Forward thinking

Thursday, 06.30.2011 / 11:30 AM ET / News
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Forward thinking
MONTREAL – General managers looking to do a little free agent shopping beginning this Friday will find plenty of forwards in stock.

With 10 forwards already locked in for the 2011-12 season – not including restricted free agent Ryan White who was given a qualifying offer on Monday – the Canadiens still have a few more holes to fill up front. The team has until Friday to sign pending unrestricted free agent Jeff Halpern before NHL suitors can come calling in search of the veteran centerman’s faceoff prowess. Benoit Pouliot and Tom Pyatt are officially set to become UFAs on July 1 after not receiving qualifying offers from the Habs.

Elsewhere around the league, there are plenty of soon-to-be UFAs lining the wish lists of NHL GMs.

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Coming off a career-high 28-goal season in Dallas, Brad Richards will be the most coveted forward on the market come July 1. With a 0.93 points-per-game average, a Conn Smythe Trophy and a 2004 Stanley Cup championship on his resume, Richards won’t have any problem finding a new home this Friday. The Murray Harbour, PEI native finished 10th in league scoring this season with 77 points in 72 games and led all Stars forwards with 21:43 ice time per game.

Simon Gagne may be coming off one of the worst statistical seasons of his 11-year NHL career, but the two-time 40-goal man might be worth the risk to a team looking to add a little extra firepower to their arsenal. Gagne had a slow start to 2010-11 with the Lightning and missed 24 games last year with a neck injury, but if his second-half performance and 12 points in 15 playoff games are any indication, he could be poised for a bounce-back year if he stays healthy in 2011-12.   

GMs looking for more durable sniper can turn to 37-year-old Iron Man Andrew Brunette. More impressive than his cracking the 20-goal mark six times in his career, Brunette has missed just 14 games in his 12 full NHL campaigns – including posting a 59-point season while playing with a torn ACL in 2007-08.

Erik Cole has four 20-goal seasons under his belt, including a 26-goal effort last season in Carolina. The 32-year-old power forward also brings championship pedigree having won the Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006 and his 225 hits were good enough for 13th in the NHL in 2010-11.

While 41-year-old center Teemu Selanne is also set to become a free agent on Friday, if he doesn’t retire, the Finnish Flash will almost certainly end up back in Anaheim – much to the chagrin of Jets fans everywhere. Despite being in his 20th NHL season, Selanne still recorded an impressive 49 assists and 80 points last year.

Behind every elite goal scorer, there’s a good set-up man. Racking up 34 assists for the Flames this season, Brendan Morrison was a steal for the Flames at just $725,000 in 2010-11. With 34 assists to go with his plus-14 differential, Flyers forward Ville Leino will also be on the top of any bargain-hunting GM’s wish-list if he ends up becoming a UFA this week. 

With just eight goals in 195 NHL games, Zenon Konopka likely won’t be called on for his offensive prowess but he could be just what the doctor ordered for teams in need of a little extra sandpaper up front. The 30-year-old bruiser led the league with 307 penalty minutes – including 25 fighting majors – last season. He may not drop the gloves quite as often as Konopka, but if the Penguins let gritty forward and PK specialist Maxime Talbot go, there will no doubt also be plenty of teams vying for the 27-year-old’s services on Friday.

Clubs looking to bolster their experience level next season could call on Jason Arnott or Jamie Langenbrunner, both of whom won the Cup alongside Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta during their time with the Devils. Former Habs star and 1994 Stanley Cup champion Alex Kovalev will also be looking for a team on July 1 after Pittsburgh announced their decision not to re-sign him.

Shauna Denis is a writer for

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