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Free Agent Frenzy: Who Could the Predators Target?

Top-End Forwards Thornton, Marleau Headline 2017's Free Agent Class Up Front

by Thomas Willis @TomAWillis / Digital Manager & Producer

The Free Agency signing period opens across the NHL at 11 a.m. (CT) on Saturday, and the Predators are likely to be active buyers.

General Manager David Poile said Nashville will be looking to "add a forward or two" either through trade or free agency this offseason. With unrestricted free agents (UFAs) Vernon Fiddler and P.A. Parenteau set to leave the club, according to Poile, and the loss of James Neal in the Expansion Draft, a top-six forward or other scoring threat is at the top of Nashville's wishlist.

The Preds are also awaiting the decision of Captain Mike Fisher (UFA) and his immediate future. If the 37-year-old center elects to return, he would need a new contract as well (he had a cap hit of $4.4 million the last two seasons). It's also possible that winger Harry Zolnierczyk (UFA) returns (had a cap hit of $575,000 last season).

The Predators have approximately $22.8 million in available cap space with restricted free agents (RFAs) Pontus Aberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Frederick Gaudreau, Ryan Johansen, Austin Watson and Marek Mazanec awaiting new contracts. Fisher and Zolnierczyk, as previously mentioned, would also require new deals before returning for the 2017-18 season. For a closer look at the Predators contracts and free agents, click here.

If Poile and Nashville do look outward for help at forward, below is a list of the top 10 UFA centers and wingers set to hit the open market on July 1.

Joe Thornton

Position: Center

Shoots: Left

Size: 6-foot-4, 220 lbs. Age: 37

2016-17 Statistics: 7 goals, 43 assists (50 points) in 79 games with the San Jose Sharks.

Analysis: With 1,391 points in 1,446 career games, center Joe Thornton is likely the most-talented passer on the market. He's spent the last dozen years of his career in San Jose, but may look to another team for what could be the final contract of his career. Several reports have indicated that the 37-year-old, who is coming off major knee surgery, is seeking a three-year deal. If Fisher decides to retire, Thornton could center the club's second line.

Nick Bonino

Position: Center

Shoots: Left

Size: 6-foot-1, 196 lbs. Age: 29

2016-17 Statistics: 18 goals, 19 assists (37 points) in 80 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Analysis: A P.K. Subban slap shot forced Nick Bonino to miss the majority of the Stanley Cup Final, but the third line center was a force for Pittsburgh in the postseason prior to his injury. The 29-year-old forward won two Stanley Cups after being traded from Vancouver to Pittsburgh and is now likely seeking a significant raise from his cap hit of $1.9 million in 2016-17. Bonino's offensive numbers - 18 goals and 37 points - may be an aberration considering he plays behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the depth chart, but he's also probably the most versatile UFA center available.   

Martin Hanzal

Position: Center

Shoots: Left

Size: 6-foot-6, 226 lbs. Age: 30

2016-17 Statistics: 20 goals, 19 assists (39 points) in 71 games split between the Arizona Coyotes and Minnesota Wild.

Analysis: Following a decade with the Coyotes, the Wild thought acquiring Martin Hanzal gave them four of the best centers in the Western Conference when they traded for him, but Minnesota was upset by the St. Louis Blues in Round One of the 2017 postseason. Hanzal's size is his most noticeable characteristic, but he enjoyed a career year in 2016-17, scoring 20 goals for the first time.

Sam Gagner

Position: Center

Shoots: Right

Size: 5-foot-11, 200 lbs. Age: 27

2016-17 Statistics: 18 goals, 32 assists (50 points) in 81 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Analysis: The Blue Jackets pulled Sam Gagner off the scrapheap following a down year (eight goals in 53 games) with the Philadelphia Flyers. They were rewarded with a power-play specialist with plenty of speed. Gagner is most likely looking for a major raise after the $650,000 he settled for last season. With 50 points in 2016-17, he boasts some of the best offensive numbers for sale in this year's free-agent class.

Justin Williams

Position: Right Wing

Shoots: Right

Size: 6-foot-1, 187 lbs. Age: 35

2016-17 Statistics: 24 goals, 24 assists (48 points) in 80 games with the Washington Capitals.

