Free (Agent) Willie: signs with Los Angeles Kings
It's at this time of year that we begin the anticipation of another NHL season. While most of us are experiencing the hang over that summer provided, most NHLer's are putting the final touches on their respective training and conditioning programs, backing their bags and changing their focus towards training camp.
Like most summers before this, the NHL goes through it's annual free agency period and while many players have the opportunity to move to new environments, others consider it a time in their career where the financial opportunities are most great.
Between the end of last season, through free agency and now. Many players have changed addresses from the east coast of North America right through to Siberia.
Let's have a look at 10 NHL defenseman in new sweaters for the 2010-11 season.
Some of these players where traded in the off-season, while others simply enjoyed the free agent process. Any way you look at there continues to be change in the NHL.
Pavel during his first stint with the Lightning between 1997-2006
Ok, so it's not really a new sweater.
Whenever I think of the Pavel Kubina signing with the Lightning and Joe Corvo (who re-signed in Carolina), for that matter, it reminds me of that back to school TV commercial "There going back!" referring to the dad who pulls his kids with a rope attached to a couch while he buys them back-to-school items.
I think you know what I mean.
Lot's has changed since Pavel last was a member of the Lightning. Let's see if we can help Pavel out here.
New... Owner, General Manager, Coaches, updated uniforms to name a few. Indeed many things have changed after being away for 4 NHL seasons (Three in Toronto and last season in Atlanta)
What Kubina brings:
Kubina will certainly assist the development of young blue liners like Victor Hedman and Mike Lundin while eating minutes helping veterans Mattias Ohlund and another free agent signee Brett Clark stabilize a reformed back end.
At age 33, Pavel has lot's of hockey remaining and signed a two-year deal averaging about $3.85M/season.
Kubina will likely play with Hedman as the #1 unit and be paired with Ohlund during power play duties.
Look for Kubina to score between 35-40 points in his Lightning return.
When you think of Kurtis Foster, many people remember the broken leg he suffered while racing to beat out an icing...
After missing a year of hockey and not to mention the intense rehab he endured, Kurtis returned to hockey and played a key part for the Tampa Bay Lightning last season.
Foster will now apply his trade in Edmonton after signing as a free agent this summer.
What Foster brings:
Kurtis will certainly see some power play time, likely on the second unit this season which could allow the Oilers brass to continue the steady development of other defenseman like Tyler Chorney in Oklahoma City of the AHL for another season.
Foster will certainly be added insurance should GM Tambellini be able to finally trade Sheldon Souray and his contract.
Foster is only 28 years old and with other blue liners like Tom Gilbert (27), Ladislav Smid (24) and Ryan Whitney (27) could find his time in Oil Country rewarding.
Look for Foster to contribute between 25-30 points this season. Should Souray be moved that number might increase.
Michalek doing his best to contain Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks
At age 27, Zbynek Michalek is entering the prime of his career and that's not only good for him, it's good for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Entering this season, Michalek is a shot blocking machine. With over 400 shots blocked over the last two seasons alone, Zbynek has become a consistant performer who will be counted on by coach Bylsma to continue his current development trend.
His ability to do little things well will likely go unnoticed to most, but will be appreciated by the Pen's faithful.
With a career +/- of -22, Michalek finished last season a +5 while playing over 22 minutes a game for the Phoenix Coyotes.
With the Penguins adding Paul Martin as well this team has done reasonably well considering that Sergei Goncher is now an Ottawa Senator.
General Manager Ray Shero has gone a different direction this season and players like Michalek make veteran players like Jay McKee and Mark Eaton expendable.
What Michalek brings:
Along with his shot blocking abilities, Michalek is one of five current Pens defenseman who played over 20 minutes last season.
Letang, Goligoski and Orpik all averaged between 20 and 22 minutes for the Pens and Paul Martin played over 22 minutes a night for the New Jersey Devils. All in all, Michalek can be counted on to play big mintues if needed. It's unlikely that he will see any power play time as Letang and newcomer Martin will likely be the first unit pairing.
Michalek's ability to be a shut down defenseman and potential short handed d man is a more likely scenario for him.
