June 30, 2007

...And Go!

The 2007 NHL free agent season is upon us, and with the salary cap reaching $50 million and free agency age dropping to 27 (or, in Scott Hartnell's case, 25), there are more than a few teams in the hunt for more than a few players. The question is how to spend that money wisely.

So who provides the best of what? You know, I just happen to have a couple ideas about that. Amazing coincidence, eh?

First this a team needs to do is know what their weaknesses are. Is there anyone in the minors ready to step up and possibly fill a need? Which of your own free agents or restricted free agents gave the most bang for the buck? Who did your coach like, and who did he resent you foisting off on him?

Need goals? I'll go into a few forwards today, then defensemen and goalies tomorrow. There's a surprising number of top flight players to choose from this year that had solid scoring seasons. Best available:

Daniel Briere (95 points in 81 games)
Chris Drury (37 goals, including 9 game winners, in 77 games; defines clutch player)
Jason Blake (40 goals in 82 games)
Ryan Smyth (36 goals in 71 games, best on-ice leader in the game)
Bill Guerin (36 goals, 77 games)
Bredan Shanahan (62 points in 67 games)
Paul Kariya (76 points in 82 games)
Vyacheslav Kozlov (80 points in 81 games)

You could put Teemu Sealnne at the top of this list, but he's made it clear he'll play for Anaheim or no one - even though his 48-goal, 94-point season would bring in a huge contract if he wanted it.

There are down sides to all these players, of course; if there weren't, they'd probably have been resigned by their original teams. Briere only pulled 3 goals in 16 games during the playoffs. Only once in the past five seasons has Smyth managed the full 82 games. Kozlov is an erratic scorer with wildly fluctuating season totals. Guerin and Shanahan are, well, old: how long will their scoring resurgence last? Kariya is known as a headstrong and demanding player. Blake's hit 40 goals... once, just in time for his free agency. And as for Drury, he... Um... Okay, I can't actually think of anything to really criticise with Drury.

For all those folks, though, their potential pluses far outweigh the negatives.

There are plenty of other unrestricted forwards who are more useful to fill a need in leadership, add depth, or may be worth taking a risk on (assuming they sign cheap enough).

Secondary scoring (20+ goals):

Scott Gomez - yes, he plays a defensive system and still got 33 goals two seasons ago. That was the exception, not the rule.
Danius Zubrus - only 29, still loads of potential.
Eric Belanger - solid faceoff man, too.
Todd White - given room to move, he'll go. Fast.
Peter Bondra - no longer anywhere near a 50 goal man.
Michal Handzus - a little more confidence, and he'll be scoring regularly.
Ladislav Nagy - needs a finisher, but is a fine passer.
Kyle Calder - 28 years old, still improving, and packs energy.
Robert Lang - because every team needs a wily veteran.
Petr Sykora - fast and (reasonably) dangerous.
Viktor Kozlov - up and down career so far. Fine addition, so long as you're not relying on his scoring.
Mike Comrie - quick way to add at least 50 points.
Owen Nolan - a reasonably successful return to the NHL last season.
Alexi Yashin - hasn't lived up to his potential, but that "potential" was for a superstar. A good player, not a great one. The only question is if he can play without being a disruptive force.
Ruslan Fedotenko - big, young, and a recent 20 goal scorer.
Yannic Perrault - top face off man, 20+ goals.

A Little Something Extra:

Tony Amonte - more leadership skills than scoring, but good in the room.
Martin Gelinas - still fast, always contributes, rock-solid defensively.
Jamie Lundmark - can play any line... for short stretches, at least. Only 26, so could still grow into a scorer.
Wes Walz - kills penalties dead.
Arron Asham - loves the game, loves to grind. Great attitude and fearless.
Jed Ortmeyer - His name's "Jed", so what's not to love? If he could get on a line with Bubba Berenzwig... Anyhow, solid defensive forward.
Michael Peca - Kamakazie hitter, great face-off man, solid defensively. Oh, but when I say "kamakazie"? I mean it. Often injured.
Travis Green - another for taking defensive zone faceoffs.
Bryan Smolinski - like Robert Lang, only works harder and scores less. Okay playmaker, though.

Risks possibly worth taking:

Joseph Vasicek - fragile, but young.
Anson Carter - he can score 25 goals. But he better come cheap.
Radek Bonk - has started to turn himself into a defensive specialist, but no fire to him.
Mike Johnson - should be a grinder. Isn't. If your coach can talk him into it, he's another potential 25 goal man.
Pierre Turgeon - finally broken? Possibly, but may also get 40 points.
Todd Bertuzzi - when he's on his game, he can be awesomely intimidating in every sense. Lacks discipline, and the circus tends to follow...

Then there's the ultimate wild card - Peter Forsberg. Whether he's going to continue playing or not is entirely up to him. Even with his history of injury trouble, there are 30 teams who would take a chance on this guy.

Some action is going to happen tomorrow, but a lot of players are going to wait to see the offers first. The most intriguing is Smyth - for all the criticism people (myself included) have leveled at the Islanders' front office , they've really improved their team; and it's hard to criticise just how much they've done to convince Smyth to stay.

We'll soon see!


posted by Thursday at 9:51 pm


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