With the start of free agency just days away, GMs are scrutinizing their own rosters and figuring out which players to bring back, while poring over the list of players set to hit the market on Thursday.
With the salary cap expected to reach $59 million, teams believe that they will have a little more space to use, and thus more teams will be able to join in the bidding war for a player.
While there isn’t a host of high profile free agents, the players that make this list will certainly be more than situational players.
The breakout star for this year’s Eastern Conference Champions, he’s going to hit the market.
Paid only $600K this past year, he’s certainly an intriguing option for teams in need of goaltending.
For teams looking to sign him, the question of which Michael Leighton they will get arises.
Is he the goaltender who went 8-3 in the playoffs with a 2.46 GAA and three shutouts in the Conference Finals? Or is he the guy who went 8-12 with a 3.28 GAA and an .882 save percentage in the past three years with Carolina?
For the price, teams could do a lot worse. At 29 years old, however, expecting him to suddenly become a franchise goaltender might be wishful thinking.
San Jose has a need, but expect it to fill their crease with someone more experienced.
It’s been rumored that Leighton is looking for $4 million over two years. Atlanta, Dallas, and Tampa Bay are watching developments closely.
Each of those teams sorely need goaltending, and taking a shot on a former conference champion is one way to remedy that need.
Pittsburgh’s No. 1 defenseman is set to hit the market, unless there’s a monumental breakthrough in negotiations.
Gonchar has been hampered by injuries in recent seasons, and that is giving teams cause for concern. Missing a combined 77 games the past two years due to shoulder and knee problems, Gonchar is going to have to convince teams that these issues are solved before they commit $5-6 million over at least two years.
The Penguins are still in the driver’s seat, even after July 1. With that price tag and the Pittsburgh's limited cap space, however, a lot depends on whether or not they’re able to sign Dan Hamhuis.
If Pittsburgh fails, look for New Jersey or Washington to pounce quickly. New Jersey is almost certain to lose Paul Martin, and someone of Gonchar’s talent both offensively and defensively would fill that void nicely.
Washington is in desperate need of defensive help. Guys like Tom Poti and John Erskine are good defensively, but have issues with speedy forwards.
Even at 36, he’s able to skate with the best in the league. With Mike Green on the top pairing, Gonchar won’t be expected to produce as much, but having him head the second power play unit would give opponents a lot more to think about.
On April 13, the Stars decided to cut ties with their goalie of the past decade. But the termination certainly wasn’t without cause.
Turco has seen a steady decline since the 2005-06 season, when he posted 41 wins and a decent 2.55 GAA. Since that year, his win totals have declined, with this past season’s 22 being the worst since 2002.
The biggest knock against Turco is that he doesn’t come up with the clutch games. He’s always had stellar regular seasons, even posting the record for GAA in 2003.
However, the postseason has been another story altogether. In 2004, the Stars couldn’t get out of the first round, and the blame was largely placed on Turco’s play.
Three straight first-round exits and only one trip to the conference finals have branded him as shaky during playoff time.
Philadelphia and San Jose are the most interested in Turco, but I’d give San Jose the edge. With its recent playoff disappointments, they have an urgency about them and may be willing to go right up to the cap if it means signing a quality veteran goalie.
While Turco did make $5.4 million last season, expect him to take a big pay cut because of both his age and play last season.
Perhaps a change of scenery will do some good.
Though a starter for only the past three seasons, Mason has shown he has the ability to take over games.
Playing for Nashville and St. Louis, teams that are aren’t exactly offensively gifted, the extra burden didn’t seem to bother him.
In his last playoff appearance in 2009, the Blues were swept. However, Mason posted 2.34 GAA along with a .916 save percentage; not the kind of numbers one would expect from the goalie who lost four straight.
It is because of this persistent play, and his lower price tag no doubt, that teams will covet him this summer. Teams that balk at Marty Turco and Evgeni Nabokov’s contracts will certainly give Mason a good hard look.
Expect Philly and Tampa Bay to take runs at him. Both teams need help in the crease, but I expect Tampa to win out.
Bolts GM Steve Yzerman is very familiar with Mason while Yzerman was still with the Red Wings. Bringing in Mason to create a little training camp competition with incumbent Mike Smith could only help Tampa’s situation.
