NHL Free Agency 2011: The Ideal Signing for Each Team

Daniel FriedmanCorrespondent IMay 4, 2011

NHL Free Agency 2011: The Ideal Signing for Each Team

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    NEWARK, NJ - JULY 20:  Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils poses for photographs following the media opportunity announcing his contract renewal at the Prudential Center on July 20, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Every summer, teams shell out millions of dollars to players on the market, and while doing so certainly has the potential to be rewarding, there are plenty of risks involved.

    These acquisitions can have one of many different effects on teams. They can turn a good a team into a great one, and a contender into a total flop.

    Such a transaction can either become an excellent deal or an expensive headache.

    The key is to identify the player that best embodies a franchise's style of hockey. If your team is comprised of strong skaters, a slower forward may not perform well, and if it's made up of gritty, two-way players, a one-dimensional offensive dynamo doesn't make sense, no matter how good he was until that point.

    With the beginning of Free Agency less than two months away, it's time to play matchmaker and find the perfect fit for each NHL team.

Anaheim Ducks—Andrei Markov

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    WASHINGTON DC, DC - APRIL 23:  Andrei Markov #79 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the Washington Capitals in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center on April 23, 2010 in Wash
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    The Anaheim Ducks enjoyed a successful regular season, finishing fourth in the Western Conference.

    Unfortunately, their defense corps was not very strong (with the exception of Cam Fowler and Lubomir Visnovsky), an issue that was magnified when goaltender Jonas Hiller went down with an injury.

    Fowler had a strong rookie season, while Visnovsky exploded for 68 points.

    Dan Ellis and Ray Emery were not exactly effective between the pipes, and certainly, they were unable to handle the amount of shots coming their way.

    I'd say there's room for another defenseman on the Ducks' blueline.

    There are a couple of young blueliners on this team, such as Fowler and Luca Sbisa, who will be good players in the near future, but it would be wise for Anaheim to sign a rearguard with star power, experience and flair.

    Andrei Markov, despite his recent injury tendencies, is that type of hockey player. He'd be an excellent pickup for the Ducks, one that both Fowler and Sbisa would compliment nicely.

    It's not hard to envision Markov quarterbacking the powerplay, feeding pucks to Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and the rest of the Ducks' offensive weapons. Throw Fowler into that mix, and you have the potential for one dangerous unit.

    I think Andrei Markov would be a fantastic signing for the Anaheim Ducks, assuming his injuries are behind him.

Atlanta Thrashers—Tim Connolly

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    BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 05: Tim Connolly #19 of the Buffalo Sabres scores the game winning goal in overtime against Michael Leighton #49 of the Philadelphia Flyers at HSBC Arena  on March 5, 2010 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Thrashers are in the midst of a rebuild, and while they are stacked defensively, their forward group remains bare.

    Sure, the Thrashers have Evander Kane, Alex Burmistrov and Bryan Little, but they lack a legitimate playmaking center. 

    I highly doubt Brad Richards would consider Atlanta, so the front office will need to get creative in this situation. The way the Thrashers should rectify this issue, is by signing Tim Connolly.

    Oft-inconsistent, yet highly skilled, Connolly is just one season removed from a 65 point campaign, and it's highly possible that a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered for the Syracuse, NY native.

    If Connolly can stay healthy and find the rhythm to his game, I think he'd make a big difference in Atlanta.

Boston Bruins—Jussi Jokinen

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    RALEIGH, NC - FEBRUARY 26:  Jussi Jokinen #36 of the Carolina Hurricanes reacts after scoring the only goal in their 2-1 win by shootout over the Buffalo Sabres during the game on February 26, 2009 at RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevi
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The Boston Bruins are already a deep offensive team, with players such as Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, Nathan Horton and David Krecji.

    Most of their forwards skate directly to the net, scoring goals with their strength and determination, and that's all fine and dandy.

    Nonetheless, the more diverse arsenal you have, the more unpredictable you are as a team.

    Jussi Jokinen uses his speed and puck-handling ability to score. He's definitely more flash and less grit, but that allows the Bruins to throw something at the opposition that they simply aren't anticipating.

