Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Updated: July 1, 11:16 AM ET
Free agency: Top forwards
By Scott Burnside
With the start of free agency next week (July 1), we're taking a look at the top free agents on the market. We start with the forwards (click here for the defensemen and goaltenders):
This might be a moot point, as Hossa could sign a long-term deal with the Detroit Red Wings any day now. But there has to be at least some hesitation on the part of Detroit GM Ken Holland after watching Hossa struggle through the postseason with just six goals after a 40-goal regular-season campaign. After finishing with 26 points in the playoffs with the Penguins a year ago -- second only to Henrik Zetterberg and Sidney Crosby -- Hossa managed just 15 this season. He failed to score in the Cup finals against the Pens and seemed to wilt in the face of the pressure of facing his old teammates.
Is he a terrific two-way player? Without a doubt. But Hossa is a complementary player as opposed to a marquee player. The Wings have the marquee in Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom, and would like to keep Hossa in the fold, but his value is definitely less than it was a year ago. If Holland pulls back, watch for the Edmonton Oilers to take another run at Hossa as they did last offseason. Montreal, too, would be in the running given the turnover that is expected there.
Interesting dilemma for new Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher. He will no doubt discuss whether the talented but injury-prone Gaborik is interested in pursuing his career in Minnesota now that stifling coach Jacques Lemaire is gone and rookie Todd Richards is behind the bench. If Richards plays the same kind of aggressive style his old pal Dan Bylsma employed in Pittsburgh, maybe Gaborik will hang around. But the problem will be in assessing Gaborik's value given the fact he can barely walk across the street without suffering some sort of groin injury.
When healthy, he's a world-class talent, and teams like the New York Rangers and, perhaps, the Vancouver Canucks will be interested, but most GMs are going to be very cautious about committing both top dollar and long-term to Gaborik. What might happen is a team comes up with a big one- or two-year number that appeals to Gaborik, whose reputation has taken a big hit in the past couple of years.
When the Calgary Flames acquired Olli Jokinen at the trade deadline (he has one more year at $5.5 million), it virtually assured that Cammalleri would be on the market this summer. A top-flight offensive talent, Cammalleri had 39 goals and 82 points with the Flames and will be a nice addition to a team looking to add 80-90 points to their lineup (and what team doesn't need that?)
If the Rangers could dump some of their horrific contracts (Wade Redden, Michal Rozsival, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury), Cammalleri might be a fit for them, but that's a big if. The Wild, looking to reinvent themselves as a more dynamic offensive squad, could also be interested. And if the Canucks end up walking away from the Sedin twins, they'll be looking to make a splash as they did last season in bringing in Mats Sundin. Cammalleri won't come cheap, though; he made $3.6 million last year and will be looking for a bump on that number plus term.
Havlat's people and the Chicago Blackhawks looked like they were close to signing a long-term deal. But with a bevy of young players to be locked up over the next couple of seasons, there might not be room for Havlat, who finally put together an injury-free season. He did, of course, get his head handed to him by Niklas Kronwall during the Western Conference finals, so there will be lingering concussion concerns. Havlat had 29 goals during the regular season and chipped in 15 points in 16 playoff games for the Hawks. He made $6 million last season, and he'll be hard-pressed to find a team to match that number.
Here's an interesting scenario. The classy Sakic looks at the Colorado Avalanche and sees chaos. But he figures he has one, maybe two more seasons in him. What about returning to his home province of British Columbia and playing for the Canucks? The team could certainly use some leadership, and Sakic would provide loads of that. Hard to imagine him in any uniform other than the Avalanche's, but the future looks bleak in Denver and he would be a welcome addition to any team looking to add character. Remember, he had 100 points two seasons ago.
Get ready for another long summer of wondering when or if Sundin will return to the NHL. Given his spotty performance after joining the Canucks midway through the season, the chances of Sundin's return seem to be less certain than a year ago, when his ruminating became an ongoing soap opera. If he's the man of integrity most believe him to be, he will likely be thinking about returning to Vancouver in the hopes of making amends for his nine-goal performance through 41 regular-season games. The playoffs weren't any kinder to him: He had only three goals in eight games as the Canucks were upset by Chicago in the second round. Still, for one year, Sundin will no doubt garner attention from teams looking for a big, skilled center, even one in the twilight of his career.
It might be unfair to lump the Sedins together, but they do, after all, make the same amount of money, play on the same team and look exactly the same, so it's fair to assume they will remain a package deal. It also looks less and less like they are going to remain in Vancouver; the Canucks reportedly declined to lock up the twins for identical 12-year deals with an average cap hit of $5.3 million. So who has the wherewithal to sign the two Swedish talents? Their obvious destination would be Toronto, where GM Brian Burke is looking to rebuild the Leafs. Burke, of course, was the man who finagled to pick up the twins at the top of the 1999 draft when he was GM in Vancouver.