Frolov didn’t exactly have a career year this past season, but since 2006, he has been a dangerous forward opposing teams need to keep track of.
In five of his past six seasons, he’s scored at least 20 goals, and he has been very productive playing on Anze Kopitar’s wing—until this past season, when his 19 goals were the fewest since his rookie season.
King’s coach Terry Murray wasn’t thrilled with the winger’s play, and it’s almost assured Frolov will need to find a new address come July 1.
The teams expected to show up on Frolov’s doorstep Thursday afternoon include Pittsburgh and Toronto.
The Penguins are in desperate need of top six style wingers, and Frolov would certainly fit the bill alongside either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
The major problem becomes whether or not Frolov is willing to take a pay cut to play with those two. The $4 million he made this past season would have to be slashed at least in half for him to fit in the Steel City.
Toronto needs goal scorers, end of story. They also have cap space to burn. But Frolov doesn’t really strike anyone as a Brian Burke type of guy.
The Leafs GM can deal with players who underachieve on the score sheet, so long as they make up for it on the physical end.
Frolov, however, hasn’t shown any inclination toward physicality. Are the Leafs that hard up for goal scoring that they’re willing to take a chance on Frolov?
If not, there’s always the KHL.
Aside from Ilya Kovalchuk, Volchenkov was the initial free agent darling for teams looking to for an immediate impact from a signing.
The Ottawa defenseman is well known for his physical play and his shot-blocking prowess. The combination of these traits, however, has led to lengthy stays on the IR.
While only 28, Volchenkov has an injury report that reads like a 22-year vet. Separated shoulders, blown knees and broken bones have kept Volchenkov from ever playing a full 82 game season.
In the past three years, he’s missed 47 games due to injury. Teams looking to sign him to a long-term deal need to look closely at that and wonder if he’ll physically be able to skate out the full term of that contract.
The teams most interested in him appear to be Los Angeles and Anaheim.
In this year’s playoff run, it became quite evident that the Kings need more depth defensively if the hope to make a run at the Cup. Volchenkov would provide a nice foil to Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson.
In Anaheim, the retirement of Scott Niedermayer has created a huge void on the Ducks’ blueline.
Adding Volchenkov to emerging defensemen Sheldon Brookbank and Steve Eminger could provide the stay at home defense as well as steadying presence the Ducks need to rebuild the back end.
Washington was in the running initially, but the $5 million Volchenkov was looking for was apparently too rich for the Caps’ blood.
Both LA and Anaheim have the available cap space to meet Volchenkov’s price. If his price comes down though, look for Washington to jump back into the bidding.
Despite being traded twice already this offseason, Hamhuis is still on the market. Currently, Pittsburgh has sole negotiating rights but nothing has developed yet. Even so, the Penguins look like the favorites to land the former Predator.
Hamhuis’s stock took a bit of a dive in Nashville with the emergence of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. His role diminished and media outlets thought that was indicative of his abilities, rather than due to the incredible talents of Weber and Suter.
Because of his diminished power play time, his point totals have suffered (16 PP points in 2005-06, just 15 since). But many scouts think that given a major role, his productivity will peak once more.
Despite playing fewer minutes, his defensive play hasn’t suffered. Since 2006, Hamhuis has a cumulative plus/minus rating of plus-four and has never taken more than 70 penalty minutes in any season.
The Penguins are telling him all the right things at the moment, offering him top pairing, first unit power play time, and an overall lead role on defense.
They’re looking very flexible in terms of length and dollars, but expect something in the range of five years, $20 million.
If the Penguins do miss out on him, the Flyers will look to rectify any mistakes they made when they initially traded for his negotiating rights.
Additionally, the Kings are on the hunt for defensive help, and will look to get involved if they fail to sign Anton Volchenkov.
When the Sharks made it known they weren’t bringing back their longtime netminder, there was a collective gasp heard around the league.
And if you were in certain goalie-starved areas of the country, you made sure to look out for dropping jaws and uncontrollably salivating GMs.
Nabokov’s situation can be likened to that of fellow free agent Marty Turco: spectacular regular season success followed by postseason letdowns.
In Nabokov’s 10-year career, he’s only allowed one season with a GAA above three and a sub .90 save percentage (2005-6). He’s had six seasons of at least 30 wins, and 40 or more in the last three.
