2012 NHL Free Agency: 5 Teams Under the Most Pressure to Spend This Offseason
While the playoffs continue to rage for eight lucky teams, the rest of the NHL sits in a silent wait for their opportunity to grab the spotlight—the free-agent market.
This year's class of players with expiring contracts lacks significant depth, but the star status of a few top free agents is enough to keep the money flying around the league this summer.
Twenty-one teams are currently poised to have at least $15 million to spend this offseason on both re-signings and free-agent additions, according to CapGeek.com's numbers, and the annual salary-cap increase could raise that total even higher.
With all of that cash to spend and such a limited number of grade-A players available, the bidding wars promise to be fiercer—and more inflated—than ever, come July.
From the clubs seeking to make their way back into the 2013 playoff field to the squads more interested in gathering the assets for a legitimate Stanley Cup run, more than a few GMs have been given the go-ahead signal for an offseason of heavy spending.
Which teams are under the pressure to throw the millions around this summer? In the upcoming slides, we'll examine five specific clubs' motives to spend, and who they could each target with all of that money.
Note: All possible free-agent signings mentioned specifically are solely author's speculation unless otherwise cited to an outside source.
It's hard to believe that the Minnesota Wild were leading the NHL less than five months ago but, indeed, on December 17th, 2011, the Wild were topping the standings with 45 points in 33 games.
Since then, however, Minnesota and first-year head coach Mike Yeo posted a miserable 15-28-6 record to fall into the seventh overall pick in June's NHL draft, well out of the Western Conference playoff picture yet again.
Yeo's corps of forwards remains largely under contract through next season, although he and GM Chuck Fletcher could certainly be pressured to change up that group—which ranked dead last in scoring this past season—via trade.
On the other hand, many of the various blueliners who composed Minnesota's mix-and-match 2011-2012 defense are set to become UFAs (unrestricted free agents) themselves in July.
Considering the different yet equally pressing reasons for reformation of both units—as well as the pressure inflicted by a sizeable Minnesota fanbase yearning for a playoff-contending squad—expect the Wild to be extremely viable destinations for the likes of Alexander Semin, Zach Parise and Dennis Wideman, among others, this summer.
Since locking up scrappy stars Tim Gleason and Tuomo Ruutu to three-year extensions earlier in the season, the 'Canes don't have much in the way of expiring contracts to deal with this summer—only aging rearguards Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek are currently facing UFA status.
Nevertheless, Carolina is very eager to show a different side of themselves by contending for many of the biggest fishes in the pond.
As TSN's Darren Dreger reported in March, the Hurricanes are "going to go hard after Zach Parise" in addition to showing "considerable interest in Ryan Suter," as well. News & Observer reporter Luke DeCock also mentioned trade targets such as Patrick Marleau or Jerome Iginla as possible secondary options.
Why are the 'Canes suddenly a leading team in the offseason buzz? Franchise owner Peter Karmanos, who's historically kept the reins tight on experienced GM Jim Rutherford and his salary floor roster, has finally given the signal to spend, and Carolina plans to do just that.
With Jiri Tlusty's emergence as a strong first-line winger alongside Eric Staal, and the team's promising final months of the season (47 points over their final 37 games, equal to 104 points over an entire season), adding a high-profile, No. 1 winger such as Parise, Alex Semin or former 'Cane Ray Whitney, could complete a very underrated group of top-six forwards.
Meanwhile, Carolina's defense, which has surrendered the NHL's most shots against for two years running, could desperately use the services of a true shut-down D-man like Matt Carle or the aforementioned Suter.
As always, the Hurricanes will need to fill some gaping holes this July if they hope to become a consistent playoff team again. But, unlike past years, they finally have the cash to do so this time around.
For a more in-depth review of the 'Canes upcoming summer situation, take a look at Bleacher Report's Hurricanes offseason preview.
Detroit Red Wings
April was a shocking month for the Detroit Red Wings, who were eliminated in their opening series—in just five games, no less—for the first time since 2006.
And now the winds of change, already breezy throughout the regular season, are blowing full blast in Hockeytown.
Detroit faces eight players with expiring contracts—including unheralded scorers Jiri Hudler and Darren Helm, as well as cornerstone defenseman Niklas Lidstrom—and could be headed towards a major mid-summer shakeup.
As expected, Detroit will be a top target destination for all of the top free agents this summer, but defense—given Brian Rafalski's unexpected retirement last summer and the possibility that Lidstrom could soon follow—will likely be the top priority.
As B/R's Rob Kirk states bluntly, "It will cost a fortune to get Shea Weber or Ryan Suter out of Nashville, but [Ken] Holland needs to get one of the Preds' defensemen at whatever cost."
Fortunately for the Red Wings, though, they'll have far more cash to work with than usual; over $20.7 million, to be specific. KuklasKorner expects Detroit to be tremendous front-runners in at least one big bidding war once July 1st arrives, and we could easily see them being involved in several more than that.
The Winnipeg Jets' mere presence was enough to delight the hockey fans of Manitoba this season, but now the Jets and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff's honeymoon has come to an end.
After spending the 2011 offseason signing D-grade players Derek Meech, Tanner Glass and Randy Jones, this July seems poised to be a whole lot different.
The NHL lies in wait to see what kind of cards the Jets are prepared to play in this year's free-agent market. It's essentially a first-time experience for the Winnipeg front office, and their role is completely up in the air.
One thing we do know, however, is that Winnipeg could really use a blueliner or two to help out the team's 26th-ranked defense from this past season. Ryan Suter and Shea Weber are the obvious top choices, but if the Jets don't want to get involved in those respective bidding frenzies, their list of options could stretch towards players like Bryan Allen, Barret Jackman or Matt Carle.
Winnipeg will have a whopping $27.4 million in cap space to operate within, despite a 2011-12 roster with essentially zero key players facing the UFA market this summer. With a fantastic atmosphere and feel-good story also backing their resume, the Jets could be in good shape—and also under a lot of pressure— to land a few household names this summer.
After naming Marc Bergevin the new Montreal Canadiens general manager Wednesday, the Habs' can now be satisfied with a reputable man handling things behind the scenes.
But Bergevin won't get to revel in the limelight for long.
He'll square off, toe to toe, with his first pressing priority this summer. Up first on the schedule will be to sort through the 15 Habs with expiring contracts (although only four of them are pending UFAs), and then make changes on the open market that can transform Montreal from a last-place team to a playoff contender in one year's time.
The Canadiens have needs pretty much everywhere, and certainly won't be able to fill all of them through the draft. That leaves free agency as their means to reconstruct a defensive unit with too many players and not enough skill, as well as a group of forwards lacking much depth presence on the lower lines.
Bergevin can be anticipated to unveil a plethora of major trades and signings over the course of the offseason—anyone from forwards David Jones and Lee Stempniak to defensemen Matt Carle to Ryan Suter.
But one thing is most definitely already set in stone: The Canadiens are under a mountain of pressure to spend.