Ranking the 10 Best NHL Free Agents in the 2015 Offseason

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistApril 14, 2015

Ranking the 10 Best NHL Free Agents in the 2015 Offseason

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    This season's NHL free-agency period begins on July 1, 2015. While fewer than three months away, it's never too early to examine this year's crop to find the best available talent.

    The current pool of unrestricted free agents isn't particularly deep, but there's still some worthwhile talent that should attract attention. Be it starting goaltenders, puck-moving defensemen, offensive forwards or defensive specialists, there's something available to suit several needs.

    The following slideshow highlights this summer's 10 best NHL free agents, providing an outlook on potential destinations and asking prices. Each player's strengths and weaknesses factored into this ranking.

Honorable Mentions

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Martin St. Louis, New York Rangers. St. Louis put up good numbers in his first full season with the Rangers. The New York Post's Larry Brooks reports St. Louis wants to remain a Ranger. He turns 40 in June, however, and age is catching up with him.

    Mike Fisher, Nashville Predators. Fisher, 34, overcame Achilles' tendon surgery which sidelined him for the opening 21 games. He put up respectable numbers this season. His wife is country star Carrie Underwood, meaning he'll probably re-sign with the Predators. 

    Marek Zidlicky, Detroit Red Wings. The 38-year-old Zidlicky remains a skilled, puck-moving blueliner. He exceeded 30 points for the eighth time in his NHL career. Given Zidlicky's age, he could be an affordable signing on a one-year, bonus-laden deal.

    Christian Ehrhoff, Pittsburgh Penguins. Injuries hampered Ehrhoff's performance this season. When healthy, he's a swift, puck-handling defenseman. His recent concussion history, however, could dampen his value in the free-agent market. 

    Francois Beauchemin, Anaheim Ducks. Beauchemin, 34, has been a reliable defenseman for the Ducks. Given their young defense corps, Ducks management could re-sign him to an affordable, short-term deal.

    Michael Frolik, Winnipeg Jets. Frolik reached the 40-point mark this season for the fourth time in his NHL career. At 27, he's also in his playing prime. Inconsistency, however, remains an issue for Frolik. 

    Cody Franson, Nashville Predators. Franson tallied 32 points in 55 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs this season. Since being dealt to the Predators in mid-February, however, the 27-year-old is struggling. That could adversely affect his free-agent value.

    Jeff Petry, Montreal Canadiens. Petry's a smooth-skating defenseman with a right-handed shot. That could attract interest from several clubs in need of that trait. The 27-year-old seems at best a second-pairing defenseman.

    Matt Beleskey, Anaheim Ducks. Beleskey, 27, could be a late-blooming scorer. He reached the 20-goal mark for the first time this season. It remains to be seen, however, if he has become a reliable offensive winger. 

    Eric Fehr, Washington Capitals. The 29-year-old Fehr had a solid performance with the Capitals this season. He has an injury history and can be an inconsistent scorer.  

10. Carl Soderberg, Boston Bruins

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Strengths: Boston Bruins center Carl Soderberg possesses a good combination of size and skill. The versatile 29-year-old can play center or wing. A smart playmaker with a good, two-way game, Soderberg has reached the 40-point mark twice. 

    Weaknesses: Soderberg has only two years of NHL experience under his belt. Despite his size, he's not a very physical forward. He's also seen limited playoff action.

    Outlook: Soderberg is completing a two-year deal worth $1.008 million annually. He could be a bargain signing (between $3-$4 million annually) on a three-year deal. Teams in need of affordable second-line depth will come calling. The New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets could be among his suitors.

9. Drew Stafford, Winnipeg Jets

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Strengths: Winnipeg Jets winger Drew Stafford is a scorer with good size and a quick shot. The 29-year-old can play either wing and this season reached the 40-point mark for the fourth time in his career. Stafford experienced an offensive rejuvenation upon joining the Jets in a February trade from the Buffalo Sabres. 

    Weaknesses: Stafford is a streaky scorer whose production can decline for lengthy stretches. His inconsistency at times makes him an easy target for criticism. He also has limited playoff experience and isn't particularly strong in his own zone.

    Outlook: Stafford is coming off of a four-year, $16 million deal and could seek over $5 million annually on a long-term deal. Given his experience with the lowly Sabres, he may prefer signing with playoff contenders rather than rebuilding teams. The Jets could try to re-sign him. Failing that, he could attract interest from the Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils or Washington Capitals.

8. Mike Ribeiro, Nashville Predators

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Strengths: Nashville Predators center Mike Ribeiro saved his NHL career with a solid performance this season. He ranks among the Predators' leading scorers. Ribeiro is a slick playmaker who's been very durable through most of his NHL career. This season, he exceeded the 60-point mark for the sixth time

    Weaknesses: Despite his offensive prowess, Ribeiro has been plagued by off-ice issues in the past. He also hasn't put up solid playoff numbers. After agreeing to a one-year, $1.050 million contract for this season, Ribeiro could seek a significant pay raise. His age (35) could also be a factor.

    Outlook: Having performed so well with the Predators, Ribeiro could try to re-sign with them. He might have to accept a two-year deal for $4 million annually. He could attract interest from clubs seeking experienced scoring depth. The Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils could pursue him. 

