There’s always next year: Top unrestricted free agents for 2012

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In many pockets of the hockey world, the summer of 2012 is looked upon with great fear. There’s an obvious reason for that: the Collective Bargaining Agreement will expire after the 2011-12 season and with Donald Fehr (aka the man associated with baseball’s damaging 1994 strike) in place as the head of the NHLPA, the word “lockout” has been thrown around. One would hope that the NHL and its players learned the right lessons from that lost season, but greed rarely knows its limits.

All of that aside, the hope is that greed will exhibit itself in a more cuddly and entertaining way next summer by entertaining us with a free agent frenzy. With the current free agent ranks whittled down to marginal veterans and restricted free agents locked in tough contract struggles, we thought it might be fun to look at the most appealing could-be free agents for 2012.

It’s important to note that a lot of these players could spoil the fun by a) retiring or b) re-signing during the season. (Joe Thornton and Zdeno Chara could have been unrestricted free agents this summer, but they killed the good times by signing contract extensions and “showing loyalty.” Lame, we know.)

In this first post, we’ll look at the most desirable/interesting unrestricted free agents by position. The next post will detail the potential restricted free agents. Previous salary cap hits will be listed in parentheses.

source: APTop potential UFA forwards for 2012 (complete list)

Patrick Sharp ($3.9 million)
Alexander Semin ($6.7M)
Ales Hemsky ($4.1M)
Shane Doan ($4.5M)
Ryan Smyth ($6.25M)
Dustin Penner ($4.25M)
Tuomo Ruutu ($3.8M)
Andrei Kostitsyn ($3.25M)
Chris Kunitz ($3.75M)
Jarret Stoll ($3.6M)
Jaromir Jagr ($3.3M)
Ray Whitney ($3M)
Milan Hejduk ($3M)
Mikhail Grabovski ($2.9M)

Other notables: Brian Rolston, Daymond Langkow, Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner and Sean Avery.

source: APTop potential UFA defensemen for 2012 (complete list)

Nicklas Lidstrom ($6.2M)
Brent Burns ($3.55M)
Ryan Suter ($3.5M)
Niklas Kronwall ($3M)
Braydon Coburn ($3.2M)
Matt Carle ($3.4M)
Willie Mitchell ($3.5M)
John-Michael Liles ($4.2M)
Dennis Wideman ($3.94M)
Pavel Kubina ($3.85M)
Jaroslav Spacek ($3.83M)
Barret Jackman ($3.63M)

Other notables: Sheldon Souray, Johnny Oduya and Colin White.

Top potential UFA goalies for 2012 (complete list)

Martin Brodeur ($5.2M)
Pekka Rinne ($3.4M)
Tomas Vokoun ($1.5M)
Dwayne Roloson ($3.5M)
Chris Mason ($1.85M)
Dan Ellis ($1.5M)

Other notables: Evgeni Nabokov, Cristobal Huet and Antero Niittymaki.

source: APComments:

If all of these players actually reach unrestricted free agency, it seems like the pool would be strongest at the defensive position. Even discarding Lidstrom, there are a lot of promising blueliners who could make big money next July.

The most fascinating player might be goalie Martin Brodeur, though. If the Devils miss the playoffs again in 2011-12, could GM Lou Lamoriello determine that their Hall of Fame goalie’s best days are behind him and let him go? That’s hard to fathom – especially since Lamoriello seems to lean toward familiarity more and more lately – but it would make for one of the most intriguing free agent situations in quite some time.

With the Chicago Blackhawks likely to re-sign Sharp at some point, the two high-end forwards might end up being Semin and Hemsky. Both are injury prone players with their fair share of minuses, but each player is talented enough to draw some interest in the market. (Again, if they make it that far.)

Which players would you like your team to add almost one year from now? Who do you think will hit the market and who might retire altogether? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Ovechkin shrugs off Caps’ Game 1 loss in very Ovechkin way

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You know, it happens. Maybe not always in those exact words.

The Washington Capitals carried the play during portions of their 3-2 Game 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and even down 1-0 in the series, just about every player seemed happy with their overall game.

