Monday, June 30, 2008

Hockey Free Agent Predictions

Yes, I know what you're thinking: "Christ Yinzer, Not Another Hockey Post!" Like I said, it never ends. Right now we are on the eve of one of hockey fans two christmases: free agency (the other being the trade deadline if you dont know). Where we get to see what players our teams overpaid for, lost for nothing and in general get worked up because we think our rivals improved while we stood by and did crap. But regardless when the clock strikes noon tomorrow us hockey fans will be filled with bliss as all the big names sign within the first few hours, then are forced to two months of agony as nothing happens. But enough of that.

With free agency fast approaching some big names will be heading to the market. Like always there will be bidding wars and many will get more than they are actually worth, but that’s supply and demand for you. But let’s take a look of who is available, what their new salary may be and where they may go. For the sake of brevity (and many internet problems over the last week) I am only going to list the most well known players.

PS- for you Rangers fans, if you havent figured it out yet, dont listen to Larry Brooks. He is one of the most non-respectable hockey writers in the media and hockey fans cant stand him. Of course, if you want to believe the Rangers are in fact signing every name free agent to mega deals without going over the cap somehow, feel free to, but you'll be dissapointed.

The crop of forwards is pretty good, but it’s aging. Many are getting past their prime in their mid thirties which is why their respective teams are letting them hit the market. Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t good players to be had. I guess I should be thanking Tampa Bay and its new owners some for making this a bit easier for me by dealing for Malone and signing him (really overpaying in the process) and Rolston who is most likely going to be signed.

Marian Hossa
Estimated Yearly Contract: $7.5
Predicted Destination: Pittsburgh Penguins
Even though all signs point to him leaving, I just have a feeling he is going to end up staying with his deadline team. Hossa seemed to enjoy Pittsburgh, and was close to winning the cup so it may be enough to keep him. Though with his brother being cut loose by Phoenix I won’t be surprised if Marian forces a package deal of him and his brother by whatever team comes calling. Call this one a gut feeling.

Mats Sundin
Estimated Yearly Contract: $6.0
Predicted Destination: Montreal Canadiens
Sundin and the Leafs are seeming more and more indifferent towards each other, and the fact they’ve let the Canadiens openly talk to him shows how little interest there seems to be left. It’s hard to blame Sundin as he has watched the past few months as the team has been completely dismantled. There seems to be quite a bit going on behind the scenes with the Canadiens and its not that far from Toronto where he has played his entire career.

Pavol Demitra
Estimated Yearly Contract: $3.25
Predicted Destination: Vancouver Canucks
Demitra was oft injured with the Wild, but he still managed to put up the points. If the Canucks let both Morrison and Naslund go, signing Demitra who can play either wing or center will help fill the void.

Markus Naslund
Estimated Yearly Contract: $3.5
Predicted Destination: Minnesota Wild
Naslund is winding down in his career, as evidenced by the Canucks not showing the kind of effort one would expect from their best player in the past decade. But the Canucks are looking elsewhere, and I think the Wild are going to want to try and offset the losses of Rolston and Demitra by signing Naslund. While not the point producer he was, he can still contribute and can stay healthy.

Brian Rolston
Estimated Yearly Contract: $4.0
Predicted Destination: Tampa Bay Lightning
Rolston has emerged as a leader and first line forward since arriving in Minnesota and was a boon for the team when Marian Gaborik went down with injury (again). But he and the Wild have different ideas of the monetary compensation of those qualities. He was traded to Tampa Bay over the weekend and given the new owners willingness to spend is going to sign with the team with a figure to his liking.

Brendan Morrison
Estimated Yearly Contract: $3.5
Predicted Destination: Atlanta Thrashers
Its not a good market for scoring centers under the age of 33 this year, and Morrison is one of the few. Though more defensive than offensive he is capable of adding some offense though a bit streaky. Atlanta needs a center for Kovulchuk and with the departure of Holik have the money already freed up to sign a key player. Morrison’s two way abilities will also help the defensive starved team.

Kristen Huselius
Estimated Yearly Contract: $4.25
Predicted Destination: Columbus Blue Jackets
Huselius has pretty much been run out of town the past two cities he played in, and to no coincidence Mike Keenan was their both times. Regardless he is entering the prime of his career after having a few good seasons. The Jackets really wanted Malone who was signed by Tampa and I think they still want a scoring winger who will be around for a while, so Huselius will be their man.

