NHL Free Agency Buzz: Rumblings from around the league

Sportsnet’s Doug MacLean joined the Starting Lineup this morning to discuss what could happen come the first day of NHL Free Agency on July 1st for the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.

A quick look at rumblings around the league, less than 48 hours before free agency. Some might even be true.

GOALIES

Early predictions are: Chad Johnson to Buffalo, Brian Elliott to Philadelphia, Steve Mason to Winnipeg, Ryan Miller to Anaheim, Antti Niemi to Pittsburgh, Anders Nilsson to Vancouver.

Washington’s set a high price on Philipp Grubauer.

DEFENCEMEN

Two that seem close — if not done — are Trevor Daley (Detroit) and Dan Girardi (Tampa Bay).

The Rangers are determined to be modest, which takes them out of the Kevin Shattenkirk race unless something really changes. Buffalo is believed to be a serious suitor. There was some talk Dallas might try a short-term deal, but not sure where that stands after Marc Methot’s arrival.

It’s been well-reported that Karl Alzner visited Montreal, and it sounds like the Canadiens are serious.

Mentioned earlier this week that both Ottawa and Winnipeg were looking at Dmitry Kulikov. I’d link both teams with Michael Stone, too, because there are “intangible” fits to both cities. But he’s a right shot as opposed to a left one, which is what those teams are looking for.

Michael Del Zotto is a lefty shooter who is eager to prove himself.

Nashville GM David Poile said at the draft he would likely go to free agency to address his needs at forward. If he does actually sign a top-four defender, you have to think it’s trade time (cough, Matt Duchene, cough).

Florida is still looking at options for Jason Demers, and, apparently, Vancouver is a possibility. But I’m not sure he can go there without waiving his no-trade.

FORWARDS

The most difficult nut to crack. It’s probably because of Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton.

Two good reporters who know San Jose well — The Mercury News’ Mark Purdy and NBCSN’s Kevin Kurz — wrote Thursday that Marleau and Thornton may not be coming back. There are three possibilities: 1) they’ve already decided to leave, 2) the Sharks are preparing their fan-base for the eventual departures, or 3) it’s a final shot across the bow to step up the offers.

There is a ton of interest in both players, many from the same teams. Los Angeles has certainly made a big pitch to Thornton. Others who’ve talked to one (or both) include Anaheim, Columbus, Montreal, the Rangers, St. Louis and Toronto. Undoubtedly, I’m on the low side.

Everyone’s kind of waiting to see what comes of this. Other teams think Marleau is much more likely to leave than Thornton, but, as one GM said, “(Thornton) is fiercely proud and you cannot underestimate that.”

If he moves, that sets off a seismic shift. Whatever he and Marleau decide to do, it impacts the likes of Justin Williams, Chris Kunitz, Thomas Vanek and Radim Vrbata on the wing. A lot of teams are contacting them.

Same goes for Martin Hanzal and Brian Boyle down the middle. Not the same offence as Thornton, but big bodies who give you good depth at the most important position (aside from goal).

I still think Montreal finds a way to make it work with Alexander Radulov, but I’m not gambling my son’s university education on it.

Just a glimpse. We’ll see where we go.