His post-season stats aren’t awful, but when his team has needed a shutdown performance, he just hasn’t delivered. In his past two playoff runs, he’s had a GAA above 2.5, and only one shutout in 21 games. Again, while not conspicuous, you expect a No. 1 goaltender to step up his game and Nabokov just hasn’t been able to do so.
Teams more than happy to see Nabokov leave Silicon Valley include Philadelphia and Washington. Both teams are in dire need of a clear No. 1 goaltender, and Nabokov can certainly still provide that.
Both teams are wary of his $5 million price tag, however. Philly has already broken talks off with the goaltender, as his initial asking price was too steep. Should his demands prove too rich for most bidders, he’ll certainly receive return calls from both teams.
If he's persistent in his demands, rejecting lesser offers from NHL clubs, the KHL would love to have someone of his caliber, and would be happy to pay for his services.
Despite being this year’s top defensive free agent, Martin had a rough year. He broke his arm and was only available for 22 games this past season.
Even still, his skills will be coveted by nearly every team. The emphasis on skilled puck-moving defensemen in the league has skyrocketed and Martin is among the best. His plus-20 rating the previous two seasons serves as a reminder to his prowess in his own end.
Currently, there are only two teams on Martin’s radar: St. Louis and New Jersey. Martin has stated he will be going on the market, so any chance New Jersey had of claiming him beforehand has been slashed. The Devils will have to bid for his services along with everyone else come Thursday.
St. Louis needs a top four defenseman, and Martin would no doubt step in as number one. Pairing him with either Barrett Jackman or Eric Brewer would result in a fantastic shutdown pairing, helping to level the ice against teams like Detroit and Chicago.
Should the Penguins miss out on both Sergei Gonchar and Dan Hamhuis, count on them stepping in and making an offer for Martin. They need top four help as much as, if not more than, St. Louis and New Jersey. The presence of Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski on the power play would allow Martin to focus on shutting down the other team’s top scorers.
What does Ilya Kovalchuk have in common with Ferraris and yachts? They’re all on many wish lists, but very few can realistically afford them.
We’re all aware of his talent, but do his demands outweigh his ability? He is a two-time 50-goal scorer, has six consecutive seasons of over 75 points, and is a threat to score on nearly every rush up ice. That is all well and good, but does it warrant his demands of $10 million per year? NHL insiders give a resounding "no."
As New Jersey has found, moreover, he doesn’t easily fit into every system.
After the blockbuster trade last season, Kovy was averaging a point a game, and scoring a goal every 2.7 games. Those are numbers 98 percent of the league is envious of. Before the trade, however, he was averaging almost 1.2 points a game and a goal every 1.6 games.
Translation: Ilya Kovalchuk loves to be the center of attention.
In New Jersey, he didn’t have to be “The Man.” The Devils already had good scoring in the form of Zach Parise and Patrik Elias. Not having that pressure, some will say, allowed him to get lazy and lose the edge he displayed in Atlanta for so many years.
Kovalchuk is the Ferrari in this year’s free agent class, but who among the 30 teams can fit his contract wishes into their salary cap? Only two teams are willing to step up so far.
New Jersey is doing all they can to keep Kovy, but he wants to test the market. The team believes that, despite his defensive liabilities, a full season in the Devils’ defensive system will make him more comfortable and successful. Kovy isn’t so sure.
LA has both the cap space and system to suit Kovalchuk. The Kings’ forte is pressuring the puck in the opponents end, and playing as much in the offensive zone as possible. With him, they hope to make a deeper playoff run. Can you imagine a line consisting of Anze Kopitar, Ilya Kovalchuk and Dustin Brown? Kings faithful can.
I can assure you, much to the chagrin of Kovy and his agent, neither team will come close to the $10mil he is looking for. Kovalchuk will have to think long and hard: does he want to play for a contender, or sign a massive contract?
The KHL has put a $42 million, three year contract on the table, but Kovalchuk has turned it down. Maybe that’s a sign.
The dark horse in all of this is Atlanta. They have over $20 million in cap space, a much better core of players, and Kovy already knows everyone in that front office. It would be a comfortable landing spot, should the Thrashers want to lay down that kind of money. Like Chicago signing Marian Hossa around this time last year, stranger things have happened.