Jaromir Jagr
Estimated Yearly Contract: $5.5
Predicted Destination: New York Rangers
Jagr loves New York and he showed flashes of his dominant self during the playoffs. The two are fit for each other and I think they know it, which is why Jagr won’t be going anywhere. The deal may be incentive laden but Jagr needs to realize he isn’t getting top end salary from the NHL anymore.

Todd Bertuzzi
Estimated Yearly Contract: $3.5
Predicted Destination: New York Islanders
Bertuzzi will have always have a chip on his shoulder for the Moore incident and it will make teams reluctant to sign him. Being bought out by his biggest supporter in Brian Burke doesn’t help. Still he is a power forward. The Isles are looking for more firepower and need to get people to their team, not a favorite destination for free agents. I expect them to overpay Bertuzzi to land him, though after giving Fedotenko almost $3mm a year, it wont seem that bad.

Miroslav Satan
Estimated Yearly Contract: $2.25
Predicted Destination: Pittsburgh Penguins
With Malone gone and Hossa hitting the market the Pens desperately need a winger who can put the puck in the net. Yeah, Satan may not be that so much anymore, and he is pretty one dimensional, but at this point he will be cheap and all he has to do is take a pass from Crosby or Malkin. I see it being a late signing in free agency when the other big names are signed up, and our hopes for Satan playing for the Devils will be dashed yet again.

Radim Vrbata
Estimated Yearly Contract: $3.5
Predicted Destination: Vancouver Canucks
Vrbata had a career year in Phoenix and wants to see what he can get in free agency. But being a one year wonder thus far teams will be reluctant to sign him up to a large or long term deal. The Canucks are looking for more offense, and while they have the cap room for a big name if they let Naslund and Morrison walk, they’ll probably want depth more and I think Vrbata will be a target.

Niklas Hagman
Estimated Yearly Contract: $3.0
Predicted Destination: Boston Bruins
Hagman seems to have gotten lost in the mix of all the other free agents, but he is physical and can score 20 goals a year. Though flying under the radar he will be targeted by quite a few teams. I don’t think the Bruins can realistically fit Hossa into their cap like they want so they will go for someone who is more cap friendly, and Hagman will fit the bill.

Darcy Tucker
Estimated Yearly Contract: $3.0
Predicted Destination: Phoenix Coyotes
Though bought out gritty forwards who can score aren’t the most frequent things to hit the market. Though age may be catching up Tucker is well known throughout the league (for better or worse) and he will be sought after. Phoenix’s addition of Bryzgalov last season and Jokinen this season is making Phoenix a playoff contender. Plus the need to replace the departing Varbata is necessary.

Michael Ryder
Estimated Yearly Contract: $2.75
Predicted Destination: New Jersey Devils
Ryder’s stock has dropped the past year, it being particularly dismal as he was benched many times in both the regular season and playoffs. He put up 25 and back to back 30 goal seasons his first three years and that means he does have the talent. He won’t get a big pay day but he’ll get a payday. I’m sure Lou will love to throw a long term deal to get him at a slightly discounted price on the Devils.

Sean Avery
Estimated Yearly Contract: $3.75
Predicted Destination: New York Islanders
Avery is hated by most people, but can actually play if his antics aren’t getting in the way. Though an agitator first he can get you that key goal and that makes his value high. He isn’t worth what he is going to get, but someone will give it to him. And I think that someone is the Islanders who are looking for warm bodies.

The defensive crop this year is quite thin, with only two big names on the market in Campbell and Redden since the Avalanche resigned both Liles and Foote. Nothing against the remaining guys, but top pairing men they aren’t.

Brian Campbell
Estimated Yearly Contract: $6.5
Predicted Destination: New York Rangers
Campbell will more than likely be going to the highest bidder this year unless somehow the Sharks get him under contract in the next few days. The Rangers will be clearing plenty of space by letting guys go. They will want a stabilizing force on their blue line which is young and upcoming, and Sather has always been known to make the big splash.