    When you play the Boston Bruins, you expect to play tight defensive battle along the boards and in the corners. With Jokinen aboard, the B's have a different type of weapon at their disposal.

    This may seem insignificant, but it's the little things that separate the great teams from the good ones.

    Just 28 years of age and with consecutive 50-plus point seasons under his belt, Jokinen knows what to do with the puck. He scored 30 goals in 2009-10, and the potential to repeat that performance is definitely present.

    I think Jussi Jokinen would fit in very nicely in Beantown.

Buffalo Sabres—James Wisniewski

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    MONTREAL, QC - APRIL 21:  James Wisniewski #20 of the Montreal Canadiens tries to clear the puck off the boards while being pursued by Brad Marchand #63 and Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals dur
    Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images

    Steve Montador becomes an unrestricted free agent in July, leaving a gap on the Buffalo Sabres' blueline that needs to be filled.

    The Sabres already have a burgeoning young rearguard in Tyler Myers, but one player does not make a strong defensive corps.

    James Wisniewski would be an excellent addition to the Sabres defense.

    For the first time in his career, Wisniewski was given the opportunity to be a primary threat, and if his response was any indication, he's going to be a good hockey player for the next several years.

    "Wiz" finished 2010-11 with 51 points, splitting time between the New York Islanders and the Montreal Canadiens, where he stepped in for an injured Andrei Markov as the quarterback on the Habs' powerplay. 

    If Lindy Ruff can get him to play effective on both ends of the ice, the value of this acquisition would be astronomical.

Calgary Flames—Vaclav Prospal

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    NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 20:  Vaclav Prospal #20 of the New York Rangers moves the puck against the Washington Capitals in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 20, 2011 in
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Ah, the playmaking center.

    It's something that has eluded the Calgary Flames for quite some time now, leaving fans to wonder if the organization would ever find one to play with Jarome Iginla.

    Having such a player in the lineup wouldn't just benefit Iginla, it would improve the team's offense as a whole. It could be the difference between Calgary missing or making the playoffs in an extremely competitive Western Conference.

    Despite the fact that he's 36 years old, Vaclav (or Vinny) Prospal has notched 50 or more points in three of his last five seasons, and, if not for an injury, might have made it four of five in 2010-11.

    Prospal would not be the long-term solution in Calgary, as it's likely he only has one or two productive years left. He would largely serve as a bridge between the team's past and future.

    The move would, on the one hand, buy the Flames' brass some time to acquire that bona fide top center, while, on the other hand, allow them to remain competitive until that occurs.

Carolina Hurricanes—Alex Tanguay

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    GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 10:  Alex Tanguay #40 of the Calgary Flames skates with the puck during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on March 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Flames 3-0.  (Photo by Christian Pe
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Carolina Hurricanes came awfully close to clinching a postseason berth in 2010-11.

    Signing a guy like Alex Tanguay might be what the 'Canes need to get over the hump.

    He posted 69 points this season in Calgary, a team that does not have as good an offense as Carolina, so you have to believe that, whether he's on a line with Jeff Skinner or Eric Staal, he can be just as productive or more.

    I think Tanguay would be a smart signing for the Hurricanes, who are losing two key wingers, Erik Cole and Jussi Jokinen, to free agency in July.

Chicago Blackhawks—Ty Conklin

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    NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 07: Ty Conklin #29 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save against The New York Rangers during their game on November 7, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Marty Turco comes off the books for the Chicago Blackhawks this offseason, and 'Hawks fans everywhere must be thanking their lucky stars for that.

    Such a loss might be viewed as a gain, but nevertheless, the Blackhawks will be in need of a capable (key word) netminder to back up Corey Crawford, who presumably has grabbed the starting role by the throat after an impressive 2010-11 campaign.

    Throughout his career, Ty Conklin has shown he can be relied upon as a backup goaltender, posting a 2.64 goals-against average, a .908 save percentage and 16 shutouts over eight seasons in the NHL.

    Conklin would fill in as the 'Hawks second goaltender quite nicely.

