With the Stanley Cup Playoffs nearly halfway done, and a cup Champion only a month away from being crowned, many NHL teams are already preparing for what is to be a busy free agent season.
Unrestricted Free Agency is set to be a very interesting class, as it is littered with quality top four defencemen all across the board.
Where the interesting part of free agency could come in is with the Restricted Free Agents. Many teams have a good amount of cap space such as the Atlanta Thrashers, Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings and GM's who aren't afraid to ruffle a few feathers to get the man they want.
These are my predictions of what may happen this offseason. You may think, "hey, they can't afford to do that!", but in fact, teams can go over the cap as long as they are under it by the time the season rolls around.
If I say player X and Y will sign with team Z, but team Z only has 10 million in cap space, there's no doubt they'll be over. Here, I might just include a few surprise wrinkles into my slideshow. Hope you enjoy.
Lets get started...
Prediction: The Rangers will re-sign all of their restricted free agents. Brian Boyle and Artem Anisimov will be easy signs, but Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan likely won't be.
With only roughly $2 million in cap space right now, the Rangers don't have a lot of wiggle room to hand out contract raises to players that may deserve one, or get one because another team overpays for them.
Alex Frolov and his lofty $3 million dollar contract will likely leave for the KHL (prediction), and Vinny Prospal, Ruslan Fedotenko, Bryan McCabe and Steve Eminger may all leave via free agency as well, hopefully clearing around $8-9 million in cap space.
Does re-signing all four of these centers mean no Brad Richards on Broadway?
Prediction: Erik Cole will re-sign with the Carolina Hurricanes to a two year deal worth around $6-8 million.
This is a pretty easy decision here for the Hurricanes. Cole had a pretty decent season this year, scoring 26 times and collecting 52 points. The best part of the year was he remained healthy the entire year and played in all 82 games.
The Hurricanes have quite a number of free agents this year, and Cole is among them. They have roughly $25 million dollars in expiring contracts, with guys who they may want to re-sign or might want to get rid of.
Among them, Brandon Sutter, Jussi Jokinen, Chad LaRose and Derek Joslin should be resigned. Joni Pitkanen's, likely Carolina's hottest free agent commodity, status is still up in the air.
Prediction: Bogosian will be signed to an offer sheet by the Toronto Maple Leafs; however, the Atlanta Thrashers will match the contract.
The Thrashers right now have a fairly nice set of defenceman on their roster which include Ron Hainsey, Johnny Oduya, Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien.
With over 18 million in cap space and a number one center on their minds, the Thrashers secure their backend first. The Leafs, seeing a possibility to grab another top four defenceman, use some of their cash to send Bogosian an offer sheet.
However, with the cap space the Thrashers still have from re-signing Andrew Ladd, Anthony Stewart and Blake Wheeler (prediction), they should still be able to match the offer and seek a number one centerman.
GM Rick Dudley still has his hands full trying to re-tool this team, however.
Prediction: Joel Ward re-signs with the Nashville Predators for three years worth around $8 million
Joel Ward's regular season was pretty mundane and minimal, but his playoff run has been nothing short of memorable. Scoring seven key goals and assisting on five others, Ward has been a point per game player for the Predators on their cup run this playoff season.
Should a guy who has only scored 35 points once in his NHL career get such a large pay day? That really remains to be seen, but Ward's performance thus far in the playoffs is deserving of at least something.
Prediction: Wisniewski opts to re-sign in Montreal for three years worth around $10 million dollars.
I expect the Canadiens to have a major overhaul on their defence this offseason. Roman Hamrlik, Hal Gill, Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov are some of the other free agents on the back end. I expect only Gorges to be re-signed, so the Canadiens may be in need of another defenceman other than Wisniewski.
Wisniewski was nothing short of brilliant this year, scoring 51 points this year split between the Habs and New York Islanders.
Along with PK Subban, Wisniewski was able to stabilize a fairly big, old and slow Montreal defence to take them to seven games with the Boston Bruins.
I expect a shift towards a more mobile, younger, puck moving defence for the following season.
Prediction: Despite the influx of young talent coming, the Leafs decide to re-sign Clarke MacArthur to a two-year deal worth $5 million.
With Nazem Kadri seemingly ready for NHL competition next year and youngsters Joe Colborne and Matt Frattin likely to get a long look for a spot on next years roster, the Leafs decide to give Colborne and Frattin come more time in the AHL before making their mark on the NHL.
