Where free agent defenseman Ryan Suter goes is anyone's guess, but the Predators will do all they can to keep him. (John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
By Stu Hackel
The gun goes off at noon on Sunday for the start of NHL Free Agency and we'll be here that morning to begin our live blog of the day's action. Considering the high volume of rumors and conjecture this year, it could be one of the wilder July 1's for hockey in a while.
So here's a quick look at what spots each team is seeking to fill going into the offseason, some of which they'll try to address on the open market. Below are the Western Conference teams. The Eastern Conference teams can be found here. To see the players who are available in free agency, go to TSN.ca.
DUCKS -- They have lots of cap space, but lots of needs: improve their defense corps, their secondary scoring and their depth forwards. With Teemu Selanne still undeclared for next season, the Ducks have only Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan and Saku Koivu under contract for next season when it comes to productive forwards, and not much beyond them. And they're contemplating dealing Ryan. There's talk they'd like a second line center, a move that would bump the aging Koivu down to the third line, although Teemu (if he returns) likes playing with Saku. But it's on D that Anaheim really needs help, and a first-rate shutdown defenseman should be high on their list.
STARS -- Unlike some teams that have lots of cap space, Dallas will use theirs. The Stars got younger and a more rugged with the Mike Ribeiro deal (and freed up over $4 million in space) by acquiring Cody Eakin from the Capitals, but they still need more offensive depth. There's been talk that agitator Steve Ott could be traded as well, but only if the Stars get someone with a bigger offensive upside in return. If they can snag a good third line center in free agency, that would allow them to move Ott more comfortably. A second big question is on defense, where Sheldon Souray is a pending UFA. He rejected a contract offer from the club a few weeks ago, but wants to stay. He may not if he hears something he likes from another club and that would put a big hold on the Stars' blue line.
KINGS -- Even teams that win the Cup like to make changes for the next season, and though they turned their season around after Darryl Sutter was hired as coach, they still could use more goal scoring. It's also worth noting that their top shutdown defensemen, Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi, are not getting any younger, and that could be an area they address as well. The fate of pending UFA Dustin Penner has yet to be revealed. He's said he'll be happy to return and take a hometown discount. He had an admirable postseason, although his body of work and questionable conditioning may force the Kings to cut ties.
COYOTES -- Offense remains their chronic weakness and they are likely to target at least one player who has the knack for lighting the lamp. If the rumors that defenseman Keith Yandle is available in trade are true, he might be the lure to catch a scorer. Pending UFA captain Shane Doan will certainly have a number of suitors and it would be a big blow to if he decided to go elsewhere. Replacing his leadership will be difficult. Bringing back shutdown defender Zbynek Michalek via trade from Pittsburgh during the draft was a good move, but there are thoughts that Phoenix is seeking another experienced d-man.
SHARKS -- A team looking to retool if not renovate, San Jose brought back shutdown d-man Brad Stuart in a deal with the Red Wings, a good addition that will help take pressure off Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray and add some championship experience from Detroit. The Sharks might be looking to add a depth forward from the free agent market, but with little cap space and a pretty full roster, this club might be more active in the trade market. They've been mentioned as being in the hunt for Rick Nash and any deal for him might mean some holes open up on the roster, considering Columbus' high demands.
BLACKHAWKS -- Having surrendered 238 goals last season (22nd in the league), the Hawks want to improve on the blue line and perhaps in goal, so look for them to pursue defensemen and netminders via trade and/or free agency. Corey Crawford and Ray Emery are signed for next season, but will Chicago stick with that tandem? Rumors linking them with Roberto Luongo have been scoffed at. With 23 players already under contract for next season, the Hawks will probably have to move players to get the cap space they need to sign someone like Ryan Suter -- and Niklas Hjalmarsson's name has been bandied about in trade rumors. Of course, any veteran UFA defenseman worth pursuing will have multiple teams chasing him and that will drive his price up, so expect Chicago to be an active trader if the Hawks are to upgrade.
BLUE JACKETS -- Losing Rick Nash, which seems inevitable, is going to mean Columbus will have to replace a good deal of offense -- and the Jackets didn't have much to begin with, ranking 28th in goals scored last season with him in their lineup. So they'll be on the hunt for scoring in free agency and trades. But, really, the Jackets need to upgrade almost everywhere, even in goal where they just dealt for Sergei Bobrovsky. Somehow, a tandem of "Bob" and Steve Mason doesn't sound like one that can get Columbus to the postseason.
