For many people, July 1st is a day to come together, drink cold beers and celebrate Canada’s birthday. For hockey fans however, July 1st is even more important as it is the first day that teams can sign Unrestricted Free Agents.
Although this year’s Unrestricted Free Agents are not as exciting as previous years, there are definitely players available that could make the difference for your favorite team next season. Here are a few player’s who will be watched closely next Tuesday:
Position: Left Wing
2007/08 Salary: $ 1,900,000
2007/08 Team(s): New York Rangers
2007/08 Stats: G 15, A 18, P 33
What he provides: Whether you love him or you hate him, Avery will command a lot of attention on the free agent market. In a league starved for attention, Avery will bring just that to any team that signs him because his on-ice behavior and flamboyant lifestyle make him a media staple. In addition, Avery is also a solid player who hits, fights and can contribute offensively when he concentrates on hockey.
Pat’s Prediction: Since he has worked as an intern at Vogue this summer and dated a trio of A-List Hollywood Starlets, I can’t see Avery moving outside of a major city. In addition, Avery has also voiced his desire to avoid playing in a Canadian market. Using my powers of deduction, I think Avery will remain in New York but make the move to the Island. If Avery does not sign with the Islanders, look for him to play for one of the Western Conference teams based in California.
Position: Right Wing
2007/08 Salary: $ 7,000,000
2007/08 Team(s): Atlanta/Pittsburgh
2007/08 Stats: G 29, A 37, P 66
What he provides: Hossa’s stock definitely increased after a strong playoff run in which he was one of Pittsburgh’s best players. Although he was a -14 with Atlanta, Hossa has the ability to play a strong two-way game while remaining near the top of the NHL points race. Only two seasons removed from a 100 point season, Hossa will be amongst the most sought after players for teams needing added offence.
Pat’s Prediction: Although many teams are going to aggressively pursue Hossa, I think he will end up in Vancouver. After missing the play-offs last season and replacing General Manager Dave Nonis with Mike Gillis, Vancouver needs to find offense. Since it is unlikely the team will re-sign Markus Naslund, Hossa makes a lot of sense on the West Coast.
2007/08 Salary: $ 8,360,000
2007/08 Team(s): New York Rangers
2007/08 Stats: G 25, A 46, P 71
What he provides: Still one of the best puck control players in the NHL, Jagr can provide a team with plenty of offense but his success depends on whether or not he wants to play. Considering Jagr is only two seasons removed from a 123 point campaign, I believe he can still contribute to a team in need of scoring. What Jagr won’t contribute is defence or a complete effort most nights which means he will (or should) be looking at a serious pay cut.
Pat’s Prediction: Considering the Rangers may potentially lose Brendan Shanahan, Martin Straka, Michal Rozsival and Sean Avery to free agency, look for them to keep Jagr. Jagr has had some great seasons in New York and the team’s style suits the way he likes to play. Look for him to sign a one or two year contract with the Blueshirts before calling it quits.
2007/08 Salary: $ 1,450,00
2007/08 Team(s): Pittsburgh
2007/08 Stats: G 27, A 24, P 51
What he provides: Like Hossa, Malone’s profile was raised a by a strong playoff run in which he seemed to suffer a broke nose for every point he scored. A former fourth round pick, Malone is sought after for his youth, toughness and scoring. Rumored to being going to half the teams in the NHL (Boston, Columbus, Vancouver, etc.), Malone scored 51 points during the regular season and added 16 more in 20 playoff games.
Pat’s Prediction: Many teams will attempt to sign Malone, but look for Columbus to pay big dollars to get him. Although I love Malone’s style of play, I think he will emerge from free agency overpaid. Remember this: Malone scored 51 points last season, but that was playing beside the likes of Crosby and Malkin. I can’t see him scoring many more points playing with a team like Columbus. I have no doubts Malone will contribute much more than points but the expectations that are being placed upon him will lead to criticism from people looking for him to emerge as an NHL superstar.
2007/08 Salary: $ 5,500,000
2007/08 Team(s): Toronto
2007/08 Stats: G 32, A 46, P 78
What he provides: One of the best leaders in the NHL right now, Sundin has provided the Leafs with leadership and clutch scoring since he was acquired from Quebec. A +17 on a weak Toronto team, Sundin would be the perfect fit for a team (i.e. Montreal) that is one or two players away from becoming a serious Stanley Cup contender. My only concern with Sundin is injuries, but if he goes to a more talented team where he could play fewer minutes and see less of the opponent’s top line, Sundin can excel.
Pat’s Prediction: If you had asked me this question a few weeks ago, there would have been no doubt in my mind that Sundin would be back in Toronto if he returned to the NHL. Within the last week however, Toronto GM Cliff Fletcher has given both the Canadians and the Rangers permission to speak with Sundin so it appears he will be leaving T.O. Although cap room will be tight, I see Sundin going to the Rangers. It is no secret that Rangers GM Glen Sather wants Sundin and I can’t see #13 signing with one of the Leafs’ rivals. Look for Sundin ending up in the Big Apple, playing along side Chris Drury and Scott Gomez in what could become one of the best offenses in the Eastern Conference if the Rangers can re-sign some of their talented players as well.
