NHL Free Agency 2011: 15 Major Upcoming UFAs

Kevin Goff@@BrgBrigadeKevinContributor IApril 13, 2011

NHL Free Agency 2011: 15 Major Upcoming UFAs

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    With the season over for several teams, many organizations and their fans are already planning for next year. 

    A big part of what is going to be next year will start with the free agency market.

    This year's free agent market is quite a good one, with many players at several positions that could make a large difference for a lot of teams.

    This is a look at 15 of the major UFAs of this coming off-season.

Brad Richards

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    Brad Richards is really the prize of this free agent class.  Many people thought that he might end up being the prize of the trade deadline, but nothing ever materialized from that.

    Richards has a great resume.  He has a Stanley Cup Championship and a Conn Smythe to go with it.  He's topped 90 points a couple of times in his career, and has the potential to do it every year.  He's a great set-up man that can quarterback a power play with lethal efficiency.  And, at age 30, Richards still has several productive years left in the NHL.

    He's coming off of a concussion, but seemed as if he had that same magic touch that has made him such a coveted player.

    Dallas is definitely going to have to unload salary, as they only have about $7 million worth of cap space.  It's possible that they could re-sign him, though it seemed Dallas was ready to trade him at a moment's notice.  Could be interesting.

    Richards is at the end of a five year contract that paid him close to $7.8 million dollars a year.  It wouldn't be terribly surprising if he get a similar deal with the next team that signs him, as a bidding war for his services may commence. 

    Whoever does sign him will have to have a decent amount of cap space already free to bring him in. 

    Possible Destinations (or places that might be able to afford his salary):  Phoenix, Colorado, Dallas, Atlanta, maybe even St. Louis.

Ilya Bryzgalov

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    Ilya Bryzgalov is the premiere goalie of this free agent class.  After Anaheim chose J.S. Giguere over him, Bryzgalov has really come into his own in Phoenix, helping make that franchise a legitimate one.

    He gives his team a chance to win every single night that he is there, and he has that ability you always love to see in a goalie.  The ability to steal a win for your team when they aren't playing as well in front of you.

    Bryzgalov could be due for a pretty hefty pay raise with the right team, though he probably won't be up to Martin Brodeur standings as far as a pay check is concerned.  Currently he makes about $4.5 million a year, but this guy is the type of goalie that can get a team to the Stanley Cup with the right surroundings.

    He has 15 shutouts in the last two seasons, and has a career goals against of 2.53.  He'll be 31 at the start of the next season, but he has several good years left. Look for lots of teams to be after him.

    Possible Destinations (Teams that really need a starting goalie): Colorado, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, Edmonton.  The top two are probably Colorado and Phoenix.

Tomas Vokoun

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    Another solid goalie for the free agent market this year, Vokoun also had some trade rumors fly around about him that saw nothing happen.

    He has played very well for a not very good team, in the Panthers, and it wouldn't really surprise anybody if he did want to get out.  He'll be 35 at the start of next season, and may want to look towards a team that he can close out his career with.

    There are several teams that could do with his services, and it is unlikely that his new contract will be close to the same type of deal Bryzgalov gets, though stranger things have happened.  Also, with $12 million in cap space, Florida could easily re-sign their number one goalie.

    Another team that could do with a solid number one goalie will probably snatch him up on the first day of free agency.

    Possible destinations:  Tampa Bay, Colorado, Phoenix, Florida.

Milan Hejduk

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    Milan Hejduk did have some interest around him during the trade deadline but, like almost all of the rumors this year, nothing came of it.

    Still, Hejduk is a type of player that any team would like.  He's incredibly skilled, comes to play every night, has silky smooth hands, and can score from anywhere on the ice.  Who wouldnt want this guy?

    Nonetheless, Hejduk will most likely not go anywhere.  He gained a spot on this list because of the trade deadline jabber that turned out to be just that.

    Hejduk will stay with the Avalanche.

Teemu Selanne

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    Teemu Selanne is another one that really isn't all that hard to figure out.  The big question with him will be whether or not he decides to finally retire.

    Selanne would be 41 by the time the next season started, but this guy still has the goods.  He might not be as insanely fast as he used to be, but even him slowed down a little bit is still faster than a lot of the guys in this league.

    How often can we say that we've seen a 40 year old player net 30 goals?  Not that often, and he's the secondary scoring!  As long as he's on a team with Corey Perry, Ryan Geztlaf, and other giants like those guys, Selanne could play until he turns into Chris Chelios.

    Count on seeing Selanne back for one more year with the Ducks.

Nicklas Lidstrom

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    Nicklas Lidstrom is really in the same boat that Selanne is, almsot identically. 

    Lidstrom is almost 41 years old, yet remains among the NHL elite amongst defensemen.  He has 16 goals, and a grand total of 62 points.  He's only six points behind the leading scorer for defensemen! 

    At the same time, 41 years old in the NHL is not a number that most people see, so the possibility of retirement looms.  While he is still able to put up these types of numbers it would seem logical that he would be back for another year, but one never knows.

    It may come down to whether or not Detroit wins it this year, but I would guess he'll be back in a Wings uniform next year.

Andrei Markov

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    Andrei Markov is an interesting story because of two things.

    First, he's a fantastic puck moving defenseman that is very solid in both zones of the ice.  He contributes a lot offensively, has a great shot, and is a really effective quarterback on the power play.  Plus, he's not that small, so there could be a lot of teams interested in that type of blue liner.

    Second, he had a huge knee injury this year that ended his season in November.  That type of injury is always one that plays with your value.  It's possible that you come back and you don't miss a beat, or at least you're able to work your way back to how you felt before the injury.  It's also possible that you come back, are still effective, but not in the same ways.  Then there's the possibility that it really changes the way you play and you're never the same.  That's what Markov needs to figure out.