Michalek does have some offensive up side and could score between 15 and 25 points depending on how he is used by the coaching staff.
Gonchar will now patrol the Sens blue line in 2010-11
The Ottawa Senators where certainly looking for some offensive production from their blue line and when Sergei Gonchar became available it seemed like the two might just be a nature fit.
But Goncher is now 36 years old and has battled a few injuries along the way, overall the Sens and their fans just might have the one player that can help boost a defence that need some boosting.
Gonchar will ease the growing pains of Brian Lee and Erik Karlsson while being able to allow Sens Coach Clouston a proven weapon from the back end. However over use of Gonchar could be a liabilitiy.
Smooth skating Russian should prove the help the Senators are seeking on the blue line.
What Gonchar brings:
For the most part, Goncher will likely be paired with Filip Kuba on the Sens first unit power play and should be a welcomed addition to the likes of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and a healthy Alex Kovalev.
Look for Gonchar to contibute in the 50-55 point range this season. Remember that most of those points will occur on the powerplay. Gonchar provided 30 points alone last season helping the Pens powerplay.
Meszaros during the 2010 olympic games
Moving on to his third team of his young career, Andrej Meszaros was once a proven offensive defenseman with true grit during his time in Ottawa and would easily obtain between 20+ points.
Over his time in Tampa, Andrej's game changed slightly to include more of his grit. Overall at age 24 Andrej has had a bit of an experience during his time in Tampa Bay which seen him play for his native Slovakia in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
In Phily, Andrej will be able to use his skills to fit into a system that includes Chris Pronger and Braydon Coburn.
Add the likes of the savvy Kimmo Timonen and Sean O'Donnell, the Flyers will have a very versitile defence corps even if Pronger starts the year on the shelf. Matt Carle or Sean O'Donnell could very well be his defense partner as the season progresses.
What Meszaros brings:
Depth and Grit, but potential to return to the offensive side of the ledger. Meszaros could allow the Flyers the opportunity to continue to develop Oskars Bartulis and others in Adirondack of the AHL.
Look for Andrej to be headed back to the 25-30 point range in 2010-11.
Martin will now rush the puck for the Pittsburgh Penguins this season
Well another Pittsburgh recruit makes the list, but remember that Paul Martin missed a good chuck of time last season.
His offensive potential and ability will be counted on to off set the lose of Sergei Gonchar. Replacing 30 points on the power play will not be easy, but Martin will be looking to spread his wings where he wasn't allowed to previously in New Jersey.
Like Michalek, he is coming to a team with other players playing key minutes every night. The Pens have arguably one of the best two power units in the NHL.
Hopefully Martin can stay away from the injury bug and play a full and healhty season. Should he do that the Pens will be in good shape as their season progresses.
Martin could be paired with the other new comer Michalek or potentially with Rookie Ben Lovejoy or shifty Kris Letang. Either way it shuld be an exicting year in Pittsburgh.
What Martin brings:
Effective power play options to aid Alex Goligoski and Letang. Could be paired with either one to secure the Pens power play plus take on effective regular minutes to potentially deep top 6 in Pittsburgh.
Look for Martin to prove close to career numbers in the 30-40 point range, if he remains healthy.
Hamhuis comes home to play for the Canucks in 2010-11
Interesting season for Dan Hamhuis.
After spending all of his young career in Nashville, Hamhuis was moved a few times all in the name of money, but that didn't seem to bother the 27 year old who signed a nice contract to return home to British Columbia and play for the Canucks.
One of the better shut down defenseman in the game, at 6'1 and 210 lbs, Hamhuis is able to log big time minutes and add some offensive punch from time ot time. Could play with Christian Ehrhoff as the Canucks top pairing.
With Alex Edler, Kevin Beiska and Keith Ballard to carry a lot of the offensive load, Hamhuis plays best when he is not counted on to lead a group of D-man.
Veteran Sami Salo (if healthy enough) and Shane O'Brien will round out the top 6 that is looking to play deep into the 2010-11 NHL play-offs.
What Hamhuis brings:
Potential leadership skills and his ability to shut down players will certainly allow the Canucks the opportunity to complete at a high level this season.
