Free-agent market this offseason has plenty to offer
The frenzy is about to begin, and this year it actually might live up to its name.
The NHL free-agent market is set to open at noon ET on July 1 and there are several big names who will be available unless they manage to strike an 11th-hour deal. The salary cap teams are working with this summer under the current collective bargaining agreement is $70.2 million. That CBA expires Sept. 15.
Left Wing - NJD
GOALS: 31 | ASST: 38 | PTS: 69
SOG: 293 | +/-: -5
New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise and Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter top the list of players who appear ready to field offers Sunday, but a new high-profile name jumped into the mix Friday when it was revealed that Devils goalie Martin Brodeur has hired agent Pat Brisson to help him field offers if he makes it to unrestricted free agency.
Brodeur, who normally represents himself in contract negotiations with the Devils, never has made it to UFA status before in his 20-year career with New Jersey. This spring he reached Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in the last season of a six-year contract that paid him $5.2 million annually, but it appears more and more likely he will hit the market because he and the Devils have not been able to strike a new deal.
Though Brodeur changing teams would be giant news in the NHL, there is little doubt his current teammate Parise, as well as Suter, will receive the most lucrative contract offers in free agency. Neither has ruled out a return to his current team -- in fact, both have expressed how much they like playing where they have been playing -- but now it appears they will be fielding offers.
Several teams figure to be in on each player, but it is possible the Pittsburgh Penguins wind up with both Suter and Parise, who are good friends. Parise also is close with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who will sign his 12-year, $104.4 million contract extension July 1.
The Penguins cleared cap space and room on their depth chart by trading Jordan Staal and Zbynek Michalek at the NHL Draft last weekend. Pittsburgh is $14.5 million under the cap, according to Capgeek.com.
Detroit also figures to be heavily involved in free agency and could make competitive offers to Parise and Suter with the intention of signing both.
Defense - NSH
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 39 | PTS: 46
SOG: 134 | +/-: 15
The Red Wings need help on the back end with the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom and the loss of Brad Stuart, whose rights were traded to San Jose before he signed a three-year, $10.8 million contract with the Sharks. Detroit has more than $24 million in cap space, according to Capgeek.
Parise reportedly will get a big offer from the Minnesota Wild, who are hoping to lure him back to his home state.
It's also possible Suter and Parise will field offers but return to their current teams.
The Predators have stated their intention of keeping Pekka Rinne, Suter and captain Shea Weber together. Rinne signed a seven-year extension in November, but Suter and Weber need new contracts. Weber is a restricted free agent who is able to field offer sheets. His future in Nashville might be tied to what Suter decides in free agency.
Parise repeatedly has said how much he likes being a Devil and how he is hoping to work out a deal to stay in New Jersey, but the team is facing financial issues at the ownership level that may be preventing general manager Lou Lamoriello from making competitive offers to his captain and starting goalie.
Plan 'B' is OK
For the teams that don't land Parise and/or Suter, there should be some fine veteran consolation prizes out there. Among the players who could be available Sunday, five stand out because of their age and accomplishments -- forwards PA Parenteau, Dustin Penner and Jiri Hudler, and defensemen Jason Garrison and Matt Carle.
2012 FREE AGENCY
Free agency previews (by division)
With free agency opening Sunday at noon ET, NHL.com takes a look at the needs of all 30 teams -- division by division -- as well as the Top 10 free agents in each division:
Parenteau, 29, established himself as a top-six forward with 120 points over the past two seasons with the New York Islanders. Penner re-established himself with a strong postseason for the Los Angeles Kings and he's already a two-time Stanley Cup champion at age 29. Hudler, 28, had 25 goals and 50 points last season for the Detroit Red Wings, numbers that could increase if he signs with a team that would put him in a more prominent role.
Garrison had 16 goals and 33 points with the Florida Panthers in 2011-12, and Carle has been one of the top minute-munching two-way defensemen in the NHL for the past several seasons in Philadelphia.
The Schultz Decision
Very rarely do we see general managers lining up for the chance to talk to an unrestricted free agent who never has played an NHL game. But that's what we have this year with Justin Schultz, a 21-year-old defenseman out of the University of Wisconsin who was chosen by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round of the 2008 NHL Draft but never signed.
