Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Free Agency 2008
Gems, steals and sleepers

Picking out the big money players from this year's class of free agents is easy: Mats Sundin, Marian Hossa, Jaromir Jagr and Brian Campbell are all going to get big, big money.

Ditto, likely, for the next tier of UFAs, which already lost Ryan Malone to a seven-year, $31-million contract. Soon to join him are Brian Rolston, Wade Redden, Cory Stillman, Radim Vrbata, Markus Naslund, Kristian Huselius, Mark Streit, etc., etc.

But there are potential bargains, too. Here's my list of gems, steals and sleepers:
  1. Jay Pandolfo, LW, New Jersey. A perennial Selke candidate, Pandolfo has played his entire 706-game NHL career with the Devils, never scoring more than 14 goals and 27 points in a season. At 33, he's considered one of the game's elite checkers, facing what Behind The Net ranks as some of the most difficult opposition in the league at even strength last season. There's a reason Lou Lamoriello's desperate to re-sign him as he's a huge part of that team's shutdown game. Salary range: $2- to $3-million

  2. Kurt Sauer, D, Colorado. With Adam Foote and John-Michael Liles re-signing with the Avs, Sauer's likely to be the odd-man out and the 6-foot-4, 220-pound stay-at-home blueliner would be a gem (and potentially a steal). Only 27 and coming off a career year despite suffering a concussion that kept him out of 28 games, Sauer was brilliant against top opposition last season. He's not the greatest skater and doesn't lay big hits like Brooks Orpik, but is a solid No. 3 or 4 shutdown defenceman who doesn't take dumb penalties and could blossom into something more. Salary range: $3.5-million

  3. Jason Williams, RW, Chicago. Another young UFA at just 27 (he turns 28 next month), Williams was on pace for a career year with the Blackhawks with 19 points in his first 20 games when groin/hernia issues forced him to miss half of the season. A gifted power-play producer, he could be a 70-point player in the right environment. Salary range: $3-million

  4. Michal Rozsival, D, N.Y. Rangers. Rozsival's a funny case in that, if you talk to those in and around the league, you'll hear good things. If you talk to a Rangers fan, they'd just as soon change the subject. His biggest problem in New York was always that he was played more than 24 minutes a night as the team's No. 1 defenceman when, really, he's a much better fit as a No. 2 or an excellent No. 3. He's a solid skater with great offensive attributes and decent enough numbers, a defender with size who doesn't play big but generally gets the job done in his own end. Salary range: $4.5- to $5-million

  5. Bret Hedican, D, Carolina. Hedican may be closing in on 38, but he's still a terrific skater, and he's coming off a strong season with the Hurricanes on a team that had some issues with defensive depth. He's been miscast in the past as a power-play contributer, but as a veteran in the No. 4 spot, Hedican's as useful as they come. He's expected to settle somewhere on the West Coast this summer. Salary range: $2- to $3-million

  6. Niklas Hagman, LW, Dallas. Hagman was always regarded as a complementary player, someone who would play a third-line role and occasionally chip in with offence. This past season, however, he rang up 27-goals while playing 15:36 minutes a game, a lot of it on the penalty kill. Combine all that with incredible speed and he's an intriguing player. Salary range: $2.5- to $3.5-million

  7. Mark Eaton, D, Pittsburgh. A knee injury derailed what had been a pretty good year for the stay-at-home defender, and Eaton missed the last 50 games of the season and the Penguins' big run to the finals. He's coming off back-to-back seasons with major injuries and lots of missed games, but can be a solid contributer on the penalty kill. Salary range: $2-million

  8. Pascal Dupuis, LW, Pittsburgh. Dupuis's biggest asset is his work ethic, and after turning himself into a checker as a pro following a 50-goal campaign in the QMJHL, he finally showed some offensive prowess in a late-season audition with the Penguins. At the very least, he can play all three forward positions and chip in while shorthanded. Salary range: $2- to $2.5-million

  9. Jeff Finger, D, Colorado. Definitely not a household name at this point, but a player that grew into a role with the Avs and that may still blossom into a top four puck-moving defender. He played 20 minutes a night in Colorado in generally relatively easy situations, but there's potential for him to contribute more on the power play. He blocks shots and has a good shot from the point. Salary range: $1.5- to $2.5-million
The big fish are all going to go right away, but it just might be the teams that scoop up some of these less heralded players in the next week or so that come away the real winners.

On that note, feel free to come join me and Eric McErlain for a chat in the lead up to today's noon kickoff of the free agency period:




At 2:59 a.m., July 01, 2008, Blogger saskhab said...

If Hamrlik got $5.5m per last year, you can bet Rozsival's getting about the same or even higher. He could still be a good addition (like Hamrlik was), but he's no steal.

At 4:31 a.m., July 01, 2008, Blogger Steve said...

No love for Curtis Glencross?

At 5:12 a.m., July 01, 2008, Blogger eyebleaf said...

glencross sucks

At 6:23 a.m., July 01, 2008, Anonymous cynical joe said...

Pandolfo played HS hockey in Mass. played college hockey at Boston U. and has played his whole career in NJ. I think the western conference teams can safely take him off their lists; if this guy doesn't re-sign in Jersey he'll be somewhere in the Northeast.

At 10:35 a.m., July 01, 2008, Blogger Jonathan said...

Kurt Sauer will, IMO, be one of the best catches out there today; he's young and doesn't get embarrased playing the big guns. One guy not on your list who might warrant some consideration is the extremely underrated Marek Malik.

At 11:00 a.m., July 01, 2008, Blogger Jonathan said...

Bryce Salvador might also have been a good candidate for that list; he just resigned with New Jersey on a 4-yr 2.9M/annum deal. Seems like fair money and inline with your projection for Sauer. Incidentally, don't you think Finger gets a little more, say 2-2.5M?

At 1:14 a.m., July 02, 2008, Anonymous Matthew Kimel said...

I'm soooooooooo mad that Campbell is no longer on the Sharks, who are we going to get to replace him? We only went on like a 20 game win streak upon his arrival.


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