Colorado Avalanche—Ilya Bryzgalov

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    GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 20:  Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov #30 of the Phoenix Coyotes stands attended for the National Anthem before Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Detroit Red Wings during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobin
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    After trading away Craig Anderson, the Avs are now in desperate need of a starting goaltender.

    I think they'd be smart to sign Ilya Bryzgalov in the offseason. He'd immediately bring stability to the goaltending position in Colorado, something they really have not had since Patrick Roy patrolled the crease at the Pepsi Center.

    Bryzgalov's an excellent goaltender, and he gave the Phoenix Coyotes a chance to win every game he played.

    That is something intangible. The Avalanche, who went from making the playoffs a season ago, to failing miserably this year, will take all the intangibles they can get.

    They should start with Ilya Bryzgalov.

Columbus Blue Jackets—Scott Hannan

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    WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 13:  Scott Hannan #23 of the Washington Capitals hits Brandon Dubinsky #17 of the New York Rangers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on April 13, 2011 in W
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Columbus Blue Jackets don't exactly strike you as a defensively talented team.

    That's because they aren't one, something that will have to change if the Jackets are to make a serious postseason push.

    I don't care how good their young guns, such as Nikita Filatov or Jakub Voracek, play next year. If Columbus can't play defense, they are going to lose hockey games. Especially when you consider that goaltender Steve Mason has struggled to regain the confidence he had during his rookie season.

    Scott Hannan would be a fantastic addition, because he would instantly become the Jackets' top shutdown rearguard, and, would provide veteran leadership to a team that is in need of just that.

Dallas Stars—Tomas Kaberle

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    MONTREAL, CANADA - APRIL 18:  Tomas Kaberle #12 of the Boston Bruins controls the puck at the blueline in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Montreal Canadiens during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell Centre on Apri
    Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images

    The Dallas Stars haven't had a star defenseman since the days of Derian Hatcher and Sergei Zubov.

    Tomas Kaberle happens to be one, and he would help round out a solid defensive corps that already includes Stephane Robidas and Alex Goligoski, who was acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins this season.

    He'd be the quarterback on the powerplay, and would, much like Scott Hannan, provide veteran leadership.

    They missed the playoffs this year, despite being atop the Pacific Division for quite some time, and I think that Kaberle would help them break into the top eight in the Conference next season.

Detroit Red Wings—Rob Niedermayer

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    BUFFALO, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Rob Niedermayer #20 and Tyler Ennis #36 of the Buffalo Sabres celebrate Niedermayer's goal in the second period against the Toronto Maple Leafs at HSBC Arena on September 25, 2010 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/G
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    The Detroit Red Wings are strong in all areas of the game, there's no question about that. 

    They are, however, losing forward Kris Draper to free agency and Mike Modano could retire.

    Either way, they'll need to sign a depth forward for next season, and I think Rob Niedermayer could be the perfect fit.

    Rob, who won a Stanley Cup together with his brother Scott in 2007, has a ton of experience under his belt, and would be a quality depth signing for Detroit.

Edmonton Oilers—Kevin Bieksa

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - APRIL 28: Kevin Bieksa #3 of the Vancouver Canucks knocks Mike Fisher #12 of the Nashville Predators down onto the ice during the first period in Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    The rebuilding Edmonton Oilers could certainly use a shot in the arm, especially on defense.

    If they can somehow persuade Kevin Bieksa, who is now in his prime, to move east of Vancouver, that would be a fantastic acquisition by Oilers' GM Steve Tambellini.

    Just imagine throwing Bieksa into that mix with all the young stars on this team. Watch out if that happens.

Florida Panthers—Tomas Fleischmann

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    DENVER, CO - JANUARY 18:  Tomas Fleischmann #14 of the Colorado Avalanche takes a shot against the Vancouver Canucks at the Pepsi Center on January 18, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Canucks 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Tomas Fleischmann had just begun to come into his own offensively, before he went down with a season-ending injury this year.

    He's an unrestricted free agent in July, and for the offensively-anemic Florida Panthers, there could not be better news.

    You know he'd love to avenge the Washington Capitals for trading him, and if he gets back into the Southeast Division, he'll have every opportunity to do just that.

