Any one of four teams could claim top spot in the Northwest Division this season (sorry, Colorado) and that team just might have to win it to get into the playoffs.
While they’re the worst lot in the West, the division is home to the league’s best potential unrestricted free agent crop in 2009.
As I’ve done for the past two weeks and will continue to do for the next three, here are each squad’s top freedom fighters of the next off-season.
Mike Cammalleri ($3.6 million’08-09 salary)
Coming off his L.A. arbitration deal, shifty 26-year-old center will be one of the top UFAs on the market.
Adrian Aucoin ($4 million)
Big shot from the point will spark interest, but a one-year deal is all a smart GM will offer.
Todd Bertuzzi ($1.95 million)
Once the game’s most promising power forward, this season will show what Big Bert is really made of.
Other ’09 UFAs - Anders Eriksson, David Moss, Marcus Nilson, Andre Roy, Rhett Warrener.
Tyler Arnason ($1.75 million)
So much potential, so few results. Perhaps large UFA dollars will be enough to motivate?
Jordan Leopold ($1.5 million)
Think the Avs would like Alex Tanguay back? Either way, Leopold hasn’t lived up to lofty expectations in his first five seasons.
Ian Laperriere ($1.15 million)
Has the nose to prove he’s one of the league’s grittiest, hard-working players.
Other ’09 UFAs - Ben Guite, Andrew Raycroft, Daniel Tjarnqvist, Scott Parker.
Erik Cole ($4 million)
Fan favorite in Carolina sure to win over Oil flock, too. Don’t expect new GM Steve Tambellini to let him get anywhere near July 1 without a new deal.
Mathieu Garon ($1 million)
If he can follow up last season’s breakout campaign in ’08-09, he should look for Cristobal Huet money.
Dwayne Roloson ($3 million)
Best years are well behind the 38-year-old, but if Curtis Joseph can still make a living on the ice…
Other ’09 UFA - Jason Strudwick.
Marian Gaborik ($7.5 million)
If the Wild can’t get his name on an extension, Gaborik – and his groin – will be next summer’s most sought-after commodity.
Niklas Backstrom ($3.1 million)
Despite playoff problems, the Finnish late-bloomer is the real deal. He has only 21 regulation losses in 99 career NHL games.
Kurtis Foster ($1.025 million)
To use an insufferable cliché, he is what he is – a big body who’s not great, but not terrible, either.
Other ’09 UFAs - Marc-Andre Bergeron, Martin Skoula, Stephane Veilleux.
Daniel Sedin ($3.575 million)
Man oh man, I wouldn’t want to be GM Mike Gillis next summer. If the Sedins head for greener pastures, there’ll be ECHL teams with better offenses.
Henrik Sedin ($3.575 million)
Could this be the last season we see the Bros. play together on the same NHL team? Don’t bet on it. Even if they’re split at the trade deadline, they’ll rejoin in the summer.
Mattias Ohlund ($3.5 million)
At 31 years of age, he will be the second-best blueliner available – behind Jay Bouwmeester - with lots of gas left in the tank.
Other ’09 UFAs - Nolan Baumgartner, Alexandre Burrows, Jeff Cowan, Matt Pettinger, Taylor Pyatt, Curtis Sanford.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Fridays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.