NHL free agent crystal ball
The 2012 NHL free agent pool is shallow, but there are five gems to watch
Zach Parise would be a great fit on the Kings, but expect Detroit to grab him
Would Martin Brodeur really leave the Devils? Here's where I think he'll go...
This year's free-agent class is like the garage sale in which the big-screen TV and fancy armoire are pushed way out front to obscure the rest of the offerings like the scratched CDs from the 1990s and the old ice cube trays.
Maybe that's a bit harsh to some of the players who will be out there, the Kevin Porters and Darryl Boyces of the hockey world. But let's face it: we are only going to really care about where four or five guys end up.
If there is no parceling out of their rights, or sudden outright reconciliations with their current teams, then Sunday is going to be all about Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Alex Semin, Shane Doan and, maybe, Martin Brodeur. They are the big-ticket retail items likely to be available at the annual hockey bazaar.
So we're going to focus just on them here, with apologies to Matt Carle, Dustin Penner, Olli Jokinen, Ray Whitney, Jiri Hudler, P.A. Parenteau, Jason Garrison and hotshot college prospect Justin Schultz.
Best fit: Los Angeles Kings
Yes, having won the Stanley Cup helps the sell here. So does warm weather and a well-heeled owner in Phil Anschutz. But the biggest reason why Parise would fit so well here is that he would be the perfect final piece of a core of young players that theoretically could dominate for another five years, at least. Parise, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick would give L.A. a great player at each of the four main slots on a hockey team -- a winger, a center, a defenseman and a goalie.
The Kings only have about $12 million of cap space, but that's enough to squeeze Parise in. They'll need a replacement on the left side for the possible departure of Penner, and what better candidate than this guy?
Where I think he'll sign: Detroit
The Wings are in a mild state of panic right now. They want to make a splash on Day One of free agency to help their fans start to forget about the loss of Nick Lidstrom. It wouldn't shock me to see Detroit make some kind of outrageous, Ilya Kovalchuk-type offer. The Kings demonstrated with Kovalchuk three years ago that they don't like to go near the $100 million range on a player.
Best fit: Carolina Hurricanes
Hear me out: Suter has talked some about wanting to play in an NHL city that's family-friendly, where he could raise his kids. The Raleigh-Durham Triangle area is tough to beat. Players who play for the Hurricanes rave about it, with many choosing to retire there.
Besides, this is going to be a very good team again. The 'Canes still have a young, top goalie in Cam Ward and just recently added Jordan Staal. Carolina could use a leader on the blue line, so it's a good place for Suter to escape the shadow of Shea Weber. If he went to Detroit? Sorry, too much pressure there. Everybody will be comparing him to Lidstrom, and that's not fair.
The 'Canes have $22 million of cap room. Plus, owner Peter Karmanos knows Detroit wants Suter badly, and he still has a huge rivalry with Wings owner Mike Ilitch. (Remember that Sergei Fedorov offer sheet in 1998?) What better way to improve your team -- and stick it to your rival? Suter and the Hurricanes are a natural fit.
Where I think he'll sign: Detroit
Don't underestimate at all how badly the Wings want to make a splash on Sunday. This is an organization with 12 straight 100-point seasons, but it knows that run will end if some younger star power isn't added. GM Ken Holland will convince Suter that he's the natural heir to Lidstrom's throne, and Detroit fits Suter's Midwestern roots.
Best fit: New Jersey Devils
Semin gets ripped on a lot, sometimes rightly so. He's not physical, he can floats around, and he doesn't backcheck much. But the Devils -- if they lose Parise -- are going to need to replace 60-80 points, and Semin has the talent to do it. He is used to playing with a star Russian forward, so joining Ilya Kovalchuk would help him make the transition from Alex Ovechkin.
He may not be Lou Lamoriello's perfect idea of a replacement for Parise, but Lou could do worse than sign a guy who has put up 50 or more points in each of the last five seasons and 70-plus in three.
Where I think he'll sign: Florida
Don't ask me why. It just seems that guys like him always pass through Florida at some point. Hey, the Panthers are not a joke franchise anymore. Semin could certainly do worse than end up here. Florida has nearly $30 million in cap room, and GM Dale Tallon likes to spend. Don't discount the weather factor, especially for Russian guys who grew up in the bitter cold.
Best fit: Toronto Maple Leafs
You know Brian Burke would love to add him. Doan can still play, he can still score, he's got truculence and he's a leader. I think he would enjoy the all-hockey-all-the-time atmosphere of Hogtown, after years of playing in the witness protection program known as the Phoenix Coyotes.
Let's face it, Doan needs a change of scenery, and what better place than Toronto for a guy who wants to play in front of full buildings again?
Where I think he'll sign: Phoenix
You get the feeling that something will work out in the end to keep Doan with the only franchise he's ever known. The Coyotes always seem to get a call at 11:59 p.m. from the governor, telling them they got a stay of execution. Doan reportedly will meet face-to-face with prospective new owner Greg Jamison over the state of the franchise before deciding whether to leave.
Just don't expect Doan to sign anywhere else on the first day of free agency. But if he does sign elsewhere, that will give you a pretty good indication about the franchise's overall future in Arizona.
Best fit: Chicago Blackhawks
First off - wow. Friday brought the seismic news that Mr. Devil himself, the goalie-for-life in Jersey, may just finish his career in another uniform. Brodeur has hired high-powered agent Pat Brisson, and the word is that if he isn't signed by the Devils before Sunday's witching hour, he'll throw the scare of a lifetime into the team's fans by testing the open market.
I mean, can you really picture Brodeur wearing another sweater? I can't, but as a collector of the jerseys of great players who finished up with weird teams (Johnny Unitas: Chargers; Bobby Orr: Blackhawks), I will be first in line to get whatever new threads in which Brodeur winds.
To me, Chicago would be Marty's kinda town. Let the francophone Corey Crawford sit and watch the master do his thing for a year backstopping a high-octane team in the fun Madhouse on Madison. True, the Blackhawks only have about $8 million in cap room, but that could land Brodeur. Chicago needs a better goalie, and the future Hall of Famer showed that during the Devils' run to the Cup final that he's still got it. Sign him up, Stan Bowman!
Where I think he'll sign: Chicago
I'm going to stay consistent with this one. Maybe Toronto makes a big pitch for him, or Florida, Tampa Bay or San Jose. But I think Chicago would be just the right place for Brodeur to finish his brilliant career.
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