NHL Free Agents: Stats and Predictions for This Year's Top 15 Offseason Signings

Dave UngarCorrespondent IIIOctober 5, 2012

NHL Free Agents: Stats and Predictions for This Year's Top 15 Offseason Signings

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    Another day of this infuriating lockout has come and gone and, as reported by ESPN, the NHL has now canceled the first two weeks of the regular season.

    One of the most disappointing aspects of the lockout is that it is depriving hockey fans everywhere an opportunity to see how some new faces in some new places would have performed.

    There were many free agency signings this offseason, some bigger than others, but all of them having some impact upon the teams involved and, on a broader scale, the NHL as a whole.

    The Minnesota Wild were the big winners in free agency as they snatched probably the two most coveted prizes when they inked both Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to deals that are valued at more than $98 million over the next 13 years (ESPN).

    Were the Wild on the verge of being contenders for the Stanley Cup? Many believed so.

    Other signings were equally interesting, albeit less splashy than the Parise/Suter signing.

    For instance, there was Alexander Semin being bypassed by any number of teams and then finally signing a one-year deal to play for the Carolina Hurricanes for $7 million (NHL.com).

    Was Semin going to get the last laugh on his former teammates in Washington by leading the Hurricanes to the Southeast Division title? Perhaps.

    There were rumors that Shane Doan might be interested in leaving Phoenix but in the end, the longtime captain of the Coyotes stayed put (azcentral.com).

    There were many other moves made that had all sorts of implications for the season—a season that might not ever come to pass.

    How might things have turned out if the season had started on time? Even though it won't, what might we have expected from some of the big free agent signings of the offseason?

    In this article, let's take a look at the top 15 free agent signings of the offseason and try to predict how they would have done and what their stats might have looked like.

15. Justin Schultz—Edmonton Oilers

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    Justin Schultz is one of the more mysterious free agent signings of the offseason.

    Back in 2008, he was highly regarded, and he had all the potential to be a Top Four defenseman. He was so highly regarded that the Anaheim Ducks used the 43rd pick in the 2008 NHL draft and drafted Schultz.

    Four years later, Schultz signed an entry-level contract with the Edmonton Oilers (The Canadian Press) having never played a single minute for the Ducks—or anywhere else in the NHL for that matter. He played for the University of Wisconsin the past three years, earning his unrestricted free agent status in the process.

    As reported by The Canadian Press, Schultz's lack of experience was not scaring anyone away as 26 teams were in the hunt to try to secure his services, even before free agency actually opened up.

    In the end, Schultz signed with Edmonton, continuing the youth movement of the Oilers and adding some much needed depth and talent to Edmonton's blue line. The Oilers had been stockpiling offensive studs and potential superstars the past three drafts by selecting Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.

    Signing Schultz shows the Oilers have not completely neglected the defensive side of the puck.

    There is no doubt that Schultz, at the age of 22, is NHL-ready. His three seasons at Wisconsin gave him valuable experience that will come in handy.

    Of course, it is very difficult to forecast how Schultz might perform as he has no track record to speak of at the NHL level.

    I believe Schultz will play, and play a lot this season. I believe he will gradually develop the skill set necessary to be a solid two-way defender. He is certainly going to have lots of opportunities to show what he can do as the Oilers begin to transition into a very good team.

    What many might not be aware of is that Schultz, while at Wisconsin, won the WCHA's Defensive Player of the Year award two years in a row (uwbadgers.com). He is a very accomplished defender, and I expect him to be a huge asset for the Oilers this season.

    Here are some predictions for stats for Justin Schultz:

    Goals—16

    Assists—30

    Points—46

    Power Play Goals—4

    Game-Winning Goals—1

14. Filip Kuba—Florida Panthers

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    The Florida Panthers were a surprise team last season as they dethroned the Washington Capitals to become the Southeast division champions and earn their first playoff berth in 12 years.

    But as soon as the Panthers were eliminated by the eventual Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils, they knew that the winds of change would soon blow through Miami.

    One of the biggest changes they knew would be coming was the anticipated loss of defenseman Jason Garrison.

