There’s still more than 450 regular season games, at least 45 playoff games and one Stanley Cup to be handed out before the summer spending spree begins, but there’s enough players scheduled to be available that the palette whets well in advance. Provided they’re still available (and the betting here is, with cap-strapped and cash-conscious teams aplenty, many will be), there is top-end talent at every position. Here are the best. (Not included is Wings uber-great Nicklas Lidstrom, who'll either retire or return to Detroit, making him a UFA by name alone.) — Edward Fraser, The Hockey News
Center: Brad Richards (’10-'11 cap hit: $7.8 million)
He won’t get anywhere near the big bucks he landed from Tampa in 2006, but the 30-year-old can still be a No. 1 center for a majority of teams. He’s played as well, or better, over the past two seasons than during his 2004 Conn Smythe playoff breakout.
Getty ImagesRonald Martinez
Left wing: Jussi Jokinen ($1.7 million)
The argument against Jokinen’s success (12 goals, 38 points in 45 games) is that much of it comes from playing with a top center (Eric Staal), but a similar argument can be made for the career of fellow Finn Jari Kurri, and he’s in the Hall of Fame. Jokinen’s only 27, and at the very least a team would get a shootout dynamo (he’s better than 48 percent in 58 career attempts).
Getty ImagesClaus Andersen
Right Wing: Justin Williams ($3.5 million)
Speaking of 30-goal scorers, Williams has hit that mark twice in his career and very well could have had more if it weren’t for the injury troubles that limited him to less than 50 games in each of the past three seasons. The good news for the Kings, and Williams’ wallet, is that he’s played every game this season and is once again gunning for 30 goals.
Defense: Christian Ehrhoff ($3.1 million)
The 28-year-old German doesn’t get the ink he deserves because of his West Coast location and the fact he doesn’t particularly shine on a team full of gems. But don’t for a second discount his importance to the West’s best squad. The Canucks have just 12 regulars under contract for next season and only $10.5 million in cap space (at the current ceiling) to fill out the roster, so retaining Ehrhoff may be a challenge depending on his demands.
Getty ImagesJohn Grieshop
Defense: Andrei Markov ($5.75 million)
If healthy, he’s one of the game’s best blueliners, but that’s a Mount Royal-sized if. He’s suffered four serious injuries over the past two seasons, which will surely scare some teams off. But the fact he’s averaged 0.76 points-per-game over the past three years will draw the attention of some teams in need of a puck-moving defenseman.
Getty ImagesRichard Wolowicz
Goalie: Ilya Bryzgalov ($4.25 million)
"Cool Bryz" (a nickname we’ve been trying to get to stick since he was plucked off the waiver wire by the Coyotes in 2007) has been a fantastic find in the desert and even garnered a Vezina nomination last year as part of the Coyotes surprising resurrection. Goalies aren’t a hot commodity in today’s cap world, but a guy who can steal you a game or two along the way is still worth a few bucks.