Hamhuis could provide some much needed secondary scoring, but the likes of Ballard and Edler could even spell doom for Bieksa, which Hamhuis could provide should that outcome occur.
Look for Hamhuis to gain 25-30 points or more depending in the Canucks injury situation.
Visnovsky will carry the Ducks power play this season
Lubomir Visnovsky will be counted on to carry the bulk of the Ducks power play duties this season. After being acquired from the Edmonton Oilers for Ryan Whitney late last season, Visnovsky was able to show Ducks fans what he will be able to provide this season.
Gone is Niedermayer, and I know you know which one I'm talking about. Vets like Tony Lydman formally of the Buffalo Sabres was signed as a free agent and the Ducks brass are hoping Luca Sbisa or Brandan Mikkelson can step up. Unti then it's up to Visnovsky to play big minutes and run the Duck Powerplay consisting of Perry , Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan.
Visnovsky has an incredible knack of creating offensive opportuntities out of nothing. As a member of the Los Angeles Kings, Lubomir took too many chances, like many young offensivly gifted players do, but was able to create scoring chances on some Kings teams that were inconsistant and badly coached.
What Visnovsky brings:
Hard to believe that Visnovsky is 34 years old, but he still will be able to play basically all of a two minute powerplay. His one ice vision is still good and if he makes good decesions with his puck distribution skills the Ducks will be fine.
Look for Visnovsky to provide between 50-55 points from the back end provided he stays healthy. He broke his hand to end his season last year.
Wideman should feel right at home on the Panthers blue line this season
Interesting time going on in Florida.
When the trade between the Panthers and the Boston Bruins was announced, several media outlets wondered what the Bruins were going to do with out the services of Dennis Wideman. It appears that you still have to give up something to get something in return. The Out going Nathan Horton will certainly have a fresh start in Beantown... I believe Wideman will have the same fresh start in Sunrise this season.
Bryan McCabe is 35 years old and logged just over 23 minutes a game last season enjoying the Florida sunshine. Bryan Allen is 30 years old and they form the older statesmen of the Panthers Blue line.
Add 19 year old Dmitry Kulikov and 18 year old newly draft Erik Gudbranson, and it looks good for the future of the Panthers. At 27 years old and now moving to his third pro club, Dennis Wideman is entering the prime of his career. After helping the Bruins forget about Sergei Goncher, Wideman was a welcome addition to a Beantown team in transistion. The Bruins went on to be a first place team in there conference thanks in part to the play of players like Wideman.
Now in South Florida and with that experience behind him, Wideman is certainly in good position to help the younger re-tooling Panthers play some inspired hockey this season.
What Wideman brings:
Offensive punsh that along with McCabe could provide an exciting power play and transistion game. Wideman has the top end speed that new General Manager Dale Tallon wants to create. Though there are still is plenty of work ahead of them in South Florida, Wideman could be one of those defenseman who leads his team in scoring thsi season.
Having said that, look for Wideman to focus on his offensive game scoring between 45-60 points this season.
Mitchell brings a lot of leadership and grit to an already talented Kings blue line
I know what your all thinking... but Willie Mitchell - a healthy Willie Mitchell - will allow the Kings to continue there advancement up the Western Conference ladder.
Mitchell's experience with the Minnesota Wild and New Jersey Devils organization where put on display during his time in Vancouver. Injuries often get the best of some players and Mitchell is one of them.
The Kings parted ways with veteran Sean O'Donnell, one of the best locker room guys in the NHL and mentor to the Kings younger defence core. Mitchell adds that same dimension and is able to add to other areas that this young Kings team needs.
As an organization you have to allow your younger developing players a chance to continue to develop and contribute and Mitchell is the type of player who will certainly help that process along. I can see coaching in Willie's future, but for now he will be able to offer those "little things" that make good teams great. The Kings are determined to give their prospects a shot.
Matt Greene might be sidelined to start the season, so a healthy Mitchell will assist coach Murray immediately.
What Mitchell Brings:
Another experienced veteran with the capacity to assist younger players like drew Doughty and Jack Johnson. Those players will be given the green light this season, and if last season is any indication the vets like Mitchell will be there to help them through those tough play-off games as they continue to grow as players.