Yesterday, I wrote about the top forward free agents about to hit the market tomorrow, and tonight we’ll look at the defensemen and goalies available.
But first, a moment on Steven Stamkos. While all reports are saying that Paul Holmgren and the Flyers will not submit an offer sheet for Stamkos, I just got a text from a source who said “you heard it first here, flyers announce stamkos signing tomorrow.” If he’s right, then come to me for all of your hockey rumors…if he’s wrong, then I’ll just say that he’s just a friend of mine with no actual connections.
To me, the most sought after defenseman this summer is James Wisniewski. After spending half of this season on a bad New York Islanders team, Wisniewski got new life after he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens and ended up scoring an excellent 51 points. He may only be listed at 5’11″, but he’s a tough, physical player. He’s got a great combination of offensive skill and grit; he’s a pain to play against. Whoever lands him will get a powerplay quarterback and a top 4 defenseman. The Canadiens did trade his rights to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who seem to be pretty serious about making some noise, but at 27 years of age, Wisniewski is in the prime of his career and the perfect age for a defenseman. If he wants to play on a team ready to win, and make some nice money, Columbus isn’t the place. The Jackets brass have met with Wisniewski, but they have yet to come away with a deal. He’ll probably want a 5 or 6 year deal worth between $4 and 5 million per year. With the Capitals reportedly shopping Mike Green, they might take a stab at him, but only if they do deal Green. The St. Louis Blues are a team who could use a player like him as well. At this point, however, the Jackets have to be considered the favorites to get a deal done.
Christian Ehrhoff‘s signing rights were traded from the Canucks to the Islanders for a 3rd round pick. He was all but gone once the Canucks decided to resign Kevin Bieksa. Ehrhoff must have laughed in the Islanders faces because right away he again traded, this time to the Buffalo Sabres for a 4th round pick. He’s a great offensive defensemen and can play solid defensively, earning himself significant time on both the penalty kill and powerplay. But there might not be too much to write about at this point as Yahoo Sports is reporting that Ehrhoff and the Sabres have agreed to a 10 year, $40 million deal. I would imagine that it has a no trade clause. It’s a long contract, but a cap hit of $4 million is a steal for a player like Ehrhoff, and it might have just driven down the cost of Wisniewski a bit if he tests the market.
Tomas Kaberle is slated for free agency, but his best choice is probably staying in Boston. He was a little bit disappointing for the Bruins after they traded for him from Toronto, but much of that might be forgotten considering the Cup they won and all. Well, maybe some of the fans might forget. Still, his stock has probably fallen some and will struggle to find a contract that pays him the $4.25 million that he’s coming off in my opinion. Although if Ehrhoff has in fact already signed and Wisniewski is inked by Columbus before the start of free agency, Kaberle could become the hot free agent defenseman.
Ian White has found himself on four different teams in the past two seasons after starting his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs. According to Eklund, the Sharks have dealt his rights to another team. Your guess is as good as mine on that as I haven’t seen anything else either way. He may not have the biggest name out there, but he’s got some nice offensive touch and could do well for a team looking for the services of a puckmoving defenseman. I think he’ll get a modest raise over his $3 million cap hit.
There are three veteran defensemen in Ed Jovanovski, Bryan McCabe, and Roman Hamrlik who more than likely won’t see any contract offers that match their previous cap hits of $6.5 million, $5.75 million, and $5.5 million, respectively. Jovanovski has been dealing with some injuries over the past two years, but he’s a big man with a big shot from the point. A contender might be interested in his services in a one year deal. Depending on what else happens, I could see the Flyers looking at him. The Rangers have more than enough cap space to keep McCabe, but depending on what happens with Brad Richards and Steven Stamkos, their philosophy on him might change. Still, he could be resigned for a reasonably cap friendly deal. I’m thinking two years, $7 million at the most? Out of this group, Hamrlik will likely have the hardest time finding a suitor. He had a good enough year, but he’s getting up there in age. But you never know with this group of free agents that isn’t the deepest we’ve seen in terms of talent.
