On July 1st Canada is turning 144. That same day the NHL opens their doors on the free agent market. No it isn’t the 144th time they’ll be doing it, but it has the same buzz surrounding it as a 144th birthday party.
There’s no hiding the top UFA come July 1st. Where Brad Richards decides to sign has been discussed, speculated, rumoured and guessed since the minute he remained with the Dallas Stars on trade deadline day. The Murray Harbour, PEI native isn’t the only one out there that will be talked about come Canada Day.
Now that the Tampa Bay Lightning have re-signed Dwayne Roloson between the pipes, Tomas Vokoun is the most sought after goaltender come July 1st. Vokoun, like Richards was a name thrown around at the deadline, but hasn’t received the same attention as the big named center. The Czech Republic born netminder will most likely be in the $5.5-$6 million range and could be destined to finally backstop a team that’s in playoff contention.
Tomas Kaberle has to be high on many GM’s lists to quarterback the power play. His stock may have dropped a little after a mediocre post season with the Cup champion Bruins. The 33-year-old defenceman will still be a hot commodity with his smooth skating and excellent ability to move the puck.
Simon Gagne is the best available forward on the wing in this year’s free agent market. At 31 Gagne isn’t that old, but will have to prove he’s able to stay healthy and produce offensively again. The Sainte-Foy, QC native scored 17 goals in each of his last two seasons with Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, but has 41 and 47 goal seasons in the past. The team that offers Gagne the big bucks will be banking on him to regain that scoring touch.
The Phoenix Coyotes have already lost their starting goaltender from last year and now could be saying good bye to one of their top defenceman in Ed Jovanovski. The experienced and tough shutdown blueliner is set to hit the open market and will be in line make around $5 or $6 million. At 35-years-old Jovanovski isn’t going to be getting a long term deal but has over 1,000 games played and a Stanley Cup appearance way back in his early years, so the experience will be needed by a serious cup contender.
James Wisniewski isn’t at the level of Jovanovski but isn’t far away. The 27-year-old filled in fantastically for Montreal last year on their depleted back end. He’s a tough blueliner that seems to fit in well everywhere he ends up. His asking price will most likely be in the $3 to $4 million range, which makes him a very viable acquisition for many teams looking to upgrade their blueline.
Michael Ryder is another part of the Stanley Cup winning Bruins roster that will not be returning and looking for a new home. The second player from Newfoundland to rise the cup has been widely criticized over the years for being overpaid. Don’t expect that to change this off season. Ryder had a solid post season and showed the potential so many teams see in him to regain his scoring prowess from his freshman campaign. Don’t be surprised to see Ryder cash in around $4 million a year.
Some other interesting UFA’s to keep an eye on are Tomas Fleischman, Ville Leino, Scottie Upshall, Max Talbot and Joel Ward. Fleischman has an extremely high skill level and was once a highly touted prospect in the Detroit system before being traded for Robert Lang. Leino is another Red Wing product but made his name known in Philly where he played well in all situations and performed exceptionally well in the playoffs. Scottie Upshall is a great penalty killer with tones of speed and is developing a good scoring touch. Max Talbot has Stanley Cup experience and brings a lot of grit. Joel Ward is a great story that looks like it’s only going to get better. He was one of the top scorers in the playoffs and plays a complete game.
No one can predict where these players will end up, but we can almost guarantee they’ll be wearing an NHL sweater next season.
All the player profiles provided by Hockeydb.com