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Cullen: The Numbers For Free Agent Frenzy

TSN.ca Talent Blog
7/2/2009 5:45:02 PM
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Before the big free agent festivities, the Canadiens gave up a lot for Scott Gomez and the Flames secured a cornerstone piece for their defence, both covered in Numbers Game articles, as is the case for major moves in which players switch teams.

With NHL free agency underway, here is a brief, by-the-numbers look at more than 40 transactions, with the major moves getting the full Numbers Game treatment.

The first move of free agent day was the Sedins re-signing in Vancouver.  Somewhat surprising that they accepted the five-year term after proposing a 12-year contract, but this was a must for the Canucks -- it's simply not reasonable to expect to replace two point-per-game scorers through free agency.

OHLUND
The Sedin's teammate in Vancouver, D Mattias Ohlund, has now signed in Tampa Bay; a huge upgrade on the Lightning blueline. 

Ohlund signed a seven-year deal for $3.75-million per season, a long deal for a player that will be 33-years-old before next season, but the last couple seasons of the deal will only pay a million dollars per season, following the recent trend that helps minimize the salary cap effect.

Ohlund should be a fine mentor for second overall draft pick Victor Hedman, and should play significant minutes for the Lightning. 

While last season's 25 points in 82 games represented the lowest per-game production of his career, Ohlund figures to see more quality ice time on a thin Tampa Bay blueline, so he could very well return to the 30-40 point range that has been more typical of his career, at least for the next couple of seasons.

For Vancouver's part, they will need to find a defenceman to replace Ohlund, but they already have a solid top four with Kevin Bieksa, Alexander Edler, Sami Salo and Willie Mitchell, so they don't need to go overboard in their pursuit.

DVORAK
The Panthers re-signed RW Radek Dvorak to a reasonable two-year, $3.4-million deal.  The 32-year-old is a strong skater and reliable checking forward and his signing gives the Florida penalty killing unit some continuity.

Dvorak scored 15 goals, 36 points and was even for the Panthers last season; solid enough numbers to continue in his third-line role.

ORR
Not surprisingly, the Maple Leafs added toughness by bringing in a heavyweight like Colton Orr, who has accumulated 52 fights over the last three seasons.

Orr's contributions with the gloves on are limited, as he set a career-best with five points in 82 games for the Rangers last season, recording a career-worst and team-worst minus-15 rating while playing only 6:29 per game.

Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky signing in Chicago and Craig Anderson signing in Colorado warrant full Numbers Game coverage. 

CONKLIN
33-year-old Ty Conklin is coming off possibly the best season of his career, a 25-11-2 record, 2.51 goals against average and six shutouts in a career-high 40 games.

He's resurrected his career with back-to-back strong seasons and is now a reliable backup for Chris Mason in St. Louis.  As terrific as Mason was down the stretch last season, he struggled in Nashville when he was handed the starting job, so Conklin provides  real insurance.

ROLOSON
After losing the Oilers' starting job the year before, 39-year-old Dwayne Roloson bounced back last season and started 62 games, the second-highest mark of his career.

Signed by the Islanders for two years, for $5-million, Roloson will be a major insurance policy for Rick DiPietro.  If DiPietro is, in fact, healthy, Roloson will likely be asked to start 25-30 games so that DiPietro's not overworked.  However, with DiPietro's health a question at least until he starts playing in games again, the possibility exists that Roloson could be asked to start the majority of New York's games next season.

WALKER
Matt Walker, 29, had been a marginal NHL defenceman with the St. Louis Blues before joining the Chicago Blackhawks last season and he emerged as a steady influence as a third pair defenceman (14 points, plus-7 in 65 games) and ranked second on the Blackhawks with nine fights. 

Walker will need to prove he can provide that sound defensive play on a consistent basis to make this four-year deal worthwhile, but there's no doubting his effort and his size and physical presence will help the Lightning.

MONTADOR
Splitting the season between Anaheim and Boston, Steve Montador had one of the best years of his career, putting up 21 points and a plus-17 rating and showing enough skating ability to join the rush on occasion.  While he didn't play major minutes for either team, Montador established himself as a bona fide regular defenceman and his willingness to drop the gloves (13 fights last season) earns him credit with his teammates.

