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A look at 50 of the top free agents

by John Kreiser
For a lot of hockey fans, Christmas really comes in July -- July 1, to be exact. That's when the NHL free agency market opened for business.

But while fans are like kids -- dreaming of winning Stanley Cups if only their team can sign the "right" players -- general managers are the parents who deal with the facts of life … they have to make sure any newcomers fit into the salary structure and mesh with the players they already have.

Some of the big names (Jay Bouwmeester, Bill Guerin) signed before the deadline. Here's a look at 50 of this year's top unrestricted free agents -- 15 defensemen, 25 forwards and 10 goaltenders -- and where they've decided to go.

Defensemen Current team '08-09 Stats Scuttlebutt
Mathieu Schneider Montreal 9-23-32 in 67 GP He won't get the attention of guys like Bouwmeester (who signed with Calgary before the start of free agency), but even at 40, Schneider is still a useful offensive force on the blue line, especially on the power play.
Scott Niedermayer Anaheim 14-45-59 in 82 GP Re-signed with Anaheim: At age 35, the Ducks' captain is still one of the NHL's elite defenseman, especially in the offensive zone.
Rob Blake San Jose 10-35-45 in 73 GP Re-signed with Sharks: Blake was a perfect fit in San Jose, which brought him back even though he's 39.
Mattias Ohlund Vancouver 6-19-25 in 82 GP Signed with Tampa Bay: At 32, he's a solid second-pair defenseman, and he should be an excellent mentor for fellow Swede Victor Hedman.
Greg Zanon Nashville 4-7-11 in 82 GP Signed with Minnesota: Zanon, now 29, doesn't contribure much offensively, but he's durable and was third in the NHL in 2008-09 with 237 blocked shots. He's add a physical element the Wild have lacked.
Mike Komisarek Montreal 2-9-11 in 66 GP Signed with Toronto: Komisarek, a big-hitting defenseman who had an injury-plagued '08-09 season, found a new home with the Leafs.
Francois Beauchemin Anaheim 4-1-5 in 20 GP He returned late in the season after a serious knee injury. Anaheim may be more likely to need him now that Chris Pronger is gone.
Marc-Andre Bergeron Minnesota 14-18-32 in 72 GP His big shot can help a power play, though his lack of size hampers his play in his own zone.
Hal Gill Pittsburgh 2-8-10 in 62 GP Signed with Montreal: At 6-7 and 250 pounds, Gill is still a good crease-clearer at age 34. He'll bring a dose of muscle to the blue line in Montreal.
Jordan Leopold Florida (rights acquired on 6-27) 7-17-24 in 83 GP Signed with Florida: Flames sent the rights to Deadline Day acquisition to Florida in Bouwmeester deal, and the Panthers kept him in South Florida.
Paul Mara NY Rangers 5-16-21 in 79 GP The soon-to-be 30-year-old had a solid season and likely would provide good value at the right price.
Steve Montador Boston 4-17-21 in 78 GP Signed with Buffalo: A fine defensive defenseman who's coming off his two best offensive seasons.
Derek Morris NY Rangers 5-15-20 in 75 GP The 31-year-old is looking for a job after the poorest offensive season of his NHL career.
Rob Scuderi Pittsburgh 1-15-16 in 81 GP Signed with Los Angeles: A fine showing in Pittsburgh's Stanley Cup Final win attracted the Kings' interest in this physical, shot-blocking defenseman.
Sergei Zubov Dallas 0-4-4 in 10 GP Now 38 and coming off two injury-filled seasons. Dallas may opt to let him go. His smarts alone would help a contender in a limited role if he's healthy.

