NHL free agent preview and predictions of the 2012 off season

Zach PariseMuch has been made of the 2012 Free Agent class being a very thin group, but that will not stop teams from spending big money on July 1st. The overpayments have already begun, headlined by the insane $5.25 million per year given to Denis Wideman. One cannot talk player movement without mentioning the very cap friendly 12 year deal given to Sidney Crosby, who was still a year away from the open market. This sets the stage for a wild free agent frenzy. Here is a look at where some of the top free agents could land.

Elite Group

1. Zach Parise- Resigns with New Jersey Devils

Parise is the prize of this year’s free agent class. He will be the target of teams such as the Rangers, Kings, and his current team the Devils and he will get money and term. Parise is a gifted goal scorer, hard worker, and great leader. What everyone wants. When push comes to shove, look for him to stay put and finish what they started.

2. Ryan Suter- Signs with the Pittsburgh Penguins

While overshadowed by partner Shea Weber, Suter is one of the top defenseman in the NHL and looking to get paid and win. The Penguins cleared a lot of money over the weekend and will outbid the Red Wings. And the 12 year Crosby deal will only makes this deal more likely.

3. Alex Semin- Signs with the Detroit Red Wings

Semin is the enigma of the NHL. All the talent in the world, but he does not the work ethic to maximize the talent. The Wings seem to get the most out of players and Semin meshed well with Datsyuk at the World Championships.

No Surprises Here

1. Temmu Selanne- Resigns with the Anahiem Ducks

No shocker here. The Finnish Flash will either resign or hang em up. He can still score with the best of them and likely loves playing in the uptempo Boudreau offense.

2. Olli Joikien- Resigns with Calgary Flames

Joikien could get paid big this offseason as maybe the top center avaliable. But, the has often struggled outside of Calgary and always seems to come back to the Saddledome. He enjoyed a resurgence last year and will stay where he is comfortable.

3. Shane Doan- Resigns with the Phoenix Coyotes

This one will be interesting, as it was announced that Doan would test the market and possibly could leave the only organization he has ever known. Doan can still score and his experience and leadership is what every team needs and he will get offers. In the end though, the Captain stays put.

Welcome to the Penthouse

1. PA Parenteau- Signs with the New York Rangers

Parenteau is a crafty winger who would look good in  just about anyones top 6. And he put the numbers up on Long Island, which means he might do better on a better team. PA has 25-40 potential and will cash in on the thin market. And the Rangers will foot the bill to add some more offense to their impressive lineup. Watch also for the Blues and Senators who could use some offensive punch.

2. Jason Garrison- Signs with the Detroit Red Wings

The Wings will target Suter but settle for Garrison. Garrison exploded onto the scene last season with the Panthers, scoring 16 goals (3rd after Karlsson and Weber), 9 of which were on the power play (2nd to Weber). While he is nowhere near the defender Lidstrom is (and who is really) but he can help replace his point production as he comes into his own.

Goal Scoring Help in the Top six.

1. Ray Whitney- Signs with the Detroit Red Wings

Another Wing signing. Detroit has the cap space and will pick up another veteran looking for a home. The difference is Whitney can still play and is a power play wizard hungry for another Cup late in his career. The Blackhawks, Penguins, and Capitals could also be interested, as well as the Coyotes.

2. Dustin Penner- Resigns with the Los Angeles Kings

Penner had a rough start to his career and has never really lived up to his lofty expectations. But he seems to have found a home in LA and really stepped up in the playoffs.

3. Mikael Samuelson- Signs with the Washington Capitals

With Semin gone, the Capitals will need a new winger for newly acquired Riberio. Samuelson has had durability issues, but when healthy he can score and could thrive with a skilled center, whether its Riberio or Nick Backstrom. McPhee is a fan of short deals for FA if possible, and with the injury history Samuelsson provides the best opportunity for that with a good chance of top 6 production.

4. Jiri Hudler- Signs with the St Louis Blues

Hudler had an incredibly successful return to the NHL in Detroit with 25 goals and 25 assist last year. He is an excellent option for a team needing offense and the Blues fit that bill.

5. Andre Kostitsyn- Resigns with the Nashville Predators

The Kostitsyn’s have been more of a headache than a help over their career, but Andre is a 20 goal guy who will play better with his brother now in town (Sergei is restricted). As long as they stay out of the organized crime scene in Nashville, two Kostitsyn’s are always better than one on the ice.

