- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
The weeklong courting period of free agents -- essentially a window for legal tampering -- has added a new dimension to the excitement building up to the opening of the market July 1. The growing list of buyouts over the past few weeks has also added to the intrigue of the upcoming free-agent frenzy. Here is a look at some of the headliners of a class of players who have been cut loose. Where might they end up when the clock strikes noon on Tuesday?
Brad Richards -- There was no surprise when the 34-year-old center was bought out by the New York Rangers, despite the fact his leadership was integral to the team’s surprising run to the Stanley Cup finals. Ultimately, the whopping cap recapture penalties the Rangers risked in the event of Richards’ early retirement were the factor that spelled the end to the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner’s tenure on Broadway. True, Richards is not the most fleet of skaters, but he still has superb vision and creative playmaking skills, not to mention his intangible leadership qualities. It's possible that Richards would welcome a return to Tampa Bay, where he still has roots from his long stint with the Lightning, but the team’s already all set at the center position, which makes that an unlikely fit. What are more realistic landing spots? Chicago wants to add more depth down the middle, so depending on what happens with the Jason Spezza situation, perhaps this is a move the Blackhawks would consider, though it is difficult to see him fulfill the second-line center role that they covet. The Isles may also be a team that could benefit from his veteran savvy and experience, considering the team has a considerable amount of young talent but few marquee players with Stanley Cup championships on their résumés.
Christian Ehrhoff -- Similar to the situation with Richards, the Buffalo Sabres could not take a chance on the penalties looming should Ehrhoff retire early, since his cringe-worthy 10-year, $40 million contract back dives to just $1 million per year in salary the last three years of the deal. Considering how thin this year’s class of free-agent defensemen seems, the 31-year-old defenseman could garner significant interest from teams that lose out on some of the other top names out there, including Matt Niskanen, Dan Boyle and Anton Stralman. Both Detroit and Tampa Bay could use an upgrade on defense. Should be interesting to see if they put in a call.
Mike Ribeiro -- It’s hard to handicap how the comments by Arizona Coyotes GM Don Maloney regarding the buyout of the 34-year-old Mike Ribeiro’s contract could impact his list of suitors. Maloney made no effort to conceal that the decision to sign Ribeiro was a risky one that he has since come to regret. Maloney referenced Ribeiro’s long-rumored behavioral problems, so that might sour teams that, while interested in adding depth at center, harbor concern that he is not worth the gamble. Have to figure that Ribeiro’s prospects have thinned since the banner season he had in Washington during a lockout-shortened 2013. Would Chicago be willing to take a chance on him? He might be a better fit in Nashville, with the Predators looking for help at that position and to add offensive talent.
Ville Leino -- He's another interesting option for Nashville to consider, especially since the winger thrived under new Predators coach Peter Laviolette while both players were in Philadelphia. Leino has been nothing short of a bust in a dreadful three-season stint with the Sabres, where he wilted under the pressure of an ill-advised six-year, $27 million deal. Can he bounce back under a more modest deal that does not carry the same sort of lofty expectations? If so, could the one-time 53-point player (who recorded 21 points in 19 games during the 2010 NHL playoffs, if memory serves) be a steal for a team looking to do some budget-conscious shopping this week? If so, St. Louis and Ottawa could be intriguing options.
Anton Volchenkov -- The rugged 32-year-old defenseman does not provide much by way of offense, with only one goal in the past two seasons with the New Jersey Devils, but he could provide some physicality for a team looking to add some snarl on its back end. The tough, Russian-born blueliner has battled injuries in recent seasons, but has still proved to be an effective shot-blocker and adds some edge to any lineup. Colorado could use some defensive help, and a little grit wouldn’t hurt. We wouldn’t rule out Buffalo or a second tour in Ottawa, either.