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Cullen: The Second Wave of Free Agency

TSN.ca Talent Blog
7/7/2009 9:01:00 PM
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After covering the big signings in the first couple days of free agency, it's time to start looking at the second wave of NHL free agency.

To start, here are Numbers Game pieces on the Smyth trade and the Canucks' signing of Samuelsson.

NASH
It wasn't cheap, but the Columbus Blue Jackets got franchise cornerstone Rick Nash locked up to an eight-year, $62.4-million deal.  While the Blue Jackets are building more depth around Nash, which would have helped them overcome his potential departure, getting Nash signed eliminates the possibility that the Blue Jackets would be dogged by Nash rumours the same way that the Florida Panthers faced Jay Bouwmeester rumours all last season.

The 25-year-old power forward is coming off the second 40-goal season of his career and had a career-high 79 points and plus-11 rating last season.  If he has promising centre Derick Brassard as his setup man for the forseeable future, there's little reason to think that Nash won't be a point-per-game performer for many years to come.

More Numbers Game -- this time it's Kovalev to Ottawa and Beauchemin to the Leafs.

KOISTINEN
It was such an underrated signing, I missed it when doing my first recap of Free Agent Frenzy and it's too bad because I think Ville Koistinen will be a terrific addition for the Panthers.

He couldn't get into the Predators' lineup consistently, but the 27-year-old Finn was effective when he did play and he could end up in a top-four role on the Panthers blueline before his two-year, $2.4-million deal is done.

CROMBEEN
Picked up off waivers from Dallas last season, B.J. Crombeen proved to be a useful fourth-line winger, finishing the year with 12 goals and 16 fights.

He's not a pure enforcer, but provides toughness on the third and fourth line and is signed for two years at a total cost of $1.745M, enough of a commitment from the Blues that he should have an opportunity to keep playing regularly.

LEINO
Even though the 25-year-old only played in 13 games with the Red Wings last season, he showed enough potential, with five goals, nine points and a plus-5 rating, that he can be expected to take on a regular top-nine role next season.

Ville Leino had a respectable 15 goals, 46 points and a plus-2 rating in 57 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL, but his skill level seemed better suited to Detroit's elite puck-possession game.  Leino is signed for two years and $1.6-million, which could make him a real bargain if, with a year of North American experience, he can handle the NHL grind.

O'BRIEN
A tough guy defenceman who played fewer than 15 minutes per game last season, Shane O'Brien did get called out for not scrapping enough at one point last year, yet he still finished second in the league with 196 penalty minutes, thanks to the worst 5-on-5 penalty differential in the league, drawing six penalties while taking 36.

If he can play with some discipline, yet still keep his edge when it comes time to scrap, O'Brien can be a solid contributor and his toughness is why O'Brien earned a one-year deal for $1.6-million, effectively a chance to prove that he can be better than he was last season, when he had ten points, all assists, and was a career-high plus-6.

RAYCROFT
While he had his moments in Colorado last season, the end result was still subpar for 29-year-old Andrew Raycroft, as he finished with a 3.14 goals against average and .892 save percentage.

Signed for one year at $500,000, Raycroft is an inexpensive backup to Roberto Luongo, a job that only requires 8-12 starts as long as Luongo stays healthy and it means either another year of seasoning or time for top prospect Cory Schneider to be considered trade bait.

HIGGINS
Picked up in a trade with the Canadiens last week, Christopher Higgins signed a one-year, $2.25-million contract with the Rangers.  My opinion of him as a player hasn't changed since the trade.

BROUWER
Troy Brouwer worked his way into a regular spot in the Blackhawks lineup as a 23-year-old and the right winger finished with 26 points and a plus-7 rating in 69 games.

A big forward, who can be a punishing hitter and effective presence in front of the net, Brouwer's offensive upside could be realized more readily with improved speed, but if he doesn't climb the depth chart, he's still a solid winger and good value for the next two years at a total of $2-million.

EAGER
25-year-old enforcer Ben Eager is coming off the best season of his career with career highs of 11 goals, 15 points and a plus-1 rating.