6. Jaromir Jagr- Signs with the Edmonton Oilers

This one is a shot in the dark. Edmonton is poised to finally become relevant this year with an extremely talented core of Hall, Eberle, Nugent Hopkins, and the newly drafted Nail Yakpov. Jagr wants top 6 minutes and cannot be guaranteed that in Philly. Jagr could provide offense and an example for the young stars in Edmonton. Mike Knuble could be another excellent fit in Edmonton.

Blueline Help

1. Matt Carle- Resigns with the Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers always look for help on the backline and Carle has been a steady balanced defenseman since his arrival from San Jose. The two sides have already started talking, so expect a deal to get done.

2. Bryan Allen- Signs with the Nashville Predators

Bryan Allen is one of the more underrated defenders in hockey. He does not provide a lot on offense, but is a solid defender. With the impending departure of Suter, the Predators will be quick to get a replacement. Allen will not provide the offense, but could be a good candidate to play with Weber.

3. Joe Corvo- Signs with the Florida Panthers

Arter losing Jason Garrison to a mega deal, the Panthers will need a shooter to replace him on the Power Play. Corvo is a defensive liability, but has one of the hardest shots in the league from the point. The Panthers success last year was dependent on the man advantage and Corvo will help offset the loss of Garrison a bit.

4. Sheldon Souray- Signs with the Washington Capitals

This one makes a lot of sense at the right price. Souray saw a rebirth last year as a viable defenseman in Dallas and is still a powerplay threat. The Capitals could use a replacement for Wideman, but this deal makes sense because of Dimitri Orlov. Souray was in Hershey when Orlov began his professional career and was vital to his early development. Reuniting them, in Orlov’s first year as a full time player, could really solidify the blueline in DC.

5. Bryce Salvador- Sign with the Anahiem Ducks

The Ducks are thin on the blueline and Salvador should cash in somewhat on his strong postseason. While not an offensive defenseman, he does have good offensive instincts, which is needed in Boudreau’s system. Rosival, Kuba, and Kubina are also options for the Ducks.

Goalies?

This Free Agent class is absurdly thin in goaltending. In fact, one can argue that with the top available being Dwayne Roloson, Dan Ellis, and Antero Nittymaki that there are little to no starter quality goalies on the market. As a result, most teams have addressed their needs through trades, with Tomas Vokoun, Andres Lindback, and Sergei Bobrovsky being moved in recent days. Look for the last big trade to be Roberto Luongo, who will end up in Florida or Toronto.

And news broke Friday morning that Martin Broudeur is going to go to free agency if no deal is in place by Sunday. Most did not even consider him available, yet the chances he leaves New Jersey is slim to none.

Trades

The thin class has made trading a bigger possibility this offseason than normal with the likes of Jordan Staal, Mike Riberio, and the goalies already being dealt. Look for Rick Nash, Luongo, and possibly Bobby Ryan to be dealt over the next week or so.

Penguins, Capitals win the NHL Draft; Columbus the big loser

NHL Draft Class 2012With the CBA looming, the Pittsburgh Penguins both hosted and were maybe the biggest player at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Here are some of the biggest winners and losers of the 2012 NHL Draft.

Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins
Penguin’s GM Ray Shero continues to prove he is one of the best in the business. For years now, the Penguins have had the greatest luxury in hockey, a 2nd (or even 1st) line center playing on the 3rd line in Jordan Staal. News broke just before the draft that Staal had turned down a 10 year contract in Pittsburgh and the race was on to try to land the center in light of a thin free agent class. Now, Shero could have kept Staal for the upcoming season, which many thought was possible given his skill and the Penguins ambitions for a Stanley Cup. The only way Shero would make the deal is if it did not hurt those ambitions. And despite knowing he would be available next offseason, Shero found a buyer, moving Staal to Carolina to join his brother Eric for center Brandon Sutter, prospect Brian Dumoulin, and the 8th overall pick in the draft, an extremely impressive haul for a player who wanted out. While Sutter is not as gifted offensively as Staal, he is arguably better defensively and has not yet reached his potential as an offensive player (and it’s not as if the Pens are short on talent down the middle). He is a more true 3rd line center than Staal and really creates balance in the Penguins offensive attack. The Penguins used the 8th pick on defenseman Derrick Pouliot (14th ranked North American skater and 8th best defenseman) before somehow adding the 4th highest rated North American defenseman Olli Maatta at 22. That’s two top 8 North American defenseman in a draft where almost everyone picked defenseman. And to top it off, Shero moved the overpaid Zybnek Michalek back to the Coyotes, clearing cap space for a run at Ryan Suter. An impressive weekend for the host Pens.