    Losing Garrison was going to be a blow. He had just come off his best season ever during the 2011-2012 campaign.

    So the Panthers made a very shrewd move by signing veteran defender Filip Kuba to a two-year, $8 million contract (NHL.com).

    For a team that seems to be on the rise, this is a great signing that should really solidify the Panthers blue line.

    This will be Kuba's 14th season in the NHL, and as defensemen go, he is as solid as they come.

    At 6'4" and 224 pounds, he is a big body who is not moved easily, and he does not yield the zone very easily at all.

    He is certainly not going to frighten anyone with his goal scoring ability—or lack thereof, actually—but he is a very good player on the power play who chews up quite a lot of ice time.

    In Ottawa last season, Kuba had a turnaround season of sorts. He had the second most assists of his career (26), completely reversed his plus/minus rating from a minus-26 the year previously to a plus-26 and averaged more than 23 minutes of ice time per game.

    Expect similar numbers from Kuba this year with a Florida team that is flying under the radar a bit in the Southeast division, despite their status as defending champions.

    Here are some projected stats for Kuba:

    Goals—5

    Assists—28

    Points—33

    Plus/Minus—13

    PIM—28

    Blocks—147

    Ice Time—22 minutes per game

13. Dustin Penner—Los Angeles Kings

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    When the Los Angeles Kings acquired Dustin Penner from the Edmonton Oilers in a trade in February of 2011 (ESPN), big things were expected of him. At the time he was traded, Penner had scored 21 goals and had 18 assists—and there were still 20 games left in the season.

    Penner's success in Edmonton did not carry over though as he only scored two more goals and notched only four more assists during his final 19 regular-season games played.

    For the 2011-2012 season, Penner continued to be a disappointment of sorts as he only managed seven goals and 10 assists during the regular season.

    In the playoffs though, Penner came to life—as did the eventual Stanley Cup champion Kings. Penner was placed on a line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. That one line, as much as any of the Kings' lines, is the reason the Stanley Cup is soaking up rays in the City of Angels, lockout or not.

    In fact, it was Penner's great goal from in front of the net in overtime of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals against Phoenix that sent the Kings to the Stanley Cup finals.

    Penner's strong playoff run may have been enough to convince the Kings to re-invest in him as they signed Penner to a one year $3.25 million contract to have him remain in Los Angeles this year (ESPN).

    So what might be expected from Dustin Penner this year? That is hard to say. The Kings did a great job of retaining pretty much the core of the team that just pounded the best the NHL had to offer en route to the Stanley Cup. But will Penner's numbers get better, get worse or stay the same?

    I think that like most defending champions, the Kings will find it is harder to defend the Cup than it is to win it. Despite that, the Kings will have a great chance to repeat as champions, and I think Penner's numbers will improve this season. There won't be huge improvements, but I expect to see Penner earn that one-year contract he signed.

    Here are some predicted stats for Dustin Penner:

    Goals—16

    Assists—17

    Points—33

    Shots on Goal—130

    Power Play Goals—5

12. Jiri Hudler—Calgary Flames

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    Jiri Hudler had one of his most productive seasons yet during the 2011-2012 season with a career-high 25 goals to go along with 25 assists.

    Hudler's timing could not have been better as he became an unrestricted free agent during the summer of 2012.

    The reward? A four-year, $16 million contract from the Calgary Flames (CBS Sports).

    For the Flames, it is a great pickup. Hudler's 25 goals would have been good for third on the team a season ago. His 25 assists would have been good enough for fourth on the Flames.

    In general, the Flames can use all the help they can get on offense as they were tied for 24th in the NHL a year ago with 199 goals scored.

    If there is a knock on Hudler, it is that he is not a strong defensive player, not at all. How that will fit in with the Flames, who were a decent defensive squad a year ago—they were tied for 17th in the NHL in goals against—remains to be seen.

    Still, the addition of Hudler should go a long way towards helping the Flames get back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-2009 season.

