NHL Free Agents 2010: Likely Landing Places for the Top 15 Free Agents
These are the top 15 NHL free agent players left on the market. With a flurry of signings last week when free agency opened we saw a very slow Fourth of July weekend in terms of signings and trades. But expect the floodgates to open this morning as we see many teams try to improve their clubs.
There are still some big names on the market, and there is no lack of intrigue about where they will end up. So here is a look at the top 15 remaining free agents (in no particular order) and where they could end up signing their next NHL contracts.
Please comment below on the players in this article or others that you feel deserve mention amongst the top free agents this offseason.
Ilya Kovalchuk: Left Wing
The 6'2", 230 lb 27-year-old left winger from Russia played for the Altanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils this past season.
In total he had 41 goals and 44 assists, a plus-10 rating, 53 penalty minutes, 12 power play goals, and four game winners in 76 games. He also contributed off the scoreboard with 30 hits, 20 blocked shots, and 34 takeaways during the regular season. He also added two goals and four assists in five playoff games.
For six of his eight years in the NHL he has been a 40-goal scorer. He is known for this offensive prowess, especially his lethal shot that can man the point on the power play. Although his career plus-minus of minus-75 leaves much to be desired, he is a premier offensive player in the NHL.
Thus far the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders appear to be the front-runners for his services, although it is rumoured that he will accept no less than $8 million per year on any contract he signs.
The Los Angeles Kings were also in the running, but it has been reported that Kovalchuk and his agent turned down the Kings' best offer. They will no longer be pursuing the free agent sniper.
He does have some leverage in that regard, as there are rumours that he has received offers in the range of $10 million per year for three years from teams in the Kontinental Hockey League in his home country of Russia. That money would also be tax and escrow free, so it could be a fairly enticing package.
There are reports that the New York Islanders have offered or are prepared to offer $10 million over a 10-year contract for the scoring star. This would not be out of the ordinary for the franchise. See both Alexei Yashin and Rick DiPietro as examples of these types of long-term deals.
Alexander Frolov: Left Wing
The 6'2", 208 lb 28-year-old left winger from Russia played for the Los Angeles Kings this past season.
In total he had 19 goals, 32 assists, a minus-one rating, 26 penalty minutes, five power play goals, and one game winner in 81 games. He also contributed off the scoreboard with 58 hits, 14 blocked shots, and 27 takeaways during the regular season. He also added one goal and three assists in six playoff games.
He has scored at least 20 goals in four of his five NHL seasons, with two of those seasons being 30-plus goal campaigns. He is a big winger with some offensive skills, but he has seen declining point totals over his past three seasons (from 71 in 2006-07 to 67, then 59, and 51 last season).
So far the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers appear to be the teams with the most interest in his services. A couple days ago he flew into New York with his agent to have contract talks with the Rangers' staff.
Evgeni Nabokov: Goaltender
The 6'0", 200 lb 34-year-old goaltender from Kazakhstan played for the San Jose Sharks this past season. He will turn 35 years old on July 25, 2010.
This past regular season saw him post 44 wins in 71 games with a 0.922 save percentage, 2.43 goals against average, and three shutouts. In the playoffs he had eight wins in 15 games with a 0.907 save percentage, 2.56 goals against average, and one shutout.
For his career in the regular season he has a 0.912 save percentage and a 2.39 goals against average. In the playoffs his career numbers are actually better, with a 0.913 save percentage and a 2.29 goals against average.
However, in the past three playoffs he has averaged a .901 save percentage and 2.52 goals against average. Those numbers combined with his age and expected cap hit of $5 million plus led the Sharks to decide to let him walk as a free agent.
The Philadelphia Flyers appeared to be the front-runners in acquiring his services and had a tentative deal in place with the Sharks to acquire his rights prior to July 1. However that heat seems to have cooled right off, as there are rumours that the Flyers would have preferred Marty Turco.
Also there were rumours that he "gave up" on the Russian Olympic team, and this appears to have many general managers staying away from the veteran Russian goaltender.
Nabokov will likely have to accept less than $4 million per year on any contract in order to get an NHL job. It seems more likely at this point that he will end up taking a contract to play in the KHL back home in Russia.
