The best, the rest and the potential busts

Nashville Predators' Ryan Suter, left, and Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Smyth collide during their NHL...

Nashville Predators' Ryan Suter, left, and Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Smyth collide during their NHL hockey game in Edmonton October 17, 2011. (REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber)

Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:55 PM ET

The pool might not be as deep as in years past, but that is not going to stop some teams from jumping in with both feet when the NHL free agent season flings its doors open at noon EDT on July 1.

Here are Chris Stevenson's top free agents available, as of June 30:

THE BEST BETS

1. Ryan Suter: He is the top defenceman available. He hasn't got as much pub as Shea Weber, his partner in Nashville for the last few years, but one Western Conference coach calls him "the brains of the operation." He will be on any team's top pair. There's a possibility he could re-sign with the Predators, but teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings will have cap space and opportunity.

2. Zach Parise: The scoring forward and captain of the New Jersey Devils made it clear he would like to stay in Newark, but if the Pittsburgh Penguins come calling and there's a chance to play with Sidney Crosby, that would make a guy think, wouldn't it? There's expected to be a good offer from his home-state Minnesota Wild, too.

3. P.A. Parenteau: He's been a pretty steady performer the last two years (20 and 18 goals; 53 and 67 points) with the non-playoff New York Islanders and would be a good complementary player to some established talent. At 29, he is younger than a lot of the other offensive talent available in this free-agent field.

4. Jason Garrison: The 27-year-old had a breakthrough year with the improved Florida Panthers (16 goals getting dishes from fellow D Brian Campbell). He fits the bill for teams looking for a power-play trigger man: nine of his goals came with the man advantage. He averaged about 24 minutes a game for the Panthers.

THE GREYBEARDS

5. Shane Doan: The Phoenix Coyotes captain has played for just one franchise in his 17-year career and he has been a tower of power in the face of the uncertainty over the Coyotes' situation. With the Coyotes ownership still unsettled, can they compete with what Doan might get on the open market?

6. Jaromir Jagr: The 40-year-old had 19 goals and 35 assists for the Philadelphia Flyers in his return to the NHL after three years in the KHL. He's a complementary player at this point in his career. He was a positive influence on the Flyers' younger players. It will be interesting to see what kind of term he can get in this marketplace. The Montreal Canadiens were interested last time around.

7. Ray Whitney: Another 40-year-old, Whitney had a remarkable season with the Phoenix Coyotes with 77 points in 82 games. He can obviously still play, but how much longer can he be effective? Like Jagr, it could well be the length of contract that determines where he winds up this time around.

THE GAMBLES

8. Justin Schultz: The University of Wisconsin defenceman is a unique case in this free agency market after not signing with the Anaheim Ducks. He's attractive because his salary is governed by entry-level restrictions and now, at a few days shy of 22, teams have a better handle on what he can be than when he was 18. He's been an offensive force at the college level (123 points in 121 games), but he still represents a gamble. It sounds like Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa have a good shot at the B.C. product.

9. Dustin Penner: Since going to the Los Angeles Kings more than a year ago, Penner had nine goals in 84 games. The big man seemed to rediscover his game in the playoffs, but is that enough to convince teams he is now motivated and capable of getting it done in the regular season? He had three goals and eight assists in the Kings' Cup-winning run.

10. Alexander Semin: The 28-year-old just might be the most talented free agent available in this year's pool. But the three-time 30-goal scorer scares teams off with his inconsistency and his poor "give-a-crap" rating. He might have to bite the bullet and take a short-term deal to establish his credibility as a bonafide front line NHLer. If the Rangers run out of options, he might give them the scoring they need, though he's hardly a playoff performer.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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