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NHL Free Agents 2011: The Best UFA Fits for Each Team

Nick DerenceContributor IIIJune 30, 2011

NHL Free Agents 2011: The Best UFA Fits for Each Team

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    With the many eleventh hour re-signings that are taking place all over, the landscape is changing regarding team needs and individual players subtracted from the market.

    There is much speculation and many rumors about the big ticket free agents like Brad Richards, but there are only so many teams with which a Brad Richards might fit.

    So what about the teams that don't have the cap space for a big name?  Or what about the teams with very specific needs?

    We'll take a look at the many factors involved with free agent signings, including cap space, system fit and positional need in the slides to follow.

    Also, please note that we will be ignoring RFA's due to the unlikely event that those players could change teams.

Anaheim Ducks

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    The Ducks have 17 roster players under contract, but only eight of them are forwards. 

    With roughly $14 million in cap space, the field is wide open.

    Anaheim operates on a budget and are not a likely candidate to reach to the cap max this season.  Therefore, you may rule them out of any big ticket sweepstakes.

    Aside from bringing back Selanne, which is a given unless he retires, the team will be looking to add some affordable talent that fit their style of play.

    Scottie Upshall is a great fit.

    Upshall has speed and a willingness to work for pucks in the corners.

    He would give Anaheim some flexibility and scoring ability at a reasonable price.

Boston Bruins

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    The defending Stanley Cup Champions will be looking at options on the blueline.

    With approximately $12 million in cap space available, the Bruins will not rule out getting better in any area. But adding a puck moving defenseman to replace Tomas Kaberle's role has to be the most pressing need...if there is one on this team.

    Kaberle could certainly come back to Boston, but he is not a lock to do so.  Kaberle never did seem an ideal fit on the Bruins and bore some considerable criticism in the post season, despite the team's success.

    Ed Jovanovski

    The ol' Jovocop, has been heavily relied upon for many years.  Though his production has declined with the mileage, Jovanovski could be a great fit in Boston.

    The Bruins would not have to rely on him to carry the load, just contribute offensively from time to time—and deliver a few of his memory altering checks he is inclined to levy every so often.

    It's not a lot to ask of a skilled veteran who would welcome a chance to compete for the Cup.  He still has the tools to be effective in a reduced role, and that's the exact opportunity the the Bruins have to offer him.

Buffalo Sabres

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    The Sabres have been mentioned as a darkhorse team to land Brad Richards, but I'm not buying it. Even if Bob McKenzie says they are going to make him a mega bucks offer.

    Buffalo has roughly $11 million in cap space, but only 4 defenseman on the roster.

    Sure, they have three blueliners that are RFAs that can be re-signed relatively inexpensively, but signing Richards would take some major convincing. The cap space he would eat up would also take away opportunities to bring in other players, which would make Buffalo a much less enticing destination for Richards.

    As the Sabres are currently constructed, Tomas Kaberle would provide much of what the team lacks.  The Regher acquisition gave them much needed toughness and veteran leadership.  Morrisonn, Leopold and Myers give them a nice mixture of skill and defensive responsibility.

    Kaberle would fit in as a true power-play QB who doesn't shy away from contact—and still allows them the financial freedom to bring in other pieces to assist in other areas.

    A Kaberle signing goes out the window if they come to terms with Christian Ehrhoff, whom they just acquired rights to via the Islanders.

Calgary Flames

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    With only four roster defensemen under contract and just $7 millionish in cap room, Calgary need to address their blueline, and do it at a bargain cost.

    Wasn't it just a couple of years ago that the Flames had an embarrassment of riches on defense?

    After their most recent trade, Calgary needs to replace some of the skill and toughness lost with the departure of Robyn Regehr.

    Add Steve Montador.

    Montador will not command a huge salary, but he will bring a steady, positionally sound game. He has also never been hesitant to sacrifice his body to save a goal or two.

Carolina Hurricanes

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    The Canes are another team on a budget.

    They build and spend conservatively.  It's not sexy, but it's effective.

    Carolina will not be looking to make a splash with the whopping $26 million available to them under the cap, but they do have to satisfy the cap minimum.

    In an equally unsexy revelation, a great fit from the UFA market would be their own Jussi Jokinen.

    Jokinen has flourished with the Hurricanes, and certainly would take less convincing than other players of his calibre to play with a team that doesn't spend to the cap.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    Chicago unloaded defenseman Brian Campbell's hefty contract.  Well done.

    However, Campbell's departure also left a void in Chicago's defense.

    Campbell had largely been considered a disappointment with the team.  He was known as an offensive dynamo, but he came up well short of that expectation with the Blackhawks.

    Yet Campbell's lack of offensive production was somewhat offset by his dramatic improvement defensively.

    The task will be replacing his puck moving skills with someone also responsible in their own end.