Maxim Afinogenov: Right Wing
The 6'0", 190 lb 30-year-old right winger from Russia played for the Atlanta Thrashers this past season.
In total he had 24 goals, 37 assists, a minus-17 rating, 46 penalty minutes, six power play goals, and three game winners in 82 games. He also contributed off the scoreboard with 32 hits, 21 blocked shots, and 65 takeaways during the regular season.
This Russian is hard to figure out. At times he is an amazing puckhandler who goes to the net, while other times he is nearly invisible on the ice. But his offensive skills still make him enticing to any NHL team in need of offense.
In four of his 10 NHL seasons he has scored 20 or more goals. But he has only played more than 65 games five times, a result of both injuries and healthy scratches.
It is rumoured that the Toronto Maple Leafs have been kicking the tires with Maxim's agent to see what it would take to sign the Russian. As always with the Russians the KHL is a very real possibility for Afinogenov. A team like the Boston Bruins could also be interested in bolstering their offense with a player of this caliber.
Alexei Ponikarovsky: Left Wing
The 6'4", 229 lb 30-year-old left winger from Ukraine played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Pittsburgh Penguins this past season.
In total he had 21 goals, 29 assists, a minus-one rating, 61 penalty minutes, five power play goals, and one game winner in 77 games. He also contributed off the scoreboard with 146 hits, 43 blocked shots, and 18 takeaways during the regular season. He also added one goal and four assists in 11 playoff games.
Over the past six years he has been a full-time NHL player. In that time he has had four 20-goal seasons, only one season where he posted a minus rating, and only one season where he he played fewer than 70 games.
He was an effective second line winger for the Maple Leafs but seemed lost and unsure of his role with the deeper Penguins. He will still be a solid second or third line power forward for any franchise, although his performance in the playoffs, where he became a healthy scratch, may deter some teams.
Teams like Calgary, Columbus, and Atlanta have all been rumoured to be interested in his services. Look for more rumours on Alexei once the top-tier free-agent wingers (Kovalchuk and Frolov) have signed.
Marty Turco: Goaltender
The 5'11", 184 lb 34-year-old goaltender from Canada played for the Dallas Stars this past season. He will turn 35 years old on August 13, 2010.
This past regular season saw him post 22 wins in 53 games with a 0.913 save percentage, 2.72 goals against average, and four shutouts.
For his career in the regular season he has a 0.911 save percentage and a 2.31 goals against average. In the playoffs his career numbers are actually better with a 0.914 save percentage and a 2.17 goals against average.
Prior to the NHL lockout season of 2004-05 he spent four years in the NHL with a career 0.923 save percentage and a 1.92 goals against average. In the five seasons since the lockout he has a 0.906 save percentage and a 2.52 goals against average.
In light of his average play in recent years and his age the Stars decided to go in a different direction. Turco meanwhile is on the free-agent market, and some teams appear to be looking to him as a veteran backup option. The Flyers had interest, and it appears the Blackhawks have popped up in rumours as well.
As a part of these Blackhawks' rumours it was also indicated the Cristobal Huet would then be sent to the AHL or to the KHL for cap relief. Regardless it appears that Turco and his agent are ready to be patient and wait all summer for the right fit.
Carlo Colaiacovo: Defenseman
The 6'1", 200 lb 27-year-old defenseman from Canada played for the St. Louis Blues this past season.
In total he had seven goals, 25 assists, a plus-eight rating, 60 penalty minutes, four power play goals, and one game winner in 67 games. He also contributed off the scoreboard with 52 hits, 52 blocked shots, and 12 takeaways during the regular season.
The former 17th overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft has had much more than his fair share of injuries since embarking on his professional career. In only three of the last eight seasons has he played more than 50 games, with one of those seasons being the 2004-05 season in the AHL.
But after two solid seasons with 29 and 32 points and appearing in 63 and 67 games he appears to have proven to some teams that he can be a solid second pairing puck-moving defenseman at the NHL level. Thus far it appears that the Buffalo Sabres are the most likely destination for the Toronto native.
Paul Kariya: Left Wing
Bill Guerin: Right Wing
The 6'2", 220 lb 39-year-old right winger from the United States played for the Pittsburgh Penguins this past season.