    But I don't see Hudler having quite as good a season with Calgary this year as he did in Detroit a season ago. The Flames should be improved, but I don't see them being quite as good a team as the Red Wings were last year.

    Here are some projected stats for Jiri Hudler's first season in Calgary:

    Goals—20

    Assists—25

    Points—45

    Shots on Goal—123

    Power Play Goals—4

11. Martin Brodeur—New Jersey Devils

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    One of the least surprising free agent signings was when the New Jersey Devils re-signed future Hall of Fame goaltender, Martin Brodeur, to a two-year, $9 million dollar deal this past offseason (ESPN).

    After all, Brodeur is one of the greatest goalies of all time, and he led the Devils to a rather unexpected run to the Stanley Cup finals this past spring.

    At all of 40 years young, Brodeur, especially during the 2012 playoffs, showed that he still had the skill and mental toughness to get the job done.

    Unless Brodeur had decided to retire, the Devils would have been rather foolish to let the man known simply as Marty go elsewhere.

    With Brodeur, the Devils have a proven commodity and a consistent goalie on whom they can rely.

    While the Devils might take a step back this season—especially with the loss of Zach Parise—don't expect Brodeur's numbers to decline much at all.

    In general, Brodeur's stats were better last season than the season before so his age has not yet caught up with him.

    His 2.12 goals against average in the playoffs was his best showing since the 2002-2003 playoffs. His .917 save percentage in the 2012 playoffs was just barely off his career playoff average of .919.

    There is nothing to suggest that Brodeur will have anything but another stellar season in net for the Devils, and as long as he is playing at a high level, it would be naive to count the Devils out of it as far as repeating as Eastern Conference champions.

    Here are some projected stats for Martin Brodeur as he returns for his 20th season in the NHL:

    Games Started—60

    Wins—36

    Losses—23

    Overtime/Shootout Losses—5

    Goals Against Average—2.29

    Save Percentage—.914

    Shutouts—5

10. Ray Whitney—Dallas Stars

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    Continuing with the "old guys do it better" theme, we come to Ray Whitney.

    In his 20th season in the NHL, all Whitney did was lead the Phoenix Coyotes in points with 77. Whitney's offensive production was a key reason why the Coyotes won the Pacific Division title (the first division title in franchise history) and advanced all the way to the Western Conference finals before bowing out to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Kings.

    At 40 years old, Whitney turned in one of the best seasons of his long career. The question was whether any team would come calling and offer him a multiyear deal to leave the desert?

    As it turns out, the Dallas Stars, in search of veteran leadership for a rather young team, were very interested, and they signed Whitney to a two-year, $9 million contract (NHL.com).

    One area the Stars have to hope that Whitney helps them improve is on the power play. The Stars had the worst power play in the league last year with a terrible 13.5 percent power play success rate.

    Whitney was very solid on the power play last year with eight goals and 12 assists. He obviously can't do it alone, but the Stars power play should be considerably better with Whitney in the lineup.

    Another big plus for Whitney is how durable he is, despite all the years he has been in the league. Whitney has played in at least 75 games each of the past four years.

    Whitney should be a Top Six forward for the Stars, and he should have another solid season. His numbers may not be quite as good as they were with a very good Coyotes team a year ago, but he should continue to be very productive.

    If he is, then the Stars just might qualify for the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-2008 season.

    Here are some projected stats for Ray Whitney:

    Goals—21

    Assists—42

    Points—63

    Shots on Goal—184

    Power Play Goals—6

9. Matt Carle—Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Matt Carle is another intriguing free agent acquisition from this past offseason.

    After spending the past four seasons in Philadelphia, Carle signed a five-year contract to play for the Tampa Bay Lightning worth $5.5 million per year, including signing bonuses (USA Today).

    I say it is intriguing because unlike Jiri Hudler, Carle's stats last season were not particularly spectacular. He certainly had a solid season last year, with four goals, 34 assists and a plus-four rating. But at the same time, it was not his best.

    Of course, one season does not define a career, and if you look at the body of work Carle has put together over his seven seasons in the NHL, you can easily see why the Lightning wanted to invest as much in Carle as they did. Carle has been one of the more consistent and durable defensemen in the NHL the past four seasons.