Analysis: "Mr. Game 7" is moving on from Washington after the clutch performances that earned him his nickname were unable to help get the Capitals over the hump in his two seasons with them. The three-time Stanley Cup Champion thrived in the Caps offensive-heavy system, putting up back-to-back 20-goal seasons - his first since a 2011-12 campaign with the Kings. Williams won his first championship with Peter Laviolette as his head coach when the pair were both with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.

Radim Vrbata

Position: Right Wing

Shoots: Right

Size: 6-foot-1, 194 lbs. Age: 36

2016-17 Statistics: 20 goals, 35 assists (55 points) in 81 games with the Arizona Coyotes.

Analysis: Radim Vrbata quietly enjoyed a bounce-back effort with the Coyotes after putting up 13 goals during his final season with the Canucks. The 2015 All-Star is two years removed from a 31-goal campaign in 2014-15 with Vancouver. Vrbata has earned the reputation as a finisher during his career, and when placed with the right center, he can still put the puck in the net, even at 36 years old.

Patrick Marleau

Position: Right Wing

Shoots: Left

Size: 6-foot-2, 215 lbs. Age: 37

2016-17 Statistics: 27 goals, 19 assists (46 points) in 82 games with the San Jose Sharks.

Analysis: Veteran. Reliable. Scorer. Patrick Marleau's first season with the San Jose Sharks came in 1997-98 (yes, a year before the Predators began play). He hasn't missed a game in eight years and put up 27 goals in 2016-17, while primarily skating on the second or third lines with the Sharks. The question surrounding Marleau - like Thornton - is whether he can continue his impressive production for two or three more seasons.

Scott Hartnell

Position: Left Wing

Shoots: Left

Size: 6-foot-2, 215 lbs. Age: 35

2016-17 Statistics: 13 goals, 24 assists (37 points) in 78 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Analysis: The veteran winger was bought out of the remaining two years of his contract on Thursday. Could a Nashville reunion be in the works? Drafted by the Predators in the First Round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Hartnell spent the first six years of his career in Music City. His foot speed has slowed in recent years, but his finest attribute remains: a fierce, net-front presence, especially with his team on the power play.

Patrick Sharp

Position: Left Wing

Shoots: Right

Size: 6-foot-1, 200 lbs. Age: 35

2016-17 Statistics: 8 goals, 10 assists (18 points) in 48 games with the Dallas Stars.

Analysis: Injuries cut Patrick Sharp's second season in Dallas short. The winger won three Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks and put up 20 goals in his first season with the Stars in 2015-16, but struggled through inconsistency and pain last year. The last time Sharp played in 80 or more games during the regular season was in 2013-14 when he netted 34 goals in 82 contests.

Thomas Vanek

Position: Left Wing

Shoots: Right

Size: 6-foot-2, 214 lbs. Age: 33

2016-17 Statistics: 17 goals, 31 assists (48 points) in 68 games with the Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers.

Analysis: Like Sharp, injuries prevented Thomas Vanek from turning in a full regular-season set, but his overall numbers were still eye-catching. In general, his 2016-17 campaign has to be seen as a rebound after being bought out of the remaining years of his deal with the Wild. The 33-year-old could excel in a supplemental scoring role with a deep forward group.

Best of the Rest:

Although the Predators aren't necessarily expected to target top defensemen or goaltenders as free agency opens, these names could still be in play around the League on July 1.

Defensemen:

Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, Andrei Markov, Ron Hainsey & Dmitry Kulikov.

Two of Washington's top defenders, Shattenkirk and Alzner are expected to test the open market, while Markov, a mainstay on the Montreal blue line, could find himself sporting a new logo for the first time in his 16-year career.

Goaltenders:

Jonathan Bernier, Chad Johnson, Ryan Miller, Steve Mason, Brian Elliott

With Calgary's acquisition of Mike Smith, netminders Elliott and Johnson, who both saw time with the Flames last season, are likely on the move, while a three-year run in Vancouver is expected to come to an end for Miller.

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