THN Free Agency Preview: Central Division
Will Marian Hossa rejoin the Red Wings or move on to greener pastures? (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
THN Free Agency Preview: Central Division
Cap space - $22.3 million
UFAs – Martin Havlat, RW; Samuel Pahlsson, C; Matt Walker, D; Aaron Johnson, D; Nikolai Khabibulin, G.
RFAs – Jake Dowell, C; Ben Eager, LW; Colin Fraser, C; Kris Versteeg, RW; Cam Barker, D.
Needs – The Hawks’ summer hinges on re-signing right winger Havlat. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland give them strength down the middle, while Patrick Kane, Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien patrol the wings, but Havlat bolsters that bunch.
Defensively, the blueline corps is solid thanks to last summer’s big signing of Brian Campbell and the maturation of youth, but a vet would be nice to put the group over the top. Nashville UFA Greg Zanon would bring grit and shot-blocking and if he’s not playing a lot of minutes, why not bring Chris Chelios back into the fold for old times’ sake?
Other options on the back end could include Kent Huskins, Rob Scuderi or Shane Hnidy.
Ready for the big time – Goaltender Corey Crawford has been waiting in the wings for a few seasons now and with Khabibulin off the books, watch for the youngster to backup Huet. If Crawford falters, Antti Niemi is also an up-and-comer with American League Rockford, so the Hawks won’t have to seek out another ’tender.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Cap Space – $13.9 million
UFAs – Jason Williams, C; Michael Peca, C; Manny Malhotra, C; Chris Gratton, C; Christian Backman, D; Wade Dubielewicz, G
RFAs – Jiri Novotny, C; O-K Tollefsen, D; Aaron Rome, D; Marc Methot, D.
Needs – Considering the Jackets aren’t too hot on their own free agents, there will be many needs, first and foremost at center. Williams and Peca will only return if the Jackets can’t find anyone better and Malhotra reportedly wants first-liner money, since technically that’s what he played this season. Columbus (and the rest of the NHL) sees him as a third-line pivot.
A free agent such as Mike Cammalleri or Mike Comrie would be a nice addition to Derick Brassard and Antoine Vermette up the middle, but since the Jackets don’t have a lot of cap space, GM Scott Howson will have to be savvy. Columbus also seriously needs a power play quarterback if Kris Russell doesn’t grow exponentially again next year. Don’t expect to see Backman or Novotny back, either.
Ready for big time – Nikita Filatov caught a glimpse of the NHL this year, but next season will see the dynamic Russian left winger catch on with full force. Coupled with Brassard coming back from injury and Jakub Voracek having a year of experience under his belt, the Jackets will dazzle with youthful skill.
DETROIT RED WINGS
Cap Space – $5.6 million
UFAs – Marian Hossa, RW; Mikael Samuelsson, RW; Chris Chelios, D; Ty Conklin, G; Tomas Kopecky, RW.
RFAs – Jiri Hudler, C; Ville Leino, LW.
Needs – Cap space. Seriously, though, Detroit has a fantastic roster with great players waiting in the wings, but GM Ken Holland would love to keep Hossa in the fold. That will be impossible without shedding some other contracts via trade; what remains to be seen is what sort of money and term Hossa will take. If the talented Slovak doesn’t come back, Hudler would be the first option for re-signing. Leino (who should be sticking around), Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader are more than qualified to join the vaunted forward corps should there be significant attrition. Chelios and Conklin definitely won’t return.
Ready for big time – Jimmy Howard slides in behind Chris Osgood on the goaltending depth chart with the departure of Conklin. Howard had one of his best seasons yet with AHL Grand Rapids this season, posting career-bests in goals-against average (2.54) and save percentage (.916). The 25-year-old has been waiting for this opportunity for several years now.
Cap Space – $23.8 million
UFAs – Steve Sullivan, LW; Radek Bonk, C; Vern Fiddler, C; Scott Nichol, C; Jed Ortmeyer, RW; Joel Ward, RW; Greg de Vries, D; Greg Zanon, D; Ville Koistinen, D.
RFAs – Ryan Jones, RW; Antti Pihlstrom, LW; Cal O’Reilly, C.
Needs – Pretty much everything besides goaltending. The Preds have a raft of UFAs and though the cap room is there, the franchise is almost always hamstrung by a much lower self-imposed ceiling.
With that in mind, a competitive Nashville squad will need at least two top-six forwards and a mess of grinders. Vern Fiddler has gone on record as saying he loves the city and would like to return, but it will all come down to dollars and cents. This also means attracting big names will be difficult, so look for youngsters such as Jones, Patric Hornqvist and Alexander Sulzer to get chances up in the big league. And no, Alexander Radulov is not coming back.
Ready for big time – Colin Wilson was a beast for the NCAA-champion Boston U. Terriers this year and the 2008 first round draft pick will look to continue the show in Music City next season. Wilson is strong and skilled, bringing those much-needed assets to an undermanned Preds forward corps. Look for him to get a lot of ice time and do a lot of damage.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
Cap Space – $8.5 million
UFAs – Dan Hinote, RW.
RFAs – B.J. Crombeen, RW; Jeff Woywitka, D; Roman Polak, D.
Needs – The Blues found the magic formula for success in the second half this year and don’t lose much off the roster this summer, so their needs are few. Star left winger Paul Kariya missed most of this season to injury, but was dynamic when healthy, so the Blues already have their upgrade on offense.
Lack of goals doomed St. Louis in the playoffs, but Kariya and a growing youth corps will take care of that. Not only that, but the Blues get Erik Johnson back on the blueline, bolstering the ‘D’ as well. From a leadership perspective, bringing back Hinote would be a smart move.
Ready for big time – Big blueliner Alex Pietrangelo hung with St. Louis at the beginning of the year, but was dropped back to junior for more seasoning. He was nearly a point-per-game player for the Ontario League’s Niagara IceDogs the rest of the way and will provide the St. Louis back end with two big, skilled D-men alongside Johnson.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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