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Twelve big questions heading into free agency

Tuesday, 06.26.2012 / 10:32 AM / NHL Free Agency 2012

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Twelve big questions heading into free agency
Will Zach Parise and Ryan Suter re-sign with their teams or head elsewhere? Are Rick Nash and Roberto Luongo getting traded? NHL.com searches for answers to a dozen lingering questions as July 1 approaches.

The NHL Draft is done, but the business of hockey is just getting started. General managers across the League are talking with agents and each other this week as trade talks heat up and the free agency period nears.

The market opens Sunday at noon ET. The big names are well-known. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are the hottest of the hot commodities who appear primed to hit the market. There are others as well, including Alexander Semin and up-and-coming Justin Schultz, who has never played a game in the NHL but is being courted like a veteran with Stanley Cup championship rings.

Beyond free agency, the NHL could see a couple of mountains move this summer: Rick Nash and Roberto Luongo. The Capitals and Oilers still need new head coaches.

The next couple of weeks could be extraordinary as GMs look to reshape their rosters. There are no definitive answers yet, but there are plenty of lingering questions how this will play out and what the ramifications of each move will be. Here are 12 biggies, because, well it's 2012 and the number 12 makes sense:

Zach Parise
Zach Parise
Left Wing - NJD
GOALS: 31 | ASST: 38 | PTS: 69
SOG: 293 | +/-: -5
1. Which team will win the Zach Parise sweepstakes, and how much will it cost?

If he remains unsigned come noon ET Sunday, Parise will become one of the best players in recent memory to be an unrestricted free agent. He's 27 years old, the captain of a Stanley Cup Final runner-up, a proven goal scorer, and one of the hardest working players in the League. He has scored at least 30 goals in five of his six full seasons, including a career-high 45 in 2008-09.

Parise has stated his desire to return to New Jersey, and Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello obviously wants him back. But it's about money and term, and the question is, can the Devils do enough to entice him to sign before he tests his value on the open market? Parise could be in line for one of those long-term mega-deals and Pittsburgh, Detroit, Minnesota and the Rangers appear prepared to make convincing offers.

2. Which team will win the Ryan Suter sweepstakes, and how much will it cost?

Similar to Parise, Suter will be the best defensemen to hit the open market on Sunday. He is not ruling out a return to Nashville, but he has told Predators general manager David Poile that he wants to test the market. He should like what he finds because, like Parise, Suter's very close friend, teams will be lining up to get this 27-year-old mistake-free blueliner under contract for a long time.

The Red Wings seem like an obvious starting point for Suter considering they need a defenseman after the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom. Suter might have to decide if he wants to be the guy that follows the guy. Poile is confident he will be able to retain Suter, who has said he likes Nashville a lot, but he also has to decide if he wants to continue to play in Nashville captain Shea Weber's shadow or jump out and be a No. 1 guy.

3. What kind of domino effect will Suter's decision have on Weber?

Weber said in Las Vegas at the NHL Awards that if it were his choice he'd play his entire career with Suter. Well, he won't know if that's going to be possible until after Suter decides what he is going to do.

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If Suter re-signs with Nashville, then it's a good bet Weber will look to re-sign as well so the two can remain Predators with Pekka Rinne, who signed a seven-year extension in November, behind them. Nashville's ownership has stated it has the money to sign all three. However, if Suter moves elsewhere, Weber, who is a restricted free agent and open to offer sheets, might decide his future isn't in Nashville either.

4. Will Rick Nash be traded?

Though it seems likely that Nash, who has requested a trade, has played his final game for the Columbus Blue Jackets, the asking price from general manager Scott Howson reportedly remains high and that is why Nash hasn't been moved. There are teams interested, most notably the Rangers, but so far New York general manager Glen Sather isn't biting.

The thought heading into draft weekend was that Nash would be moved in Pittsburgh, but Howson told the Columbus Dispatch there wasn't enough interest. Now he's hoping he'll be able to secure all the assets he wants as a result of a thin free agent market. For instance, if some of the teams that have expressed interest in Nash -- including the Rangers, Senators, Hurricanes and Sharks -- strike out in the first couple of days of free agency, they might be ready to pull the trigger with the Blue Jackets.

5. Where will Roberto Luongo end up?

Like Nash, the writing appears to be on the wall for Luongo in Vancouver. Cory Schneider, a restricted free agent, is expected to receive a hefty raise and be elevated to No. 1 status, so Luongo has to be moved. It isn't easy, though, considering he has another 10 years left on his contract, including the next six seasons at a payout of over $6.7 million before his take-home goes down in the final four years of the deal.

Though Toronto needs him, Luongo's preferred destination reportedly is Florida, where he played for five seasons and where his wife is from. Panthers GM Dale Tallon has to figure out how much he is willing to pony up for Luongo and if getting the 33-year-old veteran is a good move considering Jacob Markstrom has long been considered the Panthers' goalie of the future.

6. Is Bobby Ryan going to be moved?

Ryan recently spoke out about his dissatisfaction with always finding himself on the trading block in Anaheim. He told the Camden Courier-Post that playing for Philadelphia would be ideal because he is from nearby Cherry Hill, N.J. He admitted there would be extra pressure based on expectations if he did wind up in Philly, but he'd love to be able to play on a line with Claude Giroux.