Forwards Current team '08-09 stats Scuttlebutt
Marian Hossa Detroit 40-31-72 in 74 GP Signed with Chicago: The only 40-goal scorer on the market, Hossa took a one-year deal from Detroit last year, ignoring much bigger multiyear offers. He had a disappointing showing in the Final and didn't get the Cup he was seeking. He took a long-term deal with the Hawks.
Martin Havlat Chicago 29-48-77 in 81 GP Signed with Minnesota: The Wild wasted little time after Marian Gaborik headed for New York to bring in Havlat, Chicago's leading scorer in 2008-09. The Wild hope he can stay healthy -- something he hadn't done until this season.
Marian Gaborik Minnesota 13-10-23 in 17 GP Signed with Rangers: Gaborik was the wild card in free agency. His skill is unquestioned, but he's been plagued with injuries for most of his career. The Rangers are betting that he'll be able to stay healthy and deliver the kind of offense they lacked in 2008-09.
Henrik Sedin Vancouver 22-60-82 in 82 GP Re-signed with Vancouver: "The Twins" have played their entire career together in Vancouver and don't want to split up now. They took matching five-year deals to stay with the only franchise they've ever known.
Daniel Sedin Vancouver 31-51-82 in 82 GP
Mike Cammalleri Calgary 39-43-82 in 81 GP Signed with Montreal: The cap-strapped Flames were unable to keep Cammalleri, who's coming off a career-high 39-goal season and is still only 27. The Canadiens hope his scoring touch will continue to develop.
Joe Sakic Colorado 2-10-12 in 15 GP Does Colorado's longtime captain, coming off an injury-plagued season, plan to play again? And if so, does the native of British Columbia want to go back to the rebuilding Avs, the only franchise he's ever played for, after their worst season in Colorado?
Saku Koivu Montreal 16-34-50 in 65 GP Few players have given as much of themselves to the Canadiens as Koivu, but at age 34 and with diminishing offensive skills, Montreal's captain may not fit into their plans. If not, there will still be a market for his services -- possibly starting in Minnesota, where younger brother Mikko is captain.
Alex Kovalev Montreal 26-39-65 in 78 GP Kovalev's offensive numbers dropped significantly from 2007-08, when he led the Canadiens to first place in the East. At 36, he can still be a dominant offensive force, but potential suitors have to wonder if he'll bring his "A" game every night.
Robert Lang Montreal 18-21-39 in 50 GP Lang turns 39 in December and is coming off an Achilles tendon injury, potentially limiting the size and length of his contract. But before he got hurt, he showed he still had something left. Montreal missed him badly after he got hurt.
Alex Tanguay Montreal 16-25-41 in 50 GP Like Lang, Tanguay is coming off an injury-ruined season. His point production has dropped from 81 to 58 to 41 in the past three seasons. Would the Quebec native be willing to take less to remain in Montreal?
Maxim Afinogenov Buffalo 6-14-20 in 48 GP Afinogenov's play has dropped off severely in the past two seasons, during which he's also been plagued by injuries. He might need to go somewhere else and get a fresh start.
Nik Antropov NY Rangers 28-31-59 in 81 GP Signed with Atlanta: Players with size and good hands will always find a home. Antropov found one in Atlanta, which will be glad to add his offensive skills to a group that includes Ilya Kovalchuk and Bryan Little.
Brian Gionta New Jersey 20-40-60 in 81 GP Signed with Montreal: Gionta, a career Devil at age 30, hasn't had more than 25 goals in any of the three seasons since his 48-goal explosion in 2005-06. The Canadiens may pair him with former Devils teammate Scott Gomez.
Mike Knuble Philadelphia 27-20-47 in 82 GP Signed with Washington: At 37, he's still a good offensive producer (especially on the power play) and a great character guy. He should provide the young Caps with scoring and leadership.
Petr Sykora Pittsburgh 25-21-46 in 76 GP Having re-signed Bill Guerin, the Penguins may opt to let Sykora walk away. The 32-year-old is coming off his 10th consecutive season with 20 or more goals, but was a non-factor in the playoffs, playing in only seven games (just one in the Final) and producing only one assist.
Ian Laperriere Colorado 7-12-19 in 74 GP Signed with Philadelphia: Laperriere, now 35, still brings character and toughness with him. He'll be a welcome addition to the Flyers.
John Madden New Jersey 7-16-23 in 76 GP Signed with Chicago: At 36, Madden's on the move after spending his career in New Jersey. He's coming off a season in which he went from 20 goals and 43 points to 7 and 23?
Chris Neil Ottawa 3-7-10 in 60 GP Re-signed with Ottawa: Neil reportedly took less money to stay with the only NHL team he's ever played for -- just days after it appeared there would be no deal. When he's healthy, Neil is a tough guy who can actually play, a commodity that's much in demand around the NHL.
Erik Cole Carolina 18-24-42 in 80 GP Re-signed with Carolina; Cole struggled in Edmonton but perked up after returning to Carolina in a trade -- though he struggled to score in the playoffs. He meshes well with Eric Staal, Carolina's top center
Mats Sundin Vancouver 9-19-28 in 41 GP The Canucks hoped adding Sundin at midseason would be the last piece needed for a long playoff run. But he never really found his game after joining the team in January after a three-month soap opera. At 38, he's in the twilight of his career.
Steve Sullivan Nashville 11-21-32 in 41 GP Re-signed with Nashville: The Masterton Trophy winner showed he still had something left after missing nearly two years with a back injury. The Predators wasted little time making sure he would stay in Nashville.
Jason Williams Columbus 19-28-47 in 80 GP Williams finally managed to stay healthy and gave Columbus some offensive production after coming over in a midseason trade with Atlanta. He'll attract attention from teams that need secondary scoring.
Brendan Morrison Dallas 16-15-31 in 81 GP Morrison stayed healthy after an injury-plagued '07-08 season, but didn't put up the kind of numbers he did in his prime. He still has the ability to be a useful No. 2 or No. 3 center.
Mark Recchi Boston 23-38-61 in 80 GP Re-signed with Boston; He's 41, but Recchi continues to be a valuable contributor on offense and is showing no signs of slowing down. He was an excellent fit for the Bruins after coming from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline.
Mike Comrie Ottawa 10-17-27 in 63 GP Comrie's value figures to be down after the worst season of his career. But the five-time 20-goal scorer is still just 28 and could be a bargain if he's finally over the injuries that slowed him in '08-09.