    Roman Hamrlik is a fit here.

    Chicago has three of their core defenders locked up long term, so they can afford to bring in a veteran looking for a one or two year deal with a team in a position to win.

    Hamrlik certainly has skill and is a responsible defender at this stage in his career.

    He also would be another mentor type for Nick Leddy to learn from before he takes on a larger role.

Colorado Avalanche

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    The Avs have as much money to spend as any team.  With their $32 million-plus to spend and a core of young players to build around, the question is, will they spend it?

    Not likely this year.

    However, they do need to add some pricey talent to get to the cap minimum, and have a glaring need in net.

    This is where Tomas Vokoun comes in.

    Wasted with a poorly performing Florida team for the past few seasons, Vokoun regularly posted numbers with the NHL's elite goaltenders.

    Just two season's ago the Avalanche were one of the league's surprise contenders, due largely to the work of their goaltending performance.

    Vokoun may not get an opportunity to play with one of the league's premier teams, so a youthful, skilled team like Colorado could be his best chance at winning.

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    The Jackets just acquired the rights to pending UFA James Wisniewski.

    Whether they are able to sign him before July 1st remains unseen, but he would be a perfect addition to the Columbus defense.

    With only three defensemen signed and $21 million in cap space, the team can afford to pay for higher end talent.

    Wisniewski would add veteran grit and skill to a Blue Jackets blueline that could surely use an infusion of talent.

    Adding Jeff Carter may have been just the beginning of a revival for a team that has only made the post season once in it's history.

Dallas Stars

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    Despite the lack of a new owner, the Dallas Stars have vowed to stay active in the free agent market.

    They do have $25 million to spend, but likely no one that will be willing to sign the checks.

    Brad Richards would probably have agreed to stay if the ownership situation was already squared away.

    But, alas, it is not, and therefore they will have to waive goodbye.

    The Stars have done a very credible job of cap management.  On paper, they have a decent amount of talent in all three areas.

    If Dallas is going to find bargains, it will have to seek out veterans who fit their style of play. They are more likely to find forwards in that category.

    Andrew Brunette could fit the Stars nicely.

    He is a goal scorer who battles and finds a way to knock in pucks in the dirty areas.  He also would come at an affordable price.

    Brunette also rarely misses a game, something Dallas would most surely welcome.

Detroit Red Wings

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    The Wings have a rare year in which they have quite a bit of money to spend.  Certainly, the loss of Brian Rafalski to retirement will hurt, but it also opened up approximately $6 million of unexpected cap space.

    Considering that Detroit has only one defenseman signed for next season, the team can look at this opportunity to bring in someone who fits their puck possession style, but is also young enough to consider for a multi-year deal.

    Again, James Wisniewski would be a great fit here.

    Wisnieski has the skill and passing ability that the Red Wings require.

    At just 27 years old, the Michigan native is also young enough for the team to consider signing long term.

    Of course, all of this is moot should he sign with Columbus, but he would be an ideal candidate for pulling on the winged wheel.

Edmonton Oilers

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    The Oilers took care of some leadership help up front when they traded for Ryan Smyth during the NHL Entry Draft.

    Edmonton may look to add to the blueline in free agency.

    With only four defenders signed and $17 million in cap space, the Oilers can afford the player of their choice.

    Sami Salo could be an asset that the team could invest in for a few years.

    Salo has a booming shot, experience to help guide a very young team and the versatility to fill a number of needs.

    With plenty of young guns, Edmonton is an ideal destination for veteran leaders that play an unselfish teaching role.

Florida Panthers

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    The Panthers are not going to spend to the cap max.

    However, they still need to burn more than $20 million just to get to the cap floor.

    Expect some offers to be made, even to Brad Richards...but don't count on Richards accepting.

    But another talented center, Tim Connolly, might not refuse the overtures of a Panthers team desperate for talent and to spend money.

    Connolly would feel pressure to stay healthy on a team where he was looked to for goals and offensive leadership. However, the sunshine and surrounding aesthetic appeals of south Florida may make it all worthwhile for TC.

Los Angeles Kings

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    With superstar defenseman Drew Doughty still unsigned, don't expect the Kings to be as big a player in free agency as their $16 million in cap space might indicate.

    Still, the Kings will look to add some scoring up front after trading Ryan Smyth to Edmonton.  The trade cleared some additional space...maybe for a Simon Gagne to fill?

    Gagne showed last season with Tampa Bay that he has plenty of life left in those legs...and plenty of goals left in his stick.

    Gagne has always been an injury risk, but proved last season that he can stay healthy. 

    As many goals as Gagne has scored in the regular season, he always seems to ratchet it up a notch in the post-season.

    Better playoff performers are just what Los Angeles needs.  Gagne may be just what the doctor ordered for the Kings.

