x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Free agents mean plenty of options

There's hired help available as the NHL free agency season opens, including some tempting top-end talent up front.

There's hired help available as the NHL free agency season opens tomorrow, including some tempting top-end talent up front. In fact, while defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, 25, may be the unrestricted free agent with the biggest long-term upside, it's the forward position that provides the intrigue. The most interesting is Marian Hossa, who spurned a multi-year offer from Pittsburgh last summer to sign a one-year pact with Detroit - because he figured the Wings were his best chance to win a Stanley Cup. So close, Marian?so close.

Hossa, a dazzling skater and pure goalscorer who also hustles back and plays defence, is 0-for-2 in the past two cup finals; whoever signs him will receive a very motivated and talented player, if perhaps a somewhat tired one. Speculation has Hossa re-signing with the Wings, but only if Detroit find a way to balance a superstar-laden roster (Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Johan Franzen) with the NHL's $56.8million (Dh208m) salary cap.

If Hossa re-signs with the Wings or gets snapped up early, fear not, there's another Marian-monikered Slovak sniper to be had. But tread carefully, because this one scares easily and usually ends up injuring himself in the ensuing confusion. NHL general managers, meet Marian Gaborik. The Minnesota Wild's first-ever draft pick, third overall in 2000, might be the most natural goalscorer in the league - and yes, we've heard of Alex Ovechkin. Gaborik scored 13 goals in 17 games last season, 30 in 48 games in 2006-07 and 38 in 65 games in '05-06.

The problem with Gaborik, as you may have surmised, is his propensity for injury - his groin pops like a cheap balloon. When healthy, he's a 50-goal threat and one of the most electrifying skaters in the NHL. But only once in the past five seasons has he played more than 65 games in an 82-game schedule. They don't come with a bigger warning label than the one stuck on Gaborik's back - but this is the NHL, and at least one overzealous general manager is going to throw caution to the wind, and offer a multi-year deal.

Another interesting option is the Sedin twins, the longtime Canucks doppelgangers and goal generators. Daniel, the shooter, and Henrik, the passer, would likely prefer to remain in Vancouver. They've reportedly offered to stay for the princely sum of $63m over 12 years - each, of course. The problem with the Sedins is they're not quite first-liners, but they're too good to be on the second line. For a general manager, it's difficult to justify spending top-line money on two guys who've never been able to synch up with a third (non-twin) linemate.

And there's still more help up front. Martin Havlat, who had an impressive play-off with Chicago, is looking for a new contract. Nik Antropov, persona non grata in Toronto for many seasons before finally realising his big-bodied potential, is a solid No 2 centre searching for a home. Mike Cammalleri can help any team's offence with his 30-goal, 80-point potential. And if you want to add an ex-Montreal Canadien, they're selling them off in bulk: Alexei Kovalev, Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay and Robert Lang all appear to be on the move. And, for a cut-rate price that might really pay off, try this hat-trick of forwards: Steve Sullivan, Erik Cole and Michael Samuelsson.

Sullivan returned midway through last season after missing the previous two years with injury, Cole recaptured some of his lost form last season after being traded back to Carolina and Samuelsson is an underrated Wings forward who could break out if he receives a more prominent role. smcadam@thenational.ae