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Top 10 Central Division free agents

by Brian Compton

The start of the free agency period is always an exciting time for the fans. But for general managers across the National Hockey League, it can make or break their careers.

The Central Division could see some major changes this summer, as several key players are about to test the market and ultimately learn if they will be staying put or changing their address.

With that in mind, takes a look at the top 10 unrestricted free agents from the division set to hit the open market on Sunday at noon Eastern time:

Ryan Suter, Nashville


Free agency previews (by division)

With free agency opening Sunday at noon ET, takes a look at the needs of all 30 teams -- division by division -- as well as the Top 10 free agents in each division:

Not only the best available defenseman in the division, but also in the entire League. Just 27 years old, Suter and Predators captain Shea Weber form one of the top pairings in the NHL. But now, Nashville general manager David Poile needs to figure out if he can afford both. Weber is about to become a restricted free agent and is also due a hefty raise.

Suter, who could ultimately stay in Nashville but will test the market Sunday, put up 46 points during the regular season and led the club in ice time per game at 26 minutes, 30 seconds. Should Suter leave town, there's a chance he'll stay in the Central -- it is believed Detroit is one of many teams that will be interested in his services.

Jiri Hudler, Detroit

Was never the star attraction on a team that's featured the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, but Hudler is someone who will likely receive several offers Sunday. The 28-year-old is coming off a tremendous bounce-back season in Detroit, where he put up 25 goals, 25 assists and a plus-10 rating.

Not only does Hudler provide versatility -- he can play center or the wing -- but he also brings a winning pedigree. He had 14 points in 22 playoff games in 2008, when Detroit won its last Stanley Cup.

Paul Gaustad, Nashville

Poile surrendered a first-round pick at the trade deadline to acquire Gaustad from Buffalo, and with good reason. Gaustad provides size (6-foot-5, 212 pounds), grit and a knack for winning in the faceoff circle (he won 57.3 percent of his draws during the regular season).

Unfortunately, Gaustad could only help the Predators reach the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There's obviously a chance his stay in Nashville won't be short-lived, but he's likely to receive plenty of offers to play elsewhere in 2012-13.

Andrei Kostitsyn, Nashville

Kostitsyn was another rental by Poile at the trade deadline, and it's a safe bet he won't be returning to the club.

While he did produce during his brief tenure (he had 12 points in 19 regular-season games before going 3-1-4 in eight playoff contests), Kostitsyn was left out of the lineup for two games during the second-round series against Phoenix for violating team rules. Nonetheless, the 27-year-old is a skilled winger who has enjoyed three 20-goal campaigns in his career and is likely to receive legitimate offers on the market.

Andrew Brunette, Chicago

He'll be 39 when the season gets under way, but Brunette remains a solid player. His production decreased going from Minnesota to Chicago, as he went from 18 goals and 46 points in 2010-11 to 12 goals and 27 points with the Blackhawks.

However, Brunette provides plenty of experience (he's appeared in more than 1,100 NHL games) and might still be able to chip in offensively in the right situation. Plus, he's durable -- Brunette has appeared in at least 78 games every season since 2001-02.

Carlo Colaiacovo, St. Louis

One has to wonder if he'll ever reach his full potential, but the former Toronto first-round pick (No. 17 in 2001) averaged 19 minutes per game for the Blues in 2011-12 and had 81 blocked shots and a plus-7 rating in 64 appearances.

The two knocks on this 29-year-old blueliner are his production has decreased in each of the past three seasons (he's gone from 32 points to 26 to 19) and he's been unable to stay healthy. He began last season suffering from concussion-like symptoms and injured his hamstring in November. Colaiacovo has never appeared in more than 67 games in a regular season since joining the NHL a decade ago, but he can be effective when healthy.

Hal Gill, Nashville

The stay-at-home defenseman celebrated his 37th birthday in April, but Poile thought enough of Gill to send the Montreal Canadiens his second-round pick at the trade deadline. That's because Poile saw what so many see in Gill -- leadership.

Because of his age, it's hard to envision Gill receiving multiyear offers, but expect several teams to inquire about his services. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound blueliner helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win a Stanley Cup in 2009.
(NOTE: Gill re-signed with Nashville on June 28.)

Jason Arnott, St. Louis

Another leader on and off the ice, Arnott is coming off a solid season with the Blues. The 37-year-old center appeared in 72 games and tallied 17 goals and 17 assists to go along with a plus-13 rating.

Much like Gill, it's difficult to imagine Arnott receiving anything more than a one-year deal from interested clubs. But he's still valuable on the power play (six of his goals came via the man advantage) and can still hold his own in the faceoff circle.

Jordin Tootoo, Nashville

For a team in search of a fourth-line winger, it would be hard-pressed to find someone who fits the role better than Tootoo. While he's only 5-foot-9, the 29-year-old plays much bigger.

Tootoo only scored six goals in 77 games for Nashville in 2011-12, but he's pesky and sticks up for his teammates. The biggest change for Tootoo entering next season could be his address, as Nashville has been his only home since being picked by the club in the fourth round of the 2001 Draft.

Sean O'Donnell, Chicago

Not quite sure how much O'Donnell has left in the tank, but the 40-year-old defenseman could be a valuable asset to a team searching for a veteran to help younger players along.

O'Donnell appeared in 51 regular-season games and two playoff contests for the Blackhawks this past season, marking the first time he played in fewer than 78 games in a season since 2002-03.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

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