NHL Free Agents: 22 Big Names That'll Be Looking for a Team Next Summer

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IDecember 20, 2011

NHL Free Agents: 22 Big Names That'll Be Looking for a Team Next Summer

0 of 22

    As trade rumors continue to heat up heading towards Christmas and then the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, the focus in many rumors are "rental players."

    Guys that are in the final year of their contracts are popular trade candidates because the team receiving them has limited financial exposure. Certainly restricted free agents have a larger number of options than unrestricted free agents, but players with a number of years and big dollars left on their current deals are, often times, harder to move.

    What follows is a look at 22 players that will be unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2012. Because of the control teams have over restricted players, the odds are longer that those players will be looking for a team.

    Here are some names to watch before the trade deadline and in free agency next summer.

Johnny Boychuk

1 of 22

    Age: 27
    Cap Hit: $1.850M

    Boychuk could be looking for a nice raise this summer, but it might come from the team that holds his rights now. He's a solid defenseman who could see his cap number jump to around $3M on his next deal.

Paul Gaustad

2 of 22

    Age: 29
    Cap Hit: $2.3M

    Gaustad is a big, physical center who wins faceoffs, hits and blocks shots effectively. He might not be the most sexy name on this list, but he's the kind of player that takes a good roster to the next level. If Buffalo doesn't keep him around, he'll get a lot of attention this summer.

Saku Koivu

3 of 22

    Age: 37
    Cap Hit: $2.5M

    At this point in his career, Koivu might be looking for one-year deals and a good chance at the Cup. Whether or not that means Anaheim is in his future is to be determined, but he might look good next to another Koivu in Minnesota as well.

Tim Gleason

4 of 22

    Age: 28
    Cap Hit: $2.75M

    Gleason isn't a household name, but he's going to get a lot of attention in trade rumor blogs between now and the trade deadline. He's relatively young, has an affordable cap number and plays a smart game. The odds that he finishes the year in Carolina are shrinking with each loss, and the odds that he returns there next season are smaller than that.

Jiri Hudler

5 of 22

    Age: 27
    Cap Hit: $2.875M

    Hudler's an interesting player because a lot of Detroit people haven't been thrilled with his performance over the last couple years, but he's been better this year. Looking at the success enjoyed by another former Red Wing, Ville Leino, there's a chance Hudler looks to get paid outside Detroit.

Johnny Oduya

6 of 22

    Age: 30
    Cap Hit: $3.5M

    Oduya has a higher cap number and age than a guy like Gleason, but he'll be a popular guy for a team to settle on if they miss out on one of the top few defensemen. It's hard to see his cap number getting much higher than $4M on his next deal and it's even harder to see Winnipeg paying him as much as some other teams might.

Dustin Penner

7 of 22

    Age: 29
    Cap Hit: $4.25M

    Here's your early leader for biggest free agency loser of 2012. Just as Sheldon Souray had to take a one-year deal to try to create a demand for his services after being exiled last year, Penner might be the most unpopular person in Los Angeles that hasn't owned the Dodgers. He certainly won't be back with the Kings next year, and likely won't see a deal with a cap number over $4M either.

Kristian Huselius

8 of 22

    Age: 33
    Cap Hit: $4.75M

    Huselius is a candidate for the where-did-that-come-from contract of the coming summer. He's been a pretty solid 20-to-30-goal guy over the last decade, but has struggled to get and stay healthy in the last 18 months. At his age, he'll certainly look somewhere outside Columbus, but the question is if someone will pay him based on the 60-point player he was a few years ago or if he'll have to settle for a shorter term deal to prove he can stay healthy.

Jarret Stoll

9 of 22

    Age: 29
    Cap Hit: $3.6M

    Stoll might be a popular name to leave LA before the deadline because of what he brings to the table. He's been over 40 points in three straight seasons for the Kings and is a physical power forward. He's at the right age that cashing in with a deal similar to what Troy Brouwer got from Washington might not be out of the question.

Matt Carle

10 of 22

    Age: 27
    Cap Hit: $3.4375M

    The coming months will be fascinating to watch between Carle and the Flyers. He appeared to be the odd man out when GM Paul Holmgren started handing out extensions earlier this year, but now that Chris Pronger's out for the rest of the season (and there are questions about his future), Carle might become a more-needed man in Philly. He might also become a piece they could use to bring in a top-pair defenseman to fill Pronger's skates.

