NHL Free Agents 2011: Where Will the Top 8 Defensemen Play Next Year?

Jeff Langridge@@JeffLangridge1Correspondent IIIJune 2, 2011

NHL Free Agents 2011: Where Will the Top 8 Defensemen Play Next Year?

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    The mood around Miami seems a little bit bleak lately. Maybe it's the lockout, or maybe this fan base has started to become an innately pessimistic one.

    In the midst of our complaining, worrying, and speculating, this team's sheer depth and skill has gone largely overlooked. Truthfully, Miami has the makings of a playoff team.

    This defense ranked sixth in the league last year and should only improve, the team drafted two rookies who project to make significant impacts, and might pursue an upgrade at quarterback once a new CBA is installed.

    Although it's too early to say it now, the Dolphins looked poised to make a playoff push—on paper, at least.

Kevin Bieksa Stays in Vancouver

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    In one of my previous articles, I said Kevin Bieksa would sign with Toronto. However, with Bieksa's play in the playoffs, he has proven he is invaluable to the Canucks.

    Plus, scoring the goal brings your team to the Stanley Cup finals usually brings your value up just a little bit.

    Bieksa consistently puts up 20 points and twice has put up more than 40. Not only that, he is only 29 and is arguably one of the best all-around defensemen in the league.

    However, re-signing Bieksa might cause them to lose another defenseman.

Christian Ehrhoff Will Sign with Detroit

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    I would not have had Christian Ehrhoff going to Detroit but since Brian Rafalski retired, Detroit is now a big player in free agency.

    They will definitely be looking for a puck-moving defenseman to take over for Rafalski and possibly Lidstrom if he retires as well.

    Ehrhoff had his first 50 point season this year and will most likely continue reaching close to that mark for the next couple of seasons. Detroit would sure hope he would.

Tomas Kaberle Will Sign with Tampa Bay

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    While it's not out of the question that Tomas Kaberle will re-sign with Boston, it seems the term "scapegoat" has followed Kaberle from the Maple Leafs to the Bruins.

    The Lightning's leading scorer among defensemen was Brett Clark, with 31 points. That was good for the seventh worst total by a teams leading defensemen.

    Tomas Kaberle had 16 points more than Clark and would give the Lightning a bona fide puck-moving defenseman. It would also reunite him with fellow Czech and former teammate in Toronto, Pavel Kubina.

    It might be tough with the Lightning having to resign Steven Stamkos, but with Eric Brewer's likely departure, it could happen.

Joni Pitkanen Will Sign with Edmonton

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    Playing one season with the Oilers in 2007-08, Joni Pitkanen would be returning to a very different team than the one he left three years ago. In '07-08, the Oilers had no direction. In 2011-12, the Oilers will be a team on the road to contention.

    Pitkanen had eight more points than the Oilers leading defenseman Ryan Whitney. He would join a good young core of defensemen and would be a much better option than Whitney to be passing the puck to Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle.

    The Oilers have about $13.6 million in cap space so it shouldn't be a problem to fit Pitkanen in under the cap.

James Wisniewski Will Sign with Toronto

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    I have previously said that James Wisniewski would sign with the Buffalo Sabres. That might still happen, but barring a trade for a puck-moving defenseman, the Maple Leafs should go after Wisniewski.

    He should be one of the cheaper of the puck-moving defensemen on the market. He also had his first 50 point season and continuing that trend would definitely help the Leafs.

    Dion Phaneuf was the Leafs leading scorer among defenseman, tallying 30 points. They definitely need more offense from the back end and Wisniewski would help contribute to that.

Andrei Markov Will Stay in Montreal

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    The past four seasons, Andrei Markov has made $5.75 million and he has only played a full season once.

    Now, given he also had a 78 game season, but he's only played 212 games out of a possible 328. He has lost his spot as Montreal's go-to defenseman to P.K. Subban and he is only one or two injuries away from his career being over.

    That being said, Markov can still have some value to the Canadiens. If he takes a pay cut and signs a shorter term deal, he could potentially get back to where he was four years ago.

Ed Jovanovski Will Sign with Winnipeg

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    Atlanta last year was 29th in goals against, and although goals against is a primarily goalie stat, teams can't score goals if the defense block shots and hit forwards before they shoot.

    While he has been an offensive defenseman for the majority of his career, his stats have been dropping off the last few years. The now Winnipeg Jets (hopefully) could use his experience in the hope they can make the playoffs in their first year.

    With plenty of cap room, Jovanovski could be one of a few free agents to sign in Winnipeg.

Eric Brewer Will Sign with Carolina

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    With the loss of Joni Pitkanen, the Carolina Hurricanes are going to be looking for a replacement.

    While Eric Brewer wouldn't fully replace Pitkanen's production, he would bring in experience to go along with Joe Corvo.

    With $9 million in cap room to spend this off season, it might be the only signing the Hurricanes make but it could be a worth while one for them.