Drew Doughty and Zach Bogosian lead the class of NHL free agents that remain unsigned.
The market is pretty well picked over by now, but the cupboard isn’t completely bare. To varying degrees, any one of these players could tip the balance of power in the NHL for the 2011/12 season.
We’ll examine three young defensemen who are still unsigned as RFAs, as well as five role players who remain on the market as UFAs.
At just 21 years old, Drew Doughty is already a superstar. Last season, he teamed with Jack Johnson to give the Los Angeles Kings one of the best young defense pairings in the NHL.
Los Angeles has made some significant moves this offseason, bringing in Mike Richards and Simon Gagne from Philadelphia. The Kings brass seems to understand that their young team is primed for a run to the playoffs in 2011.
Yet for some reason, they have yet to lock up their franchise cornerstone.
The two sides have been in discussions all offseason long, but they have yet to agree to terms on a new contract. The Kings would like to lock up Doughty for the long term, but so far, he’s refused any deal longer than five or six years.
According to Helene Elliott of the LA Times, it doesn’t look like a deal will be finalized anytime soon.
Conventional wisdom dictates that a deal will get done eventually, and the Kings would almost certainly match any offer from another team, but the situation still bears watching. If Doughty somehow lands with a contender, it would reshape the landscape of the NHL.
The former Atlanta Thrashers are excited to be in Winnipeg, and Winnipeg is excited to have them. However, that excitement will remain slightly dampened until the ink dries on a contract for star defenseman Zach Bogosian.
Bogosian’s offensive game hasn’t fully developed, but at 6’3” and 215 pounds, he’s a brick wall on the back line. Even at his size, he’s an excellent skater and puck mover, both necessities in the post-lockout NHL. He's also just 21 years old.
Like Doughty, Bogosian is wrapped up in contract talks. According to the Toronto Sun, Bogosian’s negotiations are a bit more friendly than Doughty’s, but they remain incomplete nonetheless.
If the Winnipeg Jets want to revive their legendary playoff whiteouts this season, they need to find a way to bring Zach Bogosian to training camp on time.
Luke Schenn finally began to break out for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. Unfortunately for the Leafs, he was in the last year of his rookie contract. Now, like the Kings with Doughty and the Jets with Bogosian, Toronto is faced with a difficult situation. Schenn has all of the promise in the world, but hasn’t proven that he can deliver consistently.
Toronto knows that they might have a building block in Schenn, yet the Leafs remain understandably gun-shy when it comes to shelling out a big contract. Ever since the lockout, Toronto seems to have been constantly digging out from under a pile of poorly structured contracts. Now that the team's payroll is in a more manageable spot, GM Brian Burke will take a measured and careful approach to handing out new contracts.
Schenn will inevitably sign a deal to stay with the Maple Leafs, but it will be interesting to see how his situation plays out alongside his 2008 entry draft classmates. I’d expect that once one contract is locked down, the other two will be wrapped up in short order.
Sergei Samsonov has had a maddening career. In good times, he shows incredible potential as a creator and scorer. In bad times, he disappears, looking more like a figure skater than a hockey player.
His inconsistency has bounced him around to six different teams since 2005 and left him without a contract as training camp approaches.
Samsonov could absolutely help a team in need to a crafty winger, but the economics of his situation are a bit complicated. It’s extremely difficult for NHL GMs to determine what Samsonov’s real value is going to be this season. He could deliver a performance worthy of a $1.5 million or a performance worth $5.1 million.
The only thing predictable about Samsonov is his unpredictability.
He could end up almost anywhere in the NHL, even overseas in the KHL. Samsonov’s contract situation mirrors his career. It’s completely unpredictable.
It remains to be seen whether Ray Emery can ever stay healthy enough to be a regular contributor to an NHL team. Even at just 28 years old, Emery has already begun to break down. Determined not to let his body stand in the way of his comeback, he has spent this offseason aggressively rehabbing his career-threatening hip injury.
It’s the same injury that ended Bo Jackson’s football career.
Even after Emery posted the best save percentage of his career in his short stint for the Anaheim Ducks in 2011, most NHL teams have stayed away this offseason. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Blackhawks have extended an offer, but only on a tryout basis. Emery will come into training camp to compete for a backup spot behind Corey Crawford.
It’s incredible to consider that a player who showed such promise early in his career now must audition to ride the bench. Emery is back in playing shape now, but who knows how long it will last. If he can remain healthy, he’ll be a great addition to the Blackhawks and probably a hot commodity on the free agent market next summer.
At 38 years old, John Madden is pondering retirement. If he does choose to come back to the NHL, he would be an excellent addition to a contending team.
Madden is never going to light up the scoresheet, but he is one of the best defensive forwards in NHL history. He’s an aggressive penalty killer with a knack for chipping in short-handed goals at important times.
Madden’s underappreciated skill is unlikely to bring in a lucrative contract, but if he chooses to come back, he’ll almost certainly find his way on to a team that can compete for a playoff spot. Madden has already won three Stanley Cups, and he could put himself in position to add a fourth to cap off his career.
Kyle Wellwood is one of those players that seems to rise to meet his surroundings. On a talented San Jose Sharks team last year, Wellwood performed admirably during the playoffs.
He’s not going to overwhelm anybody with any part of his game, but Wellwood is a solid all-around player. He’s the type of guy who can fill in perfectly as a third or fourth line player on a good team.
Wellwood’s name is rarely mentioned in the same sentence as the word “upside,” which explains why he still remains unsigned. He will eventually catch on somewhere, but it may take a preseason injury to open up a spot for him.
The former captain of the Florida Panthers is still looking for a job. At 36, Bryan McCabe is certainly past his prime, but he hasn’t yet outlived his usefulness.
Like Wellwood, McCabe offers little upside and may have to wait for an injury in order to find a place to play.
It’ll be interesting to see where McCabe catches on, as his new surroundings will have a huge impact on his role. Throughout his career, McCabe has always been one of the top offensive defensemen on his team and has figured prominently on the power play. It’s possible that a team may sign him especially for that role, but if he’s relegated to the fifth or sixth defense slot on his new team, he may not see much ice time on the man advantage.