Eager isn't a true heavyweight, but has racked up 36 fights over the last three seasons, making him a presence that needs to be accounted for on the fourth line and his deal -- one-year, $965K -- is reasonable enough for that contribution.

A. JOHNSON
Though 26-year-old Aaron Johnson was limited to just 38 games last season, he was an important player for the Blackhawks to re-sign because while playing just over 14 minutes per game, he was a stunning plus-19. 

Johnson has the size and mobility to warrant a legitimate chance in the top six and it appears he'll get it next season and he's signed for the bargain rate of $540,000.

FRASER
A character checker, Colin Fraser had 17 points in 81 games as a rookie for the Blackhawks last season. 

Without some changes, Fraser may be in a battle just to get a regular spot in the Blackhawks lineup, but he's signed next year for $700,000.

BARKER
It took some time, but Cam Barker, the No. 3 pick in the 2004 Draft, broke through last season with 40 points -- 29 on the power play -- in 68 games.

Barker still has work to do in terms of positioning and play in his own end, as his minus-6 rating was worst on the Blackhawks, but the 23-year-old has started to achieve some of his potential and that was enough (along with some possible leverage from a qualifying offer mixup) to get a three-year, $9.25-million deal.

D.JONES
His 2008-2009 season was cut short by shoulder surgery, but 24-year-old David Jones has good size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) and speed and has shown enough in 67 NHL games over the last couple years that the Avs can take a longer look at him over the next two years, at a cost of $1.675-million.
 
While he would figure to be a third or fourth-line forward, Jones has an outside chance to do better than that given the Avalanche's current crop of forwards.

LUNDMARK
A 28-year-old who has played with four different teams in his 259-game career, Jamie Lundmark re-signed with Calgary after showing well, scoring a career-high eight goals in 27 games last season.

Signed to a one-year deal, Lundmark offers depth; he can play on the fourth line or move up to fill in on a scoring unit in a pinch.

GUSTAVSSON
After a sensational season with Farjestads in the Swedish Elite League, 24-year-old Jonas Gustavsson was in a bit of a recruiting war and ended up signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Gustavsson led the SEL with a 1.96 goals against average and .932 save percentage in 42 games this past season.  In 20 games in 2007-2008, his first year in the Elite League, Gustavsson posted a 2.40 goals against average and .919 save percentage.  In the World Championships this year, he had a 2.83 goals against average and .914 save percentage in five games.

None of those numbers guarantee that he'll be able to do it in the NHL, but are good enough to suggest 'The Monster' deserves a chance and he'll get a good opportunity in Toronto.

Signed to a one-year deal for $810,000 (plus a possible $90,000 in bonuses) Gustavsson will challenge Vesa Toskala for the starting job, but with Toskala going into the final year of his contract, the 2009-2010 season could be a year of getting used to the NHL game before possibly moving into the starting role a year later.

MARCHANT
35-year-old Todd Marchant has been a role player over the last couple of seasons with the Ducks, tallying 34 points with a minus-5 rating in 147 games, but his hustle and veteran leadership was apparently enough for the Ducks to sign him to a two-year deal for $2.25-million.

VEILLEUX
Although 27-year-old Stephane Veilleux set career marks with 13 goals and 23 points for the Wild in 2008-2009, it wasn't a particularly memorable season as his minus-17 rating was worst on the team; not an ideal situation for a checking winger.

He gets a fresh start in Tampa Bay, where his hustle should keep him in the lineup regularly.

WOYWITKA
Admittedly, he didn't play the toughest minutes for the St. Louis Blues, but 25-year-old Jeff Woywitka had an effective season in 2008-2009, posting 18 points and a plus-8 rating while logging more than 18 minutes per game.  However, as a restricted free agent, he wasn't tendered a qualifying offer by the Blues, makin him an unrestricted free agent.

Signed to a two-year deal for a very reasonable $1.3-million, Woywitka could be an inexpensive third pairing defenceman.

Still more to come this summer....

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




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