Schultz and his agents have been meeting with teams in Toronto this week. It's all about fit and playing time for Schultz because he can't sign anything more than a two-year entry-level contract with a base salary of $925,000 and bonuses that can make it reach $3.77 million.
He reportedly has narrowed his field of suitors to five -- Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto and the New York Rangers. The Minnesota Wild also could be part of the final group.
Schultz is considered by many the best player who was not in the NHL last season. He is a puck-moving blueliner with speed, agility and excellent skating ability. He led all NCAA defensemen in goals (16), points (44) and power-play goals (seven), and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award for the second consecutive time.
Schultz is the cheaper option for teams seeking more offense from their back end, and comes oozing with potential.
Note: Schultz made his decision Saturday afternoon, choosing the Oilers. He will sign an entry-level contract Sunday.
Veteran help up front
As the only bona fide top-two center on the market, the Calgary Flames' Olli Jokinen, 33, might be able to secure an envious contract. He had 23 goals and 38 assists in 82 games in 2011-12. Jokinen is known for his durability but not his playoff success. He has played in 1,042 regular-season games, but only six playoff games.
On the other hand, 40-year-old forward Ray Whitney does have a Stanley Cup ring and he's coming off a season in which he led the Phoenix Coyotes with 77 points while playing all 82 games. Whitney still owns a home in North Carolina, so could the Hurricanes, his former team, be in position to bring him back to Raleigh to play alongside Jordan or Eric Staal?
Paul Gaustad could be an interesting catch for several teams in need of a third-line center who wins faceoffs. Nashville gave up a first-round draft pick to get Gaustad from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline.
Steve Sullivan is another veteran who likely will be available starting Sunday. The 37-year-old had 48 points in 79 games with the Penguins last season while playing in a top-six role and on the power play.
Where's the buzz?
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 21 | ASST: 33 | PTS: 54
SOG: 183 | +/-: 9
One of the biggest names out there who isn't generating that much hype is Washington Capitals forward Alexander Semin, but that's mainly because of his risk/reward factor. Semin has been one of the most talented players in the NHL since he got to Washington in 2003-04, but his production has waned in recent seasons, which has brought into question his interest in being a complete player.
The Capitals reportedly have not engaged in any talks with Semin, who played last season on a one-year, $6.7 million contract. Semin had 40 goals and 84 points in 2009-10, but has scored just 54 points in each of the past two seasons. He had 21 goals last season, his lowest output since he scored 10 in 52 games as a rookie.
Doan, 35, has been with the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise for his entire 16-year career, but there were reports this week from various media outlets that he is not happy with the Coyotes' lack of a long-term owner and he could test his value on the open market. Greg Jamison is the prospective buyer for the Coyotes and he has the NHL's backing, but work still has to be done for him to secure the team, which is currently owned by the League.
If Selanne opts to play another season, odds are it will be with the Anaheim Ducks. He just hasn't said what he is going to do yet.
And, of course, trade bait
The market may have to play out a bit, but three prominent players could be traded in the coming days or weeks -- Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, Columbus captain Rick Nash and Anaheim forward Bobby Ryan.
The Canucks have agreed in principle to a three-year, $12 million contract with goalie Cory Schneider. The next step is trading Luongo, who reportedly prefers the Panthers, considering he used to play there and his wife's family is from South Florida. Luongo also reportedly is being linked to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but negotiations appear to be ongoing with the Panthers.
Columbus GM Scott Howson is going to try to honor Nash's request to be traded but might have to wait to see who goes where in the first few days of free agency. Howson's asking price for Nash reportedly is high, as it was at the trade deadline.
Ryan has expressed his frustration at what he perceives to be a lack of respect for him in Anaheim. He talked publicly about how he feels he always is on the trading block, and maybe now is the best time for him to get dealt. He said Philadelphia would be an ideal location because it is close to Cherry Hill, N.J., where he's from. The Ducks were not happy that Ryan talked about his frustrations publicly.
Another priority for Anaheim GM Bob Murray is to sign Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to contract extensions. Both are entering the final season of their current contracts and can sign extensions starting July 1.