Free Agent Frenzy 2007

Blues Land Paul Kariya

Dynamic forward Paul Kariya has signed a three-year deal with St. Louis, joining Keith Tkachuk on what should be a much-improved Blues team. Kariya remains one of the NHL’s most prolific offensive players, consistently scoring at a point-per-game pace. Capable of playing the point on the power play, the versatile Kariya should be a great asset on a Blues team that will be welcoming top prospect Erik Johnson into the fold.

Avs Sign Ryan Smyth and Scott Hannan

The good news for the Oilers fans is that Ryan Smyth won’t be suiting up for the Calgary Flames this season. The bad news is that they’ll still be seeing him eight times during the 2007-08 regular season. Smyth has joined good friend Joe Sakic on the Colorado Avalanche, signing a five-year, $31.25 million deal with the Oilers’ Northwest Division rivals. Hard-hitting blueliner Scott Hannan has signed a four-year deal with the Avalanche worth $18 million. The stay-at-home rearguard was previously a mainstay on the San Jose Sharks’ blue line, and should affect a huge improvement in the Avs’ own-zone play.

Rangers Land Gomez and Drury

The New York Rangers took a dramatic step towards improving themselves yesterday, signing two of this summer’s most coveted free agents—Scott Gomez and Chris Drury—to their lineup. By adding Gomez to their lineup for seven years and $51.5 million—and subtracting him from the cross-town rival Devils’—the Blueshirts accomplished two critical tasks with one bold move. And Drury, signed to a five-year deal worth $35.25 million, is one of the most well-respected leaders in the NHL; he will slot in quite nicely as the much-improved Rangers’ new second line center.

Gomez had been reportedly working out with Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan—also an unrestricted free agent—in recent weeks, leading to speculation that he was Broadway-bound. Gomez was on the market for all of seven hours, likely mulling numerous lucrative offers before accepting the Rangers’. With the talented Alaskan now in the fold, it makes it far more likely that Shanahan will return to the Rangers for the 2007-08 season, making them one of the Eastern Conference’s most formidable Cup contenders.

Maple Leafs Sign Jason Blake

Jason Blake scored a career-high 40 goals and 69 points last season for the New York Islanders, and now he’s going to get the opportunity to play alongside Mats Sundin on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top line. The speedy penalty-killer signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Leafs, marking the end of his successful stint with the Islanders.

Flyers Trade Pitkanen/Sanderson to Oilers for Lupul/Smith

The Philadelphia Flyers have traded defenseman Joni Pitkanen and forward Geoff Sanderson to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Joffrey Lupul and Jason Smith. The teams finally consummated this long-rumored trade, in which Pitkanen—a talented young rearguard who wasn’t working out in Philly—gets a fresh start in Edmonton, where they desperately needed a power play quarterback following the exits of Chris Pronger, Jaroslav Spacek, and Marc-Andre Bergeron. In Lupul, the Flyers landed a supremely talented forward who—like Pitkanen—desperately needed a change of scenery. Acquired from the Ducks in the deal that sent Pronger away, Lupul was perhaps a bit overburdened by the expectations surrounding his arrival, however unreasonable they might have been. And Smith, the former Oilers’ captain, is a hard-hitting rearguard who should immediately endear himself to the Broad Street Bullies’ bloodthirsty fan base.

Rafalski Leaves Devils for Motown

After seven seasons with the New Jersey Devils that included two Stanley Cup victories, defenseman Brian Rafalski is changing addresses. He signed a five-year, $30 million deal with the Detroit Red Wings, where he will replace Mathieu Schneider on the point of the power play alongside perennial Norris Trophy candidate Nicklas Lidstrom. A native of Dearborn, Michigan, this will be a homecoming of sorts for Rafalski, who should in quite well with the talented, high-flying Wings.