    And the Lightning certainly need all the help they can get on defense. Tampa Bay ranked dead last in the NHL with a horrid 3.39 goals against average.

    As for a plus/minus rating, the Lightning were not much better as they ranked 27th in the NHL with a minus-28.

    Carle certainly has all the potential to significantly improve the Lightning's defense, and I expect him to have a very good season in Tampa this year. He has scored 113 points over the past three seasons. From a defensive standpoint, Carle is a very good shot blocker as he ranked 15th in the NHL with 164 blocks.

    One area of his game that Carle definitely needs to improve is his physicality, and he needs to hit more. He ranked 394th in the NHL last year with just 55 hits.

    The Lightning will welcome his offensive contributions and his shot blocking. But I suspect they would like to see Carle be a bigger physical presence this year.

    Here are some projected stats for Matt Carle:

    Goals—4

    Assists—32

    Points—36

    Plus/Minus—12

    PIM—24

    Blocks—160

    Ice Time—23 minutes per game

8. Jason Garrison—Vancouver Canucks

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    Another defender who figured to command a lot of attention in free agency was Jason Garrison.

    In another example of timing is everything, Garrison had his best season ever last season. True, it was only his fourth season, but still when you score 16 goals, after having a career high of five goals the season before, to go along with 17 assists and a plus-six rating—those are the kinds of numbers that will attract attention.

    Indeed. The Vancouver Canucks felt that Garrison was the real deal as they signed him to a six-year, $27.6 million contract (CBS Sports).

    Despite his brief career so far, there are plenty of reasons for Canucks fans to be excited about Garrison.

    Last season, Garrison developed his game and became a true two-way defender. He has one of the hardest shots in the NHL from the blue line, and it can be expected that he will quarterback the Canucks power play this season.

    That might be a somewhat scary thought for the rest of the Western Conference as the Canucks' power play was already formidable, ranking fourth in the NHL with a 19.8 percent success rate. With the kind of shot that Garrison has, the Canucks power play might be even better this year.

    The question the Canucks might have is how Garrison will continue to progress as far as the defensive side of the game is concerned. He shows a great deal of promise here as well as he had 124 blocked shots last year, which was tied for 59th in the NHL.

    Garrison also showed a willingness to get physical as he was tied for 116th in the NHL with 127 hits.

    Without question there is room for improvement there. But as a member of the high-powered Canucks, I expect Garrison to have better numbers this year than he did last season.

    Here are some projected stats for Jason Garrison:

    Goals—20

    Assists—20

    Points—40

    Plus/Minus—7

    PIM—27

    Blocks—131

    Ice Time—21 minutes per game

7. P.A. Parenteau—Colorado Avalanche

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    P.A. Parenteau is a good example of how persistence really does pay off.

    After not being able to catch on with either the Blackhawks or Rangers, Parenteau found a home on Long Island—and he made the most of it.

    Playing for some rather average Islanders teams, Parenteau was anything but average. Last season, just before he became an unrestricted free agent, Parenteau had his best season so far with 18 goals, 49 assists and a career high 67 points.

    That was all the Avalanche had to see before they decided to go all in and they signed Parenteau to a four-year, $16 million deal (ESPN).

    For the Avs, Parenteau should provide some much needed offense. The Avalanche, a relatively young team, desperately needed a right winger, and Parenteau could be just the man they were looking for.

    The Avalanche were not exactly an offensive power house last season as they were tied for 24th in goals scored. Parenteau should help there.

    Parenteau should also help to improve the Colorado power play, which was actually pretty good last season anyway as it ranked ninth in the NHL with an 18.4 percent success rate.

    After missing the playoffs the past two years, the addition of Parenteau should push the Avs in the right direction towards returning to the postseason.

    I expect Parenteau to have his best season yet with the Avalanche. Colorado was not a bad team last year. They had a winning record and really seemed just a player or two away from being a really good team. Parenteau is going to be a Top Six forward and will likely see action as the top line winger.

