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by Brian Duff / Buffalo Sabres

With just over three weeks to go until the NHL’s trade deadline -- Monday, February 27 at 3 p.m. -- it’s been interesting to watch the landscape change in wake of some significant contracts being signed by defensemen who were set to become free agents: Tim Gleason (4 years, $16 million with Carolina), Alex Goligoski (4 years, $18.4 million with Dallas), Francois Beauchemin (3 years, $10.5 million with Anaheim) and John-Michael Liles (4 years, $15.5 million with Toronto).

This is not to suggest that any or all of them would have been dealt at the deadline, but it does make the summertime free agency pool that much more shallow, thus affecting how teams may conduct business in the short and long term.

This much we know when it comes to the blueline: Nashville’s Ryan Suter will be the biggest story until the day he is dealt, re-signs, or moves on July 1 as an unrestricted free agent.

My sense is that most feel he will eventually move on to a different organization, most likely in July. But having admired since their inception how the Predators have been run and remained extremely competitive, I’d have no problem seeing the current relationship remain intact.

Beyond Suter, I have three defensemen in mind that could help any team, assuming they have the cap space.

After a 10-year run in St. Louis, Barrett Jackman can bring about 20 minutes per night with an edge for about 65-70 games per season, based on the former Calder Trophy winner’s career to date. The Blues have excellent depth at that position, therefore it seems unlikely they’ll be able to retain Jackman who will soon be 31, and is currently making $3.6 million as he reaches unrestricted free agency.

At age 27, Matt Carle is an even strength point producer, playing for a Philadelphia team that has a significant blueline issue - the long-term health of Chris Pronger. Will the Flyers be able to retain him assuming a significant bump from his current $3.4 million salary is in the offing? Or will their likely pursuit of Ryan Suter leave Carle seeking a new address?

An under the radar move would be to pick up Bryce Salvador. After missing an entire season due to a concussion, the 35-year-old Salvador has come back quietly and effectively for the Devils this season. My guess is that he won’t get a bump from his current $2.9 million, but he can definitely still play and fit well on a good team.

Among the forwards who can become UFA’s, Zach Parise is the prize. And if my peers are correct, he could be looking at a long term deal worth close to $8 million per season -- up from his current $6 million cap hit with the Devils. It goes without saying that the lineup for Parise will be as long as any we’ve seen post-lockout.

While Parise has a good shot at staying put at the deadline, Edmonton’s Ales Hemsky and Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu do not. Both are perfectly suited to raise their games with better teams, escaping the basements of their respective conferences. And how much will that impact their market value come July 1?

Other soon to be free agent forwards worth keeping an eye on: Andrei Kostitsyn (Montreal), Mikhail Grabovski (Toronto) and Jiri Hudler (Detroit). Will any receive extensions prior to the deadline like the aforementioned defensemen?
As one would expect, the list is longer for potential free agent forwards that can be secured either in season through trade but more likely in July that could be complimentary pieces at reasonable prices: David Jones (Colorado), Travis Moen (Montreal), Kyle Brodziak (Minnesota), Adam Burish (Dallas), Brandon Prust (Rangers), Brandon Yip (Nashville) and Tanner Glass (Winnipeg).

The clock is ticking ... and it will continue to do so … even beyond 3 p.m. on Monday, February 27.
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