Loser: Columbus Blue Jackets
If Shero is the best, Scott Howson is one of the worst. While their 2nd pick Ryan Murray is one of the few NHL ready prospects in the draft, Howson reported turned down EVERY ISLANDER PICK, including the 4th overall pick, for the 2nd pick. While the immediate dropoff from Murray to the 4th pick (Griffin Reinhard) is big, it will not be in the longterm. And the Jackets are supposedly trying to rebuild. An addition 6 draft picks could have moved that rebuild up a year. Howson’s decision defies logic. And this was after he traded 3 picks (2 this year including a 2nd rounder) to the Flyers for the wildly inconsistent Sergi Bobrovsky. Top that off with there still being no resolution to the Rick Nash saga and it was not a good weekend for the Blue Jackets.

Winner: Washington Capitals
Capitals GM George McPhee made his most aggressive move yet to fill one of his teams biggest needs when he traded prospect Cody Eakin and a 2nd round pick for center Mike Riberio. For the last 5 years the Caps have been searching for a legitimate 2nd line center and Riberio is the most skilled player to try to fill the role yet. He routinely tops the 50 assist 70 point mark and should flourish playing either with Ovechkin or on the 2nd line with lesser defenders. He also has a tough streak for being such a skilled player and is great in the shootout. Huge improvement. And the cost was low for a player of Riberio’s caliber as Eakin projects as a 3rd line center and they kept both their 1st round picks. And it is good that they did, since the top rated European skater Filip Forsberg fell into McPhee’s lap at number 11 due to the run on defenders early. With the impending departure of Semin and the uncertainly surrounding Kuznetsov, the big and mature for his age goal scorer with one of the hardest shots in the draft will prove valuable. They later added the toughest player in the draft in Thomas Wilson, which is another type of players the Capitals routinely are looking to trade or sign. All in all a solid weekend for the Capitals.

Loser: Detroit Red Wings
Thee Wings do not do much wrong, but with an old roster and needing to replace Lidstrom, the weekend could have gone better. The Wings again had no 1st round pick as they traded it for Kyle Quincey and had a new horse enter the race for Suter (Penguins). The Red Wings always find late round gems, but someday they are going to need a high draft pick and in a deep draft, this would have been the year to have that pick.

Other Notables:
Despite rumors to the contrary, the Oilers made the right choice at the top, selecting the ultra talented Nail Yakapov. Yakapov will made an immediate impact and unlike other Russians is Canadian trained and is unlikely to ever consider the KHL.- The Bruins also did well, adding the best goalie on the board, Malcom Subban, to replace Thomas down the road. Subban is the brother of Canadien defenseman PK, which will only add more intrigue to one of the most heated rivalries in hockey.- Interesting trade between the Flyers and Leafs went down after the draft with James Van ReimsDyk moving North for Luke Schenn. Nice move by Burke as JVR should thrive with more ice time.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz.  He can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com.

 

NHL Atlantic Division: Offseason checklist

With the NHL Entry Draft and NHL free agency not too far away, we here at Daily Shootout have set up an offseason checklist for each team, organized by division. Today we look at the Atlantic Division.

New York Rangers
1) Sign a backup goalie: Martin Biron, who is the current backup on Broadway, is a free agent on July 1st and the hole needs to be filled. Granted, Biron is 34 years old, which in hockey terms is slightly getting up there in age, he was still able to get 12-6-2 in 21 games last season with the Rangers as Henrik Lundqvist backup. There are a number of goalies available in free agency this summer, with the big names being the likes of Dwayne Roloson, Martin Brodeur, Cristobal Huet, and so on. If the Rangers really want to get the best bang for their buck for a reliable backup, they can either re-sign Biron or try looking into somebody like an Alex Auld, Johan Hedberg or Scott Clemenson. Bottom line is they need a backup for King Henrik and they have about $21 million in cap space to work with.
2) Get rid of Sean Avery: Avery has been nothing but a thorn in the sides of everybody in the NHL from team management all the way down to his own teammates. Nobody in the Rangers organization, it seems, really wants anything to do with this guy who, last season, played in only 15 games. With Avery let go they cut over $3 million off the payroll.
3) Re-sign the role players: Rangers already have locked in their major players like Lundqvist, Richards, Gaborik and so on. Three of their top four defensemen are signed through next season. Michael Del Zotto is the lone top D-Man who needs to be re-signed on Broadway as he is hitting restricted free agency. Once they lock him in everybody else should fall in. I would also consider watching the Rangers make a strong run at picking up Zach Parise, when he hits the market July 1. It won’t surprise me none, as the Rangers have done stuff like this in the past.