There’s still more than 450 regular season games, at least 45 playoff games and one Stanley Cup to be handed out before the summer spending spree begins, but there’s enough players scheduled to be available that the palette whets well in advance.
Provided they’re still available (and the betting here is, with cap-strapped and cash-conscious teams aplenty, many will be), there is top-end talent at every position. Here are the best, broken into first- and second-team all-star squads – first team Saturday, second team right now.
(Not included is Wings uber-great Nicklas Lidstrom, who will either retire or return to Detroit, making him a UFA by name alone.)
The crop is especially thin at pivot beyond Richards, so instead of reaching deep, let’s include Tomas Fleischmann, who’s played center in the past. The Czech native is only 26 and shows lots of promise, but a blood-clotting problem knocked him out of this season and last and means his future is in jeopardy. If he gets medical clearance, however, several teams will be interested in his services.
A media favorite for his willingness to speak his mind, the 27-year-old is a well-rounded talent who’s willing to go to the greasy areas. Though his goal production has slowed this season, that’s more of a product of the Caps’ new D-conscious style. There’s always money out there for a guy who can contribute no matter the situation.
The 12-year NHL vet will be 35 when July 1 rolls around, but barring a major injury he’ll hit the 20-goal mark for the 11th straight season. He’s showing little sign of slowing down, averaging nearly 18 minutes and a point per game. It’s very likely he’ll retire before donning a different uniform, but crazier things have happened.
With the distraction of all the trade talk, Kaberle could have been excused for a decrease in production, but he’s on pace to put up very similar numbers to 2009-10. The cool-as-a-cucumber Czech’s better days are behind him, but he’s still an excellent option as a second-pair D-man on a contender or a top-two on a second-tier club.
The two-time Canadian Olympian is getting a little long in the tooth at age 34 (he’ll be 35 come July 1) and his best offensive days are far behind him (he’s on pace for only 22 points this season), but he’s still a solid second-pair D-man who can play on both the power play and penalty kill.
Despite his mediocre numbers, Vokoun is a big reason the Panthers are even sniffing around the eighth spot in the East. Extension talks have taken place, but if something doesn’t get done big questions will arise: Is top prospect Jacob Markstrom ready for No. 1 duty? Will Vokoun’s cap hit and NTC keep him from being dealt before Feb. 28? Will any team be willing to shell out more money than the Cats for a keeper who’ll be 35 one day after free agency opens?
Edward Fraser is the managing editor of The Hockey News. His blog appears regularly.
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