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The NHL’s top unrestricted free agents: The defencemen

Nashville Predators defenceman Ryan Suter.

On average, every NHL team is going to have two defencemen who played 20 or more games go to unrestricted free agency this year.

The vast majority of that group, however, is made up of fifth, sixth and seventh men on the blueline, as the number of players who can play in the top two pairings is probably only 10 to 15 names long.

Teams looking to vastly upgrade their bluelines in free agency, in other words, could be in tough.

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What follows is a list of the 35 best defencemen set to become UFAs when free agency opens at noon on Sunday.

The statistics here are for the last three seasons combined, with ice time an average of minutes per game between 2009-10 and last season:

Rank

Name

Team

GP

Ice time

Points

1

Ryan Suter

NSH

231

25.2

122

2

Matt Carle

PHI

244

22.8

113

3

Justin Schultz

N/A

--

--

--

4

Jason Garrison

FLA

189

21.4

59

5

Dennis Wideman

WAS

233

23.8

115

6

Bryce Salvador

NJ

161

19.6

23

7

Michal Rozsival

PHX

201

20.7

57

8

Pavel Kubina

PHI

224

20.4

76

9

Sami Salo

VAN

164

20.5

60

10

Sheldon Souray

DAL

101

21.2

34

11

Carlo Colaiacovo

STL

196

18.1

77

12

Filip Kuba

OTT

190

22.4

76

13

Adrian Aucoin

PHX

221

21.6

59

14

Greg Zanon

BOS

219

20.9

30

15

Bryan Allen

CAR

228

18.9

44

16

Brett Clark

TB

228

18.8

66

17

Cory Sarich

CGY

195

16.8

30

18

Joe Corvo

BOS

209

22.3

83

19

Scott Hannan

CGY

237

20.7

39

20

Francis Bouillon

NSH

191

18.9

32

21

Hal Gill

NSH

219

18.4

33

22

Jaroslav Spacek

CAR

179

19.5

52

23

Mike Lundin

MIN

135

20.9

27

24

Aaron Rome

VAN

148

16.0

19

25

Colin White

SJ

204

18.3

22

26

Kent Huskins

STL

157

16.9

39

27

Matt Gilroy

OTT

194

16.1

46

28

Milan Jurcina

NYI

155

18.3

35

29

Marc-Andre Gragnani

VAN

67

16.0

18

30

Radek Martinek

CBJ

87

21.1

20

31

Sheldon Brookbank

ANA

186

14.9

23

32

Matt Carkner

OTT

160

15.4

21

33

Chris Campoli

MON

187

18.2

50

34

Bruno Gervais

TB

174

17.0

36

35

Kurtis Foster

MIN

196

17.0

78

At the top end, the one name that's already been talked about a ton (for obvious reasons) is Ryan Suter, who is going to be pursued heavily by contending teams like Pittsburgh, Detroit and Philadelphia and likely wind up with a long-term deal in the $7-million a season range.

What happens after Suter signs is where things get interesting.

Carle is widely expected to re-sign with the Flyers, leaving someone like Jason Garrison to benefit hugely from the left over bidding war. He could well be this year's James Wisniewski, despite having played just 190 NHL games, and it's unlikely Florida will want to match the contract offers Garrison gets.

Where could he go? Well, St. Louis is considered one likely destination, as they need another top four blueliner to help out Alex Pietrangelo, but teams missing out on Suter could also join the mix.

Beyond that, there are some unheralded types like Rozsival and Salvador, the latter of whom could command much more attention after a very strong showing in the playoffs with the Devils. Wideman and Souray are two options for teams looking for an offence-first player, but beyond that, many of these players are mostly defensive or two-way types.

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Then there's Justin Schultz, the University of Wisconsin star who is expected to be pursued by just about every team not named the Anaheim Ducks. He is an interesting wild card in all of this given teams can't outbid one another for his services; the most he can get is a max entry level contract.

Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto are believed to be the front-runners for Schultz.

Also worth noting: I've left off some young players like Matt Taormina, Dylan Reese and Peter Harrold from this list because mainly of their lack of NHL experience. They may, however, turn into decent bets as depth defencemen.

UPDATE Dennis Wideman has been acquired and signed by the Flames. It's a five-year contract with a $5.25-million cap hit. All other players who sign after this list was compiled will be similarly crossed off.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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