Flames Sign Sarich

The Calgary Flames have signed stay-at-home defenseman Cory Sarich to a five year, $18 million deal worth an average of $3.6 million per year. Sarich joins the Flames after spending seven seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, including the team’s 2004 Cup victory over the Flames. This contract makes it abundantly clear that the market for defensemen is quite strong, and that huge paydays are likely in store for both Sheldon Souray and Scott Hannan.

Flyers Land Daniel Briere

One of this year’s most highly coveted free agents has chosen a new home. Center Daniel Briere has signed an eight-year, $52 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers that includes a no-trade cause. The dynamic center should be an excellent fit with the Flyers, helping them to establish an up-tempo game that will enable them to re-emerge as contenders in the post-lockout NHL. The cost of the deal ($6.5 million per year) is about what was expected for Briere, and should leave GM Paul Holmgren with the flexibility to make another move or two this off-season.

Ducks Sign Schneider to 2-Year Deal

Amid rampant speculation that captain Scott Niedermayer is planning to call it quits, the Anaheim Ducks signed defenseman Mathieu Schneider to a two-year deal worth $11.25 million. The move demonstrates that the Ducks intend to maintain their focus on the blue line, as their Cup victory was largely due to the presence of Norris Trophy finalists Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. And though Schneider represents a step down from Niedermayer (should he retire), he’s probably the best alternate option available to GM Brian Burke.

Panthers Sign Zednik and McLean

Florida Panthers have gotten active in the market on the first day, quickly signing forward Richard Zednik (formerly with the Islanders) for two years, $3.25 million deal and forward Brett McLean (Avalanche) for three years, $5.1 million. While the moves won’t set South Florida ablaze with excitement, it’s a good sign that the Panthers are actively working to improve for 2007-08.

Capitals Add Tom Poti to Blue Line Corps

Offensive defenseman Tom Poti has signed a 4-year deal with the Washington Capitals worth $14 million. Poti should fit in nicely in Washington, where he’ll become the top power play quarterback on a team boasting two of the league’s most lethal goal scorers, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. Look for Poti to return to his 2002-03 form, when he scored 48 points while with the New York Rangers.

Thrashers Sign Todd White to 4-Year Deal

The first major UFA signing came when the Atlanta Thrashers signed Todd White (formerly with the Minnesota Wild) to a four-year deal worth $9.5 million. The price for White (around $2.125 million/year) is about what is expected, and the playmaking center could see his offensive production rise dramatically if he’s paired with Ilya Kovalchuk and/or Marian Hossa.

Sharks Sign Thornton to 3-Year Extension

The San Jose Sharks have signed first line center Joe Thornton to a three-year contract extension that will pay him $21.6 million. Getting the Hart Trophy winner locked up to a three-year deal gives the Sharks some nice stability and continuity, which could help them pursue top talent this summer. And given that there was rampant speculation that Scott Gomez and Daniel Briere could command contracts worth $8 million/year, it seems far likely that the market has been corrected a bit by this (and the Iginla) signing, making Sharks GM Doug Wilson’s task quite a bit easier.

Flames Re-Sign Iginla to 4-Year Deal

Jarome Iginla is clearly not concerned about whether or not he’ll get along with new Flames head coach Mike Keenan. At the dawn of this summer’s free agent signing period, Iginla inked a four-year, $28 million extension with the Flames, making it ever more likely that Calgary will be the only NHL team for which he plays. The signing should give GM Darryl Sutter some valuable security as he pursues free agents this summer, because he can now address the team’s needs without worrying about losing Iginla next summer.

Bruins Acquire Fernandez from Wild

The Boston Bruins have acquired goaltender Manny Fernandez from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for mid-level forward prospect Petr Kalus and a fourth round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. For the Wild, the deal was a simple salary dump, as they are quite comfortable leaving their goaltending in the hands of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding. The Bruins are now rumored to be shopping forward Glen Murray and goalie Hannu Toivonen, with the Oilers the most likely destination.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Comments are closed.

Free Agent Frenzy 2007

Prior to the 2004-05 lockout, signing a high-profile free agent rarely, if ever, delivered a return commensurate with the expenditure. Players didn’t qualify for unrestricted free agency until they turned 31 and, in general, those allowed to test the open market had already been deemed expendable on some level by their previous team.