In total he had 21 goals, 24 assists, a minus-nine rating, 75 penalty minutes, 11 power play goals, and four game winners in 78 games. He also contributed off the scoreboard with 77 hits, 13 blocked shots, and nine takeaways during the regular season. He also added four goals and five assists in 11 playoff games.
The 39-year-old does not appear ready to retire, as he has remained productive in recent years. Each of the past four season he has surpassed the 20-goal, 40-point plateau. He also also been productive in the playoffs the past two seasons with 11 goals and 13 assists in 35 games.
The New York Rangers are interested in bringing this 20-goal veteran into the fold. However the Penguins appear to want him to stay in Pittsburgh and will likely tender a contract to him unless they can find a younger veteran that could offer the same 20—40 presence.
Jose Theodore: Goaltender
The 5'11", 185 lb 33-year-old goaltender from Canada played for the Washington Captials this past season. He will turn 34 on September 13, 2010.
This past regular season saw him post 30 wins in 47 games with a 0.911 save percentage, 2.81 goals against average, and one shutout. He only saw 81 minutes of action in the postseason but had a 0.875 save percentage.
For his career in the regular season he has a 0.908 save percentage and a 2.68 goals against average. In the playoffs his career numbers are similar with a 0.911 save percentage and a 2.82 goals against average.
Once again the Blackhawks have been rumoured to be interested in Theodore. Also, as with the Turco scenario, if Theodore was acquired Huet would be sent to the minors or go to the KHL.
Marc-Andre Bergeron: Defenseman
The 5'9", 198 lb 29-year-old defenseman from Canada played for the Montreal Canadiens this past season.
In total he had 13 goals, 21 assists, a minus-seven rating, 16 penalty minutes, seven power play goals, and four game winners in 60 games. He also contributed off the scoreboard with 57 hits, 47 blocked shots, and 18 takeaways during the regular season. He added two goals, four assists, and a minus-12 rating in the playoffs.
Bergeron has a heavy shot from the point and is an effective member of any power play. Over the past two seasons he has scored 27 goals, with 14 of those goals coming on the power play. However, he does not add much in terms of defensive prowess.
Teams like Carolina (22nd in power play at 16.9 percent), Florida (29th in power play at 14.2 percent), and the Calgary Flames (26th in power play at 16 percent) could be interested in his services. He would also be a fairly cheap signing—most certainly under $2 million, and possibly even under $1 million.
Eric Belanger: Center
Pavol Demitra: Right Wing
The 6'0", 200 lb 35-year-old right winger from Slovakia played for the Vancouver Canucks this past season.
In total he had three goals, 13 assists, a plus-three rating, zero penalty minutes, and one power play goal in 28 games. He also contributed off the scoreboard with 18 hits, 12 blocked shots, and five takeaways during the regular season. He also added two goals and four assists in 11 playoff games.
Last season was an injury-plagued season in which he only saw action in 28 games. Prior to last season he had only played fewer than 60 games twice in his 12-season NHL career.
At this stage in his career he is a solid 20-goal, 20-assist type player. He would be an effective second line winger on a contending team. Pittsburgh could be a possible destination for him, and the Vancouver Canucks may be interested in bringing him back at the right price.
Nikolai Zherdev: Right Wing
The 6'2", 203 lb 25-year-old right winger from Ukraine played for Atlant Moscow Oblast of the KHL this past season.
In total he had 13 goals, 26 assists, and 79 penalty minutes in 52 games. In two of his four NHL seasons prior to this he was a 25-goal, 25-assist player at a young age.
After a contract dispute prior to the 2006-07 season he returned to the Columbus Blue Jackets after starting the first eight games of the Russian Super League season.
Again there were contract problems following the 2008-09 season with the New York Rangers. The Rangers tendered a qualifying offer of $3.25 million, but when he was awarded $3.9 million in arbitration the Rangers chose to walk away from the contract, making Zherdev a free agent.
While these disputes and issues have scared off many teams it appears two offensively challenged clubs, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins, have interest in Zherdev.
He would be a solid second line winger potentially capable of becoming a shoot out the light first line forward. If his motivations were in the right place he could be a premier offensive talent in the NHL with his skill level.
Andy Sutton: Defenseman