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2011 NHL Free Agency: One Player from Each Team Who Must Re-Sign at All Costs

Thomas CopainCorrespondent IMarch 23, 2011

2011 NHL Free Agency: One Player from Each Team Who Must Re-Sign at All Costs

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    2011 NHL Free Agency is not that far off, and that means teams will have to make decisions about who to sign and who will be moving on.

    Compared to last year, this year's class isn't as deep. There is a top-notch offensive talent in Brad Richards, but after that the unrestricted free agency cupboard is pretty bare in terms of top-end players. That doesn't mean there aren't players available who teams would want.

    Or in this case, players that teams need to keep.

    These are the players that each NHL franchise needs to keep around, the prospective free agents each team can't live without. Some of them are NHL stars entering restricted free agency at the end of their entry level contracts, while others are the character guys each team needs.

    So without further ado, these are the free agents each team needs to re-sign.

    (Note: All contract statuses came from capgeek.com)

Anaheim Ducks: Teemu Selanne, RW

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    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

    Selanne has had a renaissance this season, as he's having his best season since the Ducks won the Stanley Cup and doing so at age 40. There have been rumors that Selanne will finally call it quits after this season. But at the same time, he's also been a big reason why the Ducks are fighting for a playoff spot this season and the Ducks could use his production on the second line next season.

Atlanta Thrashers: Andrew Ladd, LW

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Status: Restricted Free Agent

    Ladd has been the hidden gem of the Dustin Byfuglien trade, as within one season he was named captain. That's on top of the team-leading 26 goals and 57 points.

    There have been talks about getting Ladd to sign an extension, and according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution back in February the two sides were close to a new deal, but nothing has been worked out yet. Even so, the Thrashers can't afford to lose their young captain.

Boston Bruins: Mark Recchi, RW

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    Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images

    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

    Recchi is not the scorer he was in his prime, and the Bruins have a couple of other key free agents including Tomas Kaberle and Brad Marchand. However, the Bruins might not have enough cap space to sign Kaberle, and Marchand is a restricted free agent, so with that in mind the focus shifts to Recchi.

    There's a reason the Bruins still keep him and there's a reason he wears a letter: he's a leader in that locker room and the type of gritty player the Bruins don't have enough of.

Buffalo Sabres: Drew Stafford, RW

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Status: Restricted Free Agent

    Stafford has struggled with consistency during his young career in Buffalo, but he's shown flashes of being the power forward he was projected to be in spurts. This season, he's finally coming into his own. He's had to deal with injuries that have limited him to 53 games, but he's still fifth on the Sabres in scoring and that's not including the career high in goals.

    Buffalo has some very good young forwards in the pipeline, and it would be wise of them to keep Stafford around. 

Calgary Flames: Brendan Morrison, C

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    Dave Sandford/Getty Images

    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

    This spot could've easily been reserved for Curtis Glencross or Alex Tanguay, both having fantastic seasons and big reasons why the Flames have gone from being on the brink of a firesale in January to a playoff push in March. 

    But Morrison stepped in early in the season when the Flames were decimated down the middle and has gone from a checking role to getting major minutes. He's fifth on the Flames in points and he's also a team-leading plus-13. 

    And he's making less than $1 million.

Carolina Hurricanes: Joni Pitkanen, D

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

    Erik Cole is also having a very solid year for Carolina, but the Hurricanes don't have a defenseman like Joni Pitkanen around. He's a power play quarterback and a minute-muncher (averaging 25:13 of ice time a night, ninth in the league) who also plays in all special teams situations.

    The bigger question will be though, considering the lack of puck-moving defensemen on the free agent market, will the Hurricanes even be able to afford Pitkanen?

Chicago Blackhawks: Corey Crawford, G

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Status: Restricted Free Agent

    Crawford's performance has been nothing short of spectacular this season. 

    Whereas the Blackhawks' goaltending situation was a question mark early in the season, he's taken the job for his own. Crawford has 28 wins on the season, but what's more impressive is his 2.33 goals against average (seventh in the league) and his .915 save percentage.

    This is the guy Chicago can't afford to lose. But one has to wonder if a rival will give Crawford a large offer sheet and force the Blackhawks to match as San Jose did with Niklas Hjalmarsson last season.

Colorado Avalanche: Tomas Fleischmann, C

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

    Before he was lost for the season with a blood clot, Fleischmann was playing some of the best hockey of his career. He had settled in nicely in Colorado, putting up 21 points in 22 games and playing well as a nice secondary scorer for the Avalanche. 

    After the Chris Stewart trade, the Avs could use all the offense they can get.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Anton Stralman, D

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    Status: Restricted Free Agent

    Stralman isn't a star, but he's also the closest thing the Blue Jackets have to a power play quarterback. He's among the Blue Jackets' leaders in power play time on ice per game and he has shown the ability to bring some offensive talent to the blueline, something the Jackets desperately need.