What he provides: Probably the most valuable free agent available, Campbell is an offensive defenseman who can also hit and has one of the sweetest spin moves in the league. Not a big player by any stretch of the imagination, Campbell is still a top-two-defenseman on nearly every team in the NHL and he can expect a big raise this of- season.
Pat’s Prediction: Despite Ottawa’s desire to have a former 67 in its line up, look for Campbell to sign with the New York Rangers. Though I keep praying that Chicago will cough up enough coin to bring Campbell to the Windy City, I think the Rangers will take advantage of Campbell’s desire to play in the Eastern Conference to bring him back to New York State.
2007/08 Salary: $ 1,075,000
2007/08 Team(s): Pittsburgh
2007/08 Stats: G 1, A 10, P 11
What he will provide: By laying out two or three Red Wings during one shift of the Stanley Cup Final, Orpik presented himself to teams around that NHL looking for a solid, defensive defenseman. Despite his career -29 mark (which is more a reflection of playing on terrible Penguins teams), Orpik is a solid shut down defenseman who can chip in with a goal or assist every once in a while.
Pat’s Prediction: Since Malone is going, I think Pittsburgh will re-sign Orpik but the team will be in financial trouble for a long time considering they need to re-sign Malkin, Stall and Fleury to new deals over the next couple years. If Pittsburgh can not afford Orpik, look for the San Francisco native to head west and sign with a team like San Jose.
2007/08 Salary: $ 6,500, 000
2007/08 Team(s): Ottawa
2007/08 Stats: G 6, A 32, P 38
What he will provide: Despite being much maligned by Ottawa’s media, Redden is still a top-four defenseman who can contribute offensively and was a +11 last season. Even though he seems much older because he has been on the Senator’s blue line for over a decade, Redden is only 31 which means he still has lots of time to make positive contributions to the team who signs him.
Pat’s Prediction: After missing out on the Brian Campbell sweepstakes, look for Chicago to sign Redden to provide their defense with a veteran prescience. A life long Blackhawks fan (and long time critic of Redden), even I have to admit I like the looks of a defense that includes Redden, Cam Barker, Dustin Byfuglien (the best player no one heard about last year), Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Brent Sopel.
What he will provide: In addition to providing the Senators with plenty of distractions, Emery also provided the team with solid goaltending as a starter in previous seasons. Athletic and determined when he focuses on hockey and not sleeping with girls at Beach Slam, Emery has proven himself in both the regular season and the playoffs. Despite his past performances however, many people still question his desire to be one of the top goalies in the NHL.
Pat’s Prediction: Though he may be forced to begin next season as a back up, there are enough NHL teams in need of a goalie that Emery will be signed in the up-coming months. Look for Emery to end up in of two places: Washington or Los Angeles. Both teams have traded or waived goalies in recent months and could use a goalie like Emery until their younger talent is ready to start full time. Chicago has also been mentioned quite a bit in the media since a supposed trade that would send Emery to the Blackhawks for Patrick Lalime fell through at the trade deadline.
2007/08 Salary: $ 2,750,000
2007/08 Team(s): Montreal/Washington
2007/08 Stats: W 32 L 14 GAA 2.50
What he will provide: Even with the emergence of Carey Price, Huet’s trade to Washington was one of the most surprising deals made at the trade deadline. Rarely mentioned amongst the leagues top goaltenders, Huet has solid statistics but has yet to make a significant impact in the playoffs. Throughout his four seasons in Montreal, Huet provided the team with solid goaltending that allowed the team to make the playoffs even though a lot of their young talent did not emerge until this past season.
Pat’s Prediction: If Ottawa does not sign Patrick Lalime to serve as their back-up, look for the Senators to sign Huet and allow him to battle Martin Gerber for the starting position. A Gerber/Huet combo would be more effective than the Gerber/Emery duo was and Huet’s veteran prescience may be enough to allow Ottawa to regain its place near the top of the Eastern Conference. If Huet does not sign with Ottawa, look for him to sign with either Los Angeles or re-sign with Washington.
2007/2008 Salary: $ 6,000,000
2007/08 Team: Colorado
2007/08 Stats: W 28 L 21 GAA 2.44
What he will provide: Regaining some of the form that allowed him to win the NHL MVP award in 2002, Theodore played well for Colorado this year and led them to a first round upset of Minnesota. Theodore definitely has the talent to be a number one goalie in the NHL and with his off the ice distractions behind him, look for Theodore to continue to be a solid goaltender for at least a few more seasons.
Pat’s Prediction: Since there are only a few NHL teams in desperate need of a starting goaltender, look for Theodore to resign with the Avalanche. If Theodore decides to test free agency, look for him to sign with Washington or Los Angeles (which ever team fails to sign Huet or Emery), the two teams with the biggest need for a starting goalie.