NHL Free Agency: Top 5 Free Agents with Projected Destinations

Joe Fitzhenry@@joefitz1014Correspondent IIMay 29, 2012

NHL Free Agency: Top 5 Free Agents with Projected Destinations

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    As we head towards Game 1 of the Stanley Cup tomorrow night, it means one other thing is coming up on the NHL calendar.

    NHL Free Agency will open on July 1 with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter being just a few of the names that will hit the open market. 

    Last summer, the New York Rangers were one of the big winners of the free agency season with the addition of Brad Richards. He immediately paid dividends, posting 25 goals and 41 assists while appearing in all 82 games. 

    This article will list the top five free agents for this summer, along with their potential landing spots. 

No. 1: Zach Parise

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    Zach Parise will be the top player available in the 2012 class. A young winger just entering the prime of his career will be a hot commodity come July 1.

    The North Dakota product is both a great playmaker and pure goal scorer.

    Unlike teammate Ilya Kovalchuk, Parise earns his points not from natural skill, but from hard work and grit he displays on the ice.

    The 27-year-old Parise should draw interest from about every team in the NHL. The winger posted 31 goals and 38 assists, totaling 69 points, for the 2011-2012 season.

    Early reports have indicated the Hurricanes and Red Wings are just two of the teams that will join in the bidding war. However, he will come at a steep price—somewhere in the range of $7.5 to $8 million per year.

    With that being said, one has to wonder if Parise will end up deciding to stay in New Jersey, given the team's playoff success thus far. 

    Prediction: Devils

No. 2: Ryan Suter

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    Similar to the interest Parise will draw, Ryan Suter will also be highly sought by a number of teams. It is not often that a 27-year-old defenseman just entering his prime is available on the open market.

    Suter tallied seven goals and 39 assists while also having a plus-15 rating over 20 minutes of ice time per game. He will be the top priority for Nashville, but it remains to be seen if he will actually sign there or not. 

    According to Josh Cooper of the Tennessean, discussions between Suter's agent, Neil Sheehy, and the Predators are expected to begin this week. 

    "I'm going to talk to Neil in the next couple of days to firm that up more," Predators General Manager David Poile said.

    "That's certainly the goal."

    If a deal isn't worked out with the Predators, Suter will by far be the top defenseman in this year's class of free agents. 

    The Flyers, who have inquired about the Wisconsin native in the past, would likely be one of the teams to make a strong push for Suter.

    Prediction: Flyers

No. 3: Shane Doan

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    Shane Doan defines "loyalty" in every sense.

    From a franchise having a various assortment of ownership issues, Doan has always stuck with the Phoenix Coyotes. He has served as their captain since 2003.

    Unlike the other players on this list so far, Doan is already 35 years old and heading towards the twilight of his playing career.

    Nonetheless, despite the age, he is still a productive winger who can help a contending team. The captain posted 22 goals and 28 assists over the course of the 2011-2012 season.

    According to Collin Fleming of azfamily.com, the organization wants the only remaining original Winnipeg Jet to remain with the team.

    "Certainly Shane is our top priority," Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said.

    He is often referred to as the heart and soul of the franchise, while also a fan favorite in Phoenix. I don't see Doan leaving the Coyotes, as he will likely sign his final professional contract with them this summer. 

    Prediction: Coyotes

No. 4: Alexander Semin

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    Some would have ranked Semin ahead of Shane Doan on this list, but I am not one of them.

    Once Semin shows anywhere near the level of effort and heart the Coyotes captain has displayed consistently over the course of his career, maybe I will consider the change. 

    The Russian winger has the talent to be one of the elite players in the NHL, but his effort has never quite been at a high level. 

    Despite that, some teams will still be willing to throw a good chunk of money at Semin because he still does post solid scoring numbers. For the 2011-2012 season, Semin scored 21 goals and contributed 33 helpers in 77 games.

    Interestingly, according to the Twitter account of Dmitry Chesnokov, the KHL club, SKA-St. Petersburg, will talk to Semin about a possible return to Russia.  

    He would not be the first former NHL'er to return to Russia, as Maxim Afinogenov and Petr Prucha are both currently playing in the KHL. 

    Personally, it would not surprise me to see Semin make a return to his home country. He has fallen out of favor in Washington and is not a likely candidate to play for the Capitals next season. 

    Prediction: KHL

No. 5: Ray Whitney

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    Here is the one player on the list who has never quite received the credit that he has deserved over the course of his career. Ray Whitney is called by many the most underrated player in the league.

    Just this season, at the ripe young age of 40, Whitney tallied 24 goals and 53 assists for the surprising Pacific Division champions.

    Not to mention the fact that he has scored at least 20 goals in five of the past six years. 

    If he decides to return for another season, the veteran winger could come at a higher price than expected for some teams. He would be an ideal fit on a team, such as the New York Rangers, that is seemingly missing that one piece.

    He could also draw interest from a team like the Boston Bruins, who are looking to rebound from an earlier than expected playoff exit this season. 

    Despite the 12-year age gap, Whitney may have more suitors than Alexander Semin. Teams around the league will never turn down an opportunity to potentially sign a gritty and productive veteran at a relatively cheap cost. 

    Another aspect that teams could find potentially attractive is the playoff experience that Whitney has, having won a Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006. 

    Prediction: Bruins

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