July 1st is finally upon hockey fans, and the mad rush on the road to roster improvement begins today. Free agents are eligible to signed today. For weeks, even months the pundits have been speculating about possible landing spots for all the huge free agents. But today is the day where all the guesswork is removed and the contracts are signed.
But I still have time to make some predictions; below are my picks as to who goes where and why. Don’t be afraid to use my picks in office pools if such a thing exists in your place of business:
Zach Parise- The golden boy of this year’s free agent class, Parise has been at least looked at by almost every NHL franchise. He’s a great goal scorer, is solid on both sides of the puck, and has leadership experience captaining his New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals. However, his recent success doesn’t appear to be enough to secure himself with the Devils franchise. He hasn’t signed with the team that he led to be the Eastern Conference’s best, and will test the free agent waters.
This summer is one that the Minnesota Wild have been keeping an eye on for maybe years. They will have a long, heavy, lucrative contract waiting for Mr. Parise, the man who made a name for himself in Minnesota’s storied high school hockey system. It is my opinion that Parise will accept the Wild’s offer, which will be the almost absurdly large and almost definitely the object of scorn among hockey media. For the Wild, he would have a solid center to work with in Mikko Koivu, a top-5 fan base to back him up, and a ton of money lining his pockets. The Penguins, Devils, Kings, and Red Wings will try and obtain his services, but Minnesota is the only place that would feel like home for Parise.
Lou Lamoriello will be kicking himself after this one’s said and done.
Ryan Suter – If Parise is considered free agency’s best player, Suter wouldn’t be far behind. He’s an elite defenseman in the NHL, and his lengthy tandem with Shea Weber on Nashville’s blue line was probably the best in the world. However, money in Nashville is relatively tight, and it doesn’t seem like the franchise is ready to be one of the biggest cap teams. With goalie Pekka Rinne locked up long-term and RFA Shea Weber waiting to see how things develop before signing, this is a huge point in the Predators’ history. If Suter resigns, Weber would likely stay and help Nashville’s climb to a championship. If he doesn’t, than the Preds could be without both.
Nashville’s approaching dire straits here if my prediction is correct. I say the Detroit Red Wings nab Suter. With legendary Nik Lidstrom hanging up the skates, there is a huge gap on the Wings’ blue line. They’ve been eyeing Suter for a while, whose solid offensive game could be a nice replacement for Lidstrom. Detroit needed a great defenseman badly after losing Brian Rafalski to retirement a year ago, but the situation was never truly addressed. Now, Detroit might get exactly what it was looking for.
Alex Semin – The wild card in this free agency period is a fascinating case. Every team can see his obvious talents: his shot, his passing ability, his overall offensive know-how. But his glaring weakness is just as obvious: his lack of effort. Even after a solid postseason for the surprising Capitals, GM George McPhee and the gang have had enough of Mr. Semin’s lackadaisical attitude and are willing to part with him. He’s now a risk for another team to worry about.
But who’s willing to take that risk? I go out on a limb and say the Pittsburgh Penguins get him. If I’m willing to assume that both Parise and Suter sign elsewhere, then the Penguins will have a load of cap space left to work with. Not wanting to come out of free agency empty-handed, the Pens will sign Semin and pray to Mario Lemieux that things will work out. I say they don’t – Pittsburgh needs more defense as evidenced by the Flyers series – but the prospects of a Semin-Crosby duo might cause them to kick the tires.
Jason Garrison – You know this man. The Panthers’ suddenly stellar defenseman has earned a shot at some big money on his contract year, and teams that miss out on Suter would love to take a flier out on him. He passes well, plays physical defense, and oh that slapshot! The Cats would love to keep him, but the cash coming his way from here on out will probably be more than the Panthers are willing to surrender.
I say the Vancouver Canucks get him. They and Garrison have been batting eyelashes at one another since the season ended, and the Canucks sorely need some offensive help from the blue line. Like Parise, Garrison should be inclined to return to the land of his upbringing – that facet of negotiations can’t be underestimated. The Panthers will chase after him, but Vancouver will offer a contract too rich for Dale Tallon’s blood. Time for us to move on, I think.
Shane Doan – Mr. Phoenix might be short for the city. Doan has been a captain for the Coyotes since 2003, and has been with the franchise since the Winnipeg Jets days. It would be hard for him to move, but the financial situation might be enough to tilt his opinion towards leaving town. It’s not like you can’t say he didn’t give enough to the Yotes anyway.
The 35-year-old does have plenty left in the tank, scoring 50 points all the way back since 2002. He’s got great offensive tools, hits hard, and is as good as a captain as there is in the NHL. Ergo, the Phoenix Coyotes will retain his services for a few more years. I can’t see him with anyone else’s sweater; he’s just one of the those cases where he should retire with the team that he led for so long, a la Lidstrom.
Matt Carle – Carle is a good offensive defenseman, nothing less than that. His term with the Philadelphia Flyers has been solid, but sometimes marred by poor turnovers. He has been remarked to be a good possible replacement for teams vying for Ryan Suter if they miss out on him, so expect Carle’s name to show up quite a lot in the upcoming weeks. However, the most important event might have happened a little less than a week ago: Dennis Wideman was given a massive 5-year, $26.25 million deal from Calgary. Expect Carle’s asking price to be even higher than the bar set as a result.
I say the Philadelphia Flyers retain him, but they won’t be happy about the contract they’ll be shelling out. GM Paul Holmgren knows his team needs more defense, as his squad was ripped apart by the generally average New Jersey offense in the playoffs. Keeping their best defensemen is a must, especially with Chris Pronger still doubtful for next year after suffering a concussion. Philly will pay bigger money than they’d like, but if they’re Cup contenders like they think they are, money should be a small issue.
Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau – P.A. has made a name for himself in the NHL seemingly against all odds. The 264th pick by the Mighty Ducks in 2001, Parenteau has spent time with the Ducks, Blackhawks, and Rangers with limited NHL playing time. He finally found his niche with the Islanders though, and last year he racked up a career high 67 points in his contract year. However, the Isles are still choosing to lose him via free agency.
In this one, the Florida Panthers will get him. The Panthers are almost perpetually in need of offensive help, and Parenteau could provide that from the right wing. His passing ability is well-documented when he played on the same line as John Taveras, and maybe the Panthers will ask him to not be afraid to utilize his shot and be a goal scorer. If he pans out, this wouldn’t be a bad risk to take: his contract might even identify him as a bargain.
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