    More importantly, he'd provide offensive ability to a team that, well, doesn't really have any (to put things in perspective, their best player, Michael Grabner, ended up on another team). 

    It won't be easy to recruit a bona fide star to come play in Sunrise, FL, but Fleischmann is a player that might be willing to come aboard and can make an immediate impact.

Los Angeles Kings—Milan Hejduk

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    DENVER - APRIL 11:  Milan Hejduk #23 of the Colorado Avalanche beats the defense of Drew Doughty #8 of the Los Angeles Kings as he breaks away to take a shot on goal during NHL action at the Pepsi Center on April 11, 2010 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by D
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Kings need a talented winger.

    Everyone thought they would have solved this issue with Ilya Kovalchuk last summer, but we all know how that played out.

    And so, the Kings settled for Alexei Ponikarovsky, and, needless to say, he didn't exactly light it up.

    Milan Hejduk's an aging star, but the ability is still there, make no mistake about it.

    If the Kings sign him, they'll have a real quality group of forwards, consisting of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Penner, Dustin Brown, Ryan Smyth, Justin Williams and Hejduk.Yikes.

Minnesota Wild—Michael Ryder

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    BOSTON - FEBRUARY 24:  Michael Ryder #73 of the Boston Bruins is congratulated by teammates P.J. Axelsson #11, Patrice Bergeron #37 and Marc Savard #91 after Ryder scored a goal in the third period against the Florida Panthers on February 24, 2009 at the
    Elsa/Getty Images

    The Minnesota Wild were supposed to become a more offensively dynamic team under head coach Todd Richards.

    That never happened, and Richards now spends his time browsing the want ads section of his local newspaper.

    Not that this was the coach's fault, but, as has unfortunately become common practice in sports, the coach is fired after the first sign of trouble, while the players get off the hook.

    Anyway, this team needs offense. Michael Ryder can produce on offense. He's still in his prime, and is usually good for 40-50 points a season.

    There's a lot of work to be done if the Wild are going to become a playoff contender once again, but signing a player like Michael Ryder would be a start, that's for sure.

Montreal Canadiens—Eric Brewer

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    BOSTON, MA - MARCH 03:  Eric Brewer #2 of the Tampa Bay Lightning takes the puck in the third period against the Boston Bruins on March 3, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Bruins defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1.  (Photo by E
    Elsa/Getty Images

    For the Montreal Canadiens, this will be an offseason of change.

    Three of their better defensemen, Andrei Markov, James Wisniewski and Roman Hamrlik, will become unrestricted free agents on July 1.

    I think Eric Brewer would be a nice fit, because he plays a strong two-way game, and has a lot of experience, having represented Team Canada at the Olympics, as well as playing 22 career playoff games.

    Also, he'd be the perfect mentor for P.K. Subban. I think Subban would have much to learn from the veteran rearguard, not just on the ice, but regarding proper attitude, as well (yes, I went there).

Nashville Predators—Antti Miettinen

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    ST PAUL, MN - MARCH 22:  Antti Miettinen #20 of the Minnesota Wild skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Xcel Energy Center on March 22, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Nashville Predators are a playoff team, and one to be reckoned with at that, as they showed during  the initial stages of this postseason, and, in their current series with the Vancouver Canucks.

    Their goaltending is outstanding (Pekka Rinne), they're strong on defense (Shea Weber, Ryan Suter) and the offense come through in the clutch.

    One more quality forward certainly couldn't hurt anyone, which is why I think Antti Miettinen, who is just that, would be a nice fit in Nashville.

    Miettinen usually finishes within the 35-45 point range, and would be a fine complement to the group of capable scorers on this team, such as Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist, to name a couple.

New Jersey Devils—Steve Montador

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    PHILADELPHIA - MARCH 05:  Steve Montador #4  of the Buffalo Sabres in action against The Philadelphia Flyers during their game on March 5, 2011 at The Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    For the first time in many a season, the New Jersey Devils missed the postseason.

