Free agency day! It’s like Christmas for hockey fans…Will your team sign the big stud free agent or will he stay where he is for the “hometown discount?” Does his wife like it where he is? Kids in school? What about his workout buddy, has he sold him on how good it is where he plays? Isn’t his agent tight with the guys in Toronto? The Rangers have money to spend…Montreal has holes…everyone needs a Shattenkirk-type defenceman! A lot of questions, to be sure, and nobody knows the answer to any of them…so shouldn’t we just wait and see how it all plays out? Nah, let’s guess and see how right (or wrong) we are…here are my best guesses.
1. Kevin Shattenkirk
-Every team does covet a Shattenkirk-type. But not every team can afford a free agent powerplay quarterback that is looking to cash in on a max term contract. Yes, he didn’t play his best in the playoffs, but if you’re looking for a guy to take the keys and drive the powerplay bus, Washington already has a particular Russian shooter that needs his shot attempts…and Ovechkin is probably the better choice taking most of the shots anyways, to be honest. With strong defencemen over in the West, I think he stays out east and cashes in.
–New York Rangers (7y/6.5 per)
2. Alexander Radulov
-A 30 year old that hasn’t had the 80 game grind that most 30 year olds have had…but he has played for Team Russia quite a bit, making his seasons just as long. However, the hunger and “want” that he plays with is noticeably different than his first stint in the NHL. Now with a family, he seems like he “gets it” now. I could see a team giving him 5-6 years, and he will be in high demand. I could also see him waiting a few hours to see who comes in with a 6-7 year offer (while Montreal waits) before ultimately making his decision.
-Montreal Canadiens (5y/6m per)
3. Joe Thornton
-Quietly, “Jumbo” hits free agency, after being one of the top assist men in the NHL seemingly forever. Every team could use him, but it will be a team with some cap space that can give him and his family a multi-year deal that will land him. I’m assuming he’d love to stay in San Jose if it can work for both parties, but this being his first crack at being wooed by several teams, let’s assume his family is ok with a drastic move. Would he like to join Shattenkirk in the “Big Apple” and play with his old Davos teammate Rick Nash? What about LA? I would like to say the Rangers but if they land “Shattdeuces” I think they would look at a cheaper option.
-San Jose Sharks (2y/4.5m per)
4. Patrick Marleau
-Let’s stay with the “old Sharks” theme. Marleau has been a Shark forever. Wouldn’t he just stay? Couldn’t they have just found a way to keep him on the old “hometown discount?” I’d have to think that there is a reason he’s going to free agency…but his kids and wife must want to stay in San Jose, no? So many questions. For fun, let’s say they are fine with a big move, as maybe a move closer to his home province in Saskatchewan is what he is after…the Flames could use a speedy veteran to pair with those youngsters.
-Calgary Flames (2y/3.75m per)
5. Karl Alzner
-Another guy who has waited a while to be wooed by some other suitors. It sounds like Washington will move on, and Alzner has quietly become a steady, dependable D-man to play some big minutes against opposing teams’ top lines. He hasn’t missed a regular season game for years and he won’t be as expensive as a Shattenkirk. Every team would be smart to check in, but only a few may want to spend big money on a non-powerplay guy. He’d be perfect for the Leafs but they won’t want to dip into their “Mathews/Marner/Nylander fund” two years from now…Ottawa would work but he may choose another spot. Buffalo may offer more than he may take but I will take a stab at him wanting to try a Canadian city. We’ll see.
-Montreal Canadiens (5y/5m per)
6. Martin Hanzal
-Size, skill and plays centre. Again, every team would want him. Few will be wanting to go for a 4 year commitment or longer but I think he will get that. I imagine that he loved the desert and would return there but may be looking away from the rebuild after getting a taste of the playoffs again with the Wild. It seems like everyone knows his name and that he is good, but a lot of fans haven’t seen enough of him to say…let’s say he wants a taste of a different western market and a shot at winning now…and there is one team that looked extremely thin at centre when their #1 centre was lost for the playoffs. Johansen could use some help down the middle….
-Nashville Predators (4y/4.25m per)
7. Justin Williams
-Sorry, had to make #7 Mr. Game 7….he’d be perfect in Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Pittsburgh or back in Washington. He is such a smart player that you can’t go wrong having him on the ice in big situations, hence the big goals. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind winning with the group that they have assembled in Washington and he looks like a perfect complement for Kuznetsov with the Capitals. Will he want a change of scenery? Will the Capitals spend the money they won’t give Shattenkirk or Alzner and keep Williams while they have Ovie and Backstrom nearing the twilight of their prime? I just think he has the perfect fit there.
-Washington Capitals (2y/3.75m per)
8. Michael Del Zotto
-This one just seems like the perfect situation to snag a guy that needs a reclamation project. I’m sure Rangers fans will be quick to point out the “Del Zaster” he can be in his own end but he can skate and may just need a fresh start with a team that can give him some 2nd unit PP time and play him with a “stay at home” defenceman that can cover for him. He can shoot, skate and will have some suitors…I think he is a left-handed version of Justin Schultz, and things have turned out well for him and the Penguins on that reclamation project…
-Pittsburgh Penguins (2y/3m per)
9. Thomas Vanek
-He can score. And he’s relatively cheap. Put him on a good line and have him stay around the net on the powerplays…he will nab his 10th 20 goal year. There are a lot of top centres around the NHL that would like to have a smart winger to play with and who isn’t afraid to score from the “dirty areas”. I think a lot of teams check in on him and he goes with his best chance to play on a good powerplay unit…he’d look good playing with the top lefties that they can run out there for the Oilers…
-Edmonton Oilers (2y/2.75m per)
10. Michael Stone
-Right handed defenceman…big, can skate and he’s only 27. The only problem is that he made 4 million last year, which may be about as much as most teams will want to spend, and he is bound to create a bidding war after Shattenkirk and Alzner are off of the board. He’d do well to wait for a few hours and let the big dogs make their choices before he makes his, but he will still get a nice contract. Buffalo seems like they are waiting to spend some money on a younger top 4, and Ottawa would like to have him join Karlsson and Ceci as right shooting D-men, I’m sure. The Oilers could do worse as well…
-Ottawa Senators (4y/4.25m per)
Several key pieces remain…let’s take a shot.
Sam Gagner (CLB), Andrei Markov (MTL), Radim Vrbata (ARI), Ryan Miller (BUF), Brian Elliott (PHI), Dmitry Kulikov (DET), Shane Doan (EDM), Dan Girardi (TOR), Nail Yakupov (ARI), Jarome Iginla (BOS), Drew Stafford (PHI), Mike Fisher (NSH), Nick Bonino (TOR), Chris Kunitz (PIT), Antti Niemi (PHI), Jonathan Bernier (NYI), Jaromir Jagr (FLA), Scott Hartnell (TOR), Johnny Oduya (VAN), Patrick Sharp (CHI), Benoit Pouliot (MTL), Brian Gionta (NJD), Ales Hemsky (DAL), Ron Hainsey (PIT).
Thanks for reading…feel free to leave your predictions or comments. Let’s see how it all shakes out.
~ Jeff Ulmer