Goaltenders Current team '08-09 stats Scuttlebutt
Nikolai Khabibulin Chicago 25-8-7  2.33 GAA Signed with Edmonton: Khabibulin is coming off his best season since leading Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup in 2004. He will fill the opening left when Dwayne Roloson signed with the Islanders.
Dwayne Roloson Edmonton 28-24-9 2.77 GAA Signed with Islanders: Roloson, now 39, seems to be getting better as he gets older. He gives the Islanders protection in case Rick DiPietro isn't ready to play for health reasons.
Martin Biron Philadelphia 29-15-5 2.76 GAA The Flyers have already signed Ray Emery, meaning that Biron's time as in Philly may be over. With not a lot of starting jobs to be had, Biron's opportunities figure to be limited.
Manny Fernandez Boston 16-8-3 2.59 GAA  Tim Thomas is firmly in place as the starter in Boston, so Fernandez will have to look elsewhere if he has any hopes of being a starter. He's played more than 44 games in a season just once in his career (2005-06, with Minnesota).
Craig Anderson Florida 15-7-5 2.71 GAA Signed with Colorado: Anderson played a career-high 31 games last season and is likely to get the chance to be a starter for the first time in his career with the goalie-challenged Avs. His save percentages over the past three seasons: .931, .935, .924.
Scott Clemmensen New Jersey 25-13-1 2.39 GAA Signed with Florida: Clemmensen saved New Jersey's '08-09 season, beating out Kevin Weekes (also a free agent this summer) for the starting job when Martin Brodeur got hurt and winning 25 games. He's back up Tomas Vokoun with the Panthers.
Ty Conklin Detroit 25-11-2 2.51 GAA Signed with St. Louis: There was no room in Detroit for Conklin despite a regular season in which he outplayed playoff hero Chris Osgood. His 43-19-7 record and 2.51 GAA over the past two seasons attracted the Blues.
Antero Niittymaki Philadelphia 15-8-6 2.76 GAA With Ray Emery and Brian Boucher in the fold, Niittymaki looks like he'll have to go elsewhere. As a backup, he's been solid, though he's never been a full-time starter.
Manny Legace St. Louis 13-9-2 3.18 GAA One year after making the All-Star Game, Legace spent the last half of '08-09 in the minors after Chris Mason took the starting job. At 36, his options may also be limited.
Olaf Kolzig Toronto 2-4-1 3.66 GAA "Olie the Goalie" has 303 career wins -- but he's 39 and coming off an injury-plagued season. Kolzig would need to find a team with a young starter that needs an experienced backup/mentor.

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