Less than a month from today, the free agent frenzy will commence; it will be here before we know it! Where will Ryan Suter land? Who will ‘replace’ Nicklas Lidstrom in Detroit? Here’s a quick look at the market for defensemen this summer…
Teams potentially looking for an impact defenseman:
Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville, NY Islanders, Philadelphia, San Jose, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Vancouver, Washington
Unrestricted free agents to watch:
- Ryan Suter, NSH… Whether he was coming off his best NHL season (a career-high 46 points in 2011-12) or a down year, it wouldn’t matter: Suter is going to get paid like a No. 1 defenseman this off-season. Once the Predators were eliminated by Phoenix, rumors of his departure picked up. They only gained steam when Nicklas Lidstrom announced his retirement, as Detroit is thought to be one of the main suitors for Suter.
Suter has had to play in Shea Weber’s shadow throughout their time in Nashville. If Suter signs elsewhere, he can be the bonafide No. 1 rearguard and compete against Weber for the annual accolades of being an All-Star and Norris Trophy finalist. If Suter re-signs with the Predators, which is still a possibility, he’ll continue to be the Robin to Weber’s Batman – which may be the best thing for the soft-spoken Suter.
- Matt Carle, PHI… Carle isn’t anywhere near Suter when it comes to being a complete defenseman, but the 27-year-old plays a solid two-way game on most nights. Carle averaged nearly 38 points in each of his three seasons with the Flyers and only missed a total of two games. He’s durable, can move the puck and be reliable in his own end. Yeah, he’ll get paid this summer.
- Jason Garrison, FLA… Garrison is an intriguing option on the blue-line for teams that miss out on Suter. Garrison, 27, has been a bit of a late bloomer for the Panthers after going undrafted. His breakout year came this past season, in which he notched 16 goals and 33 points. His big shot from the point will be sought after if he doesn’t re-sign in Florida.
Others to keep an eye on:
- Erik Karlsson, OTT… The top restricted free agent blue-liner this summer is Karlsson, a first-time Norris Trophy finalist. Given his unbelievable breakout campaign at 22 years old, it will be interesting to see what kind of contract he receives from the Senators. If it’s a big one it could be a benchmark for other young defensemen for the next number of years. And Karlsson deserves a hefty payday after impressively leading NHL defensemen with 78 points in 81 games.
- Jay Bouwmeester, CGY… After the Flames hired Bob Hartley, it was revealed that the organization no longer wants to spend to the salary cap ceiling. They reportedly want to cut nearly $10 million of salary going into 2012-13. If they hold on to veterans Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff, it could only mean that Bouwmeester will be dealt. His contract is an albatross (two years, $13.2 million remaining), so the Flames will be hard-pressed to get any value in return. Bouwmeester has been a disappointment in Calgary, but perhaps a change of scenery would do him some good.
Teams to watch:
- Detroit Red Wings… Lidstrom’s retirement means the Red Wings have some big skates to fill on the back end. They will never fully replace Lidstrom, but GM Ken Holland could make a couple signings to help soften the blow. They are believed to be the favorite to land Suter on July 1st; if they can’t get him, Holland could go the trade route. Free agent Brad Stuart is likely leaving Detroit, too.
- Philadelphia Flyers… A lot of this depends on the future of captain Chris Pronger, which doesn’t look good right now. He’s still experiencing concussion symptoms and his career is at risk. If he can’t come back, that leaves a major void on the Flyers’ back end. Their inability to fill that void this season was evident in the playoffs when the Devils’ offense made it look way too easy against them. Could GM Paul Holmgren pursue Suter to beef up the blue-line?
- Washington Capitals… Capitals GM George McPhee has some decisions to make on defense. First of all, he needs to get RFA John Carlson re-signed. However, Mike Green is also a RFA and his price tag could be a lot more than he’s worth. If that’s the case, a trade isn’t out of the question. Also, All-Star Dennis Wideman is an unrestricted free agent.
Photo credit: Getty Images