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Vanek, Niskanen and Stastny among top NHL unrestricted free agents

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

NHL's free-agent market opens at noon Tuesday. Here's a look at the 10 best unrestricted free agents available:

Thomas Vanek

Age: 30

Position: Winger

2013-14 Cap hit: $7.1 million

Outlook: Marian Gaborik re-upping with the Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings made Vanek the top scoring winger available. An up-and-down playoff run with the Montreal Canadiens could cause some teams to pause, but it's hard to see Vanek not getting seven years at $7 million per year. Vanek has made Minnesota his home, and rumours of him wanting to sign with Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and the Wild have been out there for over a year.

Matt Niskanen

Age: 27

Position: Defenceman

2013-14 Cap hit: $2.3 million

Outlook: The best defenceman available also happens to be a right-handed shot, which makes him even more highly sought-after. Niskanen had a career year with 10 goals and 36 assists for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he's expected to garner serious interest from perhaps almost half the league. Expect a max-length deal of seven years if Niskanen wants it.

Paul Stastny

Age: 28

Position: Centre

2013-14 Cap hit: $6.6 million

Outlook: After Jason Spezza on the trade market, there's no better centre out there than Stastny, and teams won't have to pony up anything other than money for him. Of course it'll be big money after a 60-point season for Colorado. The Avalanche could keep him, but Stastny would have to take less money than he'd get on the open market to say with Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Co.

Christian Ehrhoff

Age: 31

Position: Defenceman

2013-14 Cap hit: $4 million

Outlook: When the Buffalo Sabres bought the veteran defenceman out of the final seven years of his contract over fear of future salary-cap retribution if he retired early, Ehrhoff immediately became a top unrestricted free agent. He may not have seven great years ahead of him, but the puck-mover with good offensive and defensive instincts could get a raise on a shorter-term deal if he wants.

Matt Moulson

Age: 30

Position: Left-winger

2013-14 Cap hit: $3.1 million

Outlook: Moulson is one of the more intriguing forwards in free agency because he is a late-bloomer who flourished alongside John Tavares with the New York Islanders but kept producing with the Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild. Moulson, whom the Islanders traded to Buffalo with draft picks for Vanek, could be a backup plan for teams that don't get him.

Ryan Miller

Age: 33

Position: Goaltender

2013-14 Cap hit: $6.3 million

Outlook: Miller is the best goalie in an off-season where goalies aren't really in demand. That's not great for Miller, who would like to be in the Western Conference but already has limited suitors because of how few goaltending jobs are open. Even if the longtime Sabres netminder is still considered elite, his playoff performance with the St. Louis Blues didn't raise his price, that's for sure.

Dave Bolland

Age: 28

Position: Centre

2013-14 Cap hit: $3.4 million

Outlook: Part of two Stanley Cup runs with the Chicago Blackhawks, Bolland scored the 2013 winner before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. A severed tendon in the back of his ankle derailed his season after a strong start, and Bolland was never the same. Convinced he'll be healthy by the fall, the No.2/3 centre will be in demand and his price could be in the neighbourhood of $5 million a year.

Jarome Iginla

Age: 36

Position: Right-winger

2013-14 Cap hit: $1.8 million

Outlook: Things worked out so well in Boston—eventually—for Iginla that it looked like the Bruins would re-sign him without much hesitation. But his and other players' bonuses from this past season were so high that Boston is right up against the $69-million cap and likely cannot afford it. Rumours have already started linking Iginla to the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he'd make a fine linemate and Martin St. Louis replacement for franchise centre Steven Stamkos.

Brad Richards

Age: 34

Position: Centre

2013-14 Cap hit: $6.7 million

Outlook: Richards' days as an elite NHL playmaker are over, as evidenced by his demotion to the fourth line in the Stanley Cup final. The New York Rangers buying him out was more a case of having to do it based on the salary cap and the six years left, but it's hard to argue that he's worth that price even as an effective player. A reduced role with a contending team could suit Richards well.

Dan Boyle

Age: 37

Position: Defenceman

2013-14 Cap hit: $6.7 million

Outlook: Boyle was the first casualty of the San Jose Sharks' rebuild when the veteran defenceman's rights were traded to the New York Islanders. The Islanders weren't able to get a deal done, and when the window to talk to other teams opened, Boyle generated plenty of interest. Even at 37, Boyle should have no problem getting a two-year deal given the lack of strong right-handed shots available.

Others looking for work: Ales Hemsky, Jussi Jokinen, Olli Jokinen, Martin Brodeur, Jonas Hiller, Mike Cammalleri, Ville Leino


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