A Look At The Top 5 Free Agents
Like “Dr. Strangelove” and “Blazing Saddles” before it, free agent day in the NHL is going to have some Slim Pickens. The noticeable wear to your F5 key from Canada Day’s of yore shows that you are a die-hard fan of the player movement. However, this Sunday, you might want to have a backup plan in place because it may be fairly quiet on the free agent front. Let’s take a look at the top prizes available.
The grand prize and best player available on July 1st will be Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils. He’s the finest mix of work rate and skill this side of Sidney Crosby. After seasons of 94 and 82 points in 2009 and 2010, respectively, Parise was felled for most of the 2011 season with a knee injury. He rebounded with a 31-goal, 69-point effort in 2012 as he led his Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals. Already an elite player in the game and set to turn 28 next month, Parise adds major punch to any lineup.
There really isn’t a team in the league that can’t use him, but he won’t come cheap. Likely to command north of $7 million per season, Parise has a number of options available to him. The Devils would love to have him back certainly. His home state club of Minnesota is preparing a major offer for him that could place him up with the league’s highest paid players – or above them. A number of contenders will look to add him as well, including the Pittsburgh Penguins, who cleared cap space at the draft to make additions, and the Detroit Red Wings who were relieved of Nicklas Lidstrom’s and Brad Stuart’s salaries at the very least. A feisty competitor that hates to lose, a battler, a quality shooter – though one that rarely scores from outside the hash marks, a puck shark that doesn’t quit on plays in any direction, a player that can play in any situation at any time and a consummate professional – Zach Parise will be an instant star on any team that signs him.
On the blueline, Nashville’s Ryan Suter is certainly an enticing runner-up prize for some and even a grand prize for others. Suter has seldom been separated from his more well-known partner Shea Weber, but Suter might be carrying more of the weight than meets the eye. Weber, still a bit reckless on the defensive side of the puck, has a steady eddy in Suter to back him up constantly. Together, they make for one of the league’s strongest defensive duos and feature heavily against the opponent’s best competition but also on the Predators’ power play. Suter cleaned up once again for a more defensive-minded player with 46 points in 79 games and a plus-15 rating. That’s five straight 30-point seasons for the former 7th overall pick.
Less physical than his counterpart Weber, Suter plays a positionally sound game and uses his stick well defensively. It’s not that Suter can’t be a physical player or is turned off by it; it’s just that in the nature of his defensive pairing, he’s responsible for babysitting Weber. Whether Weber takes off on an offensive charge or chases a big hit attempt, Suter has to be there and sound positionally because Weber likely isn’t any longer. Suter plays well in every situation and will lay his body down to block a shot if the job calls for it. Recognized with a few odd votes here and again from the media, Suter finally cracked the top-10 in Norris Trophy voting in 2012, finishing eighth, just one point behind Florida’s Brian Campbell. He was nominated as a “third” team postseason all-star as well.
The bronze medal – though some might consider it a booby prize – is Russian winger Alexander Semin. Though enigmatic, Semin is the most technically skilled hockey player in the game and has the league’s best wristshot. While he’s not a nose-to-the-grindstone worker, he is a cerebral player and can be something of a puck shark. He’s not nearly as bad defensively as his reputation indicates and has seen regular penalty kill time in the past (though not this season). His defense isn’t traditional, so to speak, it’s largely based on timing plays and sound reads and can be a little chancy also. He won’t win a Selke Trophy any time soon, but as long as his head is in the game, he won’t be a liability. His head and his heart being in the game has been part of the problem though. He’s an inconsistent competitor and is subject to injury quite often. He has nearly 200 goals and over 400 points in 469 career NHL games and could be a huge jolt to any club’s offense but at a cost.
From three big-time names, to a bit more obscure offering. Florida’s Jason Garrison is going to get some serious money in the next week. Don’t click to Hockeydb.com, I’ll tell you about him. Undrafted out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, he signed with Florida after a 14-point campaign in his last year at school. He spent a year and a half in the AHL before Florida called him up full time in 2010-11. In 2012, along with the rest of Florida’s re-tooling, Garrison took off. He can set the table with a nice pass (which he did frequently to Brian Campbell on the power play) or clear it with a booming shot (which he did frequently from Brian Campbell). He pounded home 16 goals and 33 points this season (only Weber and Erik Karlsson had more goals) while being a plus-6.
The kicker is…he’s a defensive defenseman. He’s a rather physical, shot-blocking defensive defenseman that routinely played against the best competition Florida had to face nightly. Garrison paired with Mike Weaver on the Panthers top PK unit and then paired with Campbell on the top power play unit much of the season. The defense-first d-man might have a hard time approaching 20 goals again, but with his shot, anything is possible. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect Garrison to command at least $4 million per year on the open market given how narrow the marketplace is right now for quality defensemen.
With the uncertainty surrounding the Phoenix Coyotes, Shane Doan will test unrestricted free agency and might have to change his address for the first time since the Coyotes moved from Winnipeg in 1996. The rugged winger is hungry for a shot at the Cup and played in the second round (and subsequently, the Conference Finals) for the first time in his career in 2011-12. He’s played nearly 1200 games for the Winnipeg/Phoenix organization scoring over 300 goals and 788 points. In October, Doan will turn 36 and probably doesn’t have many years left in the league. He still plays with fire and a disregard for the health of his opponents at all times. He’s a good two-way player because of his competitive nature but isn’t much for penalty killing any more. He has a good shot and will work for his points in the dirty areas. A vocal leader that will do anything to win, Doan will have contending teams knocking each other silly to try to sign him. He may still yet end up back in Phoenix, but at 9 am pacific time on July 1, he’s going to get a lot of phone calls.
There are a number of offensive defensemen out there waiting for a home as well. Most of which range from below average to poor defensively and that may affect their value and term. Matt Carle from Philadelphia, Dennis Wideman from Washington and Joe Corvo from Boston all are quality power play guys and transition players, but defensively leave a ton to be desired most nights. Veteran winger Ray Whitney is coming off the best season of his career all things considered and he turned 40 before it ended. Jaromir Jagr started out nicely but tailed off towards the end of the season upon his return to the NHL. Also 40 years old, Jagr has some milestones on the horizon including: 700 goals, 1000 assists, 1700 points and a third Stanley Cup. Meanwhile, center Olli Jokinen had a fine season on the sinking ship that is the Calgary Flames, he’s only played in one playoff series in his NHL career and would love to find a complimentary role on a good team.
Naming two 40-year-old wingers on the flagship article at the top of the free agent coverage…could be a slow day relative to the previous.
Stay tuned to Faceoff Factor for further free agency coverage…