NHL Free Agency Preview: 30 teams, who needs what?

The Hockey News
Thomas Vanek (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

With July 1 just a day away, we take a look at what each team is looking for heading into the free agent frenzy. Depending on who you ask, there’s either not much to choose from or a buffet of talent available.

Regardless, there’s always something for every club…

Anaheim: The Ducks are convinced they have the real deal in soon-to-be 21-year-old goalie John Gibson and he’s ready for the NHL, so they can let Jonas Hiller walk. Frederik Andersen showed this season he’s at least a capable backup, if not more. Gibson and Andersen make less than $2 million combined for the next two seasons, meaning Anaheim can divert more capital to adding another top-four defenseman and skilled forward. Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu coming off the books frees up another $4.5 million. Anaheim would like to keep defender Stephane Robidas, but he’s 37 and makes a healthy $3.3 million.

Arizona: Radim Vrbata was a bargain signing in 2011 when the Coyotes retained him for $9 million over three seasons. Since then, the 32-year-old Czech has been a top-line player and scored at an 82-game pace of 29 goals and 60 points. That should earn him north of $5 million on the open market if the Coyotes are unable to keep him. The team was very happy with the way Thomas Greiss filled in as backup and injury replacement to Mike Smith. The 28-year-old German posted a superior GAA and SP to Smith’s. Because Greiss is young and a UFA, the Coyotes will have to pay dearly to keep him.

Boston: If Jarome Iginla is going to stay in Boston, it will be on a deal that is almost a carbon copy of the one he signed this season, a one-year deal with a low base salary laced with easily achievable incentives. His base salary is $1.8 million, but with his bonuses, Iginla’s cap hit this season is $5.5 million, which will increase by $250,000 if the Bruins win the Eastern Conference and another $250,000 if they win the Stanley Cup. Much of that will be carried over to next season. The Bruins are so close to the cap that a similar deal is the only one they’ll be able to do with Iginla next season.

Buffalo: The Sabres may want to keep Henrik Tallinder around, if for no other reason than he’s been a boost to Tyler Myers. Tallinder was Myers’ defense partner when Myers won the Calder Trophy in 2009-10. Tallinder signed with New Jersey and Myers struggled mightily for the next three seasons until last season when Tallinder returned. The Sabres won’t face much of a free agent problem with their roster this summer, with Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and Cory Conacher the notable RFAs. Buffalo will have to spend just to get up to the salary floor, which leaves room to pursue UFAs.

Calgary: It’s still puzzling why acting-GM Brian Burke didn’t peddle Mike Cammalleri at the NHL trade deadline for even a draft pick of some nature. The chance of Cammalleri signing to stay in Calgary is low and there had to be some interest for the spring sniper (Cammalleri had 12 goals and 23 points in 19 games after the trade deadline). New GM Brad Treliving will have to do some spending for the Flames to make the salary floor, even if Calgary does the improbable and manage to sign Cammalleri. The Flames may pursue Calgary native and UFA Dany Heatley for a short-term deal to reach the floor.

Carolina: The Hurricanes are a budget team, so re-signing Jiri Tlusty, a 16-goal scorer and RFA, will be challenging but necessary. He’s 26 and the Canes can ill afford to lose him. Four of their UFAs are defensemen, but the big question is the health of Joni Pitkanen. He didn’t play this season and is on the open market. That creates a hole and $4.5 million a year in salary to spend. Manny Malhotra also is a UFA, but he’ll likely return at an affordable salary.

Chicago: Antti Raanta delivered on the promise that made Chicago sign him last spring. The “best goalie outside the NHL” tag often drags unfair expectations with it, but Raanta flashed the ability that won him the MVP in the Finnish League regular season and playoffs a year ago. Detractors will point to his ugly second half, when he posted an .864 SP in three consecutive months. But those efforts were in spot duty. The more important stats came in December, when Raanta started 11 games spelling an injured Corey Crawford and went 8-1-3 with a 2.23 GAA and .912 SP. That stretch suggests Raanta is an apt long-term safety net. Getting any big names to augment the roster will be tough with the Hawks cap situation.