    Jakub Voracek is another important player who needs to be signed, but Stralman is right up there.

Dallas Stars: Brad Richards, C

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    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

    Who else would it be for the Stars?

    Richards will be the most coveted free agent on the market and for good reason. He's one of the best play-making centers in the game, a No. 1 center who can either play forward or point on a power play. Considering the Stars' ownership situation, it will be hard for them to try and match the offers teams like the Rangers and Maple Leafs will throw at him.

    But the Stars owe it to their fan base to at least try.

Detroit Red Wings: Jonathan Ericsson, D

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    Dave Sandford/Getty Images

    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

    Ericsson might be the sixth defenseman on the Red Wings roster, but he's one of those guys that makes their whole operation work. He can play on the top four and he's also shown he can be extremely dependable for a fifth or sixth defenseman.

    Patrick Eaves and Kris Draper are very important pieces the Red Wings need to bring back as well, but Ericsson is one of those guys that just fits in Detroit's system.

Edmonton Oilers: Ladislav Smid, D

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    Status: Restricted Free Agent

    The Oilers have a lot of pressing needs, but the biggest need is on defense. With all the youth, the Oilers need a dependable defenseman on the back end that can be a shutdown guy. Smid isn't an all-star, but he's also the closest thing the Oilers have to that kind of defenseman, at least while Jeff Petry continues to develop.

    The Oilers could also really use a puck-mover, but Smid should be the top priority.

Florida Panthers: Tomas Vokoun, G

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    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

    The Panthers have a top goaltending prospect waiting in the wings in Jacob Markstrom, but it remains to be seen whether he'll be ready to step in with the big club next season. So until then, Vokoun should remain the Panthers' No. 1 priority.

    At his age, this might be his last big chance to cash in with a contract, but considering the lack of goaltending interest during the season, Vokoun might not get the offers he wants. Even so, the Panthers wouldn't mind bringing Vokoun back, a goaltender who has the ability to steal a game or two when need be.

Los Angeles Kings: Drew Doughty, D

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    Status: Restricted Free Agent

    The Kings can't afford to let Doughty slip away, and you have to think the Kings will do anything in their power to make sure another team can't get an offer sheet Doughty's way. Because he is that good of a defenseman.

    He's had a bit of a down year this season, but his stock is only going to go higher. He can play defense, he can definitely jump into the play and be an offensive threat. He has perennial Norris Trophy candidate written all over him and that's not going to change.

Minnesota Wild: Andrew Brunette, LW

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    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

    Brunette has lost a step at the end of his career, but he's still one of the more respected players in Wild history. Not to mention he's still one of the better offensive players the Wild have, which says a lot about the offensive punch on the Wild.

    He's one of the players that the young Wild stars can learn a lot from, and he's just one of the leaders you love to have around.

Montreal Canadiens: James Wisniewski, D

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    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

    This could've gone to a number of players on the Habs that are eligible for free agency, in fact P.K. Subban and Jaroslav Spacek are the only defensemen on the NHL roster who are locked up beyond this season. So there are a lot of candidates for this list, including Max Pacioretty and Andrei Markov.

    But Wisniewski has been a great find for the Canadiens. His combined point total has been good enough for second on the team, and he's been a stabilizing force on the blue line with Markov out with another season-ending injury.

Nashville Predators: Shea Weber, D

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    Status: Restricted Free Agent

    One of the best young defensemen in the game, period. He gets hidden because he plays in Nashville, but the skill is there. The bruising size, the speed, the absolutely scary fast slapshot. He's an absolute star.

    There were trade rumors surrounding Weber near the deadline, but they never really got off the ground. If there's any team that can absorb a loss on defense, it's Nashville, who has two young studs in Ryan Ellis and Jonathon Blum waiting in the wings. 

    But still, it's hard to find another Weber. Especially with that shot.

New Jersey Devils: Zach Parise, LW

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    Status: Restricted Free Agent

    There are some other free agents that will be important for the Devils, including young defenseman Matt Taormina and backup goaltender Johan Hedberg. 

    But they all pale in comparison to Parise, who is one of the better young skilled forwards in the league and has star potential. He's been out for most of the season with an injury, but he's been getting better and better every season. If the core of the Devils is shifting away from Martin Brodeur, it will be placed on Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.

    And the Devils know they can't let him go.

New York Islanders: Michael Grabner, RW

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    Status: Restricted Free Agent

    You have to hand it to the Islanders, they may be in an aging arena and still trying to become relevant again, but they have a knack for picking talent out of the waiver wire. Last year, it was Rob Schremp and Matt Moulson and this year it was Grabner.

