Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Lots of quality defencemen to hit the Free Agent Market come July 1st

With so much media attention paid to Nicklas Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Rob Blake and Ed Jovanovski, it's easy to forget there are other talented NHL defencemen slated for unrestricted free agency when the market opens Saturday.
"For free agency, this is the year of the defenceman," Nashville Predators GM David Poile said Tuesday.
"We don't know what's going to happen between now and July 1, but if there's not too many signings this week, there's going to be a lot of quality defencemen available."
Lidstrom, Redden and Blake are expected to stay put with their respective teams, leaving Chara and Jovanovski as the free-agent headliners. But don't forget the likes of Pavel Kubina, Willie Mitchell, Brendan Witt or Jay McKee.
"There's quantity and quality and there's some value out there," said Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke, whose team is on the lookout for defensive help.

If a team strikes out on the headliners, there's much more available: Hal Gill, Danny Markov, Kim Johnsson, Teppo Numminen, Francis Bouillon, Jaroslav Spacek, Niclas Wallin, Aaron Ward, Ruslan Salei, Brian Leetch, Brett Clark, Karlis Skrastins, Jason Woolley, Dick Tarnstrom, Joe Corvo, Filip Kuba, Daniel Tjarnqvist, Andrei Zyuzin, Ken Klee, Kenny Jonsson, Tom Poti, Jason Strudwick, Brian Pothier, Aki Berg, Alexander Khavanov, Mark Eaton, Luke Richardson, Nolan Baumgartner, Sean Brown, Keith Carney, Eric Weinrich.
"Yes, there's some good ones," Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon said from Chicago.
"We're pretty deep with our young defencemen and we expect Adrian Aucoin to come back from surgery and be strong but we're probably going to be looking for a power-play type player on defence," added Tallon.
The best defenceman available right now isn't even a free agent. Former Hart Trophy winner Chris Pronger has asked for a trade out of Edmonton and Oilers GM Kevin Lowe is sifting through offers.
St. Louis, Anaheim, Toronto, Florida and the N.Y. Rangers are among the teams believed to be after Pronger, who has four more years on his deal paying him $6.25 million per.
But one GM, who requested anonymity, said the immense interest in Pronger will take a hit come Saturday because of all the defencemen available on the free-agent market.
"Lowe has to make the deal before July 1," said the GM.
On the other hand, Pronger stands above the free-agent class, so maybe Lowe doesn't have to worry.
The Minnesota Wild, meanwhile, made a splash over the weekend when they traded for star forward Pavol Demitra and now they're focused on adding defensive help as well. They'll keep an eye on what transpires in free agency.
"I think there are a lot of people out there," Wild GM Doug Risebrough said. "But who knows how it's going to go?"
Risebrough has three of his own defencemen slated to hit the market Saturday: Kuba, Tjarnqvist and Zyuzin.
"We've inquired, we had some discussions with them but we'll have to wait and see," Risebrough said.
The Predators, like the Wild, may lose three defencemen to unrestricted free agency in Witt, Eaton and Markov but continue to talk to them.
"We've still got three or four days to see if we can do anything there," said Poile.
The New Jersey Devils should be another team looking for a free-agent help on defence but cagey veteran GM Lou Lamoriello wouldn't tip his hand Tuesday.
"We'll look at everything," he said from his New Jersey office. "I'll leave it at that."
Lidstrom's agent Don Meehan, meanwhile, is scheduled to talk again with Red Wings GM Ken Holland on Wednesday as the two sides attempt to close out a deal before Saturday.
Ottawa GM John Muckler also continues to talk to Meehan about Redden (where it's close) and agent Matt Keator about Chara (not so close). Blake, who wants to stay in Denver, was expected to renew talks with the Avalanche before the end of the week.
Jovanovski is almost surely headed for the open market and may soon re-join former Canucks teammate Todd Bertuzzi in Florida after the winger was dealt there by Vancouver in the Roberto Luongo deal last Friday night.
Jovanovski has an off-season home in South Florida and met his wife there during his first go-around with the Panthers.
It's a great fit but other clubs will also come calling Saturday.
"I've talked to Bertuzzi every day since the trade," Jovanovski told the Palm Beach Post. "He's a good friend of mine, and we've had some good years together. At the end of the day, if there's an opportunity to come back and play (for Florida), great.
"It's what suits my family the best. I just want to be treated fairly."

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