doan-suter

Up to four players in this picture could conceivably be unrestricted free agents next season. From left to right: Skaters Shea Weber, Shane Doan, Ryan Suter and goalie Pekka Rinne. ((Mark Humphrey/Associated Press))

Let's call it like it is.

The 2011 crop of free agents isn't the most inspiring bunch. There's Brad Richards, Tomas Vokoun, Christian Ehrhoff and a whole bunch of decent, solid depth players.

So let's start talking about next year. It's not too early, because the next four to six months will be instructive for a number of the names on the list below. Many players and/or clubs shut down negotiations once the season kicks in.

Undoubtedly, with the trend towards long-term contracts, this list will be reduced considerably. It would be shocking for someone like Patrick Sharp to head into next season without a contract, for example.

More importantly, from a structural standpoint, the free agent class could be smaller if attempts by the league to push back the age of unrestricted free agency to 29 or so are successful, which could mean a work stoppage. Pending UFA's who fear they'll be caught in that age move could seek long-term stability in the coming weeks.

We'll mention Nicklas Lidstrom and Martin Brodeur so as not to offend the completists, but let's get real here.

With this list, age is the player's age next year, not this. Monetary figures indicate the player's cap hit next season in millions, as reported by Capgeek.com. It's not yet known what Parise or Weber will be making in 2011-12.

2012 Partial UFA list

  • Sean Avery, N.Y. Rangers, F, 32, $3.9
  • Francois Beauchemin, Anaheim, D, 32, $3.8
  • Johnny Boychuk, Boston, D, 28, $1.8
  • Brad Boyes, Buffalo, F, 30, $4
  • Brent Burns, San Jose, D, $3.5
  • Mikhail Grabovski, Toronto, F, 28, $2.9
  • Nicklas Grossman, Dallas , D, 27, $1.6
  • Jonas Gustavsson, Toronto, G, $1.3
  • Shane Doan, Phoenix, F, 35, $4.25
  • Ales Hemsky, Edmonton, F, 28, $4.1
  • Jiri Hudler, Detroit, F, 28, $2.8 
  • Barret Jackman, St. Louis, D, 31, $3.6
  • John-Michael Liles, Toronto, D, 31, $4.2 
  • Antero Niittymaki, San Jose, G, $2
  • Zach Parise, New Jersey, F, 27, --
  • Dustin Penner, Los Angeles, F, 29, $4.2
  • Pekka Rinne, Nashville, G, $3.4
  • Michal Rozsival, Phoenix, D, 33, $5
  • Alexander Semin, Washington, F, 28, $.6.7
  • Patrick Sharp, Chicago, F, 30, $3.9
  • Brad Stuart, Detroit, D, 32, $3.75
  • Ryan Smyth, Edmonton, F, 36, $6.25
  • Ryan Suter, Nashville, D, 27, $3.5
  • Jordin Tootoo, Nashville, F, 29, $1.25
  • R.J. Umberger, Columbus, F, 30, $3.75
  • Shea Weber, Nashville, D, 26, --
  • Dennis Wideman, Washington, D, 29, $3.9

Busy times

The Predators were in the news Wednesday when it was rumoured that they had failed to qualify a number of young restricted free agents by the required date as per the collective bargaining agreement.

The work for general manager David Poile and assistant Paul Fenton will only intensify. The team has to try and keep current restricted free agent Shea Weber in the fold, and each of Pekka Rinne, Ryan Suter and Jordin Tootoo are all due to be unrestricted on July 1, 2012.

On the marquee

Leaving out Rinne and Suter, you can make a strong case for a top three of Alexander Semin, Ales Hemsky and Shane Doan.

With the Capitals boasting young defencemen and goalies who'll soon enough need raises, one wonders how Semin will fit into the cap scheme.

Will the Oilers rue not moving Hemsky in 2009-10, when presumably the return would be the greatest?

Finally, you have to figure Doan will be itching to play for a serious Stanley Cup contender as he starts to enter the twilight of his career.

Trouble behind, troubles ahead?

It's no secret that Jordin Tootoo and Sean Avery have been a handful to their teams and each has been their own worst enemy in the past, and the

If Avery wants to keep playing NHL hockey — and you never know with the unpredictable player — it will be interesting to see what happens. He'll have to pick up his game next season, as his so-so play the past campaign will likely give league GMs an excuse to collectively pass him over. If he plays well and still doesn't get signed by anyone, we could have an interesting debate on our hands. That said, Avery would probably shrug and look to see what kind of hockey there is to be played in Milan.

Steady D

There is nothing flashy about Barret Jackman. It's a bit of a surprise to see he's only 30, as he's been a regular since 2002-03.

Given the way NHL-proven defencemen are valued for their relative scarcity — exclusive negotiating rights for Steve Montador? — young rearguards Johnny Boychuk and Nicklas Grossman could do themselves a lot of good money wise with strong 2011-12 campaigns.

Running out of contracts

Smyth is among a list of forwards in their mid- to late-30's, which also includes Tomas Holmstrom, Olli Jokinen and Kristian Husellius, who can expect a healthy cut in pay to continue their careers.

You again

Brad Boyes. Dennis Wideman. Can these two guys never not be linked? (Yes, we know that's grammatically horrible). They were traded for each other in 2007, and traded in separate deals on the same day five months ago. Surely if these guys keep changing jerseys around at their current rate, they'll play alongside another one of these days and can take their act on the road.