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Kovalchuk Headlines Left-Wing Free Agents

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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The group of left wings that could be available at noon ET on July 1 is notably better with Ilya Kovalchuk at the top. Kovalchuk will test free agency for the first time in his career and if he doesn't like how it tastes, he can run to Russia go play in the KHL.

He is the biggest name on the list with the biggest question mark, too, but Kovalchuk is joined by a lot of recognizable names. The talent pool is not as deep as it is with say the goalies or centers, but the left wings offer some of the best high-end players.

Here are the nine we think are the best of the bunch that could become available soon:

Ilya Kovalchuk -- How serious are those reports that Kovalchuk is considering the KHL? We have no way of knowing. The money he could get there would exceed the money he could get here, but Kovalchuk has never won in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and that eats at him. The Devils want him back, but the price could be too much. Is L.A. an option? The Kings could use another big-time scorer and are reportedly set to make an offer. It will be fascinating to watch the Kovalchuk sweepstakes.

Ray Whitney -- He'll score between 20-30 goals, give you upwards of 35-40 assists, contribute on the power play and play nearly 20 minutes a game. There aren't many UFAs out there that offer better value than Whitney despite the fact that he's 38 years old. Whitney has reportedly said he won't rule out re-signing with Carolina, but his best bet might be to leave and sign a two-year deal somewhere else.

Paul Kariya -- Blues fans shouldn't expect him back next season because the team doesn't believe he'll be worth his asking price. Kariya should find a home somewhere, but he's not the same fleet-footed winger that we all remember from his days in Anaheim and Nashville. He is, however, still a solid player who can put the puck in the net. And, despite the wear and tear of 15 NHL seasons, he's only 35.

Alexander Frolov -- Like Kovalchuk, the KHL is calling Frolov and he may be tempted to bolt for the money overseas. The Kings don't appear too keen on signing him if his asking price is going to be high, which it likely is despite the fact that he had only 19 goals and 51 points last season. Other teams could also pass if he wants too much dough. Frolov is still a talent, though, and a two-time 30-goal scorer.

Raffi Torres -- With the right fit, meaning the right centerman to set him up, Torres could score 20-plus goals again. He had 19 in 60 games with Columbus before being dealt to Buffalo. He didn't score a goal in 14 games with the Sabres. Torres, though, is more of a gritty winger, the bump and grind type of guy. He'll get a contract because of his physical play. If he scores, it'll be a bonus.

Alexei Ponikarovsky -- Another one of Pittsburgh's UFAs, but Ponikarovsky is likely on the move. He did not have a great run with the Penguins after getting traded from Toronto at the deadline. He had only 2 goals, 9 points and was a minus-6 in 16 games. Ponikarovsky wants a multi-year deal and the Penguins most likely aren't willing to give it to him after what they saw at the end of last season.

Alex Tanguay -- He played 80 games this past season for the Lightning, but scored only 10 goals and added only 17 assists. It was another disappointing year for Tanguay, who hasn't scored at least 20 goals in three straight seasons now. Tanguay will probably have to wait until deep in the summer to sign, just as he did last year. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman might get him back at a discounted price.

Slava Kozlov -- He's checking out of Atlanta, that's a certainty. But, where will Kozlov, now 38 years old, end up? He had only 8 goals in 55 games last season and he requested a trade after chastising the job then-coach John Anderson was doing. Kozlov will not be highly sought after, but he is one season removed from scoring 26 goals and piling up 76 points. He did that playing with Kovalchuk, though.

Jody Shelley -- The Rangers are reportedly interested in re-signing him before the clock strikes noon on July 1. Shelley is a bruiser who fit in well with John Tortorella. He even contributed offensively for the Blueshirts, producing 2 goals and 4 assists in 21 games. He's 34 years old, isn't an expensive asset, and his agent told the New York Post he wants to be back in the Big Apple.

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Author: Dan Rosen | Columnist
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