NHL Free-Agency Predictions: 15 Players Set to Score Big in 2012 Free Agency

Matthew FairburnCorrespondent IAugust 31, 2011

NHL Free-Agency Predictions: 15 Players Set to Score Big in 2012 Free Agency

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    The NHL free-agency market has become a get rich quick scheme for players across the league. During 2011 NHL free agency, Brad Richards, Christian Ehrhoff, Ilya Bryzgalov and many others cashed in on teams looking to spend money and improve their team. In summers prior to that, Ilya Kovalchuk, Daniel Briere and countless others have done the same thing. The open market can be a wonderful thing.

    Next summer, expect the trend to continue, as plenty of high-profile players will be opening up the bidding for their services if their current teams are not able to lure them into high-priced long-term contracts of their own.

    The 2012 NHL free-agent class has no shortage of talent, but teams around the league better be ready to open up their checkbooks.

R.J. Umberger

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    R.J. Umberger has never been anything more than a second-line two-way forward. However, in Columbus he has been made into a first liner, and a rather productive one at that.

    In 2011-2012, Umberger will likely get a chance to play alongside Jeff Carter and Rick Nash this season, which will do wonders for his point totals. Expect Umberger to improve on his $3.75 million cap hit when he hits free agency next summer.

Tuukka Rask

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    The Boston Bruins have found themselves in one of the greatest predicaments a team can get stuck in. They have two excellent goaltending options on their roster in Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask.

    Rask had a rocky 2010-2011 season, but the potential he flashed the season before was not a flash in the pan. Rask can play. In a few years he figures to be one of the 10 best goaltenders in the NHL. Whether or not the Bruins decide to lock him up long term (he is a restricted free agent next summer), Rask will get paid.

Erik Karlsson

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    Restricted free agency has made many players rich this offseason. Some of the league's top defensemen are setting the market price for future contract negotiations, including that of Erik Karlsson.

    An All-Star in 2011, Karlsson is the franchise player of the Ottawa Senators, and really the only true building block that team has in place for the future. They would be wise to lock him up long term regardless of the price.

Tyler Myers

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    The progression of Tyler Myers was the biggest bright spot for the Buffalo Sabres this season. Buffalo has their franchise goaltender and now appears to have a franchise defenseman to protect him for the rest of his career.

    Of course, the Sabres are going to want to see another solid season out of Myers before throwing outrageous money in his direction, but I see no reason not to expect another step forward from Myers, who will have Robyn Reghr and Christian Ehrhoff by his side this year as well.

Victor Hedman

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    Same story, different player. Victor Hedman is another young franchise defenseman that is hitting restricted free agency next summer, and in my opinion, he has the highest ceiling of them all. Hedman really shined at times in the postseason for the Tampa Bay Lightning, gaining some valuable postseason experience.

    Victor Hedman could easily rake in a contract with a cap hit of $5 million with another solid season in Tampa Bay.

John Tavares

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    Imagine if teams in the NHL actually attempted to throw offer sheets at restricted free agents. The RFA pool is always littered with studs, yet there seems to be some unwritten rule against trying to steal another team's top player. Anyways, I digress.

    John Tavares appears primed for a breakout season in 2011-2012. With 54 points as a rookie and 67 points a season ago, Tavares is on the verge of becoming one of the elite offensive players in the league. 80 points is not out of the question.

    If Tavares improves on is '10-'11 numbers, a huge payday is in his future.

Shea Weber

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    Shea Weber has played the restricted free agency game already and ended up winning big in arbitration. The ball is now in Nashville's court, as they have to come to terms with Weber on a long-term deal or they risk losing him down the road.

    As soon as Nicklas Lidstrom retires, Shea Weber will be the best defenseman in the NHL. It goes without saying how foolish it would be for Nashville to somehow let him slip away.

Carey Price

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    The final restricted free-agent stud I want to examine is Carey Price. Price went into a slump prior to the 2010 NHL Playoffs but has since reemerged as the franchise goalie for the Montreal Canadiens. Price was dominant last season, as the Canadiens nearly upset the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Boston Bruins.

    Price is currently making just over $2 million per season, and if the Canadiens are smart, they will lock up significant money in Price long term.

Niklas Kronwall

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    With Nicklas Lidstrom's retirement imminent, Niklas Kronwall's value to the Detroit Red Wings is skyrocketing.

    Kronwall has to stay healthy and continue playing the sturdy defense that has come to be expected of him, and the Red Wings will have no choice but to pay him more than the $3 million he will make this season. If Detroit doesn't pay him, someone else will.

Braydon Coburn

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    The Philadelphia Flyers have plenty of overpriced contracts on their plate, but at a $3.2 million cap hit, Braydon Coburn is not one of them. After the aging Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, Coburn is far and away the best defenseman on the roster. At times last season, Coburn was the single most reliable defenseman on the team.

    Given the questionable futures of the top two blueliners on Philly's roster, there is no doubt that Coburn has to get paid and paid well. If Paul Holmgren let's Coburn walk, I wouldn't be surprised to see him get overpaid in the $4.5-5 million a year range.

Pekka Rinne

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    Pekka Rinne's Vezina nomination is about to earn him a fat paycheck within the next 12 months. Rinne, who currently makes roughly $3.5 million per season, could see his contract soar into the $5 million per year range with another solid season.

    Rinne, along with Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, is the reason the Nashville Predators have been successful these past few seasons. He has only scratched the surface of what he could do for this team.

Shane Doan

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    Few players have been as loyal to an organization as Shane Doan has been to the Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes. After spending his entire career with this franchise, it is definitely time for Doan to hit the open market for greener pastures in pursuit of a Stanley Cup championship.

    Doan won't improve much on his $4.5 million salary, but the 34-year-old veteran will score big in the sense that he will have a shot at playing for a contending team, something he has very rarely done throughout his career.

Zach Parise

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    The New Jersey Devils and Zach Parise agreed to a one-year contract worth $6 million after months of fruitless negotiation. 

    If Zach Parise suits up for the Devils to start the 2012-2013 season, I will be shocked. New Jersey will not be able to lock him up long term. They had plenty of time to get a deal done this time around and were only able to give him a one-year bridge to free agency.

    The Devils will either trade Parise at the deadline, or let him walk in free agency. Either way, the American-born winger is going to get paid.

Alexander Semin

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    Make no mistake about it, Alexander Semin has cashed in big time already with two short-term big money contracts. But the Russian goalscorer will be in pursuit of his second big contract when he hits free agency following the 2011-2012 season.

    Rumors have surfaced that Semin doesn't care about the game and is a bad teammate. However, his talent is undeniable. It would not be a surprise to see him leave Washington. And it won't be a surprise when teams are lining up to sign him.

Ryan Suter

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    The Nashville Predators currently have a tremendous bargain in Ryan Suter, who only carries a $3.5 million cap hit and is a premiere defenseman in the NHL. Unfortunately for Nashville, they only have that bargain for one more season.

    Nashville better play their cards right, because the trifecta of players that has brought them success are all on the ropes next offseason. I know there is not a lot of money to go around in Nashville, but if they ever want to be a threat in the NHL, the Preds will lock up Weber, Suter and Rinne.