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Finding a home for 15 unrestricted free agents

The NHL's silly season begins Friday, so's Dave Lozo tries to find the perfect home for the top 15 unrestricted free agents on the market.

Friday, 07.1.2011 / 11:06 AM ET / News
By Dave Lozo
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Finding a home for 15 unrestricted free agents
There's educating guessing, then there's wildly speculative, uninformed guessing. Everything that follows is the latter.

Free agency kicks off Friday (that's not a guess), and for the most part, no one knows where players are going to sign. In some cases, the players themselves don't know where they're going to sign. That doesn't mean we can't have a bit of fun trying to figure out where 15 UFAs will call home next season.

There are two goals here -- one is to start a little conversation about where players are headed, the other is to be correct about just two of these destinations. It's more likely that only the first goal will be reached.

So enjoy the guesswork about where these 15 UFAs will sign starting Friday.

LW, Andrew Brunette -- At 37, he likely doesn't fit into the Wild's plans of getting younger. Then again, he's not exactly breaking down physically, as evidenced by the fact he's missed just three games since 2001-02. Last season was his worst offensively since 2002-03, but his 18 goals on a team that struggled to score aren't too shabby. He likely realizes he's running out of time, so how about a reunion with coach Joel Quenneville, who teamed with Brunette for three seasons in Colorado? If money isn't important to Brunette, maybe he and the Blackhawks will work out a deal for him to serve as a role player on a Stanley Cup contender. Best guess: He signs in Chicago.
RW, Erik Cole -- Perhaps it's posturing, perhaps it's genuine, but GM Jim Rutherford has said it will be tough to re-sign Cole. The 32-year-old is coming off a 26-goal season, his best output since he scored 29 in 2006-07. He's spent nearly his entire career with Carolina, save for 63 games with the Oilers in 2008-09. Rutherford let Cole get away once before re-acquiring him. He won't send him away for a second time, not after a solid season in 2010-11. Best guess: He stays in Carolina.

G, Tomas Vokoun -- With Ilya Bryzgalov off the market, Vokoun is the best goalie available. Some people have said Vokoun was the best goalie out there even before Bryzgalov agreed to terms with the Flyers. Vokoun has put up great numbers in Florida, but never made the playoffs there. There were reports from a Czech newspaper that Vokoun would sign with the Avs, but Vokoun's agent denied them. Still, it seems like the perfect destination for the 34-year-old. Best guess: He signs in Colorado.

D, Tomas Kaberle -- The 33-year-old is perhaps the most interesting free agent on the market in terms of what he's worth and where he'll land. He's coming off a sound offensive season with 47 points in 82 games and now has a Stanley Cup on his resume after the Leafs dealt him to the Bruins at the trade deadline. But he received diminished minutes with the Bruins. Will a team view him as a 25-minute workhorse or an 18-minute player who can quarterback a power play? He could land absolutely anywhere, but how about he comes to New York to add experience and offense to the Rangers' blue line? Best guess: He signs in New York.
C, Brad Richards -- He's the crown jewel of this year's free-agent class and there's probably not a team in the League that doesn't covet him. There's talk he could return to the Lightning for a discount. There are rumors he could go to the Leafs, who are expected to be very active. But the team that seems to match up best with Richards is the Rangers. They have money to spend and a need for a center and power-play quarterback. Richards has worked well with John Tortorella in the past and probably craves the easier travel the Eastern Conference provides. Best guess: He signs in New York.

G, Dwayne Roloson -- He proved at the age of 41 that he can carry a team deep into the playoffs. He'll turn 42 in October, so the last thing Roloson wants to do is play another season with a team that can't reach the playoffs. The Lightning don't have a bona fide No. 1 waiting in the wings, and many of the teams that are considered contenders don't have pressing needs in net. Look for Roloson and GM Steve Yzerman to figure something out at some point to bring Roloson back for at least one more year. Best guess: He stays in Tampa. End result: Roloson re-signed with the Lightning for the 2011-12 season.
D, Christian Ehrhoff -- With Bieksa re-signing with the Canucks on Monday, GM Mike Gillis dealt Ehrhoff's negotiating rights to the New York Islanders on Tuesday night, who promptly shipped them to the Buffalo Sabres the following evening. In the open market, Ehrhoff could probably command more money than what Bieksa received. One team with money to spend is Detroit. The Red Wings lost Brian Rafalski to retirement, so there's room for Ehrhoff on that team. Best guess: He signs in Detroit. End result: Ehrhoff signed a long-term deal with Buffalo, reportedly for $40 million over 10 years.

D, Joni Pitkanen -- There were reports that Pitkanen could be looking for an extremely hefty contract. But instead of pricing himself out of Carolina, it seems he and Rutherford came together at the Entry Draft, and now it sounds like he'll be staying in Carolina. Best guess: He stays in Carolina. End result: Pitkanen signed a three-year, $13.5 million contract to remain with the Hurricanes.

C, Tim Connolly -- The Sabres have 10 forwards already signed and not much room under the cap. Connolly has had a plethora of injury woes over the years, and it may be time the Sabres went in a different direction. He has a world of talent, and it's just a matter of staying on the ice. He will take that talent to the Western Conference. Best guess: He signs in Dallas.

LW, Simon Gagne -- It feels like he's been in the League forever, but Gagne is just 31. He's had his share of injury problems the past two years, but he closed strong with Tampa last season. He had 7 goals and 11 assists in his final 13 regular-season games and had 5 goals and 7 assists in 15 playoff games. Tampa always felt like a one-and-done situation for Gagne, so expect him to sign elsewhere and provide and offensive boost. Best guess: He signs in Los Angeles.

D, Ed Jovanovski -- Jovanovski is 34 and still can provide offense from the blue line. The Coyotes veteran will probably wind up with a team that needs his experience and to perhaps mentor a younger player. How about the Avs' Erik Johnson? Best guess: He signs in Colorado.

G, Ray Emery -- Looking around the League, there aren't too many teams looking to sign a goaltender. If Emery is looking to be a No. 1 after his great performance last year with the Ducks, that might be asking too much. Considering the hip surgery he had, he might be best served landing in a place where he can split the starts. Assuming Vokoun isn't back in Florida, that looks like a pretty good destination for Emery. Best guess: He signs in Florida.

G, Jean-Sebastien Giguere -- The 34-year-old lost his job to rookie James Reimer toward the end of last season and likely won't be back in Toronto. Much like the other free-agent goaltenders, a starting job does't seem to be in the cards. His best bet could be a time share, and there could be one with Nikolai Khabibulin and the Oilers. Best guess: He signs in Edmonton.
LW, Jussi Jokinen -- After 30 goals two seasons ago, the 28-year-old fell to 18 last season. He works well with captain Eric Staal and is one of the game's best in the shootout. The Hurricanes have a lot of free agents, but it sounds if Jokinen will be one who they retain. Best guess: He stays in Carolina. End result: Jokinen agreed to a three-year, $9 million contract to remain with the Hurricanes.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

Author: Dave Lozo | Staff Writer




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