Free agency, trade rumors heating up
By Stu Hackel
The NHL season is over, yes, but the news doesn't stop, especially when it comes to potential player movement. The message boards and hockey gossip websites will be buzzing, many filled with unfounded rumors, wishful thinking and just plain distortions. Sometimes, a factual report sneaks through.
So here's an early offseason roundup of what is known -- maybe -- about who could be changing addresses next season.
The 6-foot-6 Lindback, stuck behind Pekka Rinne for two years in Nashville, has only a handful of games in the NHL, but is considered promising netminder. The entire deal is that Nashville gets two second-round draft picks (37th and 50th overall) in next week's Entry Draft, a 2013 third-round pick and goaltender Sebastien Caron in exchange for Lindback, forward Kyle Wilson and a 2012 seventh-round selection (202nd overall). Caron is a pending unrestricted free agent and the Preds might just let him walk on July 1.
With both the Canucks Roberto Luongo and the Kings Jonathan Bernier thought to be available, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was able to get a promising netminder without surrendering a first round pick or one of their regular players. Now what might happens with Luongo and Bernier will spark all sorts of conjecture, especially with the Maple Leafs hunting for a goalie.
In yesterday's post on the Devils' financial plight, we discussed pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) Zach Parise, who has already said he won't sign with the rival Rangers. We also noted that there are indications the Wild will make a run at him. He's most often linked to the Red Wings, however. Of course, this is only speculation -- as are most of the reports about free agents at this point because these players are still under contract to their current teams and any public statement or even private negotiation is considered tampering. That can carry a stiff penalty: The Blues were once dinged $1.5 million for negotiating with Scott Stevens while he was under contract with the Devils back in 1994.
The Predators' Ryan Suter is, like Parise, a pending UFA and he, too, has been linked to the Red Wings. In fact, there have been stories floating around for months that the pair, who first met as members of the U.S. National Team Development Program 10 years ago and continued bonding on various U.S. squads, want to go as a package deal. Greg Kupka in The Detroit News filled in some of the details a few weeks ago, but there are lots of connections between the two stars and the Red Wings, including the fact that Wings goalie Jimmy Howard was also a member of the USNTDP at the same time. For what it's worth, Red Wings advisor Chris Chelios and Suter's uncle Gary, both former NHLers, are very close friends from their days at the University of Wisconsin. The bigger factor is that the Wings need to fill a spot on their blueline now that Nick Lidstrom has retired and they could have a spot open on wing with Jiri Hudler also a pending UFA.
Of course, it's possible that Parise and Suter won't go anywhere and they re-sign with their current clubs. It's also possible that their current teams will trade them prior to July 1 so another club can get a head start on negotiating with them.
It's also true that other teams besides Detroit and the Wild will make plays for either or both. The Flyers have a big hole to fill on defense with Chris Pronger seemingly at the end of his career. The Orange Army has been calling for Suter's signing, but Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly reported on Thursday, "According to a well-placed source, Suter has a potential list of clubs he would be willing to talk to even if his rights were traded before July 1....Alas, the Flyers are not one of them. In fact, the source said, all of Suter’s preferred destinations, should he leave the Predators, are in the Western Conference – not the East."
Panaccio didn't name any of the clubs that might be on Suter's list -- and that could be because, according to Suter's agent, former NHL defenseman Neil Sheehy, there isn't a list. Mike Russo of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune tweeted on Thursday night that Sheehy called Panaccio's report "100 % untrue" and tweeted again that there's no list of places Suter won't go. And that's why it's hard to take anything too seriously on free agency and trade rumors at this time of year.
What we do know is that Predators G.M. David Poile said Friday he expected Suter will wade into the free agent pool. “Unless something changes in the near future, he’s going to take a peek at July 1,” Poile said. “We’re going to be in consistent contact with him, and I’m certainly hoping, as he said to me a week ago, that he’s not going to make a sudden decision … and we’re going to have some conversations after he has talked to these different teams.”