MacArthur enjoyed a career season with the Leafs, much like Joel Ward of the Predators, scoring 21 times and bringing in a second place 62 points on the Leafs team, trailing only Phil Kessel, who finished with 64 points.
Playing on a line with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin still appears to be in the cards for next year, so look for that line to try and repeat a wonderful 2010-2011 season in October next season.
Prediction: Leino signs in Minnesota for three years at $3 million a season
After what I like to call an utter collapse in the playoffs getting swept by the Boston Bruins, the Flyers decide that putting the local bum who lives outside of the Wells Fargo Center in net may not be the best idea if you want to win a Stanley Cup.
The Flyers decide to not go that high on Leino, since their forward group is pretty solid as is. They decide to focus their energy and available funds towards a starting goaltender.
Who they get remains to be seen.
For the Wild, they really are close to the cap threshold, so they decide to walk away from Chuck Kobasew so they can fit in Leino to the fold. They will still need to sign a back-up, which may just be Josh Harding.
Prediction: Jovanovski signs in Boston for a two year deal worth $6 million.
The Tomas Kaberle experiment appears to be coming to an end in Boston, so they may be looking for a replacement defender. A perfect fit in my opinion may be Ed Jovanovski.
Championship experience, international experience and he's a tough guy who doesn't let someone walk all over him. His attitude and overall game fits into what the Bruins are all about.
After a pretty down year by JovoCop's standards, he'll look to rebound in Boston under a new system and a more powerful offensive unit.
He may be 35 years old, but he's still got some life left in his game, and he'll best be served on a veteran team such as the Bruins.
Prediction: Joni Pitkanen re-signs in Carolina for four years at roughly $20 million
Pitkanen will be pursued by plenty of teams because of his ability to command a power play, his offensive game and lastly, his age and experience he already has at the NHL level.
At 28 years old, Pitkanen will be entering his prime, so you may see a team overpay for him, possibly the San Jose Sharks if they can find the cash to bring him in. Other teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks and especially the Edmonton Oilers, who are starving for NHL defenceman, will also compete for him.
I think he'll elect to stay in Carolina and run their power play along with Eric Staal.
Prediction: Brooks Laich signs in Los Angeles for three years at $12 million.
In my opinion, Brooks Laich in Hollywood makes sense to me. His ability to play center and the left side I believe will prove to be instrumental in the development of one Brayden Schenn. The arrival of Laich will "Laichly" mean the end of Michal Handzus or Jarrett Stoll on the West Coast.
What Laich could do for the Kings is play the left side on the first or second line and shuffle down to second line center when or if they need to give Schenn a breather or elect to not play him in tougher situations.
The team will use the extra cash from getting rid of Alexei Ponikarovsky to re-sign restricted free agent Wayne Simmonds to a new contract.
With anywhere between $10-15 million in cap space, I don't expect the Kings to be finished after Laich.
Prediction: In an attempt to find a first line center, the Leafs decide to send an offer sheet TJ Oshie's way, which is quickly matched by the Blues.
What may seem like a wasted offer sheet, Leafs GM Brian Burke still sends a lofty contract offer Oshie's way.
With what looks to be plenty of cap space, the Blues, who will need to re-sign a number of UFA's and RFA's this offseason, quickly re-claim Oshie. Patrick Berglund, David Perron (2012), Ben Bishop, Matt D'Agostini and others still remain unsigned.
Oshie had a decent finish to last season, scoring 34 points in 49 games after being hurt most of the year.
Oshie may not be a first line center like Burke wants, but he's definitely better than Tyler Bozak, who will likely be relegated to third line duties on a new look Leafs squad next year.
Prediction: Dallas signs Bieksa to a fresh four year deal worth close to $4.5 million a season.
A team that really needs some help on the back-end, I'm looking for the Stars to quickly look at Bieksa to fill the void in "Big D".
With a rather limited cap limit, the Canucks will likely only be able to afford two of their three unrestricted free agent defenders (Christian Ehrhoff and Sami Salo). Bieksa's offer may be a bit too much for the Canucks to swallow, so they elect to see him leave and spend the remaining cash elsewhere.
Prediction: Signs with the Atlanta Thrashers on a two-year $8.5 million dollar contract with options.