For one obvious example, the New Jersey Devils saw a number of key players exit via free agency following their Cup victory in 2000, most prominently Alexander Mogilny (summer of 2001) and Bobby Holik (summer of 2002). But because they retained their most critical players, the Devils were able to survive those losses and win the Stanley Cup in 2003.

In the post-lockout salary cap-driven NHL, however, free agency has taken on an entirely new meaning. Players qualify at age 27 at the oldest, and in some cases as young as age 25 (if they’ve completed seven seasons’ duty at the NHL level). With teams restricted in what they’re allowed to spend, retaining more than two or three high-priced stars becomes nearly impossible. And choosing the wrong stars—at the wrong positions—can prove to be absolutely disastrous.

Indeed, the Tampa Bay Lightning made the mistake of investing big in three forwards (Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Brad Richards). And as a result, they lack the financial resources needed to upgrade their blue line and goaltending, making it highly unlikely that they’ll repeat their 2004 Cup-winning success any time soon. Even if that star-studded trio plays upwards of 25 minutes per night (a truly exhausting workload), there is nothing they can possibly do to solve the Lightning’s troubles in the defensive zone.

In sharp contrast, the Anaheim Ducks were invested in three stars of their own this past season: Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. But the difference was this: Niedermayer and Pronger averaged close to 30 minutes per game on the blue line, each taking up nearly one-fourth of the total ice time alloted to Ducks defensemen, while Giguere, the starting netminder, plays the full 60 minutes. So from a dollars-to-minutes perspective, the Ducks’ investment was far wiser, especially given the emergence of inexpensive young forwards Andy McDonald, Chris Kunitz, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Dustin Penner.

The most prominent free agents available this summer are the forwards, led by Scott Gomez (New Jersey Devils), Ryan Smyth (New York Islanders), Michael Nylander (New York Rangers), Daniel Briere and Chris Drury (Buffalo Sabres). The goalie class is aged and/or weak now that Giguere has re-upped with the Ducks (four years, $24 million), and on the blue line, only two defensemen stand to receive large offers, Sheldon Souray (Montreal Canadiens) and Brian Rafalski (New Jersey Devils).

Here’s a look at what the top free agents have to offer, and where they’re most likely to end up (current team in parentheses)…

FORWARDS

Scott Gomez, C (New Jersey Devils): Probably the most dynamic free agent available, the 27-year-old Gomez boasts a highly coveted combination of speed and skill. He was somewhat shackled by the Devils’ defense-first system, and could deliver a monster season in the right environment. But in order to him to maximize his potential, he needs to be on a club with wingers who can keep up with him and, preferably, another scoring line to deflect some of the pressure. If the New York Rangers can land Gomez and retain Michael Nylander, it would give them two incredibly potent scoring lines, something they sorely lacked last season.
Predicted Destination: New York Rangers
Predicted Salary: $6.5 million

Ryan Smyth, LW (New York Islanders): A gritty winger who is absolutely fearless in the corners and in front of the net, Smyth immediately improves the power play wherever he goes. “Captain Canada,” so nicknamed for his willingness to represent his country at nearly every international tournament, put together one of the finest seasons of his career in 2006-07, finishing with 36 goals and 68 points. The Islanders desperately want to keep him in the fold, but time is quickly running out before he’ll be unleashed on the open market. As for potential destinations, the Red Wings, Ducks, Rangers, Flyers, and Flames can all be expected to bid for his services, but the winning bid will likely come from the Maple Leafs, who are desperate to return to the postseason after a two-year absence.
Predicted Destination: Toronto Maple Leafs
Predicted Salary: $6 million

