Puck Daddy - NHL

(Ed. Note: In the coming days, we'll be taking a look at the unrestricted free agent crop for each position, because the old-boys network in the NHL prevents us from having real fun with restricted free agents.)

In our first installment we covered the free agent right-wingers, and chances are you weren't really all that excited by them unless you're a past-their-prime or enigma fetishist.

That's the subtle difference between the right wings and the left wings on the UFA market this summer: Many of the lefties are in their prime, many of them could be top six forwards and one of them is in the top 10 offensive players on the planet.

Here are 10 UFA left wings that, should your team sign them, shouldn't ruin your week.

And here ... we ... go.

1. Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) (2009-10 Cap Hit: $6.4 million)

There's never been an unrestricted free agent to hit the market with Kovalchuk's numbers (338 goals in 621 games), his abilities and in his prime (he's 27). He's available to the highest bidder or the one that offers the most financial security and positive environment to the player and his family.

Will he go to Russia for the KHL millions? Dmitry Chesnokov doesn't believe it's going to happen, but the offer could affect those on the table in the NHL.

The usual suspects for his NHL courtship are the New Jersey Devils, Los Angeles Kings and, despite denials, the Toronto Maple Leafs. There are wild cards like the St. Louis Blues, the Colorado Avalanche and even the New York Rangers that have been mentioned in the past. It's all speculation, all conjecture. His home for next season is, at this point, a mystery.

When it's solved, that team gets a franchise player who averages better than a point per game (1.03) and will eventually figure out how to be a difference-maker in the postseason.

2. Ray Whitney(notes) (2009-10 Cap Hit: $3.55 million)

There's a chance that Whitney is in the top five for all forwards available this summer. The Carolina Hurricanes appear ready to let him walk because of financial considerations and Whitney's age (38). He's looking for job security in his next contract, which should be his final one in the NHL; that makes it a little tougher for teams, considering his numbers will count against the cap whether he's playing or not.

Those considerations aside: He's a difference-maker. He's virtually a lock for at least 20 goals, he scores on the power play and he makes his linemates better. If he comes to your team, you'll love the Wizard; but you'll also know it's a signal your team is ready to contend for the Cup.

3. Alex Frolov (2009-10 Cap Hit: $2.9 million)

Another player considered a KHL target, Frolov isn't expected back with the Los Angeles Kings after GM Dean Lombardi said he wasn't optimistic he'd return. He's never fullfilled the promise his 71-point season in 2006-07 made, but he's a player that can surpass 30 goals and he's only going to be 28 next season. Teams with star centers looking for a sniper linemate (say, someone on the Pittsburgh Penguins) would do well to pick the Fro -- for the right price.

4. Matt Cooke(notes) (2009-10 Cap Hit: $1.2 million)

As insufferable as this idea might be, fans should be smiling if their team signs one of the NHL's best agitators.

"Best" in the sense that, well, he's a total pain in the ass -- although one wonders if the new ban on blindside hits means he'll need to alter his game a little. But also "best" in the sense he'll give you around 15 goals in a solid season; and, in the last two playoff campaigns with the Penguins, he has 13 points in 37 games.

The Penguins wouldn't mind him back, but signs are they aren't closing in on a new deal. The whole "you hate him as an opponent but love him on your team" thing can fall into hockey cliché sometimes, but it applies to Cooke. Hate him, but acknowledge he's a momentum changer.

5. Alex Tanguay(notes) (2009-10 Cap Hit: $2.5 million)

Should he be higher on this list? Maybe.

His ill fit with the Tampa Bay Lightning produced the lowest point total of his career. He's 31, and he lingered on the free-agent market last summer much longer than expected.

There's still a kick to hearing his name connected with your team, and it's hard to forget his blockbuster season 81-point season in 2006-07 with the Calgary Flames. Can he recapture that?

6. Paul Kariya(notes) (2009-10 Cap Hit: $6 million)

With 18 goals and 25 assists for that cap hit, the St. Louis Blues will gladly see Kariya skate to another team this offseason. He'll be 36 in October, and he's nowhere near the player he was even three years ago -- his points per game last season (0.57) was the lowest of this NHL career.

There's a certain 'trading on name value' here with Kariya at No. 6 on our list, and Sam McCaig has him even lower on his free-agent ranking. But in the right spot, with the right linemates, and Kariya could have another couple of productive years in a veteran role. It would also be interesting to see what this guy does in the postseason, having not returned there since 2007.

Again, if the price is right. There's Christmas candy at Wal-Mart right now on that's discounted less than what Kariya's going to see in his next contract.

7. Eric Nystrom(notes) (2009-10 Cap Hit: $688,000)

A quality grinder who may not fit into the Flames' financial plans, Nystrom played in the world championships this postseason. He's 27, he's got some offensive upside that's yet to be tapped and he's still going to be a decent financial investment. Especially if you factor in what he'll save on your entertainment budget:

8. Alexei Ponikarovsky(notes) (2009-10 Cap Hit: $2.15 million)

With 2 goals in 16 regular season games and 1 goal in the postseason, Poni was a flop for the Penguins after his deadline acquisition. He's 6-4, he's 30 years old, and he has a 61-point season on his record. He can help; just don't expect too much, and don't expect him to play to his cap number.

9. Brad Winchester(notes) (2009-10 Cap Hit: $800,000)

Jeff Gordon of the Post-Dispatch on the St. Louis Blues winger:

Brad Winchester is a good guy. He offers appealing size to go with some skill and toughness. But the Blues gave him an opportunity last season and he failed to take advantage of it. Next!

Dang, yo. Winchester saw his numbers drop from 21 points in 2008-09 to 8 points in the same 64 games last season. His ice time was cut, too. His cap hit, thus, shall remain affordable. Can be a nice addition to a lower line. Also, he shares a last name with the bar in "Shawn of the Dead." Sold.

10. Darcy Tucker(notes) (2009-10 Cap Hit: $2.25 million; can play LW and RW)

Colorado Avalanche fans will likely say "good riddance," but he had a fan in Denver Post writer Adrian Dater this season:

Last year, Darcy Tucker was pretty terrible, probably deserving of a 'D.' But I thought he was better this year, and not just on the ice either. I thought he was a good veteran leader with this team this year, and I just thought he was a different guy in the locker room. He did a nice thing by taking a rookie player - Ryan O'Reilly(notes) - into his home for the year, and several other young players said he was a strong, positive influence on them.

He's 35, he's got a ton of miles on that body; but he's also a cagey veteran that, for the right price, could make life interesting on a lower line.

In the sense that Darcy Tucker always makes life interesting, even in 2010:

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