RED WINGS -- Rumored to be in the Parise/Suter sweepstakes, Detroit has lots of cap space and holes to fill on the blueline with the departures of Nick Lidstrom and Brad Stuart. Up front, the Wings also may have to replace Tomas Holmstrom if he retires, and pending UFA Jiri Hudler if he goes elsewhere. You'd expect GM Ken Holland to have "Plan B" ready in case the marquee UFAs sign elsewhere, although some holes could be filled from Detroit's farm system. The Wings are probably also looking for a backup goaler. Whether it's through player development, trades or free agent signings, they will look a good deal different next fall.
PREDATORS -- The churn on their roster might be extensive this summer. Even though they re-signed Hal Gill, they have anther key blueliner who may not be back -- pending UFA Ryan Suter -- and they'll part ways with Francois Bouillon. They also need a new backup goalie, and they've cast forwards Andrei Kostitsyn and Alex Radulov adrift. Jordin Tootoo is also a goner and there's uncertainty surrounding pending UFA Paul Gaustad, so this may be one of the most active clubs in the offseason both in free agency and on the trade front.
The Preds always seem to hunger for scoring, so that may be their primary focus, as will how to replace Suter, if they can, should he sign elsewhere. The good news is that ownership is willing to spend to the cap for the first time in club history to keep the team's best players or replace them if necessary.
BLUES -- St. Louis has a good amount of cap space but isn't a team that spends to the limit. It's unclear whether the Blues will bring back pending UFAs Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott. If one of both of these veterans walk, they'll leave a vacancy among the depth forwards, not to mention in what they brought in experience and leadership. St. Louis might also look into acquiring a veteran defenseman who can eat up minutes and take some of the burden from Alex Pietrangelo, Barret Jackman and Roman Polak.
FLAMES -- Critics continue to maintain that Calgary can't rebuild unless it cuts ties with some high-priced veterans and gains cap space. Instead, the Flames continue to add those sorts of players, like defenseman Dennis Wideman. Still, it looks like they've cut loose pending UFA Olli Jokinen and there are rumors they'd trade Jay Bouwmeester, if anyone is willing to take on his big ticket. With Jokinen gone, the Flames will seek someone who can put up some numbers offensively, although that could come from May free agent signee Roman Cervenka, a possible lure for signing Jaromir Jagr, his linemate with Avangard Omsk in the KHL, and a pending UFA. Calgary also could stand to add some depth to its blueline.
AVALANCHE -- With a ton of cap space, the Avs could take a run at the big prizes -- Zach Parise and Ryan Suter -- but it's more likely they will look to re-up some of their own free agents and plug some gaps with UFAs of a lesser profile. Up front, they're cutting ties with oft-injured Peter Mueller so they could stand to add another point producer on left wing. With Jay McClement and the club also splitsville, there's a spot open at checking center. The defense corps could get some attention here as well, perhaps a second- or third-pair blueliner.
OILERS -- The worst kept secret in the NHL is that the Oilers are on the hunt for help on the blue line, and along with four other teams, are thought to be a favorite in the Justin Schultz sweepstakes. He's a very good puckmover who can help get it to their talented forwards and run the power play, but Edmonton's other need is shutting down the opposition. [UPDATE: The Oilers and Schultz agreed on a two-year contract Saturday.] So even if they land Schultz, they may not be done adding to their defense corps. Ryan Smyth remains unsigned and if he departs as a UFA, it will open a spot on left wing. His production isn't what it used to be, but it would be hard to replace his leadership.
WILD --Guillaume Latendresse is set to hit the UFA market and that adds to the spots open on the third and fourth lines. So the Wild will be shopping for bottom six forwards unless they can land a proven scorer who will push someone down in the pecking order or give them an asset in the trade market. If rumors out of Minnesota that say the Wild will be real players in the Zach Parise chase prove true and fruitful, it could happen. Additionally, if the rumors that Parise wants to pair up with Ryan Suter are also true, that would change the makeup of the Wild's defense corps by improving the depth on the blue line. But if neither happens, they'll still need more scoring -- which Minnesota always seems to crave -- and a deeper defense corps.
CANUCKS -- There's still no resolution to Roberto Luongo's situation and what happens there -- if and when he's dealt -- will color Vancouver's offseason greatly. If he goes, the Canucks will need a backup for Corey Schneider, but they're hoping to address their needs for more scoring depth, a third line center and better depth on the blueline. And should a top four defenseman come their way either through a Luongo deal or free agency -- and they are one of the clubs that Justin Schultz is reportedly considering -- they'll be ready.
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