The NHL shopping season begins on July 1, when teams can officially negotiate with and sign free agents. It's always a big day in the hockey world, and this season's batch of free agents will surely provide some drama this Friday. Here's a glimpse at some of the top targets heading into free agency, and where they could end up.
The question with Brad Richards likely isn't where he'll end up, but for how much and how long. Richards has been coveted by the New York Rangers for some time now, and recent reports have surfaced signaling that Richards wants New York as badly as GM Glen Sather wants him. Richards would fill a massive void for the Rangers. They need a number one center to pair with Marian Gaborik, and desperately need someone who can quarterback the power play. Richards does both, and does them very well. But how much is reasonable for a 31-year-old player coming off of a concussion?
You can't argue with Richards' numbers -- over the past two years, he has scored 52 goals, 116 assists and 168 points in 152 regular season games. But at the money and terms he could command, somewhere in the ballpark of 8 years and $7 million per year, is he worth it? With the Rangers not being just one player away, it is a dangerous contract to hand out. For the first few years of the contract, he'd likely be a great get, but it's the back four years you have to be concerned about. It could be Chris Drury all over again. The Flyers are interested, as are the Maple Leafs, but it's likely the Rangers will pay Richards what he wants, and he'll be a Blueshirt as early as Friday.
Gagne is 31years old, but it just feels like he's a lot older. His production has dipped in recent years, but he could still be a 20-goal scorer in the right system. For the right money, he'd fit well in Detroit, where he could probably play on the third line and on the power play and knock in over 20 goals or so. A return to Philadelphia might help ease some of the lack of scoring left from the Mike Richards/Jeff Carter trades, but a reunion is unlikely. Don't count out the Rangers, who just might forget what year it is and offer Gagne more money that anyone else. If I were Nashville or Los Angeles, I might just take a crack.
The offensive-minded Ehrhoff is the best offensive defenseman available, and there will likely be a slew of suitors for the soon to be 29-year-old. Ehrhoff is coming off 44- and 5- point seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11 respectively, playing for the Western Conference champ Vancouver Canucks. Detroit is a likely landing spot for Ehrhoff, since the Wings lost Brian Rafalski to retirement. And with Nik Lidstrom's retirement on the horizon, Ehrhoff would be a good fit with a high-scoring Red Wings side. Teams that should be interested are the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets (isn't that great to say?), who both could use a dynamic player like Ehrhoff on the blue line. Buyer beware though; you'd better have a banger to pair with and protect Ehrhoff.
With the Flyers' recent trades of Richards and Carter and the cap space freed up, Philadelphia has the inside track to bring back the 27-year-old winger. Leino had a breakout season with a 19-34-53 season for Philadelphia, but had a disappointing playoffs with just three goals in 11 games. He'd be a good second line option for Los Angeles with their recent addition of Richards from the Flyers trade. The New Jersey Devils are in a pickle, with not much cap space, but they could definitely use some scoring. But is Leino a late bloomer, or someone who had one good season while playing with tons of talent on the Flyers? It remains to be seen.
A steady and solid goaltender who could help a lot of teams. He's the best goaltender on the market and should command a ton of attention. (An aside: Why didn't the Flyers sign Vokoun instead of Ilya Bryzgalov for a lot less money? Is Bryzgalov really that much better than Vokoun? Couldn't they have had even more cap room if they signed Vokoun, and maybe gone after Brad Richards? Aside No. 2: Could the Rangers trade Henrik Lundqvist for some top-level offense, sign Vokoun and have just as good - if not a better chance to win a Cup in the next two or three years? To all my fellow Ranger fans up in the blue seats at MSG - I'm kidding. Sort of.) Colorado could definitely use some help in net, and that seems to be a potential landing spot. How about Toronto, which needs plenty but has no one in net with Jean Sebastien Giguere on the market come July 1? It might cripple them financially, but the Washington Capitals would benefit from finally being able to put a steady veteran in net in the playoffs.
I feel like Tomas Kaberle is exactly the type of player Glen Sather would give a ridiculous contract that would make every other GM in the league breathe easy. But I think Ranger fans can rest easy because it's hard to see John Tortorella signing off on a Kaberle deal (if he has any say). He has always been a productive offensive defenseman, so he will attract attention. Maybe the Canadiens make a play, or the Ottawa Senators, who could use help anywhere.