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.