchuk has been the NHL's leading scorer with 338 and 304 assists for 642 points in 621 games.
Impressive numbers to say the least.
He has never been a pushover either, and although he has taken several stupid and selfish penalties in his professional career, a lot of his 437 penalty minutes were more a result of the edge that always goes along with his scoring touch.
The driving force behind Atlanta GM Wadells' decision to trade him was the inability to get a deal done for the now 27-year-old sniper.
Kovalchuks, perhaps unreasonable, demanded to be paid the league's maximum 20 percent of the team's overall salary cap simply couldn't be met by any organization—much less by one that has only been to the post season once and hasn't won a playoff game in its history.
Though it's hard to argue with his numbers, unless he realizes that his demands are unrealistic, it is likely that Kovalchuk will not play in the NHL next year.
If the projected salary cap for the coming season remains at $56.8 million, he would be demanding a salary in the neighborhood of $11.36 million.
While there are a few clubs with that much space left under the cap, there isn't one team in the league that doesn't have at least three players to sign just to put a full roster on the ice come October.
The Anaheim Ducks are probably the only team—based on their number of roster spots still open (five) and their available cap space ($19.5 million)—who could make a serious play for Kovalchuk.
There is always a way to get what you want, but in this case, Ilya Kovalchuk may wind up on the outside looking in, at least for next season.
Patrick Marleau will be squarely in the sights of a lot of the NHL's GMs this offseason and for good reason.
At 31-years-old, Patrick Marleau is coming off a career year in goals with 44 and is only three points off of his career high for points with 83.
Sometimes regarded as one of the reasons the San Jose Sharks never made it far in the post season, it was obvious this post season that nothing was further from the truth.
While invisible for the odd game, Marleau did manage to post almost a point a game in the playoffs—13 points in 14 games.
Marleau's play—mixing ability, leadership and grit will make him desirable to a lot of clubs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are one team who could be in the hunt for him, but it's hard to ignore the obvious problem of a past relationship with current coach Ron Wilson.
This, coupled with already existing salary cap issues and several still unresolved free agent negotiations, will likely mean the Leafs aren't even in the running for his services.
Anaheim would again be in the best position to acquire him. However, he would be a much better fit in Colorado and would definitely go a long way to putting the Detroit Red Wings back in serious cup contention.
Pavel Kubina is an underrated defenseman in the NHL. Perhaps a little overpaid, but underrated nonetheless.
Never afraid of getting physical or blocking a shot to save a goal, this 33-year-old blue liner also boasts one of the hardest and most accurate shots from the blue line in the league.
Despite all this, he likely won't command the same four-year, $20 million contract he was awarded by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2006. However, he will likely be looking for long term from someone.
I think he will probably remain with Atlanta. On the off-chance he is unable to reach a deal there, the Pittsburgh Penguins may be looking to shore up their defense if they are unable to come to terms with Sergei Gonchar.
Even at 36-years-old, Sergei Gonchar is a force on the blue line. He sits currently as the NHL's second all-time leading scorer among Russian defensemen, nearing Sergei Zubov's 771 points.
Averaging more than 50 points a season, it won't be long before he eclipses that mark.
Several teams in both the Eastern and Western Conferences will be in the hunt for this perennial all star but the most likely candidates could include Colorado, San Jose or Carolina.
Many times in his career, Evgeni Nabokov has been the source of controversy but there has always been one constant, he is a very skilled goaltender.
Though he has respectable career numbers with a 2.39 goals against and a .912 save percentage, he has always had a bit of a penchant for allowing a soft goal at the most inopportune times.
His numbers in the playoffs are slightly better than in the regular season—goals against of 2.29 and a save percentage of .914.
I don't necessarily agree with most people who think that he is, or should be a career backup.
If he had the same advantages as some of the other young goalies around the league in the way of better mentor-ship and dedicated coaching, he could be a much better goalie.
That being said, there aren't a lot of teams out there who could accommodate that kind of make-work project.
With no less than 26 goaltenders becoming unrestricted free agents this year, there will certainly be no shortage of goalies to go around.
Nabokov may find himself playing overseas, as there is always a team willing to pay more than a player is worth.
If he wishes to stay in the NHL however, he will likely have to play for much less and in a diminished role, simply due to people's perception of him.
There are rumors everywhere about every team in the league wanting every player under the sun.
Free agency is always a fun time of year, but it isn't as much fun now as it was pre-salary cap.
Back in the good old days, teams could spend to their hearts' desire to win, these days not so much.
It takes a lot of thought, stress, frustration and a considerable amount of luck to build a Stanley Cup winner. Additionally, cap restrictions make it near impossible to build a dynasty.
This years crop of free agents isn't what I'd call thin, but they are certainly a more affordable group than we are likely to see next year.