Chris Drury, C/RW (Buffalo Sabres): As reported by James Murphy, Sharks forward Mike Grier is campaigning hard to get his good friend to join him in San Jose. The Sharks had the talent—but not the moxie—needed to take down the Red Wings in the playoffs this year, and Drury’s winning attitude would go a long way towards altering the Sharks’ locker room culture in a positive way. There has been much speculation that signing Drury would mean the end of Patrick Marleau’s time in San Jose, but that’s not necessarily true. The versatile Drury can play both center and wing, and because the Sharks have a plethora of young talent filling roles throughout their lineup, they have the resources to afford Drury, Marleau, and Joe Thornton in 2007-08. Both Marleau and Thornton are due to become UFAs in the summer of 2008, and the most likely scenario is that Thornton will be retained and Marleau will depart as a UFA… hopefully (where the Sharks are concerned) after a Cup victory.
Predicted Destination: San Jose Sharks
Predicted Salary: $5.5 million

Daniel Briere, C (Buffalo Sabres): The post-lockout NHL is tailor-made for Briere, who would provide the Flyers’ offense with a huge boost. Given the speed of their rebuilding effort and the additions of defenseman Kimmo Timonen and goaltender Martin Biron, the most likely place for GM Paul Holmgren to focus is up front. Briere is friends with Biron from their days with the Sabres, while Gomez is likely to be seduced by the bright lights of Broadway. And as a result, the diminutive Briere is probably going to be the Flyers’ best available option for a huge upgrade down the middle.
Predicted Destination: Philadelphia Flyers
Predicted Salary: $6.5 million

Peter Forsberg, C (Nashville Predators): Forsberg’s seductive potential has lost its luster after a litany of injury-plagued seasons, and now the only destinations that make sense for him are those where he’s a luxury rather than a necessity. On the Red Wings, surrounded by a plethora of stellar Swedes, Forsberg would fit right into Robert Lang’s spot. And with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk more than capable of anchoring the top two lines on their own, Forsberg’s presence would be a blessing for whenever he’s able to suit up. And from Foppa’s perspective, the Red Wings—expected to ride Dominik Hasek for one more season—represent his best opportunity to win one more Cup before calling it quits.
Predicted Destination: Detroit Red Wings
Predicted Salary: $2.5 million plus games-played incentives

Paul Kariya, LW (Nashville Predators): Teemu Selanne got to win a Cup with the Ducks this season, and now it’s time for the franchise’s all-time most popular player to try to come back and do the same. Kariya still boasts tremendous speed and playmaking ability, and if Selanne and/or Niedermayer retires, he would be an excellent option to fill some gaps. Not only could he replace Selanne’s offense up front on the top line, but he could also take Niedermayer’s spot on the point of the power play. It is also still possible, with the cap rising, that Kariya could join the Ducks even if Selanne and Niedermayer both return. But he’d have to accept a one-year deal, because the Ducks’ top priority moving forward must be to retain the likes of Getzlaf, Perry, and McDonald.
Predicted Destination: Anaheim Ducks
Predicted Salary: $4 million

Michael Nylander, C (New York Rangers): Nylander’s former agent, Paul Theofanous, had reportedly agreed to a Rangers-friendly contract extension with the first-line pivot, but Nylander balked at the deal and solicited new representation. New agent Mike Gillis isn’t likely to accept anything less than market value for his client, but that’s where things get interesting. It’s quite conceivable that Nylander’s value is maximized when he’s playing alongside Jaromir Jagr—the 34-year-old Swede has never been better than over the past two seasons—and if other teams note that, the Rangers could still get him back at a relatively discounted price as a result.
Predicted Destination: New York Rangers
Predicted Salary: $4.2 million

Brendan Shanahan, LW/RW (New York Rangers)
Predicted Destination: New York Rangers
Predicted Salary: $2.5 million

Jason Blake, LW (New York Islanders)
Predicted Destination: New York Islanders
Predicted Salary: $3 million

Alexei Yashin, C (New York Islanders)
Predicted Destination: Washington Capitals
Predicted Salary: $3 million

Bill Guerin, RW (San Jose Sharks)
Predicted Destination: Boston Bruins
Predicted Salary: $2.5 million