    He will need to improve on his defense some as he had a minus-eight rating with the Isles the past two years. But as far as pure offense is concerned, look for Parenteau to have a career season this year.

    Here are projected stats for P.A. Parenteau:

    Goals—23

    Assists—50

    Points—73

    Shots on Goal—168

    Power Play Goals—8

6. Olli Jokinen—Winnipeg Jets

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    Olli Jokinen was one of those free agents who have had been flying under the radar a bit, lost amid all the excitement and expectations of players like Zach Parise or Ryan Suter or Alexander Semin.

    That was fine with the Winnipeg Jets as they swooped in and signed Jokinen to a two-year, $9 million deal (ESPN).

    It is a very good signing for the Jets, who were maybe a player or two away from being able to contend for the Southeast division crown a year ago. From an offensive standpoint, the Jets had the second best offense of any team in the Southeast division with 221 goals scored.

    In Jokinen they get a proven and consistent goal scorer, a guy who has scored at least 20 goals in seven of his 14 seasons in the NHL. He was, arguably, the best center available in free agency this offseason. All indications are that Jokinen will be the top line center for the Jets this season.

    Last season in Calgary, Jokinen had his best season since his 71-point campaign for the Panthers during the 2007-2008 season. But he was paired with Jarome Iginla a lot so one has to wonder if his resurgence was more Jokinen or a by-product of being on the ice with Iginla most of the time.

    In Winnipeg, Jokinen should see a lot of ice time with Evander Kane, a young star in the making. That should help Jokinen's production in Winnipeg and should also help the Jets to become a more complete and dangerous team.

    If there is a question it has to be whether last season's resurgence was a final fling or whether it truly marked the return of Jokinen to prominence. While Jokinen's 23 goals and 38 assists were impressive, those numbers are quite a ways off from the 91 points he tallied in Florida during the 2006-2007 season.

    I expect Jokinen to have a solid season in Winnipeg this year. But I do not believe he will have quite the season that he had in Calgary last year. I expect his numbers in Winnipeg this year to be similar to the numbers he had during the 2010-2011 season in Calgary.

    Still, Jokinen will absolutely help the Jets take the next step on their road towards a return to the playoffs.

    Here are projected stats for Olli Jokinen:

    Goals—20

    Assists—33

    Points—53

    Shots on Goal—199

    Power Play Goals—5

5. Shane Doan—Phoenix Coyotes

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    It might have taken almost all of the summer, but the question of whether Shane Doan would remain in Phoenix—the only franchise he has ever played for—or whether he would take the money and run was answered just before the lockout went into effect.

    Literally hours before the lockout, Doan signed a four-year, $21.2 million deal to remain in Phoenix, which is really where he wanted to be all along (ESPN).

    The fact that Doan would not sign with another team, and would resign with the Coyotes even though their ownership situation remains in a state of flux, says volumes about the integrity of the Coyotes captain. It also is a major reason why several teams were trying to get Doan to jump ship.

    With Doan, the Coyotes know exactly what they are getting. They are getting consistent production and veteran leadership from one of the best captains in the game.

    Losing Ray Whitney is certainly going to hurt Phoenix. But with Doan, the Coyotes can count on their captain to pick up the slack and make sure the team stays relevant and in the hunt.

    It may be difficult for the Coyotes to repeat as Pacific Division champions, what with the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, who look like they could be just as good this season, also being in the division. But Doan's presence and production should be enough to get Phoenix, at a minimum, back to the playoffs this year.

    For a franchise with such seemingly perpetual upheaval, getting Shane Doan to commit to staying in Phoenix for the next four years might be the best investment the team could have made.

    Expect Doan to do what he usually does this season, namely score at least 20 goals, be the team leader and help the Coyotes, in every way possible, to succeed.

    Here are projected stats for Shane Doan for the coming season:

    Goals—25

    Assists—41

    Points—66

    Shots on Goal—232

    Power Play Goals—9

4. Jaromir Jagr—Dallas Stars

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    Jaromir Jagr made his triumphant return to the NHL last season.

