With the Stanley Cup final still underway, it may seem like the free-agent frenzy is still a long way off. It isn’t. July 1 will be here before we know it, and there’s already been some off-season activity with goaltender Tomas Vokoun heading to Pittsburgh.
Here’s a look at the 12 most coveted unrestricted free agents for this summer’s frenzy:
1. Ryan Suter, Nashville Predators
2011-12 salary: $3.5 million
Remember when Ilya Kovalchuk was the NHL’s biggest free agent — ever! — in 2010? Suter, 27 years old and entering his prime, is the defensive equivalent to that. In Nashville he’s the Robin to Shea Weber’s Batman. On any other team, Suter would be battling against Weber for all-star bids and Norris Trophy nominations.
Suter, coming off a career-best 46-point campaign, says he wants to finish his career with the team he signs with this off-season. This is his one chance to cash in big in free agency — he will earn upwards of double his salary from this past season — and many believe he will test the free agent waters on July 1, which puts the Predators in a tough spot.
2. Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils
2011-12 salary: $6 million
As for Parise, he may be the best free-agent forward since teammate Kovalchuk signed his 15-year, $100 million contract with the Devils two summers ago. Despite coming off major knee surgery, Parise scored 31 goals in 2011-12 — his fifth 30-goal campaign since the lockout — and was a factor in getting the Devils to their first Stanley Cup final since 2003. Some pundits doubt the Devils have the goods to match any contract offer Parise would receive in the frenzy. Like Suter in Nashville, it comes down to Parise’s commitment level to the Devils, the only organization he has ever known. Parise is the captain of the Devils and the heartbeat of the offense, but money speaks volumes.
3. Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals
2011-12 salary: $6.7 million
One of the more intriguing names on the market this summer will be Semin. The Capitals winger is the definition of an enigma; some nights he’s nonexistent, others he sets the world on fire. His ups and downs and supposed lack of dedication could steer a lot of general managers away from signing Semin, who has seen his goal total drop in each of the last two years. But as they say, all it takes is one GM to think Semin can be a difference-maker — which he can be when he’s on his game.
4. Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes
2011-12 salary: $4.55 million
Doan’s future seems to go hand-in-hand with the future of the Coyotes organization. If they stay, he’ll stay. If they go, he could go to a team that has a prime chance of winning a Stanley Cup within the next two years. Doan, 35, has been a consistent producer throughout his career and would certainly draw interest — if he decides to leave the organization this summer.
5. Jaromir Jagr, Philadelphia Flyers
2011-12 salary: $3.3 million
It’s safe to say ol’ Jagr exceeded expectations this season with the Flyers. His production tailed off at the end of the season — 31 points in first 32 games; 23 points in final 41 games — but he was an effective presence on the Flyers’ top line alongside Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell. It’s going to be interesting to see where he lands, whether it’s back with Philadelphia or elsewhere.
6. Jason Garrison, Florida Panthers
2011-12 salary: $700,000
One free agent who hasn’t gotten much publicity is Florida’s Jason Garrison. After going undrafted out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Garrison, 27, has been a late bloomer for the Panthers. He had his breakout season in 2011-12, posting career highs in goals, assists and points. If he doesn’t re-up with the Panthers, Garrison’s 16 goals and big shot from the blue line will be sought after on the open market.
7. Matt Carle, Philadelphia Flyers
2011-12 salary: $3.8 million
Like Garrison, Flyers defenceman Matt Carle should be coveted by teams looking for a puck-moving blue-liner not named Ryan Suter. Carle had three solid seasons in Philadelphia, averaging 37.5 points each year and missing just two games total. He’s not a top-pair rearguard, but he’s effective on both ends of the ice.
8. Olli Jokinen, Calgary Flames
2011-12 salary: $3 million
Teams are always looking for a boost up the middle in the off-season, and Jokinen is arguably the top centreman available. Jokinen did rack up 61 points in 82 games with Calgary last season, but his label of being a top-line centre isn’t what it once was. Someone will take a chance on him, though.
9. Dennis Wideman, Washington Capitals
2011-12 salary: $4.5 million
Wideman was an all-star for the Capitals last season, capitalizing on the absence of the frequently injured Mike Green. However, Wideman’s second half saw a considerable drop-off from his first half, which could put a seed of doubt in some teams’ minds. He also had a minus-7 rating in 14 playoff games. Still, a thin defence market increases Wideman’s value.
10. Dustin Penner, Los Angeles Kings
2011-12 salary: $4.25 million
Two months ago, Dustin Penner’s stock was at an all-time low. Penner tallied just 23 points in his first 84 regular season games in Los Angeles, failing to justify them surrendering a first-round pick to Edmonton for his services. Penner has kicked his game a notch or three this postseason (11 points through Monday), giving opposing GMs a reason to sign the quick-witted pancake aficionado.
11. P.A. Parenteau, New York Islanders
2011-12 salary: $1.25 million
After bouncing around with different teams over the years, Parenteau found his niche in Long Island. Parenteau, 29, put together back-to-back seasons of unexpected production, recording 53 and 67 points, respectively, in first two seasons with the Islanders. He’d be a good option for teams looking for secondary scoring.
12. Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild
2011-12 salary: $750,000
Vokoun’s signing in Pittsburgh was only good news for Harding. More goalie-needy teams will go the trade route to find their solution, but Harding won’t come cheap in free agency. If healthy and given an opportunity, Harding, soon to be 28, can put up solid numbers. The problem is, he’s never healthy.