Commentary

Free agency: Top defensemen

Updated: July 1, 2009, 11:16 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

With the start of free agency next week (July 1), we're taking a look at the top free agents on the market. We continue with the defensemen (click here for the forwards and goaltenders):

Jay Bouwmeester

The smooth-skating defenseman is the prize of the free-agent defensive group, and perhaps the top free agent available this summer. Bouwmeester has all the tools to be a cornerstone player for years to come and will not turn 26 until the eve of the regular season. The Edmonton-area native has a tendency to start slowly offensively, but has put up impressive numbers, averaging a hair under 42 points a year for the past four seasons.

After Bouwmeester failed to qualify for the playoffs during his six-season run in Florida, the thinking is he wants to go somewhere where hockey matters and the playoffs are a given. Does that mean back to Western Canada and Edmonton, Vancouver or Calgary? Or does it mean a place like Philadelphia? The Flyers went hard after Bouwmeester at the trade deadline, but could not get a deal done. Expect them to be in the hunt for Bouwmeester's services, provided they can clear enough cap space to give him the dollars and term he'll be looking for.

UPDATE: Just before the start of Day 2 of the NHL draft on Saturday, the Panthers traded Bouwmeester's rights to Calgary | LeBrun's analysis

Mike Komisarek

If Bouwmeester is the top defensive dog, the bruising Montreal defenseman is a close second. Komisarek, like many of the Habs, did not have a stellar season, and this might hamper his market value, but not a lot. Komisarek is a prize asset because of his physicality and personality. He's never going to produce a lot of offensive numbers, but, like a Brooks Orpik in Pittsburgh or a Robyn Regehr in Calgary, he is someone around whom you could build your defensive system. Washington is going to have some money to spend with the departures of Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov and would like to add a solid defensive piece. Likely too pricey for Boston, although Komisarek would look good in a Bruins jersey (plus he wouldn't have to fight Milan Lucic anymore).

Sergei Zubov

An interesting case with the talented Russian. Often overlooked, Zubov has put in a Hall of Fame career, although injuries have slowed him down the past couple of seasons, as he has played in only 56 games through the past two campaigns. Zubov, who turns 39 by the start of training camp, had season-ending hip surgery in the hopes of correcting the problem once and for all. If he feels he's healthy enough to return, it's hard to imagine Zubov wouldn't give the Stars a hometown discount after collecting $5.35 million in 2008-09. Still, with new management and coaching staff in Dallas, nothing is a given, and if he's not part of the Stars' plans, Zubov will have many suitors looking to add a top-end defensive piece for a year.

Mattias Ohlund

For teams looking for a solid defensive presence, Ohlund will be highly coveted, and it looks like his 11-year run in Vancouver will come to an end. He will not provide much offense (his goal totals have declined in each of the past four seasons), but he logs a ton of minutes and is rock-solid. Ohlund made $3.5 million last season, but the issue is likely to be more length of term for the big Swede, who turns 33 in September.

Rob Scuderi

Winning a Stanley Cup always enhances your value if you're a free agent, and this is the case with the rock-solid Scuderi, who turned in a terrific playoff performance for the Cup-winning Penguins, playing mostly with Hal Gill. Scuderi saved the Penguins' season in Game 6, blocking two would-be goals in the final seconds. He was on the ice again at the end of Game 7, an indication of his value to the Penguins. Buyer beware, though. Scuderi is never going to contribute much offensively, and if you pay him dollar and term and expect that kind of production, there will be disappointment. Wouldn't be surprised to see him stay in Pittsburgh, although the Long Island native might be tempted by GM Garth Snow to come home and help rebuild the New York Islanders' fortunes.

Chris Chelios

The ageless wonder told anyone who would listen during the Stanley Cup playoffs that he'd like another kick at the can even though he turns 48 during the 2009-10 season. He was a healthy scratch for the Wings through much of the postseason, playing in only six games for Detroit during its run to the Stanley Cup finals. With the Red Wings taking a pass, would Chicago coach Joel Quenneville want Chelios, a Chicago native, in the Hawks' room to help a young, emerging squad? If Chelios will play for the minimum, it might be one of the only fits for him at this stage of the game.

Francois Beauchemin

Interesting times in Anaheim, where GM Bob Murray added two defensemen -- James Wisniewski and Ryan Whitney -- at the trade deadline to go along with Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and Beauchemin. If we assume Niedermayer will return for one more season, it's hard to imagine both Pronger and Beauchemin returning. In fact, both might be headed out the door. Beauchemin, who returned late in the season after major knee surgery, will still be looking for a bump on his $1.65 million salary from 2008-09. He has a big shot and is as tough as nails; definitely the tools to be a top-three defender on most teams.

Jordan Leopold

The big blueliner has never really seemed to find his niche, bouncing between Colorado and Calgary since coming into the league in 2002-03 with the 44th overall pick. He has size (6 feet, 204 pounds) and did score regularly at the college level at Minnesota, but he hasn't found that part of his game at the NHL level on a consistent basis. The Avs are in full rebuild mode with new management and coaching staff, so it's unlikely Leopold will return to Colorado, where he made $1.5 million last season.

Mathieu Schneider

The veteran defender just turned 40, but he still plays the game like a young man. He was a huge influence on young Zach Bogosian in Atlanta, where he started last season, and helped rejuvenate a moribund Montreal power play when the Habs acquired him at the trade deadline. He'll no doubt be looking at a fraction of the $5.75 million he made last season if GM Bob Gainey doesn't look to bring him back. Schneider has tools that would be attractive to any number of teams looking for a top-end player for a season.

Other defensemen

Other notable names come July 1: Hal Gill, Dmitri Kalinin, Dennis Seidenberg, Adrian Aucoin, Johnny Oduya.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.