    Maybe it was because of John MaClean's coaching ability (or lack thereof), the fact that Martin Brodeur's age began catching up with him or because they were without Zach Parise for much of the season.

    I didn't think the Devils were as strong on defense as they've been in years past.

    Yes, they added Anton Volchenkov, which I thought was a great move.

    However, one look at this team's depth chart, and, Volchenkov aside, you can see that this group of blueliners isn't very impressive. Henrik Tallinder, Andy Greene and Colin White aren't a shutdown trio, by any stretch of the imagination. 

    Steve Montador has quietly become an effective NHL rearguard, and he was particularly impressive during the first round of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs.

    I'm not one to doubt Lou Lamoriello, who just may be the smartest GM in sports, forget all of hockey, but I think he'd be wise to sign Montador. It just seems like the perfect fit, the kind of guy that can join the rush when appropriate, but is responsible defensively.

    That sounds like Devils hockey to me.

New York Islanders—John Madden

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - MARCH 14: Goalie Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks watches John Madden #11 of the Minnesota Wild shot go wide of the net during the third period in NHL action on March 14, 2011 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, C
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    The New York Islanders are rebuilding, but they'd like to take the next step in 2011-12.

    By next step, I'm referring to a playoff berth.

    I think that can definitely happen, but their chances are even greater if they have the right leadership on the ice and in the locker room.

    John Madden would be the ideal man for the job on Long Island because he's a leader, does all the little things, knows how to handle pressure situations and, is no stranger to the task. Even better, he's hoisted the Stanley Cup multiple times in his career, so he knows a thing or two about winning.

    The Chicago Blackhawks knew exactly what they were doing when they brought Madden into the fold in 2009-10. Already blessed with a young, talented core, the 'Hawks became an even better team with Madden aboard.

    More importantly, they became a smarter team.

    That is exactly the type of impact I would want him to have on this Islander team. Make no mistake, the Isles have talent. The question is, how long will the maturation process take? I say, it doesn't take as long, should New York have the right veteran presence in the lineup.

    To me, that's who John Madden is, and, it's what he does best.

New York Rangers—Brad Richards

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 02:  Brad Richards #91 of the Dallas Stars skates against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on April 2, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Well, here we go again.

    Never one to stand pat during free agency, Glen Sather will likely try (and will likely be expected) to land the cream of the crop, Brad Richards.

    Funny thing is, doing so actually makes sense this time, unlike in previous years (see Wade Redden, Eric Lindros, Nikolai Zherdev).

    The Blueshirts have some money coming off the books, with the contracts of Vaclav Prospal, Bryan McCabe and Alex Frolov expiring on July 1.

    A trade, however, is still imperative, because even if they'd have enough money to sign Richards to the mega-deal he will, no doubt, demand, there wouldn't be much left in the piggy bank to make any other moves, which is not a situation that Sather would like to find himself in.

    You put Richards on a line with Marian Gaborik, and New York will have a one-two punch that's been missing on 34th Street since Michael Nylander and Jaromir Jagr.

    Non-coincidentally, that was also the last time the Blueshirts advanced past the first round of the playoffs.

    The Rangers have a phenomenal goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, an underrated defense and, an offense that gets better each year, as players such as Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Artem Anisimov continue to mature. Add Derek Stepan and (possibly) Chris Kreider into that mix, and you've got a real solid group of forwards right there.

    If, on top of all that, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik can provide star power, this team could be dangerous.

Ottawa Senators—Curtis Glencross

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    DALLAS, TX - MARCH 09:  Left wing Curtis Glencross #20 of the Calgary Flames scores the game winning goal in the shootout against Kari Lehtonen #32 of the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on March 9, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martin
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Things haven't looked particularly positive for the Ottawa Senators these days.

    The Sens came out flat in 2010-11, missing the playoffs while failing in spectacular fashion. Nothing went right for this team, from Sergei Gonchar's horrific campaign to Daniel Alfredsson's lackluster season.

    I think they could use some help on offense, and while Ottawa's not likely the preferred destination for prime UFA's this July, there are quality players to be had.