With a lot of free agents yet to re-sign in Buffalo and only around $4 million in cap space, the Sabres decide that the price is too much and elect to let him go.
With a full year of Brad Boyes' four million dollar contract and guys like Steve Montador, Drew Stafford and Marc Andre Gragnani to re-sign, this move is a likely scenario for the Sabres.
For Connolly and the Thrashers, he gets his chance to be the first line center on a team that was really needing a center option after they traded Rich Peverley to the Boston Bruins.
Connolly would be pursued by plenty of teams, but Atlanta makes sense for him at least right now, with an instant chance at a number one center role.
Prediction: Selanne re-signs in Anaheim for one-year worth $4 million dollars.
Like Paul Finch from the movie American Pie says, "Women are like a fine wine, they only get better with age". Finch was referring to Stifler's Mom with that quote, but I'll use it with reference to Teemu Selanne.
Selanne, at 40 years old, averaged better than a point per game last season and scored six goals in six playoff games.
Is he finished? Definitely not. Does he want to go through another grueling 82 game schedule? Possibly; that's why I see him re-upping with the Ducks.
Prediction: Canadiens sign Kaberle to a four-year, $22 million dollar contract.
Long rumored to be targetted by Montreal, Kaberle and the Habs finally come together this offseason. With the recent injuries to Andrei Markov and an aging defence featuring Jaroslav Spacek, Romas Hamrlik and Hall Gill, the Habs opt for a better puck moving defenceman and skater in Kaberle.
I can envision a Canadiens powerplay with Kaberle setting up PK Subban for one timers all day, but who knows? I envisioned Zdeno Chara being the recipient of those one timing passes, and that turned out terribly for the Boston powerplay.
Markov could still be back, but with Kaberle possibly signing there, Markov could be on the way out, but to who?
Prediction: Toronto signs Andrei Markov to a three-year $16.5 million dollar contract.
The Leafs use some of their extra cap space and build from the goalie out and address their power play and defence in the process. By adding Andrei Markov, they get one of the better puck movers available, but it comes with some risk.
The past two seasons, since the departure of Mike Komisarek, Markov has only played 52 games out of a possible 161 games.
Withg Komisarek next to him, Markov had his best two years of his career before injuries hit him in 2009-10. He managed to net 58 points in 2007-08 and 64 points in 2008-09 with Komisarek as his partner.
This move would help alleviate the loss of Tomas Kaberle after the club dealt him to the Boston Bruins for Joe Colborne and draft picks. This would also help youngsters Keith Aulie and Carl Gunnarsson play a little less minutes than they are normally used to playing.
To me, this move makes sense for the Leafs on a number of levels.
Prediction: Ehrhoff signs with Vancouver, four years at $20 million.
Christian Ehrhoff is one of the more underrated young defenceman in the NHL at this point. Finishing the year with 50 points and a plus-19 rating, he's both offensively dangerous and defensively responsible.
That combination makes him a threat night in and night out, and right now, the most prolific unrestricted free agent defenceman available come July 1.
With Kevin Bieksa likely gone in my opinion, the Canucks will look to re-sign Ehrhoff to a multi-year deal.
Prediction: Vokoun signs back with Florida, two years at $10 million.
It's been widely anticipated that the Flyers are the number one targets for the services of Tomas Vokoun this summer, and if their cap situation wasn't a total mess, I'd have to agree with them.
Right now, though, I feel the Panthers are the club that will most likely nab Vokoun for a number of reasons.
- The Panthers are somewhat cash strapped, but are not near the cap in anyway.
- The Panthers are far more familiar with Vokoun as is Vokoun with the Panthers
- Vokoun has a family and may not want to move.
- Lastly, with coach Peter DeBoer gone, I believe that Vokoun will find that enough to stay on.
With Jacob Markstrom struggling in the AHL, Vokoun will likely get a fair shot at the majority of games next season.
Look for a two-year deal with Vokoun, with the last year being the year he'll likely get dealt to a contender.
Prediction: Lidstrom signs one-year Deal worth $6 million.
Finishing the year with an incredible 62 points, Lidstrom is still playing as if he's in his prime. The man is plain and simple likely the best European defenceman to ever play the game.
That may be stretching it, but the level of calmness and skill he has on the ice is mind-binding. His ability to always make a right play is pure Lidstrom.