    Jagr bolted to the KHL after the 2007-2008 season, but practically every NHL team kept a close eye on the situation and waited for the opportunity to bring Jagr back to the NHL.

    Last season, the Flyers were able to convince Jagr to return, and he responded with a solid season tallying 19 goals and 35 assists. Jagr then went on to be a contributor to the Flyers during their playoff run with a goal and seven assists.

    So we had another 40-year-old future Hall of Famer who became an unrestricted free agent this past offseason. Would anyone want to invest serious dollars on Jagr, irrespective of his tremendous experience and career numbers?

    As it turns out, the Dallas Stars were apparently not satisfied with just one 40-year-old free agent as they signed Jagr to a one-year, $4.55 million contract (ESPN).

    For Dallas, they now boast two of the better free agent pickups of the offseason, despite their supposedly advanced years, and with Jagr and Ray Whitney, the Stars have all the veteran leadership and experience they are going to need this year.

    Any doubts as to whether Jagr could still bring it were answered last season. He may not be a threat to score 50 goals any longer, but he is going to be a solid asset for the Stars as they try to take the next step back towards respectability.

    It is worth noting that Jagr is the active leader in the NHL in career goals (665) and assists (988). You simply do not get a chance to acquire a player with that kind of resume, who is still productive and effective, all that often.

    There is little question that the Stars, with the addition of Jagr and Whitney, to go along with the young nucleus of the team, have a lot to be excited about.

    I expect Jagr to have another solid season for the Stars, and I actually expect him to be more productive on a Dallas team that will likely lean on him much more than the Flyers did last year. I believe he will be a key factor in leading Dallas back to the postseason.

    Here are the projected stats for Jaromir Jagr for this season:

    Goals—22

    Assists—48

    Points—70

    Shots on Goal—200

    Power Play Goals—7

3. Alexander Semin—Carolina Hurricanes

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    There was a time, not so long ago, when Alexander Semin was considered one of the elite forwards in the NHL. His only drawback seemed to be that he played on the same team as that other Alex, and Alexander Ovechkin got almost all the attention.

    Nevertheless, Semin was a huge part of the Washington Capitals' resurgence, and this was on display, in all its glory, during the 2009-2010 season when the Caps pretty much steamrolled the rest of the NHL during the regular season. Semin scored 40 goals and had 44 assists that season.

    It was during the 2010 playoffs, however, that the Caps' disenchantment with Semin really took hold. Semin simply vanished against the Canadiens as he had no goals and just two assists. Many felt that Semin's complete disappearance was a key reason that the Caps suffered a stunning upset at the hands of the Canadiens.

    Semin's propensity to come up small when it mattered most was finally enough for the Caps to let Semin leave the team via free agency. For Semin though, the problem was that no one else seemed to want him for a multiyear deal—at least not at the terms he was asking.

    Enter the Caps' division rival, the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes, as familiar with what Semin can do as anyone, were confident enough in Semin that they signed him to a one-year, $7 million contract (NHL.com).

    This could end up being a huge move for the Canes. Much of that depends on whether Semin can return to the form he had during the 2009-2010 season or at least close to it.

    Or will he continue to be the player that has been limited to 54 points the past two seasons?

    The Canes have obviously gambled that the Alexander Semin, who was an absolute terror a few years back, will resurface thanks to a change in scenery.

    I believe that, to a certain extent, the Canes gamble will pay off. I think Semin will flourish in the same lineup as Jordan Staal, Eric Staal and the rest of the Hurricanes.

    As things always are with Semin, much will depend on just how motivated he is to succeed. I think that with Semin going to a division rival, he will want to show the Caps, as well as everyone who doubted him, just what an elite player he is. Expect Semin to have a very good year in Carolina.

    Here are projected stats for Alexander Semin:

    Goals—30

    Assists—33

    Points—63

    Shots on Goal—213

    Power Play Goals—7

2. Ryan Suter—Minnesota Wild

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    We now enter the stage of this countdown that will make Minnesota Wild fans very happy—and very frustrated at the same time.