In Buffalo, he'll provide a sound veteran presence with some toughness on the blueline and a two-year, $3.1-million price tag is reasonable for a 30-year-old with Montador's experience.  Could be an underrated signing when all is said and done.

KNUBLE
One of hockey's most reliable complementary scorers, Mike Knuble has bettered 20 goals in each of the last six seasons.  He'll be 37 on July 4, but he's never been the most fleet afoot anyway, so as long as Knuble can still park his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame in front of the net, he's going to be effective, particularly on the power play, as he's buried 49 power play goals over the last four seasons.

Signed for a couple of seasons, at $2.8-million per, Knuble is a reasonably-priced top six forward who adds some size and toughness for the Capitals and his presence could make it tough on Eric Fehr, the streaky winger who hasn't been able to establish a consistent presence on a scoring line in Washington.

BRASHEAR
While the 37-year-old enforcer is getting long in the tooth, he's still one of the heavyweights of the league at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds and will fill the void created when Colton Orr signed with Toronto. 

Two years and $2.8-million isn't cheap, especially for a player who has 12 points and is minus-13 over the last two seasons but, given the need for a heavyweight, the Rangers pounced.

SCOTT NIEDERMAYER
With his decision to come back, and the Ducks' subsequent trade of Chris Pronger, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the Ducks would re-sign Scott Niedermayer and, sure enough, they did. 

The 36-year-old can still crank it up and perform at an elite level, as he did in the playoffs last season, but Niedermayer's consistency has slipped ever-so-slightly in recent seasons, the first time in his career that he's had back-to-back minus ratings.

ROME
25-year-old journeyman Aaron Rome has three points and a minus-4 rating in 26 games in his career but, signing a $525,000 contract with the Canucks, there's a legit chance for him to stick as a seventh defenceman as the 6-foot-1, 225-pounder has some toughness that would suit a depth role. 

WARD
Coming off his first full NHL season, 28-year-old CIS grad Joel Ward (out of UPEI), turned in a respectable 17-goal, 35-point season for the Predators in 2008-2009. 

With a strong finish to the season (21 points in 34 games), there is reason to believe that Ward could score 20 goals for the Preds and a two-year deal for $3-million seems like a reasonable investment in that hope.

BOUCHER
32-year-old veteran Brian Boucher played well for the Sharks last season (2.18 GAA, .917 SVPCT) and it was the first time since the lockout that he played more than 20 games in a season.  The Flyers are taking a bargain approach in goal, with Ray Emery (one year, a little over a million dollars) and Boucher (two years, $1.825M) and while Emery is the favourite to be the starter, Boucher could see quite a bit of playing time.

SPACEK
Czech defenceman Jaroslav Spacek tied his career-high with 45 points last season and he was Buffalo's best defenceman.  The 35-year-old can play a solid top-four role and has been quite effective on the power play, scoring more than 20 power play points in three of the last four seasons.  He's not a pretty player, but is effective nevertheless.

The only concern when it comes to this signing is the decision to commit three years and $11.5-million to Spacek when Francois Beauchemin, a younger, stronger (and more Francophone) defenceman, was still available on the free agent market.

COLE
Considering what a disaster his time in Edmonton was last season, it's no surprise Erik Cole decided to return to Carolina.  After scoring 27 points in 63 games with the Oilers, Cole re-joined the Hurricanes and finished the season with 15 points in 17 games.  His totals of 18 goals and 42 points represented his lowest total since the lockout, so it wasn't exactly the kind of season that would allow him to cash in as a free agent.

At the same time, Eric Staal's game took off when 30-year-old Cole (25 points in 17 games) came back, so merely for his effect as a complementary player, Cole is a good re-signing for Carolina at a reasonable cost (two years, $5.8-million).

PARDY
An underrated performer as a rookie, 25-year-old Adam Pardy will be a valuable commodity on the Flames' blueline next season, in part because he's one of the few that will come at an economical price (two years, $1.4-million).  With good size (6-foot-4, 211 pounds), Pardy is a nice fit on the third pairing for now and over the next couple of seasons could have a chance to earn a more significant role in a defensive capacity.

