Tuesday, June 30, 2009

NHL free agency preview

By Rick Morris

NHL free agency begins at Noon EST on July 1 and a circus will ensue as per usual. Courtesy of HOCKEY DRAFTOLOGY 2009, here is our preview of what lies ahead.

Coming a year after a thin 2008 free agent crop, the 2009 group will be welcomed by GMs across the league who dream of drastically upgrading their rosters with one great summer. “Nossa”-yelling know-nothings aside, it is clear how much last summer’s marquee free agent Marian Hossa brought to the Detroit Red Wings for at least most of their impressive season. This year, he is joined by a much deeper class of unrestricted free agents examining the possibilities on the market. The jockeying should be very interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which the one involving a lower salary cap than many teams might have anticipated last year at this time. Here is how the different positions rate, from best to worst in terms of potential impact players:

Right Wing: This year, Hossa is one of more than a few great options for teams seeking scoring punch from the right wing. Since there is a good chance that he is staying in Detroit, the plethora of top-notch stars really benefits the rest of the league. How about these names: Marian Gaborik, Martin Havlat, Brian Gionta and Daniel Sedin? There’s also some some other decent options who could be envisioned to fill spots on a #2 line under certain circumstances: Nik Antropov, Alexei Kovalev, Petr Sykora and Bill Guerin. There’s also some decent depth players out there like Mikael Samuelsson and David Moss. No question, this position is the deepest and the best this summer.

Defense: Jay Bouwmeester is a rare bird, a high-upside youngster just coming into his own hitting the market at a prime point in his career. Scott Niedermayer is a legit Hall-of-Famer with some gas left in the tank, but he isn’t judged to be very likely to leave Anaheim. The pool of defensemen worthy of skating on a #1 or #2 combo doesn’t stop there: Jordan Leopold, Mike Komisarek, Mattias Ohlund and Rob Blake.

Center: This position and left wing are fairly interchangeable; while there are fewer impact players available here, they should deliver more punch. Henrik Sedin may well end up with his twin bro somewhere once again, and what a great opportunity that would be for a team with sufficient cap room. Mats Sundin proved last year that he was willing to leave Toronto for the right situation and if he decides to keep playing, there are many situations that might stack up nicely for him. Saku Koivu is hard to envision anywhere but Montreal — but as Sundin proved last summer, nothing is forever.

Left Wing: The two most coveted players at this position will be Mike Cammalleri and Erik Cole. Alex Tanguay, intriguing youngster Tomas Kopecky and the venerable Keith Tkachuk will also be judged to have some value.

Goalie: When the two best players available are ones that their own teams have figured that they can live without, that pretty much says it all. Nikolai Khabibulin and Manny Fernandez both still have some good play ahead of themselves, but they are going to benefit greatly from a market that will be insanely distorted in terms of supply and demand. The “Bulin Wall” looks likely to come up a huge financial winner in free agency just like he did last time.

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