Where will the top free agents sign?

  • Scott Burnside [ARCHIVE]
  • ESPN.com | June 30, 2014

The "let's have a chat" period that allows NHL teams to meet with pending unrestricted free agents in advance of the free-agency period, which starts Tuesday, suggests that teams will move quickly once the market opens at noon ET.

In other words, one of the most overwrought terms in the hockey dictionary -- free-agent frenzy -- may actually be accurate Tuesday.

Here's a look at 15 of the most interesting free agents and their possible landing spots.

Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche

Stastny is the top center on the free-agent market in a summer with lots of teams looking to shore up the middle. Chicago and St. Louis are all in the hunt for that kind of help. While Stastny would like to stay in Denver (the only NHL home of his career), the Avs are going to have to up their ante significantly to keep the 28-year-old. Our guess is that he's gone and, pending what happens with Jason Spezza, who wants to be dealt out of Ottawa, we're guessing Stastny ends up with the Blues.

Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks

The market for defensemen has changed somewhat with Buffalo buying out Christian Ehrhoff on Sunday and the strong play of the Rangers' Anton Stralman during the postseason. Still, Boyle is going to be in demand, given his skating ability and the fact he's a proven winner. He's a right-hand shot, which makes him attractive to a team like Detroit. Does Tampa opening up all kinds of cap space suggest a reunion with the Lightning, where Boyle won a Stanley Cup in 2004? Possibly, but we'll go with the Red Wings.

Christian Ehrhoff, Buffalo Sabres

General manager Tim Murray continues to make wholesale changes to the lowly Sabres, including buying out the former standout Vancouver defenseman who signed an obscene 10-year deal with the Sabres in 2011 that paid him $18 million in the first two seasons alone. Detroit was interested in the left-handed-shooting Ehrhoff at the trade deadline and could revisit Tuesday, but wondering if he isn't a better fit in Tampa.

Thomas Vanek, Montreal Canadiens

We have been debating for weeks now whether Vanek's miserable playoff performance for the Canadiens would affect his value, and we're about to find out. We talked to Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher after the draft on Saturday, and in general, he prefers a short-term deal when it comes to adding to his emerging team. Maybe that's the best approach for Vanek, who has long been connected to the state, having attended the University of Minnesota.

Ryan Miller, St. Louis Blues

The former Vezina Trophy winner is one of a number of goalies looking for work, and given an uneven playoff performance for the Blues -- who paid handsomely to acquire Miller from Buffalo at the trade deadline -- it's hard to assess his value on the open market. We know he visited with Vancouver officials and that may be the most likely landing place for a goalie who is still very much a workhorse. We know San Jose -- unhappy with Antti Niemi -- is looking to get younger, but you still have to think Miller would be intriguing on at least some level to the Sharks, who have to upgrade at the position if they're going to compete with Anaheim and Los Angeles. We'll go with Vancouver as Miller's most likely landing spot.

Matt Niskanen, Pittsburgh Penguins

Niskanen might be the best all-around defenseman on the open market after a breakout season in Pittsburgh, and the interest in him reflects that. He'll get term -- seven years, if he wants it -- and could be in the $6 million range. It's easier to list teams not interested, but the one we're curious about is Washington, where former Penguins assistant coach Todd Reirden just signed on to be part of Barry Trotz's coaching staff. Reirden played a big role in Niskanen's evolution in Pittsburgh, and the Caps need a player like Niskanen to help take the pressure off Karl Alzner and John Carlson (and perhaps open the door to moving Mike Green).

Anton Stralman, New York Rangers

Stralman might have been the Rangers' most consistent defender during the playoffs and their best rearguard in the finals against Los Angeles. But will a team become disenchanted with Stralman if they sign him to a six-year deal worth $5 million or more? Could happen. He's a right-handed shot, so if things don't work out with Dan Boyle, the Red Wings might take a run at the 27-year-old former Toronto prospect. Tampa likely would be interested, as well.

Matt Moulson, Minnesota Wild

Moulson struggled mightily in the playoffs after being moved from Buffalo (after earlier being sent to the Sabres in the Thomas Vanek deal), but he also wasn't healthy. Teams looking for a big body with good hands and 30-goal potential won't shy away from Moulson. Wonder if John Tavares has been in Islanders GM Garth Snow's ear about returning his old pal? Would Moulson listen?

Jussi Jokinen, Pittsburgh Penguins

Jokinen doesn't get the respect he deserves but someone will reward the veteran forward for being the Penguins' most consistent skater throughout the playoffs (seven goals and 10 points in 13 postseason games). He can play center or wing, he's good in a shootout and can play up and down the lineup. He'd be a nice fit in Winnipeg, where they need veteran help up front and aren't likely to be able to entice Paul Stastny into the fold.

Jarome Iginla, Boston Bruins

Can't help but feel Iginla, who was a nice fit with the Bruins this season, won't be back. But if it comes down to playing for one or two years, Iginla could be enticed to move on for longer term, given the Bruins' salary-cap issues. Would Iginla be a fit in Montreal, where size continues to be an issue among Montreal forwards? Would we then love to see the Bruins and Habs meet again in the playoffs? Yes, sir, can I have another?

Brad Richards, New York Rangers

No surprise that Richards was bought out of his contract, and while he didn't have a great postseason, is there a fit for him on a short-term deal and at a greatly reduced dollar figure on a team looking to win a Cup? Could the Blackhawks, hard against the cap and needing help down the middle behind Jonathan Toews, be a landing spot? Nashville is also looking for help at center, and Richards and newly acquired winger James Neal enjoyed success together in Dallas back in the day. Just saying.

Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks

Not a great time to be a free-agent goalie with Martin Brodeur, Evgeni Nabokov, Ray Emery, Anders Lindback, Ilya Bryzgalov, Miller and possibly Toronto's James Reimer, among others, looking for work and pretty much all of the No. 1 spots locked up except in Vancouver. Hiller is interesting, though, because he is likely better than anyone on that list other than Miller. What about Tampa, where it learned the hard way in being swept by Montreal in the first round of the playoffs about not having a good Plan B in goal when Ben Bishop was hurt and Lindback was terrible. Winnipeg also needs to find a Plan B for Ondrej Pavelec, whose play regularly ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Mike Ribeiro, Arizona Coyotes

By now everyone knows that off-ice behavioral issues led to the Coyotes' decision to buy out the talented but troubled center after just one year with the team. During the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Ribeiro was a point-a-game guy in Washington, and word is he is working hard to deal with these off-ice issues. Some team will take a chance on Ribeiro, although we're guessing dollar and term would be substantially limited. Worth a risk for the Predators? Or Chicago? Where Spezza ends up may prompt one of these teams to explore that kind of chance.

Ville Leino, Buffalo Sabres

Remember back in 2010 when Leino collected 21 points in 19 playoff games for the Philadelphia Flyers, as the No. 7 seed advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup finals? The Sabres must have watched the tapes because they lavished Leino with a ridiculous six-year deal worth $27 million in summer 2011. They bought him out this offseason after three miserable seasons in Buffalo during which he scored a total of 10 goals. He has 20-goal potential, and maybe reuniting with his old coach, Peter Laviolette, in Nashville would help him rediscover his game. One has to guess that a smaller deal with less attendant pressure is going to be a boon to Leino, and maybe the team that signs him.

Steve Ott, St. Louis Blues

An agitating presence down the middle, we're guessing that maybe Ott could find his way back to Buffalo, where he acted as captain when Vanek was traded to the New York Islanders last season. The Sabres will have to spend a ton to get to the cap floor, and Ott was a nice fit there. Plus, he would be a good guy for a young team that's got some long nights ahead of it.

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