Colorado: Paul Stastny is the belle of the ball among free agent centers. Entering 2013-14, he was overpaid at a cap hit of $6.6 million. Then he delivered 25 goals, his most since his 2006-07 rookie campaign, and 60 points, his most since 2009-10. More importantly, he was dynamite in the playoffs with 10 points in seven games centering Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. The Avs aren’t rolling in cash with Ryan O’Reilly to re-sign, but Stastny would be a big loss. Stastny is in a pickle, too. Will he stay now that the Avs are a rising juggernaut or hit the open market knowing some team will reward him handsomely?

Columbus: The majority of the Jackets’ core is locked up for 2014-15, leaving GM Jarmo Kekalainen to focus on the futures of footsoldiers such as Derek MacKenzie and Blake Comeau. Kekalainen’s main issue will be what to do with Ryan Johansen. The 21-year-old has finished his entry-level contract and now has to decide between a short-term bridge contract or a long-term pact. If any emerging young star is ripe to receive an offer sheet, it’s Johansen. The Jackets would surely match any offer and want to get a deal done before any other franchise can get involved and ratchet up the cost of doing business.

Dallas: Jaromir Jagr, 42, will return to New Jersey after a great season. Teemu Selanne, 43, made headlines again with his will-he-or-won’t-he routine. What about Ray Whitney? It’s a natural assumption the 42-year-old will retire after his production plummeted in Dallas, and he was a healthy scratch for the Stars’ last playoff game. Whitney doesn’t see it that way, however. He believes he still has the legs to contribute in the NHL and suggested his limited ice time was the reason for his unproductive season. Whitney thus may return, albeit not with Dallas. He’ll have to accept a big pay cut from the $4.5 million he averaged over his two-year deal.

Detroit: The Red Wings’ move to clean house at forward will almost certainly not extend to Daniel Alfredsson, who had a terrific season and has a spot in Detroit if he still wants to play. But there will likely be a full-scale housecleaning of veterans with Todd Bertuzzi, Daniel Cleary, Mikael Samuelsson and David Legwand moving on. That’s because the Red Wings have 11 returning forwards with only Tomas Jurco eligible to be sent to the minors without clearing waivers.

Edmonton: The Oilers spent $8.6 million on five players this season who were either traded (salary retained on Ales Hemsky, Devan Dubnyk and Nick Schultz) or buried (Ben Eager and Denis Grebeshkov), so July 1 can’t come soon enough. The big question is whether the Oilers attempt to re-sign defenseman Justin Schultz to a multi-year deal like the ones given to Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle or will we see a two-year bridge deal that is cost effective and allows Edmonton to spend elsewhere. The Oilers have just two proven rearguards under contract next season and will attempt to sign or trade for one or two more.

Florida: The Panthers chase for other teams’ free agents this summer should be a lot more compelling than what they do with their own. On the unrestricted front, the only notable players are Scott Gomez, Krys Barch, Jesse Winchester and Tom Gilbert. And as should be expected with an organization that has so many young players, the Panthers have a boatload of RFAs in forwards Jimmy Hayes and Brandon Pirri and defensemen Erik Gudbranson, Dylan Olsen and Dmitry Kulikov. All should be signed without much trouble, but GM Dale Tallon is also setting his sights on adding veteran players, at least two of them defensemen.

Los Angeles: Not much to see here, and when you’re the defending Cup champs and look to be a contender for many years to come, why would there be? GM Dean Lombardi has done a nice job locking in his core stars to long-term deals. Depth defenseman Willie Mitchell will be the focus of attention. Mitchell is 37 and rebounded well after losing all of 2012-13 with knee issues, but he’s best suited to the third pair.

Minnesota: Dany Heatley’s six-year, $45-million contract epitomized “albatross.” He spent the second half of that deal with Minnesota, where his offense declined to the point where the two-time 50-goal man scored just 12 times in the final season. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said the team will “see” about a new Heatley deal with a cap hit significantly lower than $7.5 million he made per year in the last one. Heatley was an unmitigated disaster on a Wild team that will spend its cap space on Nino Niederreiter. Bringing back Matt Moulson or pursuing a high-profile scorer like University of Minnesota alum Thomas Vanek would also take priority.