(Granted, Braden Holtby picked apart two of the three goals he allowed, and so on.)

Still, Alex Ovechkin shrugged off the disappointment in a way that wasn’t quite Rated R, but probably ranks in the PG-13 range:

The penalty element is interesting, though.

When asked after the loss about the lack of power plays, Matt Niskanen merely offered a “no comment.”

The Penguins experienced some sprawling moments, yet they avoided taking a penalty each time. Often, when a team carries long sequences of play, they’ll go on the PP (especially with home-ice advantage) … but not the Capitals in Game 1.

via Natural Stat Trick

It’s a situation to watch as the Capitals hope to even the series against the Penguins with Game 2 coming on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. (You can watch online, via the NBC Sports App and follow the livestream here).

Holtby takes blame for two big goals in Caps’ loss to Pens

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It’s just about a consensus that the Washington Capitals believed that they generally played a strong game despite falling 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Braden Holtby‘s teammates likely wouldn’t agree with his assessment that the Game 1 loss is on his shoulders, but the perennial Vezina candidate took the blame for Sidney Crosby‘s first goal of the night and Nick Bonino‘s game-winner.

Noting that the Penguins are a dangerous rush team – making them a different threat than the Toronto Maple Leafs – Holtby believes that he should have had his glove in position to stop the 1-0 goal. He said he’s capable of making such a stop and “will next time.” Check out Crosby’s two goals below, with Holtby having a beef with the first one:

It’s really difficult to place too much blame on Holtby for giving up Nick Bonino’s game-winner, as it seemed like a great rush play that few goalies would be able to stop.

Judge for yourself in the highlights:

The Penguins were ultimately able to take a 1-0 series lead, but the Capitals seem capable of shrugging off questions about frustrations, even with naysayers starting to gain confidence in claiming that there will be more than the same.

If Washington’s going to get over this big hurdle, Holtby is likely to be a big part in doing so.

Fleury, Penguins hang on for Game 1 win against Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins pulled off a 3-2 Game 1 win against the Washington Capitals, but Thursday’s thriller probably prompted a sigh of relief.

(Washington, meanwhile, might have uttered a sigh at such unpleasantly familiar feelings.)

The first period ended 0-0 in part thanks to Jake Guentzel‘s sprawling “kick save.” Business really picked up in the second after Sidney Crosby raced off to two quick goals, only for Alex Ovechkin to give Washington a shot thanks to a booming goal and some physical play.

It sure felt like this one might head to overtime, especially after Evgeny Kuznetsov was tying things up and flapping his arms like wings. That was not to be, however, as Nick Bonino took advantage of a pretty area pass to beat Braden Holtby for the decisive tally.

Now, it was only decisive because Marc-Andre Fleury was at the top of his game. Oh, and also because the Penguins did a collective Guentzel impression in frantically denying a tying tally.

Makes you want to wipe some sweat from your brow, eh?

The Capitals dominated by just about every statistical measure … except, of course, goals on the scoreboard. Pittsburgh will gladly take that 1-0 series lead, then.

Expect a desperate Washington team in Game 2, which airs at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App (click here for the livestream link).

Karlsson makes difference for Senators vs. Lundqvist, Rangers

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Swedish superstars Henrik Lundqvist and Erik Karlsson were both stupendous in Game 1 between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.

Still, it was Karlsson’s game-winning goal (from a seemingly impossible angle) against Lundqvist that made the difference as the Senators beat the Rangers 2-1 on Thursday. With that, the Senators are up 1-0 in the series.

That Karlsson goal really deserves a special look.

Whether you blame that 2-1 tally on Lundqvist or not, the Rangers would be foolish to do anything but praise their red-hot franchise goalie. He stopped all 21 Senators shots in the first period and ultimately made 41 out of 43 stops in defeat.

Craig Anderson was strong in his own right, mind you, stopping 34 out of 35 shots (including all 28 at even-strength) to help Ottawa take that tight contest.

Anderson’s strong play highlights the fact that Rangers – Senators doesn’t merely come down to Lundqvist vs. Karlsson … but even so, both Swedish superstars really did stand out in this one.

Game 2 airs on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; click here for the livestream link.