    I like the idea of Curtis Glencross in a Senators jersey. He can score, doing so 24 times in the regular season, three more than anyone on the Sens (Jason Spezza had 21).

    Perhaps Spezza and Glencross could play on the same line and develop the type of chemistry that makes a team's top unit a legitimate offensive threat.

    An offensive threat? On the Senators?

    There's certainly a chance.

Philadelphia Flyers—Tomas Vokoun

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    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 23: Tomas Vokoun #29 of the Florida Panthers makes a save against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on March 23, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeaeted the Panthers 4-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    If this year's playoffs taught them anything, I'd say that signing a star goaltender is probably the biggest item on the agenda for GM Paul Holmgren of the Philadelphia Flyers.

    When Mike Milbury, of all people, calls something "an organizational failure," it can't be a good sign.

    I like Sergei Bobrovsky's chances of being this team's number one goaltender down the road, but perhaps he needs a few more seasons as a backup to work on his game (and to give the Flyers an actual shot at the Cup).

    Look no further than Tomas Vokoun, the best available 'keeper on the market.

    After playing for losing teams in Florida and Nashville for the entirety of his career, Vokoun finally has the opportunity to become part of a franchise that is a threat to win a championship.

    This is a no-brainer for Philly, though they will need to make a move or two in order to free up the necessary cap space.

Phoenix Coyotes—Jose Theodore

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    ST. LOUIS, MO - FEBRUARY 11: Jose Theodore #60 of the Minnesota Wild makes a save against the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center on February 11, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Wild won 5-4 in a shootout.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    The Phoenix Coyotes have been a playoff team in consecutive years, largely due to the efforts of a man named Ilya Bryzgalov.

    Unfortunately for the 'Yotes, Bryzgalov becomes a free agent this summer, and, given the amount of drama surrounding this Phoenix/Winnipeg/Hamilton/NHL franchise, the odds of him making a return to the desert are close to none.

    So, who would possibly sign with Phoenix?

    A goaltender looking for an opportunity to prove himself would, and Jose Theodore definitely fits that description.

    He's been the victim of some unfortunate situations in Washington, Minnesota and Colorado, but he has shown flashes of his ability on several occasions.

    Theodore would be the starting goalie in Phoenix, something that they are perhaps the only team willing to offer.

Pittsburgh Penguins—Joni Pitkanen

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    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 16:  Joni Pitkanen #25 of the Carolina Hurricanes skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 16, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Penguins are a good hockey team, and there aren't any particular weaknesses throughout their lineup.

    Where there are no weaknesses, there is still room for improvement, and Joni Pitkanen, who becomes a free agent this summer, would certainly be a solid addition to this team.

    When the Pens traded Alex Goligoski, I felt that, though they got a strong forward in return, they were still leaving a gaping hole on defense. By signing Pitkanen, they would fill, and improve, that position.

San Jose Sharks—Christian Ehrhoff

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - MARCH 31: Goalie Jonathan Quick #32 of the Los Angeles Kings keeps an eye on the puck after being shot by Christian Ehrhoff #5 of the Vancouver Canucks during the first period in NHL action on March 31, 2011 at Rogers Arena in Vancouve
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    The San Jose Sharks are an offensive juggernaut, but their defense isn't all that impressive.

    Making matters worse, they will be losing one of their better rearguards, Niclas Wallin, on July 1.

    Christian Ehrhoff could help shore up the blueline in San Jose and be a perfect compliment to Dan Boyle and Marc-Eduard Vlasic.

    I like what he brings to the table for the Vancouver Canucks, and I think he'd be just as good in Northern California.

    An added bonus, is that Ehrhoff is familiar with many of the Sharks' players, being that he is, himself, a former Shark. There wouldn't be much of a transition process and it wouldn't take much time for him to develop chemistry with the rest of the team.

St. Louis Blues—Radim Vrbata

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    GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 29:  Radim Vrbata #17 of the Phoenix Coyotes skates with the puck during the NHL game against the Dallas Stars at Jobing.com Arena on March 29, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Stars 2-1 in an overtime shoot out.  (
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The St. Louis Blues aren't quite ready to become a playoff team, but they are on the rise.