It appears as though the clock is ticking down on the courageous captain's last days in Montreal. After battling cancer and helping the Canadiens to a couple of early-round playoff upsets, Koivu doesn't really fit into the Habs' plans going forward. No longer a significant point producer (he has hit the 20-goal mark only once in the past five seasons), Koivu will fall into that second-tier, leadership forward role, and there will still be a significant market for his services. The assumption is he might want to join younger brother Mikko in Minnesota, but if there's a team looking to add some character and leadership -- like, say, the Chicago Blackhawks or Columbus Blue Jackets -- they could do a lot worse than Koivu.
If Koivu is gone from Montreal, it might be because the Habs are willing to try to bring back enigmatic forward Alexei Kovalev. His market value will be significantly lower than it was after the 2007-08 season, when some observers suggested he could have been a Hart Trophy candidate. Last season, Kovalev was left home for a key road trip because his heart didn't seem to be in it, and his goal production dropped from 35 in 2007-08 to 26; he was also a minus-5 after being plus-18 in 2007-08. Go figure.
On some nights, the talented Kovalev (he was the All-Star Game MVP) is as good as anyone in the league. Too bad those nights are interspersed with outings in which he seems unwilling to go into high-traffic areas and stays on the perimeter. What about a return to New York, where he won a Cup in 1994? Cap issues abound for the Rangers, but he might fit well with coach John Tortorella if the Rangers can dispose of some of their bloated contracts.
Whatever happened to the speedy, skilled Afinogenov that lit it up with 61 points in 56 games during the 2006-07 season, and had 73 points the campaign before? Well, as far as Sabres fans are concerned, those days, like Afinogenov himself, are gone, gone, gone. No one is going to pay Afinogenov close to the $3.5 million he made last season, but he might be an interesting reclamation project for a team looking to try to boost its offense on the cheap. Florida might be an option, or how about Montreal?
It was no coincidence that when Lang went down with an Achilles tendon injury the Habs' season started to go off the rails. Hard to believe for a player that was a kind of afterthought when Hossa signed in Detroit and Sundin couldn't make up his mind. Lang was a terrific addition, though, and he might be one of those players GM Bob Gainey might try to bring back, although not at the $4.5 million he made last season. Still, Lang's performance in Montreal (18 goals in 50 games) will assure his market value doesn't slip too much if the Habs take a pass.
Did we mention the Habs are in for a significant overhaul? Tanguay, who came over from Calgary last offseason, made $5.375 million during an injury-plagued campaign that saw him play only 50 games. A Quebec native, he would likely take less to remain in Montreal, although his point production has dropped dramatically since he had 81 with Calgary three seasons ago. It's hard to see him returning unless he takes a pretty significant cut.
Interesting dynamic for the newly crowned Masterton Trophy winner based on his dramatic return to action late in the season after missing two years with a chronic back problem. Sullivan was surprisingly productive, chipping in 32 points in 41 games as the Predators battled to the end of the regular season before falling out of a playoff position. Sullivan made $3.2 million last season, and it appears he and the Preds are far apart in signing a new deal. For a team looking to add economical scoring depth, Sullivan will be an attractive asset.
One of our favorite players, the veteran forward still has great hands around the net (his 27 goals last season marked the seventh straight year he has had 20 or more goals), can kill penalties and is a character guy through and through. Philadelphia GM Paul Holmgren's problem is fitting Knuble back into the salary system, especially if he's going to take a run at free-agent defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Any number of teams would love to have Knuble's character, and given that he will turn 37 next month, one or two years ought to get it done. Knuble made $2.8 million last season.
The diminutive forward's goal production has dropped precipitously from 48 in 2005-06, as he has put up seasons of 20, 22 and 25, respectively. Still, he just seems like a born Devil, so who knows whether he'll remain in Newark or not. If he's on the market, his past performance should suggest a significant level of interest, especially given that he's only 30. Would he look good in a Habs jersey? Sure, and it wouldn't be a big stretch to move into coach Jacques Martin's system in Montreal. Vancouver is going to need offensive help, too.
Other free-agent forwards
Other names of note come July 1: Jere Lehtinen, Ian Laperriere, John Madden, Brendan Shanahan, Brendan Morrison, Tomas Kopecky, Mikael Samuelsson, Ales Kotalik, Tom Kostopoulos, Erik Cole, Mark Recchi, P.J. Axelsson, Manny Malhotra, Michael Peca, Jason Williams, Todd Bertuzzi, Samuel Pahlsson, Radek Bonk, Nik Antropov, Mike Comrie, Chris Neil, Bill Guerin, Mike Grier and Travis Moen.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.