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Free Agency Primer: D-Men

by Glen Andresen / Minnesota Wild

The NHL's free agency period kicks off on Thursday at 11:00 a.m. central time, with a little less hullabaloo than in previous years. While there are talented players available, there are few (with the exception of Ilya Kovalchuk) that might be considered "game-changers."
Yet, there will be very talented players shuttling around the League as teams, including the Wild, look to fill holes and needs. will look at some of the free agents available as of today. Keep in mind that some of these players may sign before Thursday hits, and some are of little or no interest to Wild management.

There are still names of interest to Wild fans, so today, we'll look at some of the defensemen that will become free agents on July 1.

The Wild Situation
: The Wild defensive corps appears mostly locked up with Cam Barker, Brent Burns, Nick Schultz, Clayton Stoner, Greg Zanon and Marek Zidlicky under contract. Unless one of those players is traded, there is likely only one available spot on the blueline, which could be filled through free agency, or by a young prospect like Marco Scandella or Nate Prosser.

Current Wild free agents
: Shane Hnidy, Jaime Sifers

Marc-Andre Bergeron - 5-9, 198 - Age, 29 - Montreal Canadiens

The former Wild blueliner with the big shot was a cast off last year. NHL teams avoided him like a hand lotion salesman at the mall, until Montreal finally relented and signed him right at the beginning of the regular season. He responded with 13 goals and 21 assists in 60 games.

The plus side: As was the case in Minnesota, his rocket shot was an asset on the power play, in which he posted seven goals and 15 helpers.

The negative: His position says defense, but that's not exactly his strength. At 5-foot-9, 198 pounds, he can get outmuscled in front, and he was a combined -19 in regular season and playoff games last year.

Joe Corvo - 6-0, 204 - Age, 32 - Washington Capitals

The Carolina Hurricanes fetched a fairly hefty ransom at last year's deadline for the former Western Michigan Bronco. The Washington Capitals gave up Brian Pothier, Oskar Osala and a 2011 second rounder to get the 6-foot, 204-pounder.

The plus side: Corvo is a seasoned vet with big-game experience, participating in deep playoff runs with Carolina and Ottawa. He can contribute offensively, notching 14 goals twice, and 13 once.

The negative: Corvo's season was derailed by injuries last year, and his production suffered with six goals among 18 points. At 32, he's not exactly old, but has he peaked?

Sergei Gonchar - 6-2, 211 - Age, 36 - Pittsburgh Penguins

Wild fans used to know him as one of the most skilled defenders in the League. Now they know him as the guy who laid a vicious head shot on Cal Clutterbuck. Still, the man has skill, and his name on the Cup.

The plus side: Despite being 36, he put up 50 points (11-39=50) in 62 games last season. He remains one of the top offensive blueliners in the game when healthy.

The negative: He's now 36, so a team is unlikely to give him big dollars for multiple years. He missed 20 games with injuries last year.

Dan Hamhuis - 6-1, 203 - Age, 27 - Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh is trying to sign him, but if they can't, he could command big dollars on the open market. He'll eat up minutes, and be a stabilizing force on any blue line.

The plus side: In six years with the Nashville Predators, he missed a total of nine games. And he's just entering his prime.

The negative: He could get pricey. The Philadelphia Flyers already traded for his rights and couldn't get anything done. Now, the Pens are working to complete a deal, but so far with no success.

Jordan Leopold - 6-1, 200 - Age, 29 - Pittsburgh Penguins 

With how much he's been shipped around, and how often he's been injured, it's easy to forget that Leopold had a solid year last season. First, he stayed healthy. Second, he posted a career-high 11 goals.

The plus side: As Minnesotans know, he's a beautiful skater who can chip in offensively.

The negative: Health concerns would be one issue. Inconsistent play from one team to the next would be another.

Paul Mara - 6-4, 212 - Age, 30 - Montreal Canadiens

The American product is a gritty player with size and an intimidation factor.

The plus side: At 6-foot-4, 212 pounds, you're getting a big stay at home defender.

The negative: He underwent shoulder surgery and missed the last 30 games of the season, and all of Montreal's playoff run.

Paul Martin - 6-1, 200 - Age, 29 - New Jersey Devils

The Elk River native might get the biggest payday among rearguards due to his age, and immense ability. Injuries may be a concern, but there's not much to worry about other than that. Had he been healthy, he may have been the best defenseman for Team USA at the 2010 Olympics.

The plus side: At 29, Martin is in the prime of his career, and he can play in any situation. He's a top two defender on almost any team.

The negative: Ka-ching! The team that ties up a lot of money in Martin may not have much for anything else.

Zbynek Michalek - 6-2, 210 - Age, 27 - Phoenix Coyotes

He's the one that got away from the Wild in what might have been the trade that worked against the Wild the most. After signing Scott Ferguson, the Wild shipped Michalek to Phoenix in exchange for Erik Westrum. Ferguson was cut loose after playing 15 games, and Westrum posted one assist in 10 games.

The plus side: A smooth skater that specializes in handling the puck and breaking out of his own zone. He's young, and fairly durable. He's played 82 games three times.

The negative: Though he possesses decent size, he's not overly physical, and likely won't light up the stat sheet.

Ruslan Salei - 6-1, 212 - Age, 35 - Colorado Avalanche

The former ninth overall pick had his 2009-10 season derailed by a significant back injury. If he can get healthy, he could be a solid option for teams looking for a dependable defender.

The plus side: He's experienced, and he can help out a power play unit from the point.

The negative: His back could be a huge concern. You don't mess with back injuries.

Anton Volchenkov - 6-1, 226 - Age, 28 - Ottawa Senators

The Russian Olympian doesn't put up big offensive numbers, but he also might be the most reliable defender of any free agents. In 2006-07, he was a +37.

The plus side: He's a plus-player, and he stays at home, which his goaltenders must love.

The negative: He's not going to contribute much at the offensive end. He also hasn't played 70 games in any of the past three seasons.

Former Wild free agents: Kurtis Foster, Alex Henry, Kim Johnsson, Michalek, Willie Mitchell, Sean O'Donnell, Martin Skoula
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