NHL Free Agent Rumors: Top 21 Players Likely Changing Teams and Where They'll Go

Jeff Langridge@@JeffLangridge1Correspondent IIIJune 20, 2011

NHL Free Agent Rumors: Top 21 Players Likely Changing Teams and Where They'll Go

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 02:  Brad Richards #91 of the Dallas Stars skates against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on April 2, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    NHL free agency begins in less than two weeks way and the rumors are really starting to heat up. Some of them are persistent, such that regarding Brad Richards' destination. Some are a little surprising, such as teams looking at the 39-year-old Jaromir Jagr.

    Some questions are waiting to be answered. After an unsuccessful trip to the Stanley Cup finals, how many defensemen will Vancouver be able to keep? With Shea Weber and Zach Parise now file for arbitration; will anything happen with fellow restricted free agents Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty? Many more questions will be asked, and we will have to wait until July 1 to find out the answers.

    I am here to provide my opinion regarding where the top free agents likely to change teams will end up, from Brad Richards all the way down to Bryan McCabe. So without further delay, let's get this started.

Brad Richards Will Sign with Toronto

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 02:  Brad Richards #91 of the Dallas Stars skates against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on April 2, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    The most sought-after free agent of this off-season, Brad Richards will be signed within the first week of free agency, if not the first three days. Now, I know I will be blasted for saying it, but the chances of Richards landing with the Maple Leafs have been going for weeks now.

    All the other teams vying for Richards have their own problems that could lead them away from him. The New York Rangers are in a tough situation with Chris Drury's contract and even if they put him on the long-term injury reserve, signing Richards will put them really close to the cap and leave them with little room to wiggle during the season.

    The Los Angeles Kings have to re-sign Drew Doughty and he will most likely be given a long-term deal with lots of money attached. Even if they can keep his cap to $5-6 million, they will most likely not have sufficient money to sign him unless a trade is made.

    Tampa Bay has a similar situation with Steven Stamkos. If his new contract gives him a $7 million cap hit like Vincent Lecavalier, they will have $19 million in salary wrapped up in just three players, which doesn't bode well for the signing of Richards.

    Now, barring a team like Detroit coming out of nowhere and offering Richards a good deal, I believe the Leafs currently have the best chance to get Richards. They do have to be careful not to overpay him too much. He'll most likely get overpaid to some extent, but that is inevitable in a bidding war.

    With Richards centering Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel, the Leafs would make a considerable jump toward playoff contention and rebuilding.

Christian Ehrhoff Will Sign with Detroit

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    VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 10:  Christian Ehrhoff #5 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on during Game Five of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena on June 10, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Vancouver Canucks will most likely end up re-signing Kevin Bieksa, which will most likely cost them Christian Ehrhoff. Both of them are in line for a nice raise and Vancouver will have to make the tough choice.

    With the Detroit Red Wings losing Brian Rafalski to retirement, they will be big players when it comes to defensemen on July 1. With Ehrhoff being the best defenseman likely to change teams, I see him taking the money and going to a team where he will have another chance to win the Stanley Cup after a disappointing end to this season.

    Ehrhoff would join Lidstrom as the offensive leaders from the back-end and would be depended on to make sure the Red Wings don't take a step back.

Tomas Vokoun Will Sign with Colorado

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    NEW YORK - MARCH 22:  Tomas Vokoun #29 of the Florida Panthers skates against the New York Rangers on March 22, 2011 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. Rangers defeated the Islanders 1-0.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Tomas Vokoun has hinted that he might accept an offer from the Colorado Avalanche, and Adrian Dater of the Denver Post has suggested that Colorado general manager Greg Sherman is not worried about the team's goaltender situation.

    With that said, it makes sense that Colorado could put up an offer for Vokoun. With a young team that should be contending within a few years, Vokoun would be a great step toward that end. No matter what Matt Duchene does, a team is not going to do well with Brian Elliot and Peter Budaj as its two goaltenders.

    Vokoun has endured a few years with a struggling Florida Panthers team that has really wasted his talents. In an earlier article, I said that Vokoun is no longer an elite goaltender anymore. While I stand by my claim, I by no means believe that Vokoun is useless and couldn't help anyone. I believe that with the right team, he can be a great help to the team's playoff hopes.

Brooks Laich Will Sign with Toronto

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 18:  Brooks Laich #21of the Washington Capitals skates against the  Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on January 18, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    I have been adamant for months that Brooks Laich will sign with the Leafs, and I'm not stopping now. If the Leafs can find a way to sign both Richards and Laich, they will have gone from having no real depth on the big club to having an amazing one-two punch down the middle.

    Laich's ability to play all three forward positions would help the team, but the biggest factor is that he will give the Leafs' center prospects more time to develop out of the spotlight. I think that Nazem Kadri will be moved to the wing for the time being and that Joe Colborne can take the third line center if Tyler Bozak is traded, or can simply go back down to the Toronto Marlies.

    Acquiring Laich would also put into question the future of Mikhail Grabovski. Due to become a unrestricted free agent after next season, Grabovski could be dealt for a pick or two in next year's draft depending on how he does next season.

Eric Brewer Will Sign with Vancouver

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    TAMPA, FL - MAY 21:  Eric Brewer #2 of the Tampa Bay Lightning controls the puck in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at St Pete Times Forum on May 21, 2011 in Tampa, Florida.  (P
    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    To replace Ehrhoff and any other defensemen they lose, I believe the Canucks will go after Eric Brewer. The loss of Ehrhoff will hurt the Canucks, and with the team hoping to make another trip to the Stanley Cup finals as soon as possible, they will need to replace the offense.

    Brewer will not be able to do that alone, never making it past 29 points in a season, while Ehrhoff had 50 this past season. Even if he can't match Ehrhoff's point totals, he would bring a lot of experience to what could be a very good defensive group with Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Alex Edler, Aaron Rome, and Keith Ballard.

    With the money from Ehrhoff, Sami Salo, and Andrew Alberts coming off the books, they should have no problem bringing Brewer aboard.

Joni Pitkanen Will Sign with Edmonton

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    PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 19:  Joni Pitkanen #25 of the Carolina Hurricanes skates with the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins on November 19, 2010 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    This is another player that I've continually suggested is destined for a particular team. For some reason, I just think that Joni Pitkanen will end up back with the Edmonton Oilers.

    Pitkanen played 63 games with the Oilers in 2007-08, posting 26 points. The Oilers should be on their way to contention within a few years with all the low draft picks they've compiled. Pitkanen can be a leader for the young group and would look really good making up-ice passes to Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and possibly Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

    The Oilers have three defensemen under contract for $9.8 million with three unrestricted free agents. With $22 million available in salary for next season, they should have no problem adding Pitkanen to the young Oilers team.

Sami Salo Will Sign with Carolina

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    SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 22:   Sami Salo #6 of the Vancouver Canucks waits for a face off during their game against the San Jose Sharks in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 22, 2011 in San Jose
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    One Finn heads out the door, another one heads in. With Pitkanen's departure, the Hurricanes will be looking for a replacement. Sami Salo comes in as a cheaper option that can get the job done if he can stay healthy.

    Considering his constant injury woes, Salo should not be looking for any more than the $3.5 million he made last season with the Canucks. He has shown the ability to put up 25-30 points when he can put together close to a full season. The problem is that he has never played a full 82-game season. Therefore, Salo should be prepared for some low-money, short-term offers.

    If Salo is signed to a one-year contract and finally puts together a full, productive 82-game season, he could be in line for a raise in subsequent years.

Simon Gagne Will Sign with Edmonton

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    BOSTON, MA - MAY 17:  Simon Gagne #12 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 17, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Bru
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Currently, the oldest Oilers forward is Shawn Horcoff at 30 years of age. He is the leader of the team by default alone. Bringing in Simon Gagne will bring in leadership and some important scoring for the Oilers' struggling offense. Four Oilers made it past 40 points this past season and two of them were under the age of 22.

    The addition of Gagne will give them another 40-point scorer and to spread out the scoring until Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle can put up more points. He made the Eastern Conference Finals this year and the Stanley Cup finals the year before, so he would bring playoff experience to help this rebuilding team actually reach the post-season.

Ville Leino Will Sign with Washington

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 12:  Ville Leino #22 of the Philadelphia Flyers skates against the Atlanta Thrashers on March 12, 2011 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Ever since Philadelphia's acquisition of Ilya Bryzgalov, it has looked more and more like Ville Leino's days in Philly are numbered. With the money that Bryzgalov is going to command, Philadelphia would have to do some wiggling around to stay under the cap, and this more than likely leave Leino out of the solution in Philly.