    Grabner finally got a chance to stick with an NHL roster in New York and he's been the Islanders' best player the second half of the season. He's in line for a huge raise and he's all of a sudden part of the future in New York.

New York Rangers: Ryan Callahan, RW

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    Status: Restricted Free Agent

    This is basically an interchangeable label for the Rangers between Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky, because both are RFAs after this season and both are the core of the Rangers going forward. A lot of Rangers fans look at Callahan and see a future captain, and he has that type of potential. He's the type of gritty player who takes the body and does all those little things you would expect of a captain.

    Plus the continued offensive development is nothing to sneer at either.

Ottawa Senators: Erik Condra, RW

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    Status: Restricted Free Agent

    There hasn't been a lot to cheer about with the Senators this season, and while Craig Anderson has played well, there are still some heads around Canada that are shaking after the deal he was given for about one month's work.

    So with that said and considering the Senators' potential free agent list isn't exactly earth shattering, the next best thing is to sign Condra. He's not a top-flight prospect, but he has shown some offensive spark this season and the Senators will take it anywhere they can get it right now.

Philadelphia Flyers: Ville Leino, LW

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    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

    Leino has disappeared at times during his Flyers career, and no one would've expected him to make this list at this time last season when he had trouble breaking into the everyday lineup. 

    But when he finally got his chance during the postseason, Leino shined and showed instant chemistry with Daniel Briere and Scott Hartnell. That's the one Flyers line that has basically stayed in tact for large chunks of the season and both sides have made it clear they want to renew the relationship.

Phoenix Coyotes: Keith Yandle, D

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    Status: Restricted Free Agent

    I had a tough time going between Yandle and Ilya Bryzgalov, and while Bryzgalov should be one of the top priorities for the Coyotes, Yandle's also developing very quickly.

    In the last season or two, Yandle has developed into a power play quarterback and the most dependable defenseman the Coyotes have. He's also a nice weapon to have on offense considering the Coyotes are not the most offensively gifted team around.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Pascal Dupuis, LW

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

    Dupuis isn't the most talented winger the Penguins have, but he's also a penalty killer, a grinder and one of the few Penguins that have stayed relatively healthy. He's not a flashy guy and he's not going to score 30 goals, but he's indispensable for what he does with the Penguins.

San Jose Sharks: Scott Nichol, C

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    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

    Nichol isn't a top six forward (like Devin Setoguchi, who's an RFA), but he's also a key guy on that fourth line. He's a key penalty killer and the Sharks are a different team without Nichol and his veteran presence on that fourth line as a faceoff man.

    Of course, Setoguchi is very important too if the Sharks feel he can still be a young scorer and not another Jonathan Cheechoo.

St. Louis Blues: T.J. Oshie

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    Status: Restricted Free Agent

    He's had to deal with some injury problems early in his career, but Oshie's the future of the Blues. He's a tough forward who's not afraid to take the body and play in the corners who also has some offensive skill.

    In other words, he's another player who's captain material. He's also the guy who makes the Blues go. Notice how the entire season changed for St. Louis when Oshie went down earlier in the season.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos

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    Status: Restricted Free Agent

    In other years, the key free agent for the Lightning might be goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who has made a big difference for the Bolts since being acquired in January. 

    But let's be honest, Stamkos is the franchise player. He's continued to develop into one of the best offensive players in the game. And while his scoring touch has somewhat cooled from earlier in the season when it seemed like everything he shot went in the net, he's still extremely dangerous every time he touches the puck, especially when he can set up for that one-timer from the circles.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Clarke MacArthur

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    Status: Restricted Free Agent

    Brian Burke definitely had his chances to sell high on MacArthur at the trade deadline, but decided against it. And while he's cooled off somewhat, MacArthur (and linemates Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin) have still been the most consistent forwards the Leafs have had all year.

    His 54 points are third-most on the team and it blows away his previous career high of 31 points. The question the Maple Leafs will have to ask themselves, however, is was this just an aberration?

Vancouver Canucks: Christian Ehrhoff

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    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

    Ehrhoff does so many things for the Canucks it's remarkable. He's an offensive defenseman who routinely jumps into the play and quarterbacks the No. 1 power play unit. He's among the team leaders in scoring and he's going to have a career year in terms of points for the second straight year.

    He's also the only Canuck defenseman this year to play more than 60 games as of this posting, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.

    The Canucks will have a decision to make between him and Kevin Bieksa considering how well he's played this season, but Ehrhoff needs to be the guy they keep.

Washington Capitals: Brooks Laich, C

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    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

    Laich is perhaps one of the most versatile players the Caps have. He's a grinder who can play a defensive role and is responsible in his own zone, yet he's also more than adequate offensively and he's heading for another 20-goal season. 

    He's one of those character role guys that each team needs, and I would think the Capitals' brass understands his worth to the club for all the little things he can do and his ability to play on all four lines.

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