Robert Lang, C (Detroit Red Wings)
Predicted Destination: New York Islanders
Predicted Salary: $2 million

Todd Bertuzzi, RW (Detroit Red Wings)
Predicted Destination: Detroit Red Wings
Predicted Salary: $2 million

Keith Tkachuk, LW (Atlanta Thrashers)
Predicted Destination: St. Louis Blues
Predicted Salary: $2.5 million

Michael Peca, C (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Predicted Destination: New York Islanders
Predicted Salary: $2 million

Eric Lindros, C (Dallas Stars)
Predicted Destination: Los Angeles Kings
Predicted Salary: $1.5 million

Ladislav Nagy, LW (Dallas Stars)
Predicted Destination: Vancouver Canucks
Predicted Salary: $2.5 million

Petr Sykora, C/RW (Edmonton Oilers)
Predicted Destination: New Jersey Devils
Predicted Salary: $2 million

Michal Handzus, C/RW (Chicago Blackhawks)
Predicted Destination: Chicago Blackhawks
Predicted Salary: $1.8 million

Anson Carter, RW (Carolina Hurricanes)
Predicted Destination: Vancouver Canucks
Predicted Salary: $1.5 million

DEFENSE

Sheldon Souray (Montreal Canadiens): A hard-hitting rearguard with one of the NHL’s most lethal slap shots, Souray (26 goals) should generate plenty of interest across the league. But in order to maximize his value, Souray (a minus-28 in 2006-07) must be paired with a mobile defenseman who can cover for his lack of skating ability and his tendency to get caught out of position. In addition, it’s worth noting that Souray was most effective when lining up his bazooka-like shot from the right point on the Habs’ power play. If he isn’t given the same role with his new team, his value will be dramatically diminished.
Predicted Destination: Anaheim Ducks (if Niedermayer retires), Colorado Avalanche (if not)
Predicted Salary: $4.5 million

Brian Rafalski (New Jersey Devils): A smooth-skating blueliner with excellent puckmoving skills, Rafalski is a top-tier power play quarterback who hasn’t really gotten the respect he’s deserved in New Jersey. Should he test the open market, the most interesting potential destination is Boston, where he’d be the ideal fit alongside Zdeno Chara. With Rafalski running the power play from the left point—and with Chara’s shot from the right point a weapon comparable to Souray’s—the Bruins would become absolutely lethal with the man advantage. And just as importantly, having Rafalski available to carry the puck up ice would allow Chara to focus on his strengths (strong positional play in the defensive zone, cannon-like shot from the point).
Predicted Destination: Boston Bruins
Predicted Salary: $4.2 million

Roman Hamrlik (Calgary Flames)
Predicted Destination: New Jersey Devils
Predicted Salary: $2.75 million

Brad Stuart (Calgary Flames)
Predicted Destination: San Jose Sharks
Predicted Salary: $3 million

Mathieu Schneider (Detroit Red Wings)
Predicted Destination: New York Islanders
Predicted Salary: $3 million

Tom Preissing (Ottawa Senators)
Predicted Destination: New Jersey Devils
Predicted Salary: $2 million

Tom Poti (New York Islanders)
Predicted Destination: Boston Bruins
Predicted Salary: $2 million

Bryan Berard (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Predicted Destination: Toronto Maple Leafs
Predicted Salary: $1.5 million

GOALIES

Curtis Joseph (Phoenix Coyotes)
Predicted Destination: San Jose Sharks
Predicted Salary: $1.5 million

Ed Belfour (Florida Panthers)
Predicted Destination: None (retires)
Predicted Salary: N/A

Robert Esche (Philadelphia Flyers)
Predicted Destination: Tampa Bay Lightning
Predicted Salary: $1.5 million

Jocelyn Thibault (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Predicted Destination: Pittsburgh Penguins
Predicted Salary: $1 million

Kevin Weekes (New York Rangers)
Predicted Destination: Nashville Predators
Predicted Salary: $1 million

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply