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Thursday, June 26, 2008

July 1 Free Agent Primer

The National Hockey League free agent class of 2008 may not feature as many primetime stars as last year (Daniel Briere, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury) but it still boasts a number of impact players who have the ability to significantly change the complexion of a team. There is a multitude of free agents looking for new contracts this off-season (over 300) as many teams have already bought out players (Darcy Tucker, Andrew Raycroft, Ray Emery) to create room in their salary structures.

The Free Agent madness begins on July 1 this year, the first date that teams may sign unqualified players for the upcoming 2008'09 season. There are two types of free agents: unrestricted and restricted. Unrestricted free agents are players that can shop themselves on the open market and who are 27 years old or have played seven years in the NHL. The 2008 benchmark remains in place for the life of the current Collective Bargaining agreement. Under the old system, players did not qualify for the open market until the age of 31. (source: http://proicehockey.about.com/od/thenewnhl/a/salary_cap_expl_2.htm)

Restricted free agents are players who are no longer consider "entry-level" but do not qualify as unrestricted free agents become restricted free agents when their contracts expire. (source: http://proicehockey.about.com/od/thenewnhl/a/salary_cap_expl_2.htm)

To get you ready for July 1, Illegal Curve previews the Top 10 Free Agents (Unrestricted and Restricted) available this summer.

1. Mats Sundin (2007'08 Team: Toronto Maple Leafs) UFA

2007'08 Stats: 74 Games Played, 32 goals, 46 assists, 78 points, 78 penalty minutes, +17

Potential suitors: Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs.

What Sundin Brings: A tireless leader who has excelled offensively at both the National and International level, Sundin can run your power play and score crafty goals off the rush. At 37 years old and with 555 regular season goals, Sundin can instantly make a good team great. Sundin has played 13 years with the Maple Leafs but will look to sign with a contender this summer as he may only have two years left in his Hall of Fame career.

2. Marian Hossa (2007'08 Team: Pittsburgh Penguins and Atlanta Thrashers) UFA

2007'08 Stats: 72 games played, 29 goals, 37 assists, 66 points, 36 penalty minutes, -14

Potential suitors: New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins.

What Hossa Brings: Hossa is an extremely strong skater who has some of the best hands in the entire National Hockey League. Hossa displays patience and confidence with the puck and plays well with elite-level NHL talent. Although Hossa only had 66 points during the 2007'08 regular season (after averaging 96 points with Atlanta the previous two seasons), it was his 26 point performance for Pittsburgh during this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs that solidified him as a bonafide superstar. Look for Hossa to sign a long-term contract with an Eastern Conference team.

3. Brian Campbell (2007'08 Team: Buffalo Sabres and San Jose Sharks) UFA

2007'08 Stats: 83 Games Played (Buf/SJ), 8 goals, 54 assists, 62 points, 20 penalty minutes, +8

Potential suitors: Chicago Blackhawks, Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, San Jose Sharks.

What Campbell Brings: A high-flying, puck-moving defenseman who has slowly matured into one of the best offensive rearguards in the game. Some critics thought Campbell was pretty shaky defensively for the Sharks against the Stars during this year's Western Conference Semifinals, but he is nonethless a valuable defenseman on the power play, and at even-strength.

Campbell will attract a lot of interest from a number of teams because of his vision and first-pass out of the defensive zone.

4. Ryan Malone (2007'08 Team: Pittsburgh Penguins) UFA

2007'08 Stats: 77 games played, 27 goals, 24 assists, 54 points, 103 penalty minutes, +14

Potential suitors: Columbus Blue Jackets, Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers.

What Malone Brings: Malone was an under-the-radar player in the NHL until he proved that he could skate alongside 18-year-old Sidney Crosby three seasons ago, but he is about to cash-in big time with a NHL club. The former St.Cloud State standout had 16 points in 20 games for Pittsburgh during this years playoffs and was a true hockey warrior. Malone took pucks to the face, dropped down to block shots and displayed power forward physicality. Malone is most dangerous in front of the net and along the boards and is an excellent complementary player. At 6'4'', 225 lbs, Malone is a genetic specimen. The Columbus Jackets have shown a great deal of interest in the Pittsburgh native.

5. Brian Rolston (2007'08 Team: Minnesota Wild) UFA

2007'08 Stats: 81 games played, 31 goals, 28 assists, 59 points, 53 penalty minutes, -1

Potential suitors: Vancouver Canucks, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets.

What Rolston brings: Rolston had a substandard season by his own admission last year but still managed to score over 30 goals for the fourth time in his career. The American veteran of four NHL teams (Minnesota, Boston, Colorado, New Jersey) has one of the best one-timers in the game and can score goals in bunches. At 35 years of age, Rolston is most likely looking for a two-year or three-year contract with a Western Conference contender.

6. Valtteri Filppula (2007'08 team: Detroit Red Wings) RFA

2007'08 Stats: 78 games played, 19 goals, 17 assists, 36 games, 28 penalty minutes, +16

Potential suitors: Anaheim Ducks,San Jose Sharks, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets.

What Filppula brings: Even though you might think that I have Filpuula ranked too high as a top Free Agent (The Hockey News had him ranked the 41st best free agent available in their recent issue), the flying Finn has established himself as a burgeoning talent in the National Hockey League. Filppula had 11 points in 22 games for the Red Wings during this years Stanley Cup Playoffs and has world-class speed and skill. At 24 years old, Filppula may only be a season or two away from hitting 70 points.

7. Mike Green (2007'08 Team: Washington Capitals) RFA

2007'08 Stats: 82 games played, 18 goals, 38 assists, 56 points, 62 PIM, +6

Potential suitors: New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals

What Green Brings: Green had more goals (18) than any other defenseman during the 2007'08 season and has shown immense vision and shooting ability at the rearguard position. Green had seven points in seven games for the Caps during the playoffs and showed maturity beyond his years playing with vets Tom Poti and Brian Pothier. Green could easily be higher on this list, but he is a restricted free agent who is expected to stay with Washington. The 2004 1st Round pick is so good that you may see a team throw $50-$60 million at him via the offer sheet. It won't matter because Caps Owner Ted Leonsis will match it.

8. Sean Avery (2007'08 Team: New York Rangers) UFA

2007'08 Stats: 57 games played, 15 goals, 18 assists, 33 points, 154 penalty minutes, +6

Potential suitors: New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Vancouver Canucks, New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning.

What Avery Brings: Grit. And a whole lot of it. Not since the days of Claude Lemieux have we seen a superpest who can also put the puck in the net. Avery can sometimes (let's be honest, often times) be a negative distraction to his team through his selfish antics, but he is the type of player that teammates love to have on their team and opposition teams love to hate. Avery was indeed direspectful to Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils during the First Round of the playoffs but he was still effective. He will be offered a lucrative contract by a willing team because he has a huge heart and can get under the skin of the game's best stars.

9. Wade Redden (2007'08 Team: Ottawa Senators) UFA

2007'08 Stats: 80 games played, 6 goals, 32 assists, 38 points, 60 penalty minutes, +11

Potential suitors: Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Florida Panthers, San Jose Sharks.

What Redden brings: Much has been said about Redden's decreasing offensive totals over the last two years, but he is still a supremely talented NHL defenseman. He may not score 50 points again but at the age of 31, he should by no means be considered in the twilight of his career. Redden struggled in Ottawa for a myriad of reasons and could really energize his career by playing in front of a bonafide NHL goalie, like say, Evgeni Nabokov. Redden will get a lot of interest from NHL clubs because he is still a savvy defenseman who brings instant respectability to a defense corps.

10. Mark Streit (2007'08 Team: Montreal Canadiens) UFA

2007'08 Stats: 81 games played, 13 goals, 49 assists, 62 points, 28 penalty minutes, -6

Potential suitors: Atlanta Thrashers, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks

What Streit brings: Streit,30, is primarily used as a defenseman but is versatile enough to play the forward wing position. Streit is a smooth skater who brings a wealth of Swiss League experience to the North American game. Streit is 6 feet tall but plays like a much smaller man. He is shifty and possesses the type of individual skill that is so valuable in today's fast paced game. Streit may be one of the most underrated players in the league as was actually a huge factor in Montreal's success this year. Streit will get a lot of attention from Western Conference teams looking for a power play quarterback.

*** Several players were excluded from this list because they had already signed- or were in the process of signing- qualifying others with their NHL clubs. These players included: Shea Weber, Corey Perry, Dan Ellis, Jeff Carter and Jay Bouwmeester.

For Illegal Curve, I'm Ezra Ginsburg.

Ballhype: hype it up!


dave m said...

Interesting comments however you've gotta think that Campell is the #1 FA on the market. He is long term while Sundin & Hossa are only going to be short term solutions. (Rangers anyone??)

Eetu said...

Interesting RFA choices. I don't think that Filppula ranks that high, though. He has made it very clear that staying in Detroit is not a money issue.

Rocky said...

Wendy Redden needs to go far away. Reunited with Martin in FLA perhaps? Especially if Bouwmeester wants out this could make sense.

Steve Werier said...

I'm amazed how little relative hype Mike Green is getting from major pundits. After watching him play regularly during the playoffs-worlds stretch, I think a strong case can be made that he is as good if not better than Campbell [and with more upside given his youth].

Also - going out on a bigger limb here - I think Rolston would be more valuable to a playoff-calibre team than either Sundin or Hossa given his two-way and powerplay abilities.

I also think Ezzy deserves a Pulitzer.

Dan Vadeboncoeur said...

Nice post Ez. Better than those jokers at TSN. I agree for the most part and can't wait to see my Oilers make a surprise play for Sundin.