Minnesota Wild

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    The Wild have a very deep and talented defense corps. That depth allowed them to trade away Brent Burns last week, which netted them Devin Setoguchi—among others.

    Still, Minnesota will likely use the better part of their $13 million in cap room on offensive talent...particularly on guys who shoot the puck.

    Michael Ryder used this year's Stanley Cup run in Boston to showcase his ability to score goals.

    Ryder could be the remedy for a Wild team that had an aversion to putting the puck on net last season.

    He won't come cheaply, but goal scorers seldom do.

Montreal Canadiens

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    Les Canadiens have $13 million to spend and relatively few holes to fill.

    Montreal will likely use their money on forwards to improve their scoring depth.

    If they don't become a surprise suitor for Richards, then look for them to go after a Francophone with scoring ability.

    Simon Gagne, anyone?

    Gagne fits in Montreal for all the same reasons he would in LA.

    He's a playoff performer, which would make him all the more valuable to a team that has potential, but hasn't been able to get over the hump in recent years.

    Also the Habs relish any opportunity to bring "home" talented Quebecois.

    Gagne has the experience and guts to withstand the rigors playing in front of the Bell Centre faithful.

Nashville Predators

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    Nashville is always looking for offensive help up front.  this year will be no different.

    The Predators play in the demanding Western Conference for a demanding coach, who expects maximum effort from all his players—and most always gets it.

    Guys with thin skin need not apply to wear the Predator's sweater.

    Despite the burden of having to re-sign star defenseman Shea Weber and a RFA tender snafu that may cost Nashville a little extra, the team has money to spend.

    A veteran leader, Jamie Langenbrunner has the moxie and game to play in Barry Trotz's system.

    He also would be within the team's budget, so it seems we have another match here.

    Halfway through and I'm starting to feel like a dating site programmer!

New Jersey Devils

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    With Zach Parise tendered, the Devils can spend the early days of free agency concentrating on other areas.

    New Jersey has the cap room to sign Parise to a long term deal and still address other areas.

    The Devils have historically been a defense first team, but their ranks on the blueline have thinned a bit recently. They could look to add some skill there.

    Should he not sign in Buffalo, Christian Ehrhoff could be just what they need.

    New Jersey's defense has plenty of physical presence and Ehrhoff can provide the puck moving capabilities that they sorely lacked last season.

New York Islanders

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    The Isles are getting better.  Their future looks bright, but the team would like the future to start becoming a reality.

    New York showed that desire by briefly acquiring the negotiating rights to Christian Ehrhoff.

    With a gazillion dollars to spend, I would not be surprised to see the Islanders make a play for Brad Richards.

    Richards would be a fit for the team, but I don't think that Richards sees the team as a fit for him...not yet anyway.

    However, Jason Arnott would work as a consolation prize.  Arnott could provide veteran support to an improving young core, much like the way Bill Guerin did for the Penguins a few years ago.

    He still has the ability to fill a second line role and punch in a few goals along the way.

New York Rangers

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    This one is the no brainer.

    The Rangers are the clear favorites to land Brad Richards, and the fit is obvious.

    Clearing more cap space with the buy out of Chris Drury, the Rangers would fill a glaring need by adding a first line center to a team stocked with talent on the wings.

Ottawa Senators

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    The Sens need help. Particularly in the area of offense.

    Except for the top three forwards, there is little that Ottawa can count on for regular production.

    Maybe Nikita Filatov turns out to be the player Columbus had envisioned in Ottawa.

    Maybe Tomas Fleischmann helps Filatov become that player.

    Fleischmann, despite some health concerns, will be targeted by many teams. He has the skills to do a little bit of everything, and the Senators could use a little bit of...well, anything.

    With about $19 million in cap space, Ottawa has the freedom to add more than just a versatile center. 

    Yet this may be a year where they feel out some young players before going all out next season.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Flyers have made some shocking moves in the last week or so, totally revamping the look of their team in the process.

    With all the bold moves there have been rumblings that the Flyers could make a run at Brad Richards—or even RFA Steven Stamkos.

    Philadelphia has $8 million in cap space available, and has yet to sign recently acquired Jakob Voracek and Wayne Simmonds.

    Unless they somehow clear another $7-8 million in the next 24 hours, Richards and Stamkos remain as nothing more than pipe dreams.

    What Philadelphia could really use is some two-way support at center.

    Enter Eric Belanger.

    Belanger has great two-way ability, which would help replace the shutdown ability of Mike Richards.

    He can also score when needed.  Surrounded by some of the young talent that the Flyers possess up front will allow Belanger the opportunity to pick up some points.

Phoenix Coyotes

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    An NHL property for another year, the Coyotes will be a cap floor team.

    They have a ways to go to get there.

    In the off-season they traded the negotiating rights of Ilya Bryzgalov to Philadelphia.

    Effective goaltending has been at the core of the franchise's surprisingly strong play the last two seasons.

    Bryzgalov's departure clears the path for Tomas Vokoun to trade the sands of the Florida beaches for the sands of the Arizona desert.

    Vokoun is the one player who could help the Coyotes achieve their necessary cap growth and actually improve their goaltending situation.

    Vokoun is still an elite netminder.  Both the player and the team improve their chances of winning in this situation.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The distribution of the Penguins' remaining $5-6 million in cap room depends largely on the Jaromir Jagr situation.

    If he signs, look for Pittsburgh to add some toughness.

    If he doesn't, look for more offensive flair.

    Since it is Jagr that we are talking about, let's go with the negative side, and assume he plays elsewhere.

    Radim Vrbata would work well in the Penguins system and budget.

    Vrbata has the skating ability, offensive skill and defensive responsibility that Pittsburgh looks for.

San Jose Sharks

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    San Jose is in a bit of a pickle.  They have $7 million available under the cap, but only eight forwards under contract.

    They are going to go after veteran role players and unproven youngsters looking for an opportunity.

    Nicklas Bergfors could be a match.

    He has loads of untapped potential, yet has been shown the door by three successive organizations. The Sharks can offer Bergfors an opportunity to play in a successful organization—and finally turn his talent into production.

    Of course Bergfors is in no position to command a great deal of money, making him an ideal, low risk signing.

St. Louis Blues

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    The Blues have 18 players signed and more than $21 million in cap space available.

    St. Louis has talent in every area, but few—if any—elite players.

    The team has shown a willingness to be aggressive in free agency and at the trade deadline. They recently landed Halak and are in on the Kovalchuk sweepstakes, so they do not fear spending.

    Brad Richards would be an ideal candidate here.

    His talents would mesh very well with the bullish David Backes and/or Chris Stewart, giving the team a true number one center.

    Will Richards consider the Blues?

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Tampa has already invested heavily in the players they brought in to the organization just last season, by re-signing Dwayne Roloson and Eric Brewer.

    Unsigned RFA Steven Stamkos still looms and will dictate how much cap space they will actually have remaining from the $18 million they currently possess.

    Still, they will have a significant chunk available to pursue a younger replacement for Simon Gagne.

    Jussi Jokinen could fill that role nicely.

    He's played in Tampa before, but his game has vastly improved since then. With Carolina he refined his all-around game, including his scoring touch.

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Like the Rangers, the fit for the Leafs is another no brainer.

    Toronto has been starved for a top line center to play with high cost winger Phil Kessel.

    The teams brass believes, as do many others, that Kessel will never fully achieve his potential without an elite pivot.

    Brad Richards could be the missing cog that the Leafs have desperately been seeking, the piece that restores the franchise to it's former glory.

    It's been speculated that Richards will shy away from intense, hockey crazed markets like Toronto, but that remains to be proven.

Vancouver Canucks

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    If one weakness was exposed during their Cup Final appearance with Boston, it was team toughness.

    Not the goonery of Alex Burrows—biting, slapping and yapping, etc...that passes for toughness in some circles.

    I'm talking real toughness. Like the "I'm gonna hit you clean and you will feel it tomorrow" kind of toughness of Mike Rupp.

    Rupp is a huge body.  He uses it to punch lights out, shield defenders from the puck down low, lay big hits along the board...and also to pop in a few goals along the way.

    Vancouver would benefit from a veteran leader like Rupp who can be an example in the locker room, the community and on the ice.

Washington Capitals

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    The Caps have $9 million in cap space and not much in the way of roster spots to fill.

    This means that Washington can go after players that will fulfill very specific areas they seek to improve upon.

    The Capitals stressed defense last season. They became much more adept in their own zone, but were no more effective in the post-season.

    Look for Washington to add skilled players that have been on winners.

    Jonathan Ericsson, who has played on the Red Wings' blueline his entire career, could be a great place to start.

    Ericsson has the good balance of puck moving ability and defensive responsibility that the Capitals crave.

    Playing for such a successful organization and learning from some of the games' great winners could pay intangible dividends to a team searching for answers.

Winnipeg Jets

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    The Jets have a slew of their own RFA's that they will have to make decisions about.

    With a massive $28 million in cap space they could theoretically go after anyone they like, but don't count on it this year.

    The team has virtually no one signed to long term deals, and few are signed to contracts even next season.

    This is the time for the new market owners to evaluate what is in the Atlanta storehouse, then make long term decisions based on what they see in the first year in the 'peg.

    The Jets will have to spend a few dollars to get to the cap floor, so look for them to move on short term deals with guys like courageous veteran Steve Sullivan.

    Sullivan plays in all the dirty areas and leads by example.  He would fit in well with a team full of high potential players like Kane, Antropov, Little and Burmistrov.

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