    I like what they've done in terms of drafting good young talent, but they need some more NHL-established players in the lineup.

    Radim Vrbata strikes me as one of the more under-the-radar forwards in the league.

    He's in his prime (age 30), and has scored 40 or more points in four of his last five seasons. In two of those seasons, he netted 24 and 27 goals, respectively.

    I think he'd be an excellent signing for the Blues.

Tampa Bay Lightning—J.S. Giguere

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    BUFFALO, NY - FEBRUARY 16: Jean-Sebastien Giguere #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs covers up on a shot by Tim Connolly #19 of the Buffalo Sabres  at HSBC Arena on February 16, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Dwayne Roloson might very well hang up his skates at the end of this season.

    That would create an immediate hole in Tampa Bay's roster.

    Signing a goaltender should be GM Steve Yzerman's top priority this offseason, and I think he should sign J.S. Giguere, come July 1.

    Giguere has been to the Stanley Cup Finals twice, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) in 2003, when his Anaheim Ducks lost in seven games to the New Jersey Devils, and the Stanley Cup in 2007, when the Ducks bested the Ottawa Senators.

    Yzerman knows, if you want to win the Cup, it helps to have a netminder who's been there before.

    For Stevie-Y and the Detroit Red Wings, it was Chris Osgood. For his Tampa Bay Lightning, it should be Giguere.

Toronto Maple Leafs—Erik Cole

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    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 04: Erik Cole #26 of the Carolina Hurricanes controls the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on March 4, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Hurricanes 5-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Image
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Erik Cole may be at the tail-end of his prime, but he can still be an effective power forward in the NHL.

    He finished 2010-11 with 52 points, scoring 26 goals and notching just as many assists.

    I think Cole is exactly the kind of player that Toronto Maple Leafs' GM Brian Burke likes, in that he has size (6"2, 205 lbs), grit and a nose for the net.

    His style of play would give the Leafs a more diversified offensive attack, one that already features speed (Phil Kessel) and finesse (Mikhail Grabovski).

    Assuming Toronto re-signs Clarke MaCarthur and considering that Nazem Kadri should be on the roster full-time, and they might just have the offensive-depth to make a successful playoff push.

Vancouver Canucks—Andrew Brunette

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 08:  Andrew Brunette #15 of the Minnesota Wild is congratulated after assisting on a goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 8, 2011 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    The Vancouver Canucks are likely the deepest team in the NHL.

    From the crease on out, there isn't a single blemish on this roster.

    They are, however, losing Raffi Torres and Chris Higgins to free agency, so there is room to make depth acquisitions in July.

    If the Canucks signed Andrew Brunette, I think doing so would make this team even more dangerous than they were in 2010-11.

    Higgins and Torres may have offensive capability, but with Brunette, you're talking about taking a guy who puts up 45-60 points a season, and inserting him into a lineup oozing with firepower. 

    He's also no stranger to the Northwest Division, having played in it for much of his career, so he would not have much to adjust to.

Washington Capitals—Kris Draper

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    DETROIT, MI - FEBRUARY 24:  Kris Draper #33 of the Detroit Red Wings skates with the puck against the Dallas Stars on February 24, 2011 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    The Washington Capitals have improved in so many areas over this past season.

    I still think they're missing one key ingredient, and that's the presence of a battle-tested veteran who is strong at both ends of the ice.

    Jason Arnott is a veteran, but he does not play a checking line role, nor would he be effective in that situation. 

    Kris Draper, on the other hand, is one of the premiere expressions of the two-way game in the NHL. His performances in playoffs past for the Detroit Red Wings are well-documented, and it's his excellence in that aspect of the game that gave Detroit a reason to keep him aboard, each and every season, since 1993.

    He is an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and it's entirely possible he may either re-sign with the Red Wings or retire (he turns 40 later this month).

    If none of those events transpire, I get on the phone with Draper's agent immediately, if I'm Capitals GM George McPhee.

    Should Washington fail, yet again, to win the Stanley Cup this season, Draper could be the missing piece that helps them overcome that which has eluded them for quite some time.

     

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