    They are happy because the top two free agent signings of the offseason were made by the Wild.

    They will be frustrated because the ongoing lockout is depriving them of the chance to see Ryan Suter and Zach Parise donning Wild jerseys and taking the ice together.

    As pretty much the entire hockey world knows by now, the Wild signed both Parise and Suter to deals that are worth more than $98 million over 13 years (ESPN).

    In the blink of an eye, the Wild had massively upgraded both their defense and offense.

    With Suter, the Wild got the best defenseman available in the free agent market. After spending seven extremely productive seasons in Nashville, Suter was looking to cash in on his very consistent performance over that time. With his good friend Parise deciding to go to Minnesota, it was not hard to convince Suter to do the same.

    Like several of the free agents on this list, Suter turned in his best performance when it counted the most; he had a career high in points last year with 46.

    Suter should help the Minnesota defense improve. Last season, the Wild were in the middle of the pack as far as goals allowed as they were tied for 17th with 217 goals allowed.

    The question is what impact will Suter exactly have on the Wild defense. While there is little question he will be a point producer, as he has scored 30 points or more the past five seasons, the defensive side of his game raises some questions.

    Suter is an average shot blocker as he ranked tied for 68th in the NHL with 116 last season.

    I suspect the Wild will also want Suter to be somewhat more physical this season. Last year in Nashville, Suter ranked 464th in the NHL in hits with just 46. That's right—Suter had as many hits as points last year.

    In all fairness to Suter though, he did play alongside Shea Weber last season, and Weber was the enforcer of the Predators defense as he ranked 43rd in the NHL with 177 hits.

    So what can be expected from Ryan Suter this year? I believe that he will step up and have his best season yet. I really think not having Weber as a quasi-security blanket will give Suter the chance to show that he is not just an All-Star but that he really is one of the elite defenders in the game.

    There will be some rough patches to be sure as Minnesota, even with Parise, might not be quite as good as Nashville was a year ago. Still, look for Suter to have a big season.

    Here are the projected stats for Ryan Suter:

    Goals—8

    Assists—41

    Points—49

    Plus/Minus—10

    PIM—45

    Blocks—120

    Ice Time—27 minutes per game

1. Zach Parise—Minnesota Wild

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    Most people felt that Zach Parise was the most coveted free agent out there this past offseason.

    There were many good reasons for this as the New Jersey Devils' captain had scored 30 goals or more in every season he had played, except for his rookie campaign in 2005-2006 and the 2010-2011 season when Parise missed almost the entire season with a knee injury.

    So it was no real surprise that, when free agency opened up, numerous teams came calling. But as you know by now, it was the Minnesota Wild who pulled off the free agency double play by signing Parise to a 13-year deal believed to be worth $98 million, to go along with their signing of Ryan Suter (ESPN).

    As big an addition as Suter will be on defense, I expect Parise to have an even bigger impact on the Minnesota offense.

    What Wild fans have to be excited about is how Parise is just such a gamer. He almost always shows up ready to play and he is about as clutch a player, when the stakes are their highest, as there is in the NHL.

    Who can really forget the goal Parise scored with 24 seconds left in the gold medal game against Canada at the 2010 Olympic Games?

    Last season, his first as the Devils' captain, Parise showed everyone what he could do, especially in the playoffs. Parise had his best playoff run ever, scoring eight goals and seven assists as he led the Devils on a rather unlikely run to the Stanley Cup finals.

    Take all that into consideration and combine that with the fact that the Wild were the worst team in the NHL as far as goals scored (166), and it is almost certain that the Wild will improve dramatically this season.

    In looking at the Wild's current lineup, I would expect to see Parise put up better numbers than he did in New Jersey last year. The Wild have some good players, such as Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley, so adding Parise to the mix can only help.

    Even though the Wild are not as deep or as talented overall as the Devils were last season, look for Zach Parise to have a big season.

    Here are projected stats for Zach Parise:

    Goals—36

    Assists—40

    Points—76

    Shots on Goal—305

    Power Play Goals—9