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Thursday, June 26, 2008
Updated: June 27, 12:27 PM ET
A look at the top free-agent defensemen

By Scott Burnside
ESPN.com

This summer represents a conundrum for NHL GMs as the free-agent talent pool is especially thin compared with the past two summers. But with the salary cap rising to as much as $56.7 million, up from last season's $50 million, it's entirely likely that GMs will be forced to overpay for those free agents.

Here's a look at the top defensemen who could be available July 1:

Brian Campbell
All indications were that the smooth-skating defenseman acquired by the Sharks at the trade deadline from the Sabres would remain with childhood friend Joe Thornton in San Jose. But Campbell recently told GM Doug Wilson he wanted to return to the Eastern Conference for family reasons. So, the Sharks will have to move to Plan B, and the rest of the NHL, especially those teams in the Eastern time zone, is licking its chops at landing the top-rated defenseman on the market.

Although Campbell looked a little shaky in San Jose's opening playoff series against Calgary, he did play better against Dallas in the second round, even though the Sharks once again stumbled to an early exit. Still, Campbell had 19 points in 20 regular-season games in San Jose and averaged 29:19 in ice time during the playoffs. He will be a boon to any team which is looking to boost its power play and can afford to add about $6.5 million a year in salary. The New York Rangers will be back in the hunt and Atlanta, which has never had a top-notch puck mover and power-play quarterback, will likely take a run. If the Leafs can unload Bryan McCabe and his contract, Toronto might be a nice fit for Campbell, whose family is near London, Ontario.

Wade Redden
Redden's stock has fallen precipitously over the past couple of years. But there are a couple reasons for that, including the death of his mother and the multiple attempts by the Senators to deal Redden, who refused to waive his no-trade clause in deals that reportedly would have sent him to Edmonton and San Jose. This might be a good thing for interested teams because Redden has the potential to have a nice bounce-back season or two in a new locale and likely won't command the $6.5 million he was making in Ottawa. A member of the 2006 Canadian Olympic team, Redden has the ability to move the puck with speed and grace and has good foot speed. He's not particularly physical, but would help a team's power-play unit. Look for the Rangers to take a run at Redden. We're pretty sure Columbus GM Scott Howson and coach Ken Hitchcock, both of whom have Western Canadian roots, will pay a visit to Redden, who is from Lloydminster, Saskatchewan. If the Sharks lose Campbell, they could look to add Redden, who has lots of playoff experience thanks to his 11 seasons in Ottawa.

Ron Hainsey
Hainsey, who loved playing for Hitchcock, may yet end up back in Columbus, but like Ryan Malone, the emerging, young (he's 27) defenseman has a chance to land his first big deal and he may have to move on to get it. There will certainly be plenty of interest in the former 13th overall pick in 2000. Hainsey is big -- 6-foot-3, 209 pounds -- and he can move and shoot the puck, and may still grow into that all-around defensive talent. He won't command the dollars Campbell or even Redden will, so Hainsey will be a nice alternative for a team looking to add some help without breaking the bank.

Mark Streit
An interesting player, Streit finished tied for third among all NHL defensemen with 62 points, but spent some time playing forward for the Montreal Canadiens. He was also a bit of an adventure in his own zone, finishing at minus-6 on a good defensive team. Still, on a team that can play defense but needs to bolster its attack from the back end, Streit has proved he can handle the puck and knows his way around a power play (the Habs finished first in power-play efficiency last season). The Islanders will be looking for help in that area with the 29th-ranked power play. So will the Avs (who were 28th). If John-Michael Liles leaves, Streit might look good in Denver.

Brooks Orpik
During one memorable shift in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals, Orpik knocked down three different Detroit Red Wings. Some called it the million-dollar shift, a nod to his impending availability on the free-agent market. As Malone's stock went up during the Penguins' long playoff run, so too did Orpik's, playing with Sergei Gonchar on the team's top defensive unit throughout the postseason. He is rock solid and can play shutdown hockey on any team. The Penguins would like to keep him, but a lot will depend on what happens with Marian Hossa's and Evgeni Malkin's contract extension talks. So, it's iffy if Orpik will fit economically. The Rangers and Coyotes could use him. And depending on Rob Blake's situation in Los Angeles, Orpik would be a nice foil to the talented young defensemen in the Kings' stable.

John-Michael Liles
The former U.S. Olympian had a subpar regular season with 32 points, down from 44 and 49 the previous two seasons. But Liles played well in the playoffs and will definitely attract attention on the market for those who either can't afford or attract the interest of Campbell. Liles can skate and move the puck. The Rangers and Thrashers would likely be interested; that's provided, of course, the Avs don't keep Liles in the fold.

Adam Foote
Speaking of Avalanche defensemen ... Colorado GM Francois Giguere has his hands full keeping his retro squad intact. He doesn't know if captain Joe Sakic is coming back or if Peter Forsberg will be healthy enough to return. And then there's Foote, the old warrior he pried away from Columbus at the trade deadline. Foote will likely have to take something in the neighborhood of $3.5 million annually to stay in Colorado, less than Columbus was offering. If it falls to pieces, Foote will likely stay in the West, where he's played since the Avs moved from Quebec City after the 1995 playoffs. There's no obvious connection, but Foote's toughness might be a nice addition in Chicago, which would like to jump into the playoffs this upcoming season.

Paul Mara
It's hard to imagine the Rangers won't be looking to bring the 6-foot-4, 212-pound Mara back to New York, where he's been for a season and a half. But if the Rangers land a blue-chip blueliner, they may not have room financially. And with Marek Malik and Michal Rozsival also poised to hit free agency, there will be some changes along the Rangers' blue line. But if Mara is on the move again, he won't have trouble finding a new home. Back in Phoenix in 2005-06, Mara had 47 points and got consideration for the U.S. Olympic team. He's bounced around a bit and his production has dropped off during stops in Boston and now New York, but Mara could be a valuable addition to a team looking to add defensive depth with minimal maintenance.

Brad Stuart
The big, solid defenseman had a terrific playoffs and a particularly strong finals series for the Red Wings, tallying five points and a plus-9. Detroit GM Ken Holland has cap space, but has a lot of players he has to work into his lineup. Figure Stuart to remain in Detroit, but his stock is certainly up after a couple of off seasons bouncing around between Boston, Calgary and Los Angeles.

Rob Blake
The veteran defenseman was rumored to be on the move at the trade deadline, but he had a no-trade clause and GM Dean Lombardi couldn't find a fit that worked for the Kings and Blake. Hard to imagine he will leave Los Angeles, although Colorado seems to be the only logical exception to that.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.