There have been some 257 free agent signings so far in the 2011 NHL offseason. Some unrestricted, some restricted; some old, some young; some expensive, and some cheap.
I searched through the clutter of those 257 player bios, contract terms, and press releases, and found some dark horses. Here are five low-risk, high-reward free agent signings that may not have stolen headlines, but could have an impact in 2011-2012...
(I know you're scratching your head, but hear my wild card out)
A native of Hastings, Minnesota, Taffe starred at the University of Minnesota. But since being drafted by the Blues with the 30th overall pick in 2000, the 1999 Minnesota Mr. Hockey has yet to find a stable home at the NHL level.
After suiting up for 12 different professional organizations, the journeyman has found his way home, signing a one-year, two-way deal with the Wild.
At 6'3", 215 pounds, the 30-year-old recorded 30 goals and 37 assists in 74 games last year for the Rockford IceHogs (AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks). His 67 points were 12th best in the American Hockey League.
Taffe has shown he can score at the minor league level with 376 points in 463 AHL games. However, the former Golden Gopher has just 44 points in 175 NHL contests. In short, he's a AAAA player.
He's not on this list because I think he'll finish 12th in the NHL in points. But how good of a feel-good story would this be?
I know I'm going way outside the box on this one, but Taffe has nothing to lose and could be a good bottom six forward.
You know what they say: "there's no place like home..."
The word often associated with the offseason the Blackhawks are having is "depth." GM Stan Bowman has worked diligently to lighten the load on his stars: Toews, Kane, Sharp, Hossa, Keith and Seabrook. It's the addition of guys like Andrew Brunette that have re-energized Blackhawks fans ready for another Cup run.
The man they call "Bruno" has earned his ironman label. In the past eleven seasons, Brunette has missed nine games...total. And he not just showing up, punching his card and heading home either. In that same time frame, he has tallied at least 49 points in every season but two.
At 37 years of age, Brunette will be reunited with Joel Quenville, who coached him in Colorado. And he will provide the Blackhawks with some much-needed secondary scoring.
Andrew Brunette will yield a great return on Chicago's one-year, $2 million investment.
The Oilers' signing of veteran center Eric Belanger combined with the influx of young talent put general manager Steve Tambellini in a position where somebody had to go.
That somebody ended up being Andrew Cogliano, and the 2005 first-round draft pick was dealt to Anaheim in exchange for a 2013 second-round pick.
After impressing in his rookie season with 18 goals and 45 points, the speedy middle man hadn't been able to sustain or improve his offensive output. To his credit, Cogliano adapted to a checking line role and hasn't missed a single game in his young career.
A change of scenery could be just what he needs. Keep in mind he is still just 24 years old, and he's joining a team in Anaheim that is thin down the middle. After Ryan Getzlaf and Saku Koivu, the Ducks weren't getting much from the center position. The former Michigan Wolverine helps Anaheim get both younger and faster as he replaces a retiring Todd Marchant.
There were few landing spots better for Cogliano than Anaheim—a chance to improve his game and his tan. Yeah, I don't think he'll struggle adjusting to life in Orange County.
He could prove to be a savvy acquisition for Ducks' GM Bob Murray.
Standing in the shadow of a younger brother isn't easy. Anthony Stewart knows this all too well. While his little bro, Chris, has evolved into one of the top young power forwards in the league, the elder Stewart has struggled to find himself.
Selected 25th overall by the Florida Panthers in the 2003 draft, the 26-year-old hadn't really been relevant in the NHL before playing in 80 games for the Thrashers last year. Like the Atlanta team he played on, Stewart had a surprising season. He set career highs in goals (14), assists (25), and points (39).
The 6'2", 240-pound winger signed a two-year contract with the Hurricanes as a free agent, and will be called on to help fill the void left by Erik Cole, who signed a lucrative deal in Montreal. Playing alongside the likes of Eric Staal, Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu may help Anthony share some more of the Stewart family limelight.
Or if nothing else, maybe @AStew22 will get a few more Twitter followers...
This upcoming season we will see Niclas Bergfors on his fourth team in three years.
A part of the package New Jersey sent to Atlanta for Ilya Kovalchuk, Bergfors game hasn't caught up to his talent or lived up to expectations. And as he continues to underwhelm, many are wondering if it will ever happen.
The first two months of last season looked good for Bergfors who had 16 points in 22 games. He was even outscoring Kovalchuk! Then again, who wasn't? But when all was said and done, Bergfors managed to total just 12 goals and 24 assists in 72 games between Atlanta and Florida. In 162 career NHL games he has 81 points but is a minus-21. That is what the Swedes call "ingen bra," or "no good."
Despite all the money the Panthers had to throw around this offseason, the team opted not to pursue a future with Bergfors, who turned 24 in March. The Predators snatched him up with a one-year deal worth just over the league minimum at $575,000. He will join fellow countryman, Patric Hornqvist on a Nashville club that ranked 21st in the league averaging 2.60 goals per game.
May be a little crazy, but Bergfors has a skill set that could yield 20 goals. What's crazier is that 20 goals would be just three less than Sergei Kostitsyn's team-leading 23 this past year...
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