Montreal: Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin will be one of the busier executives over the summer. After P.K. Subban’s playoff performance, the only thing left to determine is how big of a Brinks truck he should back up to the Bell Centre. As far as UFAs are concerned, Brian Gionta will have options, but he has found a home in Montreal and a team that would like to have him back. Thomas Vanek has stated numerous times he wants to see what is out there come July 1, and it’s difficult to fathom he would do anything that would deviate from that plan now.

Nashville: It was a year to forget for Michael Del Zotto. The dynamic offensive D-man, once a big part of the New York Rangers’ plans, was shipped to Nashville for Kevin Klein. Del Zotto had five points in 25 games in Music City. Quite a fall for someone two years removed from 41 points as a 21-year-old. That said, Del Zotto is too tantalizing a talent to quit on. New coach Peter Laviolette deploys a more aggressive offensive scheme than Barry Trotz did, so Del Zotto’s game will rebound. His new deal won’t be anything close to what he envisioned two years ago. He shouldn’t expect a raise on the $2.6 million he made in 2013-14.

New Jersey: The Devils signed Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal after the season ended, which means all of their key forwards are under contract. However, they’ve got a key veteran blueliner in Mark Fayne who will attract interest in a defense-thin market. Fayne has never had more than four goals and 17 points in a season, but he’s a big (6-foot-3) body who’ll see his salary increase. The team’s most prominent RFAs include Swedes Josef Jacobson and Adam Larsson.

Islanders: The Islanders have plenty of RFAs to sign, including defenseman Calvin de Haan, forwards Casey Cizikas and Anders Lee and backup netminder Anders Nilsson. The cash-strapped Isles have long attempted to lure an elite veteran to complement their collection of young talent (see Dan Boyle and Thomas Vanek), but it appears the best they can hope for is bringing back former franchise fixture Matt Moulson or signing a veteran who has few other alternatives to a one-year deal.

Rangers: Forget about adding anyone new. The Rangers were in cap trouble and required moves by GM Glen Sather to allow them to attempt to retain RFAs Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, John Moore and Justin Falk and bring back veterans Brian Boyle, Benoit Pouliot and Dominic Moore and Anton Stralman. Even with Brad Richards gone via an amnesty buyout, they’ll still be hard pressed to get everyone back and remain under the cap. Brassard and Zuccarello are both 26, but the former made $3.2 million last year, while Zuccarello, who led the team in points, earned $1.15 million.

Ottawa: Ales Hemsky meshed well with Jason Spezza after coming over at the trade deadline, but with Spezza’s name in play in terms of an off-season trade, there’s no sense of urgency to re-sign Hemsky. Aside from Spezza and Bobby Ryan, who each have one more year on their contracts, the Senators have most of their core players signed to long-term deals. One player who needs to be signed is Robin Lehner, who is ready to challenge for the No. 1 goaltending job with Craig Anderson. The Senators will also have to make a decision on Milan Michalek, who is coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons.

Philadelphia: The Flyers are completely cap crushed. After cornerstone defenseman Kimmo Timonen and crucial center Brayden Schenn received new (bargain) contracts, there’s next to no room remaining. But they do have to make decisions on RFA forwards Tye McGinn and Jason Akeson and blueliner Erik Gustafsson. And then there’s UFA forward Steve Downie and backup goalie Ray Emery). New GM Ron Hextall can’t escape the financial crossroads the franchise is in. Any move they make will require another to make it work.

Pittsburgh: After the James Neal trade, the Penguins have just seven forwards and five defensemen signed for 2014-15 and around $15 million in cap space. Their RFAs (Brandon Sutter and Simon Despres) aren’t going to be a major hurdle to overcome, but their UFAs are another story. Pens GM Jim Rutherford needs to lock up or replace wingers Jussi Jokinen and Lee Stempniak and a pair of veteran defensemen in Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. Niskanen in particular will be a major priority, as the 27-year-old enjoyed a breakout season in 2013-14 and will be in demand.