    Still, teams will be interested, though at a bit of a discount as a result of the injury. 

    If I had to guess where he'd end up, I'd put him in Pittsburgh.  The Penguins power play definitely has not been the same since Sergei Gonchar went to Ottawa, Markov could give them that quarterback who is a threat to both shoot and pass.  He'd fit their large umbrella style quite well.

Pascal Leclaire

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    Pascal Leclaire is another interesting player that is currently injured.  He seems to have fallen out of favor in Ottawa, having lost a starting job to Brian Elliott, who was later traded for Craig Anderson.

    He has a lot of potential, and could end up on a team that needs a starting goalie, but doesn't want to take a risk on one of the big time stars.

    He may also just find himself as a back-up somewhere, it's hard to tell with him.

Ed Jovanovski

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    Ed Jovanovski is one of the most intimidating defenseman of his time.  At 6'2" and 220 lbs, the man they call "Jovo Cop" is an absolute force in the corners and in front of his own net.

    He is also capable of contributing offensively.  He has broken the 40 point mark three times, while with Vancovuer, and even tallied 51 points in his time with the Coyotes. 

    He's been in the league a while now, and age is always a factor when considering this type of free agent, but his style of play has never changed in his time in the league.  He's the same hard-nosed gladiator that he's always been.

    A young team that needs some serious veteran leadership and toughness might be the one to snap him up, but if I had to bet, I would say that Phoenix re-signs this guy, but I could also see him going to a place like Tampa Bay or Nashville.

Alexei Kovalev

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    Another aging sniper who may be looking for one last chance at a cup somewhere, Kovalev still has a lot of skills.

    Pittsburgh made a surprising move in bringing him back from Ottawa, though it made some sense since they have been without Crosby and Malkin for quite a while.

    Retirement is a possibility for him, but he may still want to come back for another shot at taking home a cup.

    Detroit likes taking this type of skilled veteran, as they have demonstrated in recent history by signing Mike Modano.  The Rangers are also up for that kind of a signing, and Kovalev might like to end his career where he started it.

Simon Gagne

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    Simon Gagne may not be the 30 or 40 goal scorer that he used to be, but he has chipped in for the Lightning in a big way this year. 

    Gagne would be a great option for a team that is a little one dimensional that needs a little bit of scoring depth as a second line winger.

    Tampa has some room under the salary cap, but they're going to have to decide if they want to pony up to Brewer or not.  My bet is that Gagne will be let go in order to keep room for players like Brewer.

    Gagne could make a great addition to a team like Atlanta.  Could be a match made in heaven.

Eric Brewer

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    Eric Brewer was part of one of the big trades that St. Louis made this year.  He was traded for Brock Beukeboom and a third round draft pick.

    Brewer is an absolute beast of a defenseman, 6'3" and 222lbs.  His game is not about offense, but rather about stopping it.  He's a very good shut down defenseman that has played for quite a few pretty bad teams. 

    I think that Tampa likes having him around a lot, and that they definitely want him to be more than just a rental player.

    As I mentioned before, I think that Gagne will be let go in order to make sure that the Lightning have enough room to sign him for a good length of time.

J.S. Giguere

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    J.S. Giguere may be a lot older than he was when he shocked the hockey world by leading the Ducks to the Stanley Cup Finals and within one game of their first ever Stanley Cup. 

    He still has the chops to start in this league, and will most likely not stay around in Toronto, after the Maple Leafs decided to go with James Reimer over him.

    Giguere has been in the league for a while, but he is only 33 years old.  Not to mention, of the four goalies mentioned in this article, Giggy is the only one who has won a Stanley Cup.  He also has won a Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP, in the year that the Ducks lost to the Devils.

    Giguere might make a lot of sense for a team that needs a starting goalie, but not one that they are going to lean on for the next 10 years.  Colorado might be a landing spot for him if Kroenke decides to tighten the purse strings on the Avalanche yet again.

Tomas Fleischmann

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    Speaking of the Avalanche, we have another member of the Avs up for discussion. 

    Tomas Fleischmann came over to Colorado in a trade from Washington and made an instant impact. 

    Fleischmann only played in 22 games for the Avalanche this season, but he tallied 21 points.  He also found an amazing chemsitry with sophomore sensation Matt Duchene.

    It became obvious exactly how valuable Fleischmann was to the Avs when he went out for the season with a pulminary embolism and the Avalanche went on a losing streak that the franchise had never seen before.

    Was that entirely because of Fleischmann?  Most likely not, but Duchene struggled to play with the same type of lightning efficiency afterwards. 

    Fleischmann's injury is one that makes issues for him, because you never know when those things are going to come back, and the treatment for them is blood thinners.  If you're on blood thinners, you obviously can't play hockey.

    If the Avalanche decide to let Fleischmann go, he might make a nice addition for a team like Dallas, who may be losing one of their best setup men.

Tomas Kaberle

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    Tomas Kaberle was involved in a big trade and came to Boston from Toronto. 

    Kaberle is a big, strong defenseman with great offensive vision.  This is made obvious by his 43 assists from this season.  In fact, Kaberle has had 40+ assists five out of the last six seasons.  This also includes one season where he wracked up an astonishing 58 assists.

    If the Bruins want to hold onto him, then they are probably going to have to let players like Michael Ryder go since they only have a little bit more than $1 million in cap space, and Kaberle will mostly likely cost about $4 million a year.

    If the Bruins don't keep him, Pittsburgh is another good desitnation for this potent offensive-defenseman.