    After having a breakout playoff performance in 2009-10, Leino posted 53 points in 81 games. He scored the goal in Game 6 of the first round that tied the series with Buffalo to keep them alive. Now, one of the most important players on the Flyers will be gone.

    Washington has choked in the playoffs in past years and it is clear that they need to change things up. If the coach isn't going to be fired, then players will have to be let go with new players brought in to replace them. Leino will be one of a few new Capitals next season.

Ed Jovanovski Will Sign with Winnipeg

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 25:   Ed Jovanovski #55 of the Phoenix Coyotes skates to the bench during the NHL game against the Edmonton Oilers at Jobing.com Arena on January 25, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Oilers defeated the Coyotes 4-3.  (Photo by Christ
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Atlanta's greatest weakness last year was its defense. Dustin Byfuglien did all he could, but one man cannot do everything. Next season, Winnipeg needs to have more experience on the back end.

    Ed Jovanovski will bring that experience and lead Atlanta's young defense. While he no longer produces offensively like he used to, Jovanovski's experience could be invaluable to a team like Winnipeg. He also brings more size to a team that already has a lot of it.

    With $23 million in cap room, Jovanovski could be the player that by signing in Winnipeg, convinces others that Winnipeg is not such a bad place to play.

Tomas Kaberle Will Sign with Tampa Bay

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    VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 15:  Tomas Kaberle #12 of the Boston Bruins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Vancouver Canucks in Game Seven of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena on June 15, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    I have said this three times now: Tomas Kaberle will sign with Tampa Bay. An underachiever in Boston, I do not see him staying in Beantown.

    With Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, and Martin St. Louis up front, it would be scary to see the outlet passes that Kaberle is capable of going to any one of those three. Signing in Tampa would reunite him with fellow Czech and former teammate with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pavel Kubina.

    With Eric Brewer's and Marc-Andre Bergeron's contracts coming off the books, it will be possible for Tampa to give Kaberle as much or slightly more than the $4.25 million he was making in each of the past four seasons. Now that Kaberle has won a Stanley Cup, he could help Tampa Bay take the next step after making it so close this past season

James Wisniewski Will Sign with Buffalo

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 25:  James Wisniewski #20 of the Montreal Canadiens skates in an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on January 25, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images
    Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

    Okay, I've gone a little back and forth on this one. I originally thought that James Wisniewski would go to Buffalo; I then said he'd go to Toronto, and now I have him going to Buffalo once again. With owner Terry Pegula ready to open the pocketbook, the Sabres have the potential to be a very dangerous team in free agency when it opens on July 1.

    With the Sabres being another team whose defensive core is still quite young, Wisniewski could come in and give the the team's young players more time to develop. At 27 years of age, he can grow with the team and hopefully help them make it past the first round the way they couldn't this past year.

    With $14 million available and six restricted free agents, they might just have enough to sign Wisniewski to a good three- or four-year contract.

Alex Tanguay Will Sign with Colorado

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    DALLAS, TX - MARCH 09:  Alex Tanguay #40 of the Calgary Flames at American Airlines Center on March 9, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Last year, Alex Tanguay returned to one of his former teams, the Calgary Flames. This off-season, I see him returning to the team that drafted him, the Colorado Avalanche.

    As I said in a previous article, the last time the Tanguay was in Colorado, he was the youngster that the veterans led. Now, if he were to return, he would be the veteran leading the likes of Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, and T.J. Galiardi.

    If it's possible for the Avs to lock up Tanguay long-term, I suggest that they do it because after Milan Hejduk retires (most likely after next season), they will have no veteran leadership.

    Again, there will be no cap issues with this signing as the Avalanche barely spend above the cap floor.

John Madden Will Sign with Washington

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    EDMONTON, CANADA - JANUARY 18: John Madden #11 of the Minnesota Wild skates against the Edmonton Oilers on January 18, 2011 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)
    Dale MacMillan/Getty Images

    Leadership. One thing that Alex Ovechkin does on the scoreboard. It is also one thing he should be doing in the locker room.

    Bringing in John Madden would take the leadership burden off Ovechkin and allow him to focus on his offense. Take the "C" off Ovie, put it onto Madden, and they might actually do well next year when it comes to playoff hockey.