Wade Redden
Estimated Yearly Contract: $5.5
Predicted Destination: San Jose Sharks
The past two years have been lackluster for the Sens blue liner, and it will cost him going into free agency. Despite that he is still reliable in both ends and will command top pairing money. If Campbell walks from the Sharks they will probably make Redden their first target (and it was rumored they were the ones trying to deal for him over the summer).

Mark Streit
Estimated Yearly Contract: $3.25
Predicted Destination: Philadelphia Flyers
There doesn’t seem to be much interest to resign Streit from the Canadiens so he will be hitting the market. There are teams looking for puck moving defensemen (Streit also played some forward) and as a mid-grade defenseman Streit will still get plenty of calls. Philly doesn’t have a whole lot of room but their inability to move the puck from the defense to the forwards let the Penguins pick them off in the Eastern Conference Finals. He is affordable and fits the Flyers needs.

Jason Smith
Estimated Yearly Contract: $3.0
Predicted Destination: Columbus Blue Jackets
Smith is being let go by the Flyers who don’t want to pay for the gritty defenseman who is wearing down, partly because they disagree on his value and partially because the Flyers don’t have much cap space. Still teams love a stay at home who hits, and Smith certainly does that. The Jackets need to get to the cap floor, plus are getting quite desperate to make the playoffs and I see them going after Smith is who much like Adam Foote that they dealt away at the deadline.

Ron Hainsey
Estimated Yearly Contract: $3.5
Predicted Destination: LA Kings
Since being claimed off waivers from Montreal Hainsey has developed into a steady blue liner. Nothing flashy but he gets the job done, and that was on a bad Columbus team. He managed to put up a good amount of points and is entering the prime of his career. LA Has cap space to spare and being under thirty they are willing to target him, especially after dealing Vishnovsky to the Oilers.

Brooks Orpik
Estimated Yearly Contract: $3.5
Predicted Destination: Pittsburgh Penguins
Orpik had a breakout year and was an unsung hero in the playoffs until the finals where he got noticed, and that always feeds the hype machine. A defender who is good in his own end, mobile and hits doesn’t come along often, so if he hits the market he is going to get a good payday. But I don’t see the Pens letting it go that far.

Brad Stuart
Estimated Yearly Contract: $3.0
Predicted Destination: Detroit Red Wings
After forgettable stings in Boston, Calgary and LA Stuart was dealt to the Wings at the deadline and was a factor in their winning the cup. I don’t think other teams will be as willing to sign him to a larger contract, not to mention he would be playing for the cup champions. I think he will hit the market, but go to Detroit when he sees the fields aren’t greener on the other side.

Michal Roszival
Estimated Yearly Contract: $3.5
Predicted Destination: New York Rangers
Roszival has developed into a steady blue liner since coming to the Rangers, being reliable in both ends. I don’t expect him to be going anywhere as he has been key for the Rangers and he knows it.

To put it simply, the free agent goalie pool sucks. Huet is the only capable starter amongst the group and the others are either aging starters no longer fit for the role or career backups. Don’t look for much to happen with goalies this off season.

Cristobal Huet
Estimated Yearly Contract: $4.25
Predicted Destination: Washington Capitals
I expect the Caps to bite the bullet and give Huet the money he is seeking as the goalie market is paper thin this year. If Huet were to hit the market he will be easily the most sought after. My guess then would be the Avs to pick him up as Budaj and Theodore were lackluster at best in the playoffs.

Olaf Kolzig
Estimated Yearly Contract: $1.5
Predicted Destination: Tampa Bay Lightning
Kolzig only has a few years left, and feeling spurned by the dealing for Huet has caused him to break from the only NHL team he has ever known. A starting role is pretty much out of the question at this point, but some team is going to be looking for an experienced backup. My guess is he will end up in Tampa where he will be a backup plan in case new goalie Mike Smith cant handle the spotlight, and it will give Karri Ramo another year to prepare for the jump to the NHL.

Jose Theodore
Estimated Yearly Contract: $2.5
Predicted Destination: Colorado Avalanche
Theodore will most likely be staying with the Avs, but at a much reduced rate. To be frank I think the only reason they are doing this is because the goalie market is so weak because in the playoffs Theodore just couldn’t get it done. Though him and the Avs aren’t talking, I think they will have little choice but to bring him back.

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