David Jones

11 of 22

    Age: 27
    Cap Hit: $2.5M

    After exploding for 27 goals in 77 games last year, Jones signed a one-year deal with the Avs so he could test unrestricted free agency this summer. Based on his 14 points to date, that approach may have backfired. However, he is still one of the more intriguing young forwards who will bring a lot of ability to the free agent market this summer.

Tuomo Ruutu

12 of 22

    Age: 28
    Cap Hit: $3.8M

    Ruutu, who was traded to Carolina for Andrew Ladd a few years ago, has been a solid forward for the Canes since moving south from Chicago. He's been over 50 points in two of the last three seasons for the Canes (and had 35 in only 54 games in 2009-10). As has been the case for a number of free-agents-to-be on teams that are sinking, Ruutu will be popular in the trade rumors in the coming weeks.

Francois Beauchemin

13 of 22

    Age: 31
    Cap Hit: $3.8M

    Beauchemin is a guy that needs to get/stay healthy to get himself a ticket out of Anaheim. With a cap number that isn't out of control and a solid veteran game, there's a good chance a team looking for a top-four veteran defenseman will make a call to Anaheim soon (cough... Philly...). Next summer, though, he could be looking for the last longer-term deal (four or five years) of his career.

Ales Hemsky

14 of 22

    Age: 28
    Cap Hit: $4.1M

    Hemsky has been and will continue to be the popular name in trade rumors in Edmonton. He's been limited to 69 games in the last two years because of injuries, but was almost a point-per-game player in those contests, with 64 points. His production is down to start this year again, and he might be moved by a team that could use him to add more depth to their young team.

Mikhail Grabovski

15 of 22

    Age: 27
    Cap Hit: $2.9M

    After 58 points last year, including 29 goals, he was positioned to make a push to get paid by the Leafs. There's still a very good chance he stays put in a Leafs sweater next year as his value is probably higher inside the Toronto organization than outside it.

Kyle Brodziak

16 of 22

    Age: 27
    Cap Hit: $1.15M

    Brodziak is doing a great job of being the early leader for the big winner of the 2012 free agent class. After establishing a career-high 16 goals and 37 points last year, he's already scored 11 in the first third of the 2011-12 season and has 18 points already. He'll continue to get attention if he continues to lead a first place team in scoring, and his cap number will certainly be significantly higher than it is now.

John-Michael Liles

17 of 22

    Age: 31
    Cap Hit: $4.2M

    Liles is one of two guys that could could get a nice paycheck once the big name clears the market this summer (that being Ryan Suter). He's consistently been between 30 to 50 points his entire career, and could push the envelope over 50 this season if he continues at his current pace with Toronto. That kind of production could get him a cap number pushing $5M on a market that will desperately try to pay Suter and then overpay the top guys left on the market.

Dennis Wideman

18 of 22

    Age: 28
    Cap Hit: $3.937M

    Wideman, with Liles, stands to benefit from the cash left on the table after Suter picks his home for the 12-13 season. He put up solid numbers in Boston for years, and is off to a good start this year in Washington. Whether or not the Caps make him a decent offer this summer is dependent on what they do with Mike Green, who will be a restricted free agent.

Shane Doan

19 of 22

    Age: 35
    Cap Hit: $4.55M

    Doan will probably be looking for a new home whether he's a member of the organization he's with now or another one; the Coyotes don't have ownership yet, and might be leaving the desert. It's hard to see Doan staying with that franchise through another move. Frankly, he deserves better.

Alexander Semin

20 of 22

    Age: 27
    Cap Hit: $6.7M

    Semin has the highest cap number hitting the unrestricted market this summer, and the multi-million dollar question will be whether or not his next contract is with a team in the NHL or Russia. He has the ability to be a franchise player who scores on anyone anywhere, but he sometimes brings the effort of a rec league player with a hangover.

Ryan Suter

21 of 22

    Age: 26
    Cap Hit: $3.5M

    There's a really good chance that Suter's already-respectable cap number doubles this summer. What we don't know yet is if the Preds will give their money to Suter or Shea Weber... or if they somehow find enough change between the couch cushions to pay both of them on top of Pekka Rinne's deal from earlier this year. If Suter hits the open market, Detroit would have to be the most logical destination; they'll have a ton of cap space and might be looking to replace Nik Lidstrom.

Zach Parise

22 of 22

    Age: 27
    Cap Hit: $6M

    The best-all-around forward that could become an unrestricted free agent this summer, Parise will be the biggest name in trade rumors the rest of this year. If he is willing to stay in New Jersey, they'll have to have at least the framework of a deal in place before the deadline. If the Devils don't have assurances that he'll stay and keep him, they could stand to lose a king's ransom and a great player.