These five free agents will garner the most buzz

Updated: June 21, 2007, 12:10 PM ET
By E.J. Hradek | ESPN The Magazine

In the days leading up to the July 1 opening of the NHL's free-agent market, clubs will be working frantically to re-sign key personnel.

The Stanley Cup champion Ducks, for one, will do whatever it takes to keep franchise stopper Jean-Sebastien Giguere on the Pond. While nothing is certain, figure Anaheim GM Brian Burke to get his man.

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• With Brett Hull's reported departure from the broadcast booth after just one season, don't be surprised if he takes on an expanded role in Dallas' hockey operations department.

• Hard to figure why Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. felt the need to re-sign oft-injured wing Nik Antropov to a two-year deal worth $4.1 million. Antropov, 27, has never played more than 72 games or scored more than 18 goals in any of his seven seasons, yet Ferguson chose to double his salary.

• If Mike Keenan's coaching career has nine lives, he's got only one left after accepting an offer from Calgary GM Darryl Sutter to coach the Flames. But let's face it: Working behind the bench is catnip to Iron Mike, who now trails only Larry Brown (with 10) for having had the most head-coaching gigs in all of pro sports.

-- E.J. Hradek

But while Giguere might not hit the market, more than 100 players will. Here are five guys who will get, and deserve, a lot of attention:

Daniel Briere, C, Sabres
A nifty center with explosive acceleration, Briere finished 10th in the league's scoring race with a career-best 95-point season and with a league-high 65 even-strength points. Last season, Briere, 29, earned $5 million. He'd like to stay in Buffalo, but the club might not be able to pony up the cash for both him and co-captain Chris Drury. There are several teams, most notably the rebuilding Flyers, who'd be willing to pay him $6 million or more.

Chris Drury, C, Sabres
The numbers say a lot -- a personal-best 37 goals this past season -- but not everything. Drury, 30, is an old-school competitor who can play in any situation and is a team leader both on and off the ice. He earned $3.154 million in 2006-07; the bidding likely will begin at $5 million. The Kings and Rangers are among those interested, but Los Angeles may have an edge: Drury owns a beachfront home in Southern California. Either way, it could be more bad news for Buffalonians.

Scott Gomez, C, Devils
With two Cups on his résumé, the Anchorage, Alaska, native has averaged more than 50 assists the past three seasons. A gimpy groin hurt his regular-season production (13 goals), but he wowed potential suitors in the playoffs with 14 points in 11 games. Gomez, 27, earned $5 million last season, and if the price is right, he said he'll consider staying in Jersey. If it isn't, look for the Flames, Rangers and Flyers, among others, to come calling.

Ryan Smyth, LW, Islanders
After 10-plus seasons as a local hero in Edmonton, the popular winger was sent to the Islanders at the trade deadline. The Isles were thrilled to get the crease-crashing vet, who scored 36 goals in each of the past two seasons. But Smyth, 31, wanted $5.5 million in his failed talks with Edmonton, and there will be as many as 10 teams, Detroit chief among them, willing to pay a lot more to land this no-nonsense, fiery leader.

Sheldon Souray, D, Canadiens
Looking to add punch to your power play? Speed-dial this rugged 30-year-old, among the league's real blue-line threats. Armed with a 100-plus mph slap shot, he set a single-season record for defensemen with 19 power-play goals, which should help him significantly upgrade his $2.432 million salary. The pride of Elk Point, Alberta, has been rumored to be interested in relocating to the left coast. The Sharks and Kings will be happy to help.

E.J. Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com. Also, click here to send E.J. a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.