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Top 10 defensemen available via free agency

by Dan Rosen / Columbus Blue Jackets

Potential unrestricted free agents can begin negotiating terms of contracts with teams on Thursday. They can't sign a contract until noon ET on July 1, when the free agent market opens. NHL.com is examining the top potential UFAs at each position.

The Montreal Canadiens made sure one of the top potential unrestricted free agent defensemen this year never made it to the open market when they re-signed Jeff Petry to a six-year, $33 million contract on June 2.

Petry hit it big, and now it's fair to wonder if his contract set the bar for others to come once the signing period opens at noon ET on July 1.

Here are the top 10 defensemen that could be available this year, of which some have agents who undoubtedly will be using the Petry contract as a comparison:

MIKE GREEN, WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Previous cap charge: $6.083 million

Green would prefer to stay in Washington, but he might be too pricey for the Capitals considering their defensive depth chart. He was the Capitals' fifth defenseman this season behind Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Matt Niskanen. He averaged 19:06 of ice time per game after averaging 22:43 in 2013-14, before Orpik and Niskanen came on board. Green's role with the Capitals was still significant considering his ability on the power play, but it's hard to justify paying a fifth defensemen more than $6 million per season. He is 29 years old and has played in 575 games. He is helped by the fact he's a righty. Petry's contract will likely be mentioned in negotiations.

FRANCOIS BEAUCHEMIN, ANAHEIM DUCKS
Previous cap charge: $3.5 million

Beauchemin was the Ducks' No. 1 defenseman this season based on his ice time (22:44 per game). He had 23 points in 64 games, a plus-17 rating, and a 50.51 shot-attempts percentage (SAT). He had nine assists in 16 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He is 35 years old and can still be a valuable top-four defenseman on most teams. He'd still be a valuable veteran for the Ducks, who have a young group of defensemen in Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, and Simon Despres who appear ready to take the next step in their careers. James Wisniewski, Clayton Stoner, Mark Fistric, and Josh Manson are also signed for next season. Beauchemin wants to return to Anaheim, but the question is how much should they be willing to pay a 35-year-old?

PAUL MARTIN, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Previous cap charge: $5 million

The Penguins are in an interesting position with Martin. He was one of their top defensemen this season, particularly with Olli Maatta sidelined for the majority of the season and Christian Ehrhoff and Kris Letang out later in the season. He is still able to play upwards of 23 minutes per game and be effective. However, the Penguins have a glut of young defensemen who might be ready to play more significant minutes, including Derrick Pouliot, Scott Harrington, Brian Dumoulin, and restricted free agent Ian Cole. They also still have Letang, Maatta, Rob Scuderi, and Ben Lovejoy. They need to beef up their top-six forward group around Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The money they use there might come from what Martin was making. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Tuesday that Martin's agent, Ben Hankinson, plans to meet with Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford in Florida at the 2015 NHL Draft to discuss Martin and potential contract options.

CHRISTIAN EHRHOFF, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Previous cap charge: $4 million

Ehrhoff is a valuable defensemen, but he's coming off a concussion. With so many young players who might be ready to assume bigger roles it's unlikely he'll be back in Pittsburgh. It was reported in May that Ehrhoff was selling his home in the Pittsburgh area. He was limited to 49 games this season because of injury, but he had 14 points and averaged 21:45 of ice time.

ANDREJ SEKERA, LOS ANGELES KINGS
Previous cap charge: $2.75 million

The Kings need a player like Sekera, especially with Robyn Regehr's retirement and the cloudy future of Slava Voynov because of his legal problems and his recent Achilles surgery. They gave up a conditional first-round draft pick and a prospect to get Sekera from the Carolina Hurricanes prior to the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline. The hope was Sekera would help the Kings make the playoffs. He played well, but they couldn't get in, and now there is the threat that he could leave. The Kings' defense depth chart isn't that deep, but Sekera would fit into a top-four role with Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, and potentially Alec Martinez.

CODY FRANSON, NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Previous cap charge: $3.3 million

Franson is 27 and a righty, which are two pluses for him. However, he did not deliver as the Predators hoped he would after they acquired him from the Toronto Maple Leafs in February. He had four points in 23 games and two points in five playoff games after missing Game 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks with an upper-body injury. Franson shouldn't have any problems finding a team and a fair contract because of his age, the fact he's a righty, and his offensive skills. Petry's contract was good news for Franson.

MAREK ZIDLICKY, DETROIT RED WINGS
Previous cap charge: $4 million

Zidlicky was a quality addition for the Red Wings, who acquired him from the New Jersey Devils prior to the trade deadline. He filled a need as a right-handed defenseman and helped on the power play. He had 11 points in 21 games after the trade, but was shut out in six games in the playoffs. The Red Wings are planning to be active in the trade and free-agent market, but it's unclear if that includes Zidlicky, who is 38. Green, another righty, would cost them more but he's nine years younger; Franson is 11 years younger than Zidlicky.

JOHNNY ODUYA, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Previous cap charge: $3.383 million

Arguably nobody enhanced his value more during the playoffs than Oduya, who appears headed for the market because of the Blackhawks' cap constraints. He was effective and played significant minutes (24:45 per game), especially in the final two rounds, to help Chicago win the Stanley Cup. Oduya is a two-time Cup champion who is 33 years old and still has a lot of mileage left, as he proved in the playoffs. He would be a good fit for a team that moves the puck well and has young defensemen that can skate, such as the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers.

ZBYNEK MICHALEK, ST. LOUIS BLUES
Previous cap charge: $4 million

The Blues were hoping Michalek would fill out their defensive depth and help them go on a deep playoff run when they acquired him from the Arizona Coyotes on March 2, when he was still dealing with a concussion. He was solid once he joined the lineup, but the Blues didn't make it out of the first round, which is why changes are coming. Michalek is a sturdy and not very flashy 32-year-old right-handed defenseman. He likely will be available on July 1 as the Blues will go with a top-four defense group of Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk. and Carl Gunnarsson along with Robert Bortuzzo and Petteri Lindbohm as a bottom pair. They won't fill out their defense with a veteran who could command upwards of $4 million.

BARRET JACKMAN, ST. LOUIS BLUES
Previous cap charge: $3.167 million

The Blues have informed Jackman he won't be re-signed. He has played every one of his 803 NHL games with the Blues, but is now in the same boat as Michalek in that he's a veteran defenseman being nudged out. The only difference is Jackman has been a core member of the team for a long time. Jackman, 34, is still serviceable and would be a good addition to a team looking to bolster its blue line with a veteran, stay-at-home presence. His minutes, though, have been declining in recent seasons.

(All salary figures from nhlnumbers.com)

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