St. Louis: RFA Vladimir Sobotka is a “good” problem for Blues GM Doug Armstrong. St. Louis has enough contracts to figure out between its goaltenders, Patrik Berglund and Jaden Schwartz, and it wouldn’t have expected a year ago Sobotka would command a major bump from his $1.3-million cap hit, but things changed. He played a robust physical game, won an NHL-best 61.9 percent of his draws and set career highs in goals, assists and points despite missing 21 games. He posted the 11th-best Corsi Close among NHL centers. Armstrong must face the fact Sobotka is now a premier checking center and pay him accordingly.

San Jose: How much of an overhaul does GM Doug Wilson want to make? Does Joe Thornton get dealt? Does he make a play for Ryan Miller? Those are the big questions. A smaller, but important one, is how much to pay RFA James Sheppard? He made a compelling case for himself late in a season that ended in disappointment for the Sharks. The ninth overall draft selection by Minnesota in 2006 had an offensive outburst in the final quarter of the season and carried it into the playoffs. Sheppard had three goals and 14 points in an 18-game stretch through March, then added two goals and six points in San Jose’s seven-game setback to Los Angeles.

Tampa Bay: GM Steve Yzerman did well to get contracts for Calder Trophy finalists Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat and a number of other young players who had breakout seasons in Alex Killorn, J.T. Brown, and Mark Barberio. Richard Panik and Andrej Sustr are the only ones who remain. Ryan Callahan, who came over from the Rangers at the trade deadline but couldn’t help push the team out of the first round and had six goals and 11 points in 24 games with the Lightning, got six years at $5.8 million each. But there’s still work to be done for Yzerman. He freed up space by dealing Teddy Purcell, Nate Thompson and B.J. Crombeen. Is he preparing for a big-name pitch?

Toronto: After striking a disastrous deal with David Clarkson last year, Maple Leafs GM David Nonis will have to avoid doing the same with David Bolland. Bolland will argue the Leafs would have stood a much better chance of making the playoffs had he not missed 59 games. But the fact is he did miss 59 games, which would make him an enormous risk for the Leafs if they were to give him the long-term deal at $5 million a season he reportedly seeks. Mason Raymond will be looking to at least double his bargain stipend of $1 million after playing all 82 games and bouncing back with 19 goals and 45 points.

Vancouver: Ryan Kesler is gone, as is Jason Garrison. Cap space isn’t an issue, but what direction are the Canucks going? Regardless, Zack Kassian continued making strides this season and looks close to establishing himself as a top-six power forward with a touch around the net. The question is will Vancouver offer the RFA a modest raise on the $870,000 he earned this season or try to ink him to a longer deal? Kassian is big, plays an aggressive game and may only now be realizing his offensive potential. He had three goals and 10 points in his final 10 games of the season, including a four-point effort against Buffalo. Fellow RFA Chris Tanev was second on the Canucks in plus-minus and averaged 20:44 of ice time. He’ll get a hike from the $1.5 million he earned.

Washington: Compared to other teams, the Capitals don’t have a lot of in-house work to do with their free agents. They’ve got a few RFAs and notable UFAs in forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Dustin Penner to sign. Grabovski is the key free agent out of both groups. The 30-year-old center had a decent season and was a nice fit on Washington’s power play, but he’ll be seeking a raise on the $3 million he earned in ’13-14. As well, with the trade of Jaroslav Halak to the Islanders, the Caps need to acquire a co-No. 1 or backup goalie behind Braden Holtby.

Winnipeg: What must Al Montoya do to start permanently over Ondrej Pavelec? Montoya appeared in 28 games and went 13-8-3 with a 2.30 GAA and .920 SP. The sparkling stats didn’t come out of nowhere given his pedigree as the No. 6 overall pick in the 2004 draft with the Rangers. Meanwhile, Pavelec’s .901 SP tied him for 45th in the NHL. Montoya said he wants to remain with the Jets, but he deserves a lot more than the $601,000 he made this season. His breakout gives Winnipeg just one more reason to move Pavelec, who carries a $3.9-million cap hit for three more years.