Monday, July 03, 2006

Looking at the leftovers
A trip to the free-agency bargain bin

Welcome shoppers to the NHL's unrestricted free agency department store, where we've not yet been open 48 hours yet have seen most of our stock shuttled out of the store.

Not to worry! Pittsburgh, you may be the only non-playoff team from last year yet to get your very own UFA (learned something from last year, perhaps?), but there are quite a few left.

I suppose the best way to go is to start low and move up high, so we're headed to the basement and our discount rack for a look at the cobwebbed selections there...

Basement: DISCOUNT BONANZA (NHL minimum)

First up, we've got this fine Jarkko Ruutu unit. Do you ever find you're watching your team, endlessly hoping they'll take that needless penalty to bring your club over the hump? Perhaps they need to work on their penalty killing in a game situation? Well, Ruutu's your man, and he brings with him his career-high 17 point season from 2005-06.

Eric Daze is also available here, but this is an as-is buy — there's no warranty and if he's broken when you open the box, unfortunately he's yours to piece back together.

If a defenceman is a better fit for your club, there are a number of choices, including the well-travelled Cory Cross and Bryan Marchment. Both come with the added benefit that any encounter with opposing players will end in tears, although only in Marchment's case will it be the opposition breaking up.

Think of it this way: It's always easier to skate around your opponent when his ACL was shredded on the previous play. It just makes hockey sense.

As for goaltenders, we're a little thin in the basement here, but we do have this slightly dented Reinhard Divis. If an Austrian-born netminder formerly of the St. Louis Blues isn't bargain bin material, I don't know what is. (He comes with a bonus 4.67 goals-against average as a selling feature.)

Also available: Brad Isbister, Jason Strudwick, Steve Poapst, Shawn McEachern

Floor #1: ECONO-LAND (If I had a $1-million...)

In terms of forwards, we're heavy on the enforcers here, where you can have your pick of Georges Laraque or Chris Simon, both of whom will come in handy for that key bench-warming assignment near the backup goaltender. They also can be packaged together in order to fight one another. To settle bets, and such.

On defence, both old and slow are in style, where Eric Weinrich and Luke Richardson fit the bill perfectly. What lucky team wouldn't like to test their goaltender with a few more shootout-like breakaways after a d-man blows a tire at the blueline?

In goal, Brian Boucher is all we've got. No, serious. That's it. It's kind of like the Flyers playoff hopes in 2000. As a selling feature, Boucher posted a stunning 4.94 goals-against average behind Miikka Kiprusoff, the Vezina Trophy winner.

Also available: Mike Leclerc, Jason Allison, Eric Lindros, Radek Dvorak, Marty Reasoner, Radoslav Suchy, Ed Belfour, Scott Young, Oleg Kvasha, Petr Cajanek, Matthew Barnaby, Geoff Sanderson, Glen Wesley, Mike Grier

Floor #2: SEARS (Come see the softer side of... $2-million)

Up front, if you want to try to nab some goal-scoring punch, how about Jeff Friesen? He may have only had four goals and 11 points last season... wait a minute... that's not promising at all. How did he even get up here?

P.J., can I get a price check on a Jeff Friesen?

Other options for forwards are the likes of Jan Hrdina, Jan Bulis and Martin Rucinsky — a veritable triumvirate of European mediocrity that can be had in a three-for-one package for the low price of $5-million per year. Put them on a line together and watch your head coach tear every hair from his head trying to convert talent into production. (Doesn't work with Claude Julien.)

That should be entertaining, at least.

On the blueline, Tricky Dickie Tarnstrom led the Pittsburgh Penguins in scoring in 2004, which is the kind of selling feature that gets the two Mikes — O'Connell and Milbury — really excited.

We don't have any goaltenders available on this floor, but you're welcome to overpay Belfour if you like.

Also available: Jeff Halpern, Tom Poti, Peter Bondra, Steve Rucchin, Ken Klee, Jeremy Roenick, Brendan Witt, Yanic Perreault, Jaroslav Spacek, Eric Desjardins, Viktor Kozlov

Floor #3: GOO-CHEE (Designer labels at soon-to-be bought out prices)

We've got some nice talent on this floor to be sure, the most enticing of which is Brendan Shanahan, who posted 40 goals as a 37 year old last year. Beware though, Chris Chelios's fountain of youth in Detroit keeps its stars playing younger than their age, and Shanahan may shrivel in the wash.

Speaking of dryclean-only talent, Bill Guerin fits in well here. After signing a ridiculous $45-million, five-year deal way back when, Guerin laid an egg last year with a 13-goal snoozefest. He's nearly two years younger than Shanahan, however, and is probably yet to reach his best before date. (And don't worry about the mold.)

Anson Carter's another nice option in the goal scoring department, although what he really needs to flourish is to be paired with two odd-looking Swedish twins. If that's an arrangement you can meet, we're in business.

On defence, we've nearly been cleaned out, but the three fellows waiting for a home come in the form of Brian Leetch, Aaron Ward and Danny Markov. Do I hear 'Chara-money,' any one? (We'll also settle for Kubina money.)

In goal, there are two choices, both former Red Wings: Manny Legace and Dominik Hasek. In both cases, please read the warning labels before you buy. (Hasek in particular is rather high-maintenance for what you're getting, and you'd be well-advised to have a groin specialist on staff.)

Also available: Mike Peca, Sergei Samsonov, Petr Sykora, Mark Recchi

Happy shopping!


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