Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Predicitions for the NHL's top UFAs

Kovalchuk is this year's UFA prize

Tomorrow is the biggest day on the NHL calendar. Bigger than the beginning of the NHL playoffs, bigger than the NHL Entry Draft, and yes, bigger than the NHL trade deadline. Tomorrow is the beginning of NHL's Free Agency, something every fan looks forward to in hopes that their team will land the one elite scorer or wall of a goalie to bring them the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup.

To talk about free agency, we need to know one thing:

Who is available?

Well thanks to sportscity.com we were able to grab a list of every 2010 unrestricted free agent (by position). Ripple the Twine is going to break down 3 players at their position (who is available, obviously) and where they will start the 2010-2011 season. We're not at liberty to give salary because that's always a crap shoot, but we'll do our best. Remember, these our just our predictions so if you don't agree with any of them, please feel free to debate it!


Ollie Jokinen
Age: 30
Team: New York Rangers
$5.5M last season

Thoughts: Jokinen was traded from Calgary to New York at (or near) the trade deadline in what many thought was a salary dump for the Flames. Despite being 31 when the new season begins, Jokinen played 82 games last season and amassed 50 points on the season. Now, that's not production you expect from a player making $5.5M so I expect his salary to decrease drastically.

In a year where aging centers have taken hometown discounts (see: Marc Savard 7 years/$28.05M and Patrick Marleau 4 years/$27.6M) I don't expect to see Ollie sign a contract like the one he previously had and I don't expect him to end up with the Rangers again. Even though Glen Sather loves giving out awful contracts (hello Wade Redden and Chris Drury), I don't expect this to be one of them.

New Team: Unknown

Name: Saku Koivu
Age: 34
Team: Anaheim Ducks

Thoughts: When Koivu signed in Anaheim, Montreal's spirit was effectively broken. Although Koivu only signed a one year contract in Anaheim, replacing him as captain in Montreal was not easy. Koivu played 71 games for the Ducks and ended the season with 52 (19 goals, 32 assists) points with a plus/minus of +14, his best plus/minus of his career (previous best was +8 in 1997/1998 with Montreal).

When it comes to Koivu, an aging center, the only thing on his mind has to be a Stanley Cup. I believe Koivu signs somewhere that has a legitimate chance of winning a Stanley Cup in the next year or two.

New Team: Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks

Name: Mike Modano
Age: 39
Team: Dallas Stars

Thoughts: Dallas has already made their statement, they will not be re-signing Mike Modano, effectively ending his career for the only team he's played on. Modano was the Dallas Stars. Everything they stood for, believed in and the Stanley Cup they won was channeled through Number 9.

So what happens now? This all lays on the shoulders of Mikey Mo. If he believes he can still play, a team may take a flier on him, especially given the right price. Many people thought Mark Recchi was to old to play, but he continues to be an ageless wonder in Boston for around $1M. Modano could effectively do the same thing if Dallas doesn't want him. One year, $1M deals until the legs can no longer skate.

With that said, I think he will ultimately retire. Last season he played in 59 games but was still able to score 14 goals and help with 16 assists (30 points), but his body is clearly breaking down.

New Team: Retiring

Wingers (Doing 4)

Name: Ilya Kovalchuk
Age: 26
Team: New Jersey Devils

Thoughts: If you want Ilya, you'll need to open your wallets. Kovalchuk has openly stated that he wants a long term contract for big bucks. In a weak free agent pool, Kovalchuk is the gem which means that teams will be throwing sacks of money with the dollar signs on them at him. Last season, Kovalchuk scored 41 goals, 44 goals (84 points) in 76 games played. Despite missing 6 games, he was over a point per game player who has the ability to score 50+ goals (done twice in his career).

If I was Kovalchuk, I'm looking for a long-term contract for a club that looks like they can be a contender. The Los Angeles Kings have lots of cap room this season (about $17M) as does Anaheim (about $21M) , Washington ($15M) and Colorado (about $29M).

New Team: Los Angeles Kings

Name: Alexander Frolov
Age: 27
Team: Los Angeles Kings

Thoughts: So if Kovalchuk lands in Los Angeles, Frolov is probably leaving for a new home. I'll be honest, there isn't much I know about Frolov because he plays on the West Coast where LA isn't in the NHL's spotlight.

Statistically Frolov had his worse year with the Kings since he began playing with them in 2005-2006. Frolov played in 81 games, scoring 19 goals with 32 helpers (51 points) and a plus/minus of -1. The biggest knock on Frolov is that he isn't great in one particular area. He's not a great two-way forward, he passes up a lot of shooting opportunities, but there is an upisde and potential that could make him a good top 6 forward.

I can see a team in the East signing Frolov. A team like Buffalo needs a big guy to hang with guys like Lucic in Boston and Phaneuf in Toronto. They also have the cap room (about $13M) to land him.

New Team: Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs

Name: Paul Kariya
Age: 34
Team: St. Louis Blues

Thoughts: An older player whose career is slowly coming to an end. Kariya has played in St. Louis for the past three seasons and after a great first season (82 games, 16 goals, 49 assists, 65 points) his second (11 games, 2 goals, 13 assists, 15 points) and third (75 games, 18 goals, 25 assists, 43 points) seasons have began to show his age.

Ultimately, I think Kariya stays in St. Louis.

New Team: St. Louis Blues

Name: Lee Stempniak
Age: 26
Team: Phoenix Coyotes

Thoughts: Stempniak was traded mid-season from Toronto the Phoenix and played pretty well throughout 2009-2010. At the end of the season, Stempniak played 80 games and scored 28 goals and helped with 20 assists (48 points).

Stempniak was a huge part of the Coyotes offense going down the stretch and into the playoffs, so I expect him to come back to the desert. The biggest knock on Stempniak is his size, but his ability to score goals and be a factor on the power play can make up for it.

New Team: Phoenix Coyotes


Name: Sergei Gonchar
Age: 35
Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
Contract: $5.5M

Thoughts: It's been documented that Gonchar is looking for a 4 year contract while the Penguins are only willing to go 2 years. I don't know what Gonchar is expecting, but I highly doubt there is a team out there willing to give an aging defenseman a 4 year contract, though I've been wrong many times before.

The only reason a team would be willing to give Gonchar a 4 year contract is because he is masterful at running the power play. Gonchar was the quarterback for Pittsburgh's power play throughout his five years there, but with the minutes he logs, his old body is about breaking down.

I have no idea where a guy like Gonchar will go. You could have one of those Florida/Tampa type teams that will just throw money at a player or you will have a team like Pittsburgh who will just sit on Gonchar until he caves.

New Team: Pittsburgh Penguins, Calgary Flames, New York Islanders
Real Team: Ottawa Senators

Name: Paul Martin
Age: 28
Team: New Jersey Devils
Contract: $4.5M

Thoughts: Martin is a young, puck moving defenseman (God, I hate that fucking term with a passion) who is able to devour minutes. The guy missed 59 games due to a broken arm and hasn't played a full season since 2006-2007.

With that said, he's still young enough that he hasn't peaked yet (I hope) but old enough that he carries good habits with him throughout his play. His biggest problem will be staying healthy, but the fact that he's 6'1" 200 and has a large frame that will eat minutes means he has value somewhere.

*WARNING, BRUINS BIASED COMING* I would like to see Boston make a run at this guy because they are thin at defense, but with a poor cap situation, I don't see it happening. Look for a team like St. Louis, Colorado or New Jersey to make a run at him.

New Team: New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues
Real Team: Pittsburgh Penguins

Name: Derek Morris
Age: 30
Team: Phoenix Coyotes
Contract: $3.3M

Thoughts: Morris was traded from Phoenix to New York then signed with Boston last off season, only to be traded back to the Coyotes at the trade deadline. It seems as though Morris is destined to stay in the desert and he's been a fan favorite there (from what I've been told) since he first stepped out on the ice.

Morris was liked in Boston and people were very sad to see him traded, but his inconsistency didn't warrant the $3.3M Peter Chiarelli threw at him. Morris was virtually useless for the Coyotes in 18 games last season, scoring 1 goal and helping on 3 others so I don't expect the $3.3M price tag to come back.

With that said, there is always a team looking to grab an offensively skilled defenseman and Morris is that (well when compared to his defensive abilities). Another year as a UFA means that Morris won't go back to the desert...until the trade deadline.

New Team: Ottawa Senators, Carolina Hurricanes, Phoenix Coyotes
Real Team: Phoenix Coyotes


Name: Evgeni Nabokov
Age: 33
Team: San Jose Sharks
Contract: $6M

Thoughts: The Sharks have already came out and stated that they will not have a contract offer for Evgeni Nabokov. Apparently San Jose is ready to go in a new direction after Nabby has taken shots of being soft and lazy both in the Olympics and the NHL Playoffs.

Nabby's stats aren't terrible this season (2.43 GAA and .922 S%) so I don't know why people are always knocking him. Could it be the whole "San Jose Sharks are chokers" moniker that seems to be kicking around every year until they win the Stanley Cup?

I think Nabby still has some years left under his belt so look for Philly to make a run at him.

New Team: Philadelphia Flyers

Name: Marty Turco
Age: 33
Team: Dallas Stars
Contract: $5.4M

Thoughts: What an absolute fall from grace Turco has had. Over the past two seasons he's posted GAA of 2.81 and 2.72 and S% of .898 and .913. Turco was once thought of to be a Vezina winning goalie and has been in that conversation a few times over his career.

It could be that Turco was on a terrible Stars team for the last couple of seasons, but I don't expect him to go somewhere and be the starter. If a team is looking for an experienced back-up, Minnesota might be the place for him to land. With Niklas Backstrom manning the pipes, Turco won't have the pressure he had in Dallas but will still be able to get 20-25 games in.

New Team: Minnesota Wild

Name: Dan Ellis
Age: 29
Team: Montreal Canadiens
Contract: $2M

Thoughts: Ellis was just traded to the Montreal Canadiens and will become a free agent tomorrow, but many think that he will sign (or re-sign) with Montreal and compete for the starting job against highly touted but rarely winning Carey Price.

With a goalie battle in Nashville, Ellis may get the opportunity he needs to show the world he can be a starting goaltender. The knock on Ellis, though, is his inconsistency with the puck leads to costly turnovers.

With that said, I think he remains in Montreal, which means I hate him and will need to stop following him on Twitter.

New Team: Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers
Real Team: Tampa Bay Lightning

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