A steal might come in the form of Sean O’Donnell. The Flyers might resign him, but there hasn’t been much news about it. He will likely be able to pursue free agency and despite his age (he turns 40 near the start of the season), he could prove to be a solid contributor to someone’s back end. A contract for O’Donnell will probably be only a 1 year deal for between $1 million and the $1.3 million he made last year on the Flyers. He’s a competitor and a warrior. He’s a physical and durable stay-at-home defenseman. The last time he played less than 78 games was way back in the ’96-’97 season and played in 81 games this past season. Boston would be a great fit for O’Donnell as a great option as a third pairing defenseman.
The goalie situation is bleak. You really have to look at what team needs what to gauge how the goalies will end up going. Tomas Vokoun headlines the pack, but at 34 years of age. The Panthers will be interested in resigning him if only to reach the cap floor. If he does stay in Florida, he’s really only keeping the seat warm for Jacob Markstrom, who has top goalie written all over him. That situation would be a shame, as he’s one of the best goalies in the league but he’s been stuck on a pretty bad team. Put a good team in front of him and he could do quite well. The Coyotes need a goalie, but if they didn’t want to spend the money to keep Bryzgalov, would they spend about the same to sign Vokoun? The Avalanche have no goalies currently under contract (Brian Elliot is an RFA though), but that situation might not end up much better than the Panthers. Really, most other teams are set in goal. A few teams do raise my eyebrows though. The Capitals could look like there could be some trouble in keeping Semyon Varlamov around. If he walks, that means that Michal Neuvirth will have the reigns. If the Capitals want to take a big shot at winning the Cup next year, they could put a little more than half of their remaining $9.3 million in cap space towards Vokoun. They have 11 forwards and 6 defensemen signed and they could make a few things happen with the remaining cap space left. If the Blue Jackets can’t sign Wisniewski, don’t be surprised to see them try to croon Vokoun. They seem to have no problem with trying to make a splash this summer.
From there, it goes downhill fast. J.S. Giguere will most definitely not be resigned in Toronto. He wasn’t bad for the Leafs last season, but there wasn’t much to make noise about. If the Panthers don’t resign Vokoun, Giguere could serve two purposes for them: allow them to get closer to the cap floor and allow the aforemention Markstrom a little more time. Other than that, I don’t see too much interest in Giguere. That’s not to say that he won’t be signed by anyone, but he’d better be ready to take a pay cut in order to play in the NHL this year. Last year’s goaltending market should have taught him a thing or two for what was in store this offseason.
Pascal Leclaire had one good season with the Blue Jackets and has been mediocre ever since. Mike Smith was so bad this year (along with Dan Ellis) that the Lightning went out and got old man Dwayne Roloson…and resigned him for another year. Johan Hedberg, Chris Osgood (who might see another 1 year deal from the Wings), Marty Turco, Ty Conklin, and Jose Theodore are all old and nothing more than backups at this point.
One intriguing goalie Josh Harding. He missed all of last season after tearing both his ACL and MCL in the preseason. He’s spent his entire career backing up Niklas Backstrom, so he hasn’t exactly had much of a shot. I’ve always wanted to see what he could do in a starting role, and the Tampa Bay Lightning might do themselves well by signing him to a cheap one or two year deal if he’s healthy enough. He could get some starts with an old Roloson in front of him and could have a chance to prove that he can be the starter down the road for them. It’s a low risk, high reward play.
Ray Emery is the darkhorse. He’s still only 28 and played well down the stretch for Anaheim last year after recovering from his injury that landed him on the shelf for the Flyers after playing very well when he was healthy. He’s another low risk, high reward goalie with actual proven success. Again, I will mention Tampa as a team who could sign him for a test run to see if he’s able to take over for Roloson after next season.
That’s all I’ve got for the defensemen and goalies. Get ready for 12 PM tomorrow when the bell rings and the free agents are released. Brad Richards will be the cog in the frenzy most teams will probably wait to see what happens with him before they get too aggressive.
Should be a great day tomorrow.