CLEMMENSEN
After getting in just 28 NHL games since turning pro in 2001-2002, 32-year-old Scott Clemmensen stepped in for an injured Martin Brodeur and played very well (2.39 GAA, .917 SVPCT in 40 GP), creating demand on the market for Clemmensen as a solid veteran backup goaltender.

Signed for three years and $3.6-million, Clemmensen has earned enough of a commitment from the Panthers that he should see regular action as the backup goaltender to Tomas Vokoun.  It's possible that Clemmensen won't be able to match his career-best season of 2008-2009, but his play last season makes him a viable candidate to also be a capable fill-in for longer stretches should an injury befall Vokoun at some point.

LAPERRIERE
A gritty pro's pro, 35-year-old Ian Laperriere is a widely-respected team player who will drop the gloves on a moment's notice, racking up 54 fights over the last three seasons.

While Laperriere does have a 21-goal season on his resume, he's hit double digits in goals just three times in 14 NHL seasons and has scored 19 points in each of the last two seasons.  So, he's not going to put up big points, but it's fair to expect the reliable Laperriere to wreak some havoc on the Flyers' third and fourth lines. 

Signed for $3.5-million over the next years, he's a reasonable investment, so long as he stays healthy.

GILL
With the departure of Mike Komisarek looming, the Montreal Canadiens added some size to their blueline by signing Hal Gill, the 34-year-old who is coming off a Stanley Cup win with the Pittsburhg Penguins.

Gill's lack of mobility is always an issue, but the 6-foot-7, 240-pounder can be effective in a purely defensive role and on the penalty killing unit.  Signed for two years and $4.5-million, it didn't require a huge investment to acquire Gill and, considering how small the Canadiens are right now, it's understandable that they would pay for Gill's size.

RUPP
Though there wouldn't figure to be a huge demand for a forward who has been limited to single-digit point totals in four straight seasons, Michael Rupp signed a two-year deal for a total of $1.65-million with the Stanley Cup champions.

While Rupp isn't going to wow anyone with his production, he is a physical presence, at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, who  led the Devils in hits (136) despite not playing even nine minutes per game.  29-year-old Rupp has also increased his pugilism, racking up 16 fights last season (more than the previous two seasons combined) and, while not necessarily heavyweight in that regard, he's a more reliable player than Penguins enforcer Eric Godard.

KRAJICEK
26-year-old Lukas Krajicek is still waiting on his potential, but the Lightning aren't in a position to just give up on a 6-foot-2, 200-pound defenceman who skates well.

With all the changes taking place on Tampa Bay's defence, Krajicek will likely be on the third pairing next season, the kind of limited responsibility that may be best for him at this point.

The Oilers went for a new starting goaltender, and it gets the Numbers Game treatment here.

HUSKINS
It would have been easy to overlook Kent Huskins since he was limited to just 33 games last season, but the San Jose Sharks traded for him at the deadline and, even though he didn't play for them (as he recovered from a foot injury), the Sharks were obviously firm in their conviction to acquire him, signing Huskins to a two-year contract for $3.4-million.

Barring any changes in San Jose, Huskins would project to be the seventh (possibly sixth) defenceman, which seems unlikely given his price tag, so the Sharks may still have a move forthcoming. 

KOCI
A heavyweight scrapper, David Koci accrued 141 penalty minutes in a career-high 37 games last season.  He played fewer than six minutes per game, but did earn some points for versatility by playing some on defence.

Signed to a one-year deal for $575,000, Koci will take over the enforcer role in Colorado, though it would only figure to be in a part-time role. 

Spending their cap money like drunken sailors on shore leave, the Montreal Canadiens added two scoring wingers, neither of whom is 5-foot-10.

ZANON
Unheralded shotblocker Greg Zanon can settle for being well-compensated after the Wild inked the 29-year-old to a three-year, $5.8-million contract. 