The Ducks are under no obligation to trade Ryan, who is signed for another three seasons at $5.1 million per. However, they also don't want a disgruntled player on their hands and would likely be able to get a few solid assets in return for Ryan, a four-time 30-goal scorer. Ryan could be a nice secondary prize for a team that doesn't land Parise and is unwilling to give up as much as Columbus wants for Nash.

7. Who will be the next coach of the Washington Capitals?

Devils assistant coach Adam Oates could be the next coach of the Caps. (Photo: Andy Marlin/NHLI)

The list of candidates appears to be down to three: Devils assistant coach Adam Oates, ex-Blackhawks assistant Mike Haviland, and Jon Cooper, the Calder Cup-winning coach with the Norfolk Admirals this past spring. None of them have NHL head-coaching experience and Cooper has never even stood behind a NHL bench, though the 44-year-old has won at every level he's ever coached.

If this is indeed the Caps' final list of candidates, it's not all that surprising. Washington GM George McPhee has hired four coaches in his tenure in D.C. and not one of them had prior NHL head-coaching experience. The question is, though, should he gamble again? It certainly appears he's willing.

(Note: The answer to this question came Tuesday when the Capitals announced Oates has been named their new coach.)

8. Which lucky guy will get to coach Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov in Edmonton?

It could be Cooper. It could be Ralph Krueger. It could be Brent Sutter. It could be someone else. Whoever it is, the next coach in Edmonton will have the pressure to win soon, perhaps in a year or two, as all this young talent the team has stockpiled with the No. 1 pick in the draft for the past three years develops.

Krueger has been with the team as associate coach for the past two seasons and in some circles is considered the frontrunner for the job. He reportedly has admitted to having contact with the Oilers' executive staff of Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini and Craig MacTavish. Sutter hasn't talked with the Oilers since coaching Team Canada in the World Championship. Cooper could be the wild card.

9. Who is Justin Schultz, and why will he be a big fish on Sunday?

Schultz was picked by Anaheim in the second round of the 2008 NHL Draft, but he became a UFA because he never signed with the Ducks. He is 21 years old, played three years at the University of Wisconsin, and is considered to be one of the best young defensive prospects in the game. Even more enticing is that he can't be offered any more than a standard entry-level contract, so he comes cheap too.

Schultz, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound offensive blueliner, registered 40 goals and 73 assists over 121 games at Wisconsin. He had 16 goals and 28 assists for 44 points in 37 games as a junior before de-registering from the school. He might be the best bargain for any team come noon ET Sunday, and that's why he's wanted by so many teams. Schultz will have his pick.

10. What happens if the Devils don't re-sign Parise?

This is a loaded question with no definitive answer because they'd have to sift through the rubble before executing a Plan B. Parise is the Devils' first priority and only priority. He's the captain of the team, the face of the franchise, and the first-line left wing. He is so important that after years at left wing, Ilya Kovalchuk moved to right wing last season -- and he did so willingly because he knows how good and important Parise is.

The Devils could look at the free agent market if Parise leaves, but they would not recoup their losses there because no one else on the market is like Parise. They could try to use the money they would have spent on Parise and get Ryan or Nash, but they'd have to give up a lot to get them as opposed to only giving up money to keep Parise. It would be a crushing blow if Parise leaves.

11. Will Toronto get a goalie?

Roberto Luongo
Roberto Luongo
Goalie - VAN
RECORD: 31-14-8
GAA: 2.41 | SVP: 0.919
Luongo is the guy who seems to be the best fit, especially because he's a butterfly goalie and Francois Allaire, the king of butterfly-goalie coaches, is in Toronto. However, as noted above, Luongo's preferred destination appears to be Florida. He can veto a trade, and you have to wonder if he wants to move from one pressure cooker (Vancouver) to an even bigger one (Toronto).

The Leafs, though, need goaltending help. They traded the rights to Jonas Gustavsson at the draft, leaving James Reimer and Ben Scrivens as their top-two goalies. Leafs GM Brian Burke said he'd be willing to go into the season with a 1-2 of Reimer and Scrivens, but that's very limited experience and pedigree in net for a team that plans on becoming a playoff contender. It seems logical for Burke to get a veteran goalie.

12. Will a team gamble on Alexander Semin and his extraordinary, yet sometimes masked, talent?

He's arguably the most skilled forward who will hit the open market Sunday, but Semin also comes with a lot of baggage, including his penchant for failing to show up in the big games. For example, Semin is averaging 0.42 goals per game in the regular season but 0.29 per game in the postseason. He is averaging 0.87 points per game in the regular season, but 0.67 in the playoffs.

The Capitals paid Semin $7 million on a one-year deal in 2011-12 and he answered with his worst season of his six-year career with 21 goals and 54 points in 77 games. He had 54 points in 2010-11 as well, but at least that was in 65 games. However, there are teams in need of offense (the Rangers?) that might bank on Semin becoming a 40-goal scorer again.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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