I’m sure it comes as no surprise that here at THN we contemplate and debate the ins and outs of the hockey world 365 days of the year. So with the remaining UFA crop best described as slim, thoughts turn to next off-season and who’s available to jump ship on July 1, 2010. Here’s a look at who tops the list.
Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta
2009-10 cap hit: $6.4 million
Thrashers GM Don Waddell has and will desperately try to get the 26-year-old’s name on a contract extension, but if the Dirty Birds don’t show any signs of improvement this season, look for Kovalchuk to find bluer skies. With two 50-goal and three 40-goal seasons to the left winger’s credit in seven NHL seasons, he’ll have plenty of suitors.
Marc Savard, Boston
2009-10 cap hit: $5 million
The league’s second-best setup man behind Joe Thornton, Savard has become an all-around No. 1 center after developing a defensive conscience under Boston bench boss Claude Julien. With the Bruins handcuffed by the salary cap, the B’s aren’t likely to be able to afford the 32-year-old’s services even if he wanted to return.
Patrick Marleau, San Jose
2009-10 cap hit: $6.3 million
Oft criticized for a lack of playoff success and recently stripped of the team’s captaincy, 2009-10 will be a show-me season for the soon-to-be 30-year-old center. A repeat of his bounce-back campaign of last season, one in which he potted 38 goals, will cement his place as a premier top-six forward. If the Sharks fall short of expectations again, he won’t be back.
Alexander Frolov, Los Angeles
2009-10 cap hit: $2.9 million
The Russian sniper will only be 28 years old when July 1 rolls around and with more 30-to-40-goal seasons ahead of him than behind him, a GM in the market for offense will surely open the purse strings for this left winger. Frolov sports a desirable frame, too, at 6-foot-2 and 216 pounds.
Olli Jokinen, Calgary
2009-10 cap hit: $5.3 million
The big Finnish center hardly impressed during his first foray into the playoffs last season (his regular season wasn’t much to write home about, either), but a return to form in 2009-10 and all will be forgotten. It feels like he’s been around forever, but at just 30 years old, there’s still lots time for Jokinen to put it all together.
Paul Martin, New Jersey
2009-10 cap hit: $3.8 million
One of the league’s most unheralded blueliners, Martin – who averages more than 24 minutes per game – is the leader of the Devils no-name defense corps. The 28-year-old late-bloomer will be the most desirable asset in a thin pool of free agent blueliners.
Anton Volchenkov, Ottawa
2009-10 cat hit: $2.5 million
Top 10 in blocked shots for the past four seasons, the 27-year-old isn’t going to put up a lot of points – his career high is 19, set in 2006-07 – but tough-as-nails, hit-anything-that-moves blueliners were a hot commodity this summer and will be again in 2010.
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit; Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim; Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburgh
2009-10 cap hit: $7.5 million; $6.8 million; $5 million
Any one of the trio would be a welcome addition to a team’s blueline, but the likelihood of any of the three switching teams – assuming they don’t retire – is next to zero.
Jonas Hiller, Anaheim
2009-10 cap hit: $1.3 million
After grabbing the No. 1 reins from J-S Giguere, the 27-year-old was out-of-this-world during a first round upset of the Sharks. If he can put in a similar effort this season, he’ll enter the UFA foray as the cream of a saturated crop.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville
2009-10 cap hit: $725,000
Similar to Hiller, the largely unproven Rinne supplanted the incumbent starter and, though he couldn’t lead the Preds to a playoff spot, he should have been a Calder Trophy nominee. At only 26 years old, the Finn could just be coming into his own.
Marty Turco, Dallas
2009-10 cap hit: $5.7 million
He turned 34 last week and this could easily be a do or done season in Big D for the eight-season NHL vet. If he puts up good numbers and the Stars still let him walk, don’t expect a Khabibulin-esque contract to come his way with the plethora of top ‘tenders available.
Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose
2009-10 cap hit: $5.4 million
Another keeper getting up in years with a lot to prove, the 34-year-old, whose name is already making the rounds in the rumor mill, will need to lead the Sharks deep into the playoff waters to stick around on the west coast or get a big payday on the open market.
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver
2009-10 cap hit: $6.8 million
Don’t expect the world’s premier goalie to get anywhere near July 1 without an extension.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.
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