The Wings are a lock for top spot in the division, but the Hawks look poised to challenge the Preds for the No. 2 position and the Windy City’s first playoff berth in six seasons. And things could be looking up long-term in Chicago as only one key player is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent come July 1, 2009.
As I’ve done with the Pacific, Southeast, Northwest and Northeast over the past four weeks, here are my picks for the top three ’09 UFAs from each team in the Central Division. I’ll finish the tour next Friday with the Atlantic.
Martin Havlat ($6 million 2008-09 salary)
If he could ever remain healthy (73 games missed over the past two seasons), he’d be one of the league’s premier offensive threats. He’ll have to prove he can stay in the lineup to net a big payday next summer.
Nikolai Khabibulin ($6.75 million)
Could never recapture his Tampa magic in the Windy City and won’t get anywhere near the money he made over his last deal.
Robert Lang ($4 million)
Best days are way behind the 37-year-old, but he may get a one-year deal from some team… or he may head back to Europe… or hang ‘em up altogether.
Other ’09 UFAs – Craig Adams, Doug Janik, Matt Walker.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Christian Backman ($3.4 million)
After a brief stint on Broadway, the solid second-pair blueliner will try to prove he isn’t as prone to injuries as his past suggests.
Manny Malhotra ($1.5 million)
Who knows what Malhotra could have achieved if he was developed properly with the Rangers when he entered the league.
Michael Peca ($1.3 million)
Once thought of as one of the game’s great leaders, the 34-year-old is now little more than a fringe player on the only NHL team to have never made the playoffs.
Other ’09 UFAs – Fredrik Norrena, Mike York.
DETROIT RED WINGS
Henrik Zetterberg ($2.9 million)
He’ll never get close to UFAdom; you can bet each of GM Ken Holland’s Stanley Cup rings on that.
Marian Hossa ($7.45 million)
Even if the Wings don’t repeat as champs and Hossa doesn’t get the Cup he so desires, don’t expect him to take another one-year deal. How does eight years and $68 million sound?
Johan Franzen ($1.15 million)
A shoo-in for the Conn Smythe if he didn’t go down with an injury in the playoffs, the 28-year-old is the heir apparent to an aging Tomas Holmstrom.
Other ’09 UFAs – Ty Conklin, Tomas Kopecky, Mikael Samuelsson.
Steve Sullivan ($3.2 million)
Let’s cross our fingers and hope the crafty, speedy left winger can overcome his back woes and make a return.
Vernon Fiddler ($900,000)
A versatile forward, he won’t help you much, but he won’t hurt, either. At only 28, has plenty of tread on the tires.
Greg de Vries ($2.75 million)
He’ll be 36 come July 1, but could make a good stop-gap for a team in need of blueline help.
Other ’09 UFAs – Radek Bonk, Ville Koistinen, Scott Nichol, Jed Ortmeyer, Greg Zanon.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
Andy McDonald ($3.33 million)
Has been the No. 1 center in both St. Louis and Anaheim, but is much better suited for a second-line role. Centers are sparse next summer, so A-Mac (I know, I know) could be in for a hefty pay hike.
Keith Tkachuk ($4.5 million)
Even at the ripe old age of 36, the Massachusetts native is still good for 20-plus goals and that ain’t half bad.
Manny Legace ($2.5 million)
Despite playing in the All-Star Game last season, the 35-year-old will have to battle Chris Mason for crease time in ’08-09.
Other ’09 UFAs – Dan Hinote, Brad Winchester, Andy Wozniewski.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Fridays.
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