While it's a significant price to pay for the league's No.3 shotblocker (with 237), but Zanon logged better than 20 minutes per game with Nashville, so he's a safe and steady addition to the Wild blueline.

The Maple Leafs re-shaped their blueline, dealing Pavel Kubina and using the cap space to sign Mike Komisarek.

FIDDLER
Another Predator on the move, Vernon Fiddler is a hard-working player who can play both wing and centre, but he flat-out struggled last season, finishing with 17 points and a minus-13 rating.  Somehow, that earned the 29-year-old a two-year deal for $2.2-million from Phoenix.

BITZ and BEGIN
The Bruins added some grit to their fourth line, re-signing forward Byron Bitz to a multi-year deal and signing veteran Steve Begin for one year and $850,000.

Though he only had seven points in 35 games with Boston as a rookie, 24-year-old Bitz is a hitter who can create turnovers on the forecheck.

Begin is a 31-year-old role player whose career-high in points with 23 with Montreal in 2005-2006.  He's a willing scrapper and a decent checker, but is effectively a part-time player, playing more than 62 games in a season just once in his career.

SULLIVAN
After making an inspirational comeback in the second half last season, it seems fitting that Steve Sullivan stays in Nashville, where the Predators desperately need his offence. 

Sullivan will be 35 next week and there is a definite risk to giving him a two-year, $7.5-million contract, but it's one worth taking for a guy who was a point-per-game scorer and one of Nashville's best players over the last two months of the season.

PAHLSSON
31-year-old Samuel Pahlsson earned a lot of credibility with his work on the Ducks' Stanley Cup run in 2007, to the point that he landed a three-year contract for $7.95-million even though he was coming off a poor season, split between Anaheim and Chicago. 

Pahlsson finished the year with 18 points and a minus-17 rating, so the Blue Jackets ought to hope for significantly better results next season (and for the two years after that), considering the salary they are paying for Pahlsson's hard-hitting work as a defensive centre. 

Oh, and Pahlsson's arrival should grease the skids for Manny Malhotra to move on from Columbus.

The New York Rangers must have felt that cap room was burning a hole in Glen Sather's pocket, so they acted quickly to sign Marian Gaborik, one day after shedding Scott Gomez's monster contract.

GARON
After taking over the starting goaltender job with the Oilers at the end of the 2007-2008 season, it didn't take long for Mathieu Garon to cough it up again last season before he was dealt to Pittsburgh, where he played little as Marc-Andre Fleury's backup.

With a 3.00 goals against average and .895 save percentage last season, the 31-year-old wasn't at peak marketability, yet he's a nice veteran option for the Blue Jackets as the backup to Rookie of the Year Steve Mason.  If Mason falters some in his second season, Garon can handle a steady workload, but even if he's limited to 20 games or so, Garon is an upgrade from last season's backup, Wade Dubielewicz

STRUDWICK
The proverbial heart-and-soul player, 34-year-old Jason Strudwick played a career-high 71 games for the Oilers last season.  He doesn't play much -- fewer than 13 minutes per game -- but Strudwick hits, blocks shots and drops the gloves when necessary.

For one year, at $700,000, he's inexpensive veteran depth.

NEIL
There seems to be a thought that Chris Neil is a quality winger who can also fight when needed but, based on last season, the 30-year-old is closer to an enforcer who can take a regular shift now and then.

He was one of Ottawa's worst players last year, tallying 10 points while posting a career-worst three goals and minus-13 rating in 60 games, yet the Senators paid him $8-million for more of the same over the next four seasons and apparently had competition for his services. 

Should Neil return to his form of 2005-2006, when he scored 16 goals and 33 points, then this signing could make some sense.  Otherwise, it's simply too expensive for what Neil brings to the table.

MADDEN
While 36-year-old John Madden is undeniably coming off a down season, he's a two-time Stanley Cup winner and has long been one of the better checking forwards in the league.

After scoring a career-high 43 points in Brent Sutter's first season behind the Devils bench, Madden slipped to just 23 points last season and wasn't the same shutdown centre that he's been for the better part of the last decade, yet a one-year, $2.75-million investment is more reasonable than what the cost would have been to keep Samuel Pahlsson in the fold.

