ESPN.com's Craig Custance recently listed his top-20 NHL unrestricted free agents for 2015. What's notable about Custance's list, apart from the lack of genuine superstar talent in next summer's UFA market, is that it's dominated by defensemen.
The notables include Anaheim's Francois Beauchemin, Boston's Adam McQuaid, Carolina's Andrej Sekera, Chicago's Johnny Oduya, Pittsburgh's Christian Ehrhoff and Paul Martin, Toronto's Cody Franson,Washington's Mike Green, the Rangers' Marc Staal and the Islanders' Johnny Boychuk.
Most of these blueliners have frequently popped up on this season's rumor mill. There's a good chance some of them could be playing for different teams by the March 2 trade deadline.
Topping this list of likely trade candidates is Sekera. Hurricanes GM Ron Francis claims the 28-year-old blueliner is someone he hopes to re-sign, but the lure of free agency and the opportunity to play for a postseason contender could prove tempting.
The Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa believes Sekera could become the most sought-after defenseman in the July free-agent market, citing his smooth skating and steady three-zone play. Shinzawa also notes the Hurricanes' limited cap space for 2015-16 (over $53 million invested in just 14 players) leaves Francis little wiggle room to re-sign the blueliner. If the Hurricanes remain out of playoff contention and Sekera decides to test the UFA market, he could be dealt by the March 2 trade deadline.
For the past two years Franson's been a fixture in the rumor mill, with his name appearing whenever the Leafs go through a losing streak. He recently told the National Post's Sean Fitz-Gerald he's keen to remain a Leaf.
The club's seeming unwillingness to commit to long-term deals with Franson and their attempt last summer to ship him to Montreal for Josh Gorges doesn't bode well for his future in Toronto. Should the Leafs struggle again near the trade deadline, Franson could be shipped out.
Since the summer, Green's been linked to the Detroit Red Wings, who are seeking a top-four defenseman with a right-handed shot. Earlier this month, the Washington Post's Alex Prewitt reported Green's agent said there had been no contract talks with the Capitals. Both sides apparently need more time to evaluate how this season plays out before initiating discussions. Should the Capitals falter during the second half of this season they could seriously entertain offers for the 29-year-old blueliner.
It's believed the Penguins could draw upon their blueline depth as trade bait in their search for a top-six winger. However, it's likely they'll try moving one of their younger blueliners. The Penguins limited cap space for '15-'16 means they risk losing Martin and Ehrhoff to free agency. However, they're in “win-now” mode and will retain the veteran duo for a run at the Stanley Cup in the spring.
Staal's contract status has drawn considerable interest among the Rangers punditry. Earlier this month, the New York Daily News' Pat Leonard felt the rash of injuries to the Blueshirts defense reinforced the need to re-sign Staal, but he's reportedly seeking over $6-million annually. Like the Hurricanes and Penguins, the Rangers don't have a lot of cap space for 2015-16. Meeting Staal's asking price could hurt efforts to re-sign some of their other key free agents.
Limited cap space will also hamper the Bruins efforts to re-sign McQuaid and the Blackhawks hopes of retaining Oduya. Considering both clubs remain among this season's leading playoff contenders, they'll likely retain both for one more shot at a championship.
When the Islanders acquired Boychuk before the start of this season there was talk he was unlikely to re-sign with them. Undaunted, GM Garth Snow remains hopeful of signing the veteran to a long-term extension. If the Isles maintain their solid early-season play over the course of this season, it could convince Boychuk to stay.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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