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Rating the potential UFA upgrades

Free-agent frenzy coming

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New York Rangers centre Brad Richards seems to have received more love this season from coach Alain Vigneault than he received last season from coach John Tortorella.

That might not save him when the Rangers have to decide this summer whether to use a compliance buyout on his contract.

He has a $6.66 million cap hit for the next six seasons and having that cap space might be worth more to the Rangers than what Richards is contributing.

A demotion to the fourth line in Game 4 after a tough Game 2 could also work against him.

In this second and final summer of allowable buyouts agreed to in the new collective bargaining agreement, Richards is the biggest name who could be thrown back into the unrestricted free agent pool.

If Richards is bought out, he would rank in the 12 to 20 range among desirable free agents.

Here are the top unrestricted free agents expected to be available on July 1:

1. Defenceman Matt Niskanen (Pittsburgh Penguins): The defenseman pool is shallow, and Niskanen, 27, is coming off a breakthrough season. He's a puck mover and has improved his defensive play. With the Philadelphia Flyers' Andrew MacDonald signing for $5 million a season, Niskanen's expectations might start at $5.5 million and move upward. The Penguins want to re-sign him, and he likes it in Pittsburgh. He'll have to decide whether he wants to swing with all of his might or take slightly less to stay with the Penguins.

2. Right-winger Ryan Callahan (Tampa Bay Lightning): He wants a lot of money, but he's a tough-minded, gritty forward with offensive spark. He's a leader, always popular in the dressing room. He's first in line when there's a scrum and his style is very effective in the playoffs.

3. Left-winger Marian Gaborik (Los Angeles Kings): Interest would have been moderate until his trade to Los Angeles. He was a different player with the Kings, effectively using his speed and being intensely engaged in their playoff run. He seems like the perfect winger for Anze Kopitar. You would think he would be interested in staying in Los Angeles. They like him and he likes them.

4. Right-winger Jarome Iginla (Boston Bruins): He is aging (37 on July 1), but he's tough, physical and still skilled enough to score 30 goals if surrounded with high-quality players.

5. Defenceman Andrei Markov (Montreal Canadiens): He's a veteran defenceman, power-play quarterback, smart and effective. The only worries are his age (35) and durability. He has had bad injury luck in recent years.

6. Centre Paul Stastny (Colorado Avalanche): With several teams looking for centres and/or skilled offensive players, he will be sought after. In addition to being a high-quality playmaker, he's exceptional on faceoffs and strong defensively. The Avalanche should make every effort to re-sign him.

7. Left-winger Jussi Jokinen (Pittsburgh): The Penguins will miss him if they don't re-sign him. He was an effective player after they landed him from the Carolina Hurricanes last spring. He's better than you think.

8. Left-winger Matt Moulson (Minnesota Wild): You know what you will get from Moulson: He's a 24- to 30-goal scorer, and he should be good for 50 points.

9. Left-winger Thomas Vanek (Montreal): He will have his share of suitors because of his history as a highly productive scorer. His lack of playoff production for the Canadiens is worrisome.

10. Defenceman Dan Boyle (New York Islanders): The Islanders acquired his rights so they could talk to him before he becomes a free agent, but he is expected to enter the market. Many teams are looking for puck-handling defensemen, including the Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers.

11. Centre Brian Boyle (New York Rangers): Good role players are difficult to find and Boyle is a big man who can win a faceoff, check and play physical. He's exactly the kind of player the Penguins are seeking.

12. Centre Steve Ott (St. Louis Blues): The feisty, competitive agitator plays a sound defensive game and chips in a goal now and then. He's perfect for a team seeking an edgier look for the playoffs.

13. Left-winger Mike Cammalleri (Calgary Flames): Although not as quick as he once was, he can find the net with some frequency. He is a high-quality option for teams looking for scoring.

14. Goalie Ryan Miller (St. Louis): He is the best available goaltender, but only a few teams are looking for a No. 1 goalie. He would be an attractive option for the Vancouver Canucks.

15. Goalie Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils): There is genuine excitement about having this future Hall of Famer in the marketplace. No one expects him to be the Brodeur of old. But he is an appealing backup or insurance policy.

16. Centre David Legwand (Detroit): He's a 40- to 50-point guy with skating ability and defensive savvy. He could have value if you are not counting on him to be a go-to goal scorer.

17. Right-winger Brian Gionta (Montreal): The Canadiens might re-sign him, but if they don't, he will have options because of his scoring ability and leadership.

18. Centre Dave Bolland (Toronto Maple Leafs): He would fit nicely into the No. 2 or No. 3 centre role. He can check and contribute some scoring.

19. Left-winger Ales Hemsky (Ottawa Senators): The romance of this highly skilled player might be more fun than the reality. He will be enticing for puck-possession teams or teams needing to upgrade their skill level.

20. Left-winger Benoit Pouliot (Rangers): His strong playoff showing, which included some important goals, has helped his value.

-- USA Today

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2014 B4

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