A little less than a month from today, the free agent frenzy will commence; it will be here before we know it! Who will replace Brian Rafalski in Detroit? Can Vancouver retain their pair of stud blue-liners? Here’s a quick look at the market for defensemen this summer… Teams potentially looking for an impact defenseman:
Boston, Carolina, Columbus, Detroit, Florida, NY Rangers, San Jose, Tampa Bay
Unrestricted free agents to watch: - Kevin Bieksa, VAN… It’s hard to get a grasp on Bieksa’s future, considering he’s still playing; but the veteran defenseman has definitely helped his stock this spring. He has been a key cog on the Canucks’ blue-line, leading the team in ice-time and plus/minus, along with chipping in clutch goals and 10 points overall. Whether it’s with Vancouver or not, how much of a raise could he get from his $3.75 million salary?
- Christian Ehrhoff, VAN… Similarly to Bieksa, it’s hard to tell what the future has in store for Ehrhoff. In his two years with Vancouver, the German has been a perfect fit. Combined, he’s racked up 94 points and a +55 rating in 159 games with the Canucks. He’s a solid two-way defenseman that can quarterback a power play – which is something that is always valued in today’s NHL.
- Tomas Kaberle, BOS… The world almost ended when Kaberle was (finally) dealt by the Maple Leafs. However, he has hardly been heard from since arriving in Boston. Thought of as a top-end puck-moving blue-liner, Kaberle has seen his stock drop in the playoffs. Still, some team will still throw lots of money at the Czech hoping he can re-gain his form from Toronto.
- Andrei Markov, MTL… In my opinion, Markov is one of the more intriguing names on the market. When he’s healthy, the Russian is a legitimate No. 1 D-man (64 points in 2008-09). But Markov’s health is a question mark as he has missed 112 games in the last two seasons. Despite that, he is expected to command high dollar on the market. Which team will take the gamble?
Other notable UFA’s: Eric Brewer, TB; Nicklas Lidstrom, DET; Joni Pitkanen, CAR; James Wisniewski, MTL
Others to keep an eye on: - Drew Doughty, Shea Weber and Keith Yandle… These three stand out like a sore thumb in the list of defensemen who are restricted free agents. All will assuredly return to their respective teams. If they are not signed by July 1 though, you can bet GM’s around the league will ponder an offer sheet as there isn’t an elite UFA defenseman out there this summer.
- John-Michael Liles… The 30-year-old was the subject of a myriad of trade rumors this season, but was ultimately kept by the Avalanche. With one year left on his deal, will anyone who missed out on one of the aforementioned free agents try to trade for Liles? The Colorado defenseman picked up 46 points in 76 games in 2010/11.
Teams to watch: - Detroit… Brian Rafalski has already retired, while captain Nicklas Lidstrom has yet to inform the team of his future (Jonathan Ericsson is a free agent, too). If Lidstrom happens to call it quits, the Wings will have a situation on their hands. They were the top defense pairing ever since Rafalski signed in Detroit. GM Ken Holland will be active in trying to find a new blue-liner (or two) this summer.
- Montreal… The Habs only have three defensemen – P.K. Subban, Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek – signed for next season. That means they have eight others who are either UFA’s or RFA’s. Josh Gorges, along with either Markov or Wisniewski, are expected to return. But we will likely see some new faces on Montreal’s defense corps next season.
- San Jose… What is something the Sharks lacked against Vancouver (and Chicago last year)? That rearguard that Todd McLellan could stick on the top pairing to take some weight off of Dan Boyle’s shoulders. There isn’t much cap room for San Jose to work with; so GM Doug Wilson will have to get creative if he wishes to bring in an upgrade on defense.
- Vancouver… As noted above, the Canucks have two of the top UFA defenders this off-season. Either Ehrhoff or Bieksa will likely leave (maybe both) due to the team’s cap constraints. Sami Salo, 36 years old, is also a free agent. GM Mike Gillis would have some work to do if at least two of them parted ways.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.