Players to watch as NHL free agency begins

  • Article by: LARRY LAGE ASSOCIATED PRESS
  • Updated: June 30, 2014 - 8:51 PM

Signings could happen quickly because of teams could talk to agents and players beginning last week.

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Colorado center Paul Stastny will be one of the most-coveted players available when free agency opens Tuesday.

Photo: Ann Heisenfelt, Associated Press

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Detroit Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland is predicting a busy day once NHL free agency opens on Tuesday, simply because teams began talking to agents and players days ago.

“It’s going to make things go quicker because there has been time to mull things over,” Holland said Monday. “On the afternoon of July 1, things are going to happen quickly.”

Thomas Vanek, Paul Stastny, Matt Niskanen, Matt Moulson and Jussi Jokinen are among the younger unrestricted free agents. At least some of them are expected to get long-term deals because they’re potentially entering the prime of their careers.

Jarome Iginla, Dan Boyle, Martin Brodeur and Ryan Miller are relatively productive older players who might be a short-term fit for a championship-contending team.

“The last crop of free agents looked OK, too, this time a year ago and a lot of those players didn’t play up to expectations,” Holland said. “When you give players long-term money, it’s hard for them to live up to the expectations.”

Columbus, Toronto and Detroit were teams that invested a lot in a few 2013 free agents — Nathan Horton, David Clarkson and Stephen Weiss, respectively -- without getting much of a return in part because of injuries.

St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said it is a big gamble to count too much on new players to produce as well as they are compensated.

“Expecting a free agent to come in out of the wilderness and lead your team is not realistic,” Hitchcock said. “The easiest thing to talk about and the hardest thing to find is good chemistry in a team. That has to be developed mostly with players you’ve had for the most part. That being said, there is depth in this class and there are younger players who could swing the balance of power significantly if the right team gets one or two of these guys.”

P.K. Subban of Montreal and other top-line restricted free agents might not get many offers to leave their teams because franchises don’t like to let talent get away even if there is compensation coming back in return.

Here’s a list of 10 players to watch in NHL free agency:

Vanek: The 30-year-old wing played for three teams last season — Buffalo, the New York Islanders and Montreal — and should be able to settle in his next home with a multiyear deal.

Stastny: The 28-year-old center plays a pivotal position in the league and has done it well. He has 458 points in 538 games over eight seasons in Colorado, which would hate to lose him.

Niskanen: On a short list of defenseman available, this 27-year-old blue liner is the catch of the class. He had a career-high 46 points last season for Pittsburgh.

Moulson: Like Vanek, the 30-year-old wing bounced around last season. After playing for the Islanders, Buffalo and Minnesota, he should land a big deal.

Jokinen: The 31-year-old forward averaged nearly a point per game in the postseason for the Penguins after a 57-point regular season, putting him in a position to cash in.

Iginla: The wing had 30 goals last season, tying for the most in Boston, and had seven points in 12 playoff games to prove he can still produce. He turns 37 on Tuesday.

Boyle: The 37-year-old defenseman is drawing interest from Detroit, Tampa Bay and many other teams in the league.

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