Ten questions for NHL free agent day

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:49 PM ET

Just when you figured it was impossible for an already watered-down class of 2011 NHL unrestricted free agents to become any weaker, it did.

In the past week alone, significant pending UFAs like Christian Ehrhoff, Brooks Laich, Joni Pitkanen and Jussi Jokinen were taken off the market before teams had the opportunity to bid on them. Ehrhoff signed with the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, while Laich (Washington), Pitkanen (Carolina) and Jokinen (Carolina) re-upped with their former teams.

Of course, even with a diluted cache of talent available, there are plenty of pressing question heading into the opening of the so-called "Free Agent Frenzy" on Friday. Here are 10 of them.

1. HOW DRAMATIC WILL THE BRAD RICHARDS SWEEPSTAKES BE?

Given that he is being wooed by, among others, two of the NHL's biggest markets, Toronto and New York, this decision is going to get plenty of play. Both the Leafs and the Rangers are desperate for a first-line centre, so the potential frustration exhibited by the team that doesn't get him might make for the juiciest drama. And don't be surprised if a number of surprise teams catch the hockey world off guard by submitting strong bids. Either way, as the top UFA available, Richards will be laughing all the way to the bank.

2. WHICH TEAM COULD CAUSE THE MOST WAVES WHEN THE BIDDING STARTS?

In past years, we would have listed the normal suspects -- Rangers, Flyers, Red Wings. But this time around, it could be the Buffalo Sabres who are the movers and shakers. Owner Terry Pegula is putting his money where his mouth is, bringing in both Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff into the fold this past week. Don't be surprised if they make a pitch for Richards too, given they still have about $10.5 million US in cap space available.

3. CAN TOMAS KABERLE STILL BE EFFECTIVE?

Of course. Maybe he's not a Top 2 defenceman on a team any more, but he still showed some offensive flair in the playoffs as the Bruins' top points-producing blueliner. True, he played less than 10 minutes against the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the final. But the Bruins didn't have a lot of power play opportunities in their 4-0 victory, limiting Kaberle's opportunities to chew up ice time with the man advantage. Will he get a salary anywhere near the $4.25 million on his former deal? It seems unlikely but you never know.

4. WHICH POTENTIAL FREE AGENTS CARRY A "HANDLE WITH CARE" LABEL?

Ed Jovanovski. Pascal Leclaire. Tim Connolly. Simon Gagne. And, to a lesser extent, Jason Arnott. Team doctors might be asking for a raise in the event their respective GMs sign one of these injury-plagued competitors.

5. IN A PERFECT WORLD, WHAT WOULD BE THE IDEAL SCENARIO FOR THE WINNIPEG (WELCOME BACK!) JETS?

Teemu Selanne set a rookie scoring record with 76 goals with the Jets in 1992-93. Johan Hedberg picked up the nickname "Moose" while playing for the Manitoba Moose early in his career. Sadly, with Selanne, 41, eyeing a return to Anaheim, it's unlikely both will be back together in The 'Peg. But Winnipegers can still dream, can't they?

6. WHICH WELL-KNOWN FREE AGENT LIKELY WON'T LIVE UP TO BILLING?

We'll go with Alexei Kovalev here. Ask the fine shinny-loving citizens of Ottawa and Pittsburgh what a letdown it was to see just how ineffective this one-time NHL star could be last season. There doesn't seem to be much highlight reel fodder here any more, folks.

7. WHICH PLAYER COULD BE BEST CATEGORIZED AS "RISK OR REWARD?"

Tomas Fleischmann might be the most skilled player much of the hockey world doesn't know about. The gifted forward has battled a blood clot issue twice before, but has been given a clean bill of health according to medical reports. If he can stay out of the doctors office, Fleischmann could be a key under-the radar pickup for any team.

8. WILL TEAMS OVERSPEND?

Puh-lease! You really need to ask? Of course. With defenceman Christian Ehrhoff reportedly inking a whopping 10-year, $40 million US deal with the Sabres on Thursday night, cue the inflation. Once Richards is off the table, the second-tier forwards likely will see their price rise thanks to the demands of those teams who lost out on him. Had he stayed on the market instead of re-signing with the Caps, Brooks Laich might have received more than the six-year, 27 million US pact he agreed to with the Caps for that very reason.

9. WHICH ACQUISITION WILL HAVE THE BIGGEST IMPACT?

Most people would say Richards. But if Tomas Vokoun failed to come to terms with the Panthers on Thursday night and is in play, the nod must go to him. This is a guy who can win games on his own -- and pretty much had to in Florida.

10. SHOULD A LOT OF TRADES BE EXPECTED IN THE COMING DAYS?

It certainly looks that way. Because of the weak UFA crop, the Brian Burkes of the world might have to go the trade route in order to augment their rosters. And remember this, too: the Islanders and Panthers have a long way to go just to reach the 2011-12 salary cap floor of $48.3 million. That means taking on salary like the Panthers did by acquiring Brian Campbell from the Blackhawks.

twitter.com/zeisberger


Videos

Photos