SJOSTROM
A speedy checker with good size and a useful penalty killer, 26-year-old Fredrik Sjostrom hasn't managed more than 23 points in any of his five NHL seasons, so his role seems set as a fourth-line energy player. 

Two years and $1.5-million isn't a huge commitment from the Flames, but enough that Sjostrom should be counted on to fill a spot on the fourth-line.

LABARBERA
29-year-old Jason LaBarbera first broke into the league with the New York Rangers, probably not coincidentally the same organization that Coyotes GM Don Maloney worked in before landing the job in the desert.

While LaBarbera hasn't been able to establish himself as a starter in the NHL, he's effective enough as a backup (2.66 goals against average and .915 save percentage in nine games after getting traded to Vancouver last season) and gives the Coyotes a more reliable backup than Al Montoya, another ex-Ranger goaltending prospect.

Two years and $1.6-million seems like a fair price.

Minnesota reacted quickly to the expected loss of Gaborik, by signing Martin Havlat.

THORBURN
A gritty depth player, Chris Thorburn led all Thrashers forwards in hits (127) and played in all 82 games last season.  The 26-year-old has 39 points in 196 career games, so he's a comfortable fit on the fourth line.

RECCHI
He may be 41, but Mark Recchi can still play, putting up 61 points last season with Tampa Bay and Boston.  Recchi was a nice fit late in the season with the Bruins, playing alongside Patrice Bergeron and finished the season with 27 power play points, a total only surpassed on the Bruins by Marc Savard (30) and Zdeno Chara (28).

The downside to Recchi's game is that he's not particularly effective defensively, recording double-digit minus ratings in three of the last four seasons, including minus-18 last year. 

Signed for one year and $1-million plus incentives, Recchi provides solid depth for the Bruins, especially if they end up dealing winger Phil Kessel at some point this summer.

AUCOIN
Consistency isn't exactly the hallmark of Adrian Aucoin's game and even though he put up a solid 34 points for the Flames last season, Aucoin's minus-8 rating was certainly subpar.

At 36, Aucoin's an okay one-year signing (at $2.25-million) for the Coyotes, who could use a veteran to help on the power play, but it's probably best if he doesn't play more than 22 minutes a game again, as he did for Mike Keenan in Calgary last season.

SKRASTINS
Underrated veteran shotblocker Karlis Skrastins quietly had a nice season in Florida.  The 35-year-old Latvian put up a career-high 18 points and plus-9 rating, while playing more than 20 minutes a night and leading the Panthers with 171 blocked shots. 

He's not a physical presence but, at two years and $2.75-million, is a reliable veteran option for the Stars' defence.

GRABOVSKI
Talented, yet streaky, 25-year-old is clearly favoured by Leafs head coach Ron Wilson and GM Brian Burke.  After notching a respectable 20 goals and 48 points as a rookie, Grabovski was handed a three-year, $8.7-million contract.

That kind of investment should ensure that Grabovski gets a good opportunity to build on his offensive numbers.

SCUDERI
It's a wonder what winning the Stanley Cup can do, as the 30-year-old veteran enjoyed his best season with 16 points and a plus-23 rating, while leading the Penguins with 162 blocked shots; and then he moved from the underrated to well-compensated list rather quickly.

The Kings inked Scuderi to a four-year, $13.6-million contract and he'll provide a stable veteran defensive presence, possibly easing some of the workload on 37-year-old Sean O'Donnell.

LEOPOLD
It took some time to get a deal done, considering he was dealt for Jay Bouwmeester before the free agent period opened, but Jordan Leopold has signed a one-year deal with the Florida Panthers for a very reasonable $1.75-million.

Coming off a rough season, split between Colorado and Calgary, the mobile defenceman recorded 24 points, but had a career-low minus-15 rating. 

A former college teammate of current Panthers workhorse defenceman Keith Ballard, Leopold will be a serviceable No. 4 or No. 5 defenceman in Florida.  He's not going to make up for the loss of Jay Bouwmeester, but he's a well-priced veteran addition. 

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca

 



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