We're going to hear lots of rumors about Rick Nash, too. In Friday's Columbus Dispatch, Aaron Portzline reported that NHL sources have told him seven teams have had "significant" trade discussions with the Blue Jackets about their captain. He listed the Rangers, Sharks, Flyers, Maple Leafs and Hurricanes as being in the group. The Jackets will want a lot in return, of course, and we'll have to wait and see who best meets their demands.
Along with Parise, Nash is the best offensive talent who might be on the move. Lots of commentators say this is not a particularly stellar year for unrestricted free agents, but there are some other potentially good scorers available including Hudler, P.A. Parenteau and Olli Jokinen. There are also potential UFAs, like Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner, who may have slipped offensively but still bring experience, grit and other intangibles, and can occasionally contribute to scoring.
There are also important depth players available. If you don't believe depth forwards are important, think of how much the Penguins missed not having Max Talbot in the postseason this spring; and how his energy, penalty-killing and checking for the Flyers helped knock his old team out. Like most depth players, Talbot's free agency signing last year was not a big story compared to players like Brad Richards, Erik Cole, Michael Ryder and Jaromir Jagr, who regularly produce bigger numbers. But when you look at how well the depth players on the Kings and Devils performed during their runs to the Cup final, you see their worth.
With the Bruins retaining both Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell last week, the field of valuable depth guys who might hit the open market in July shrunk by two but grew in importance. Those who remain might be in position to cash in.
If he's not re-signed by L.A., Jarret Stoll could be an important ingredient for a club next season. Same with their fourth-line center Colin Fraser. The Devils entire fourth line -- the CBGBs Line of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier -- are pending UFAs. Paul Gaustad, who was highly sought-after at the trade deadline, is a pending UFA. So is Travis Moen, Brandon Prust, John Madden, Jordan Tootoo, Aaron Asham, Zenon Konopka, Taylor Pyatt, Adam Burish, Dominic Moore and Sami Pahlsson, players who have proven themselves as being able to play a role that every team needs.
There are a few blueliners aside from Suter who could make a splash if they hit the market, starting with Bryce Salvador, who had a strong playoffs for New Jersey. If he doesn't re-up in Philadelphia, Matt Carle will get lots of interest. The Stars' Sheldon Souray enjoyed a comeback year; if he hits July 1, it will create a significant hole on Dallas' roster. Big Hal Gill is still a very good penalty killer and shot blocker. Dennis Wideman is coming off a good year for Washington. And those are just a few of the experienced d-men who could be on the loose next month.
Almost all the goaltenders who are potential UFAs are of the backup and depth variety. Only Marty Brodeur is a bona fide starter at this stage of his career, and while he'd very much like to return to New Jersey, he didn't completely rule out going elsewhere considering the circumstances. His current backup, Johan Hedberg, and former teammate Scott Clemmensen, most recently a Panther, are also pending UFAs.
Among the other potential UFA goalies, 42-year-old Dwayne Roloson could find a new home after stumbling last season in Tampa Bay, but he'll have to convince someone that he can still be effective at his age. Josh Harding could be a very good signing if he decides to leave Minnesota. The Ducks' Dan Ellis, injured most of last season, looks to be moving on and could fit as a starter or backup, depending on where he ends up. Chris Mason, who has had some decent seasons, got stuck behind Jets MVP Ondrej Pavelec and might opt for more work elsewhere. Al Montoya played very well on Long Island early last season until a concussion felled him. He never quite regained his form and might fit in well somewhere if he doesn't stay with the Islanders. A number of veteran backups are potential UFAs too: Brent Johnson, Marty Biron, Alex Auld and Antero Niittymaki.
The complete list of potential unrestricted free agents can be found on TSN's website and they do a good job of keeping it current when someone inks a new deal. And SI.com will, of course, stay on top of player movements this offseason, providing news and perspective as things start to heat up.
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