- Scott Burnside, NHL
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The top free-agent defensemen and where they might go after the market opens July 1 (we'll look at goaltenders on Thursday):
With Kimmo Timonen off the market and locked into a whopper six-year, $37.8-million deal in Philadelphia, Montreal's Souray becomes arguably the biggest name on the free-agent market among defensemen. The man with the big shot led all blue-liners with 26 goals and was third in points with 64. However, Souray, almost 31, was an eye-popping minus-28, which means the team that goes after him has to be prepared to live with some lapses on the back end along with forking over more than $5 million a year in salary. That's probably more than defense-starved Edmonton will pay, but Los Angeles, Chicago and perhaps Florida, which will be making a strong push to make the playoffs after acquiring goalie Tomas Vokoun, would make for interesting fits.
Burnside's top free agents
With free agency opening up on Sunday, ESPN.com's Scott Burnside previews the top players that will likely hit the market.
Devils GM Lou Lamoriello will no doubt make a pitch to keep Rafalski in the fold in New Jersey, where he's been since he broke into the league in 1999. But there will be much demand for the smart, puck-moving defenseman, who has won two Stanley Cups with the Devils. The New York Rangers would like to add a player like Rafalski to their blue line and he would provide needed leadership in Chicago, where there is a promising crop of young defensemen. Edmonton will be linked to virtually every available defenseman with an opposable thumb this summer given the paucity of quality defenders in their lineup and Rafalski is one of them (a defenseman with an opposable thumb, that is.).
Tough as nails, Hannan likely will be moving on after 508 regular-season games in San Jose as the Sharks have a handful of emerging young defensemen. Hannan averaged 22:49 in ice time a night for the Sharks. He is durable, having played no fewer than 75 games in each of the last six NHL campaigns. He chipped in 24 points last season. Look for former San Jose GM Dean Lombardi to try and entice Hannan down the coast to Los Angeles. You have to figure Ted Nolan will be asking New York Islanders GM Garth Snow to find a replacement for the disgraced Sean Hill on a gritty, hard-working Islanders blue line, and Hannan is all of that.
The former San Jose prospect who came to the league with great expectations as the third overall pick in 1998 has bounced around a bit. He went to Boston in the Joe Thornton deal during the 2005-06 season before being dealt to Calgary in advance of this season's trade deadline. It took awhile for Stuart to fit in with the Flames, but he played well in stretches late in the season. He did not score in 27 games for the Flames, but was plus-12 after being minus-22 in Boston. He averaged 25 minutes, 15 seconds in the Flames' opening-round playoff loss to Detroit. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds with good puck-moving skills, Stuart has the potential to be a top-two defenseman in most NHL cities. Someone will be willing to provide Stuart with a significant raise on his $2.4-million salary in 2006-07. The Flames' acquisition of minute-eater Adrian Aucoin suggests Stuart isn't in their plans, but Los Angeles, building for the future, or Edmonton, in dire need of defensive help, could be a landing spot.
One of the most underrated defensemen in the league, Schneider chipped in 111 points over the past two seasons for Detroit, playing in Nicklas Lidstrom's shadow. It's not unreasonable to suggest that had Schneider not been sidelined with a broken wrist in Game 5 of the Wings' second-round series against San Jose, they might well have defeated Anaheim in the Western Conference finals and gone on to win their fourth Stanley Cup since 1997. That knowledge should be enough to make both GM Ken Holland and Schneider want to make it happen in Detroit. But Schneider, who just turned 38, might be thinking one last big payday before calling it quits. If that's the case, Holland might not be able to support the kind of significant raise over last season's $3.3 million that Schneider likely deserves. Edmonton will be looking at any and all defensemen and need a veteran who can score and move the puck. The New York Islanders will have some room, too, and would like to build on last season's surprise run to the playoffs.
The 6-2 Czech Republic native, who was once upon a time the first overall pick in the 1992 entry draft, has fashioned a nice career for himself as a surprisingly steady defender who can handle power-play duties and eat up minutes. He's been a plus-rated player for the past five seasons and was plus-22 with Calgary last season, chipping in a highly respectable 38 points. Assuming at least a modest increase on his $3.5-million price tag last season, Hamrlik likely doesn't fit into the Flames' plans with the acquisition of Aucoin, but he could remain in Alberta if the Oilers come calling for a second time (Hamrlik was an Oiler for parts of three seasons).
Here's an interesting option for NHL clubs looking to acquire a young defenseman with lots of upside. Preissing arrived in Ottawa last summer from San Jose as part of a three-way deal that saw Martin Havlat land in Chicago. Preissing put up good numbers with 38 points and a whopping plus-40, which was tied for third in the NHL. Although he and Joe Corvo were a solid defensive pairing that jumped the depth chart on the Senators squad early in the playoffs, Senators GM Bryan Murray wasn't enamoured enough to want Preissing around long-term. In the deciding game of the Stanley Cup finals, Preissing played just 8:11. Still there will be many teams that will want Preissing to fill a hole as a third or fourth defenseman who can produce offensively. St. Louis, already building a strong defensive squad, is rumored to be interested. Preissing made just $600,000 last season, but a long-term deal will mean a big pay hike for the native of Arlington Heights, Ill.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
13dScott Burnside and Craig Custance