He may be 41 years of age, but I still believe he'll come back to the NHL next season barring a major offseason injury, a random NHL strike for no reason or possibly if the Wings come back and win the Cup this season.
Prediction: Weber signs eight year deal worth $50 million dollars
The owner of the best playoff beard this playoffs will soon be the owner of a new contract with the Predators.
A restricted free agent this offseason, Weber is sure to receive many enticing offer sheets from multiple teams, but I believe the captain will remain with the one club he's known all his NHL career, and that's in Nashville.
Weber plays the game unlike many in the NHL. His brand of physicality, powerplay prowess and defensive awareness is likely matched by few, and the Predators see this time as the perfect time to make him the face of the franchise.
Sadly, though, for Weber, if Mike Fisher remains with the Predators next season, Carrie Underwood still may be the face of the Predators despite the large extension he will likely sign this offseason.
Prediction: Bryzgalov signs four-year deal worth 23 million with the Lightning
In my opinion, the NHL heading back to Winnipeg is the right move for the league and will likely happen next year, at least hopefully for me. With that said, Bryzgalov in this picture is already practicing his new tan positions for next season. This one he calls the "Ticklish Dog".
Bryzgalov earlier this year stated he would not follow his teammates to Winnipeg if the NHL moved the Coyotes there. He is not a fan of the cold weather and believed there was nothing fun about the city of Winnipeg and nothing enticing for his family to uproot itself and move there.
So if the Lightning, who are likely in need of a goalie, come knocking, Bryzgalov could jump at the opportunity.
I see a four year deal likely in the neighborhood of $5.5 to $6 million a season.
Prediction: Kings sign Doughty to a six-year deal worth $38 million
Drew by all accounts had a down year this season, only getting 42 points this season. Last season, he netter 59 points in a full 82 game sked.
Doughty is one of the best young defenceman right now in the NHL and helped the Kings get to the playoffs this season.
He is their anchor on defence and will likely be the face of the franchise for years to come. At only 22 years old, Doughty has the rest of his career left ahead of him.
Is it possible the Kings sign him to a Mike Richards like long-term deal? The possibility is there, but I feel the extension will likely be more in the five to six year range rather than the 10 to 12 year range.
Prediction: Devils sign Zach Parise to a six-year deal worth $45 million
Having only played 13 games this year due to injury and not really finding his groove, Parise had a very down year by his standards.
Still, though, the Devils look to be in good position to re-sign him. With the trade of Jason Arnott this trade deadline, the Devils opened enough to space to re-sign Parise, granted a team doesn't come in with a ridiculous offer that the Devils could never afford to match.
The restricted free agent will likely see multiple offers thrown his way, but will likely stick it out with New Jersey and form one of the more deadly scoring duos with Ilya Kovalchuk.
Prediction:Stars sign Brad Richards to a seven-year contract worth $60 million dollars
I really have no idea what may happen in the Brad Richards saga, but a possibility I thought of may be a sign and trade.
The Rangers have quite a few free agents this season, most of whom they would like to re-sign.
What I see as a likely scenario is the Rangers re-signing Brandon Dubinsky and shipping him along with defenceman Ryan McDonagh and their first round pick this year for Brad Richards.
Debate the possibility at will if you'd like, but the move may make sense on a number of levels. The Stars could use the toughness Dubinsky provides at less of a cost that Richards. McDonagh is a good young defenceman that the Stars could use, and another draft pick at No. 15 is right behind them, so back to back first round picks could be enticing.
It's a thought I wanted to expand upon, so there may be some merit to it, but most likely, it's just a pipe dream.
Prediction: Stamkos signs a 10-year deal worth $90 million dollars with Lightning.
Steven Stamkos may be the most dangerous goal scorer in the NHL today. His left corner slapshot on the power play is about as predictable as the sun coming up in the morning, but it's his bread and butter, and it works.
Some of his success you could likely attribute to the aging Martin St. Louis, but fact is, "Stammer" is still one of the most skilled players in the NHL today and one of the best.
Steve Yzerman sees that, and I believe he will be offering him a massive contract in the eight to 10 year range, worth in excess of nine million a season.
The Lightning may need to to some cap moving around to likely add Stamkos at that price and Bryzgalov to the team, but in the end, it might be the right move for the Lightning to try and do.