7. Justin Williams, Los Angeles Kings

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Strengths: Los Angeles Kings right wing Justin Williams is a reliable, second-line right wing. He reached the 40-point mark this season for the eighth time in his career. Williams is also a proven playoff performer, playing for three Stanley Cup champions and winning the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP in 2014. 

    Weaknesses: At 33, Williams is getting long in the tooth. His offensive numbers have slowly decreased and his best seasons appear behind him. Williams is not a particularly fast skater.

    Outlook: Williams is completing a four-year deal worth $3.65 million per season. Because of his age, he'll probably get at most a three-year deal worth upwards of $4.5 million annually. Given his championship background, he will attract interest from teams seeking playoff leadership, experience and clutch play. The Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets could be destinations.

6. Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Strengths: San Jose Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi is a veteran starter. He won a Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010. Since 2009-10, he's consistently posted save percentages over .910 and only once had a goals-against average over 2.42. The 31-year-old Niemi is the most-experienced starting goalie in this summer's free-agent market. 

    Weaknesses: Niemi has struggled with consistency during his tenure with the Sharks. He sometimes has difficulty with rebound control. He could try to exploit the lack of depth in the free-agent market to command a big raise over his current $3.8 million annual salary

    Outlook: Teams in need of experienced starting goalies (Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers) may have serious interest in Niemi. The 31-year-old could land a three- or four-year deal worth up to $5 million annually with these clubs.

5. Andrej Sekera, Los Angeles Kings

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Strengths: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Andrej Sekera is a puck-moving defenseman who plays a responsible game at both ends of the ice. The 28-year-old Sekera is in his playing prime and can play big minutes. Prior to his trade to the Kings, he was among the Carolina Hurricanes' leaders in blocked shots.  

    Weaknesses: Sekera's offensive numbers this season were down from his career-best 44 points in 2013-14. That can be attributed to playing for the low-scoring Hurricanes. He's not a very physical defenseman and bigger forwards can outmuscle him.

    Outlook: Sekera's previous contract was a five-year deal worth $2.75 million annually. He could double his money via free agency this summer on a similar term. Teams in need of experienced blue line depth (Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers) could be among his suitors.

4. Antoine Vermette, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    Strengths: Chicago Blackhawks center Antoine Vermette plays a solid, two-way game. He possesses a decent scoring touch, having reached the 40-point mark four times in his career. The versatile Vermette has a strong work ethic, can play center or wing and is strong on faceoffs.

    Weaknesses: Vermette's offensive production is inconsistent. Since joining the Blackhawks in a late-season trade from the Arizona Coyotes, his scoring stats have declined. His age (32) and the recent drop in his offense could hurt his market value.

    Outlook: Coming off a five-year deal worth $3.75 million annually, Vermette could try to cash in on a six- or seven-year deal worth over $5.5 million per season. That type of contract, however, could be difficult to come by. Still, teams with lots of cap space seeking experienced forward depth (Buffalo, Edmonton, Florida, possibly even Arizona) could come calling. 

3. Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Strengths: Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Paul Martin is arguably the best all-around blueliner in this summer's free-agent market. He can log big minutes and plays a responsible game in his own zone. Martin's years of experience could prove attractive to a team seeking defensive depth. 

    Weaknesses: The 34-year-old Martin is getting up there in age and his best seasons could be behind him. He's coming off a multiyear deal paying him $5 million per season and might not accept a significant pay cut. Though a mobile rearguard, Martin doesn't have much of an offensive game.

    Outlook: Martin could be attractive to clubs with young defense corps (Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers) seeking depth and leadership. Given his age, he's unlikely to receive offers beyond three years. It could cost $4 million per season to get him under contract.

2. Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Strengths: Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk turned around his career this season, first with the Arizona Coyotes and then with the Wild. Since being dealt to Minnesota in mid-January, his numbers rank among the league's top netminders. His performance saved the once-struggling Wild, vaulting them into a playoff berth. 

    Weaknesses: Prior to this season, Dubnyk's performance had significantly declined. It remains to be seen if his recent improvement is indicative of real change or that of a one-year wonder. Dubnyk may be intent on only re-signing with the Wild. Having made $800,000 this season, he could set a very high price for his services.

    Outlook: Given what the 29-year-old has done for the Wild this season, they could re-sign him to a lengthy extension at $4 million per season. Then again, perhaps the team will opt for a short-term deal. If the Wild won't sign him, Buffalo and perhaps San Jose could pursue him. Wherever he signs, you can bet Dubnyk will attempt to cash in big on this season's performance.

1. Mike Green, Washington Capitals

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Strengths: Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green possesses terrific offensive skills. He reached the 45-point mark this season for the fourth time in his career. Green could bring experience and leadership to a young defense corps or bolster the depth of an experienced one. He possesses a right-handed shot and has improved his defensive game. 

    Weaknesses: Green slipped down the depth chart with the Capitals this season. He's coming off a multiyear deal worth over $6 million annually. Even if he agrees to a pay cut, he could be an expensive signing. His injury history could be a concern. 

    Outlook: Green, 29, could prove too expensive for the Capitals to re-sign. Teams with young defense corps, like the Arizona Coyotes, Bufffalo Sabres, Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars could pursue him. They might also be willing to pay him over $5 million per season on a three- or four-year contract.

    All stats via NHL.com. Salary information via NHLNumbers.com.

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