Judging by statistics, the NHL's premier unrestricted free agent is not Brad Richards, formerly of the Dallas Stars, but Anaheim Ducks veteran Teemu Selanne, who at 40 scored 80 points last season. But no one talks about Selanne when it comes to free-agent frenzy because he's made it clear he'd stay in Anaheim next season if he plays at all. So that makes Richards, a 77-point player who was in the top five in NHL scoring until an upper-body injury knocked him out of the Stars' lineup for 10 games down the stretch, the most coveted player available Friday, when the bank vaults open and teams fall all over themselves to secure a front-line NHL centre for the 2011-12 version of their teams.
A lot of players have been taken off the market this past week, and some could sign right until the noon (Eastern) deadline, but as of late Thursday, here is a subjective list of the most desirable free agents available starting today.
1. Brad Richards. Most valuable player of the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup team, an exceptional playmaker, and as versatile as they come. Richards is seeking a big payday and a chance to win. In this age of parity, half-a-dozen teams figure that means them.
2. James Wisniewski. Owned at the moment by the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team desperate for offence from defence, now that they've landed Jeff Carter. Wisniewski's 51 points in 75 games with the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens last season was tied for fifth-best among defencemen.
3. Tomas Vokoun. The top goalie prize in the free-agent market, Vokoun had a .922 save percentage for a struggling Florida Panthers team and won 22 games in 57 appearances. The Phoenix Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche both have openings for a new No. 1.
4. Tomas Kaberle. He won a Stanley Cup as the Boston Bruins' fifth defenceman, but had trouble adjusting to more limited playing time. Will be a fallback choice for a number of teams once Ehrhoff and Wisniewski get scooped up.
5. Erik Cole. Thought of us as injury prone, but did get into 82 games last year for the Carolina Hurricanes and scored 52 points. Wasn't a great fit on the only team he ever played for outside Carolina (Edmonton Oilers), so that will be a factor for teams to consider.
6. Ville Leino. A 53-point man with the Philadelphia Flyers last season and developed nice chemistry with Daniel Brière. What happens on a new team in new surroundings?
7. Joel Ward. After scoring just 29 points in the regular season, Ward's star rose dramatically during his fabulous playoff with the Nashville Predators. Big, tough, with good hands, he showed he can play a top-six role under the right circumstances.
8. Simon Gagné. Durability is a question again - he played just 63 games for Tampa in 2010-11 - but he is a quality forward when he stays out of sick bay. Why wouldn't the Los Angeles Kings sign him to replace Ryan Smyth?
9. Tomas Fleischmann. Another player who requires a leap of faith. Scored 21 points in 22 games for Colorado last season. When he was on the sidelines with a blood clot, the bottom fell out on the Avs. If looking for only a short-term commitment, might be a gamble worth taking.
10. Ian White. A smallish defenceman who makes a good first pass and can play on the power play, White started 78 games for three teams last season and might be a fit for the Detroit Red Wings, who are looking to replace the retired Brian Rafalski, who was the same type of player.