    Madden's three Stanley Cup rings are a big reason he'll be a sought-after free agent, but I think Washington will win the mini-bidding war and bring in the necessary experience so they don't choke once again.

Chad Larose Will Sign with Columbus

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    ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 16:  Chad LaRose #59 of the Carolina Hurricanes against the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena on December 16, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The Columbus Blue Jackets are looking to make a vast improvement in order to once again make the playoffs for only the second time in team history. The problem is that it's going to be very hard for the Jackets to find talent in this free agent pool.

    Chad Larose isn't a top-tier player, but he is one of those type of players that every team needs. He has been reaching almost 30 points for four seasons now and the Jackets are in need of as much scoring as they can get after ranking 24th in goals last season.

    They will need much more than Larose, though, in order to make a dent in their playoff push.

Maxime Talbot Will Sign with Detroit

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    NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 04:  Maxime Talbot #25 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 4, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Penguins 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Ima
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    With the failed experiment that was Mike Modano, I think the Red Wings will be looking for some depth at forward. Why not go after the player that cost them a second straight Stanley Cup in 2009? Maxime Talbot just might be the player that is able to complement the Red Wings' star power.

    Again, with the departure of Brian Rafalski, the Red Wings will have no trouble adding the players they need to stay among the NHL's elite.

Ian White Will Sign in Toronto

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 23:  Ian White #9 of the San Jose Sharks during the NHL game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on February 23, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Sharks defeated the Penguins 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by C
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    With the signing of Richards and Laich, the Leafs will need to go for a cheaper option in their search for a puck-moving defenseman. While not the obvious first choice in this year's free agent class, Ian White could share this workload with Carl Gunnarson.

    Already having been a part of the Leafs organization before his trade to the Calgary Flames last season, he can come in and not have to re-learn the entire system. Playing with three teams last season, he might take a two- to three-year contract for less money.

Tim Connolly Will Sign with Columbus

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    SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 17: Tim Connolly #19 of the Buffalo Sabres skates prior to the game against the Florida Panthers on December 17, 2010 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Sabres 6-2. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Gett
    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Maybe even more so than Chad Larose, Tim Connolly could help the Blue Jackets, albeit with an injury-risk. But considering the trouble Columbus has been having, they might be willing to take that risk.

    Even with his injury problems, Connolly has consistently put up 40 points per season. If he is signed, he could play alongside Rick Nash until Ryan Johanson is ready to take the job. When that happens he can move down to the No. 2 center spot and further help the Blue Jackets' young guns.

Scottie Upshall Will Sign with Pittsburgh

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    GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 24:  Scottie Upshall #9 of the Columbus Blue Jackets during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on March 24, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Blue Jackets 3-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    We all know about Pittsburgh's lack of depth at the wing positions. Bringing in a player like Scottie Upshall would serve two purposes: first, he can put the puck in the net quite a lot for a player of his ilk, and second, he's a rough and tough player that can protect Sidney Crosby when called upon. 

    Although they are the same kind of player, Upshall is not as stupid as Matt Cooke, so he can move Cooke down the depth chart to a place where he will do less damage.

Alex Kovalev Will Sign with Montreal

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 24:  Alex Kovalev #72 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in action during a game against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 24, 2011 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Lou Capozzola/Getty Images)
    Lou Capozzola/Getty Images

    When Alex Kovalev signed with the Ottawa Senators, he decided that it would be smart to say that he would like to retire as a Montreal Canadien. Montreal was the team that had just let him hit free agency, and he knew he wanted to go back just a few weeks after signing with Ottawa.

    Now that the deal is done, he now has his opportunity to make that return. Who knows, maybe the Habs can get Jaromir Jagr too, and they can be known as the NHL destination for older Russian players who don't want to go Russia. Which means Alex Ovechkin might be a Hab in 2025.

Bryan McCabe Will Sign with the New York Islanders

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    UNIONDALE, NY - MARCH 31:  Bryan McCabe #28 of the New York Rangers skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum on March 31, 2011 in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Bryan McCabe-to-New York rumors go all the way back to his Toronto days, and now that he is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, chances are he will end going back to the team that drafted him in 1993.

    The Islanders' defensive core has a few youngsters almost ready to make the jump, but adding McCabe would give them time to develop. Furthermore, Radek Martinek's departure will open up a spot for him.