Now that we're into mid-December, the trade rumors are starting to gain momentum across the NHL. Every year, the names that are most popular are the guys that will need a new contract in July, and this year has an exceptional crop of players that could be looking for a new home.
In this slideshow, we'll look at 10 unrestricted free agents and try to project which team(s) are most likely to pay that player for his services next summer. Obviously there is a lot that can happen between now and the end of this season, much less July (including a new CBA), but the teams listed with these players are simply a projection.
Top Suitor: Ottawa Senators
Jones is a fascinating free agent that could hit the market hot this summer. He'll be 28 when next season begins, and could be coming off consecutive 40-point seasons. His 27 goals last year opened eyes, and he's been pretty good this year so far. He'll be coming off a one-year, $2.5 million deal and will probably be looking for a nice mid-range deal with a solid raise involved.
Ottawa might like the idea of Jones on the right wing with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek for the next few years. They'll have over $28 million in cap space this summer, and would no doubt love to get a top-line forward without overspending. Jones might be their guy.
Top Suitor: Carolina Hurricanes or Montreal Canadiens
Joni Pitkanen is the only veteran defenseman under contract next year for the Canes, who are in desperate need of adding some quality to their blue line. With over $30 million in cap space and a couple youngsters like Justin Faulk and Jamie McBain (who is a RFA this summer) developing, a guy like Carle could be a great pick-up for a team like Carolina.
In Montreal, the only NHL veterans with a deal into next year are Andrei Markov (assuming he's still able to walk) and Tomas Kaberle (assuming they still want him by September). They need to get a deal done with RFAs PK Subban, Lars Eller and Carey Price, but need to add depth (read: anything) to their blue line.
Top Suitor: Anaheim Ducks
With Teemu Selanne, Jason Blake and Saku Koivu all unrestricted free agents, the Ducks could be looking at a major overhaul between now and October. Ruutu could be a physical forward who can score the puck on a team that, right now, is four forwards deep. They'll have around $26 million in cap space, and a guy like Ruutu might be on their short list in July.
Top Suitor: Minnesota Wild
If the Wild continue to compete for a division championship, they'll enter the 2012-13 season in a conference with Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis with expectations for the first time since the North Stars were the hockey team in Minnesota.
They only have two defensemen, Marek Zidlicky and Nick Schultz, under contract next year, and they could use a guy like Liles. The pressure of expectations might be enough for the Wild to spend some money on a defenseman.
Top Suitor: Winnipeg Jets
The Jets will have money to spend and could use some firepower up front. Hemsky isn't going to get people to buy more season ticket packages, but he's an effective forward who know how to score. Looking around the Jets' roster, their blue line is pretty locked-up and they'll have roughly $30 million to sign Evander Kane, a goalie, and add quality up front.
Top Suitor: Edmonton Oilers
Right now, there are only three veteran defenseman under contract for the Oilers next year: Tom Gilbert, Ryan Whitney and Ladislav Smid. And, when the summer of 2013 rolls round, Whitney and Smid will be free agents as well. Adding a strong veteran like Wideman makes great sense for a young team that might also be shopping for a new goalie.
Top Suitor: Toronto Maple Leafs
The only forward on the Leafs' NHL roster with a contract after the summer of 2013 is Phil Kessel. If the Coyotes leave the desert, there is little/no reason for Doan to continue baby-sitting a franchise that can't stay in one place, much less put together a roster that can contend.
Toronto, meanwhile, might see a great class act veteran like Doan as the missing piece on a talented roster.
Top Suitor: Russia?
There have been questions about Semin's compete level for years, and the struggles of the Caps this year will likely mean the last team looking to sign Semin this summer is Washington. He has a truckload of talent, but takes nights (weeks) off and it hurts his team. There have been rumors that he wants to go home to play in Russia, and he might be the big-name splash the KHL wants to make.
Top Suitor: Detroit Red Wings
Whether or not the Red Wings lose Lidstrom to retirement, they'll have enough cap space that making a play for a 26-year-old All-American defenseman makes perfect sense in Hockeytown.
The only caveat we'll place on this prediction is the reality that, once the Preds choose if they'll keep Suter or Weber (it's doubtful both stick around), the odd man out will probably get traded to a team that wants to sign him. But if Suter hits the open market, he would probably just have to drive to Michigan for a new home.
Top Suitor: New Jersey Devils
The reality with Parise is that the most likely team to have him on the ice in 2012-13 is the team with whom he ends the 2011-12 season. The Devils would love to keep him (and, frankly, need to keep him), and they went as far as naming him their captain. But if he makes it clear he won't stay in Jersey, they'll trade him to a team that wants him to stay.