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Cullen: More Numbers From NHL Free Agent Days

Scott Cullen
7/15/2010 12:10:10 PM
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Okay, so the free agent frenzy tracking in the NHL has slowed down, which is awfully considerate of all involved because it looks like it's going to give Scott Cullen a chance to catch-up after de-compressing last week.

Picking up where the initial 2010 NHL free agent blog left off:

TAMBELLINI
While he's been a dominant scorer at the AHL level, scoring 71 goals in 113 AHL games over the last three seasons, 26-year-old Jeff Tambellini hasn't been able to translate that to the NHL, where he's scored 18 goals in 180 career games.

He may be more likely to spend time in the AHL, but with a $500,000 NHL contract, Tambellini could be an inexpensive depth forward, depending on Vancouver's need for skill in their bottom six.

LADD for VISHNEVSKIY and a 2ND ROUND PICK
A two-time Stanley Cup winner, Andrew Ladd has enjoyed quite a bit of success for a 24-year-old; perhaps more than his individual talent might suggest.  He's a solid two-way forward with good size (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), who scored a career-high 17 goals last season and is coming off a shoulder injury suffered during the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run.

Ladd scored 38 points in 2009-2010 -- his second straight season playing all 82 regular-season games -- which was down from his career-high 49 points scored the year before, but moving to Atlanta could present Ladd with an opportunity to play at least a complementary offensive role.

With an increase on his 13:42 of ice time per game and possibly some second-unit power play time, Ladd could be a 20-goal scorer, but the Blackhawks simply couldn't afford to keep the restricted free agent who could be due for a raise (from last year's $1.65-million) in arbitration.

Ivan Vishnevskiy is a good puck-moving defence prospect that the Thrashers had acquired from Dallas in the deal for Kari Lehtonen.  He put up 36 points and a plus-8 rating in 79 AHL games last season.  Given what the Blackhawks have left on their blueline at the moment, 22-year-old Vishnevskiy may have an opportunity to win a job in camp.

A second-round pick from Atlanta isn't a bad one to have, with about a 30% chance that the selection turns into an NHL player.

LEOPOLD
Well-traveled (four teams in the last two seasons) Jordan Leopold may be able to put some roots down in Western New York after signing a three-year, $9-million deal with the Sabres; a good fit since the Sabres had already watched veteran blueliners Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman depart as free agents.

29-year-old Leopold has generally been a reliable top-four blueliner, playing 20-22 minutes per game and he finished well with Pittsburgh after the trade deadline last season, contributing eight points and a plus-5 rating in 20 games.

After scoring a career-high 11 goals in 2009-2010, Leopold could potentially help the Sabres' power play if given the opportunity, even if it is a facet of his game that has been pushed to the background since his third year in the league (2005-2006).

Leopold could move into a significant role with the Sabres, as Tyler Myers is the only defenceman on the Buffalo roster right now that will be higher on the depth chart, as young guys like Andrej Sekera and Chris Butler are still unproven and veterans Craig Rivet and Steve Montador are limited.

HEDBERG
37-year-old Johan Hedberg recorded the best save percentage of his career (.915) last season, starting more than half of his team's games for just the second time in his career.

Trouble is, he hit the free agent market during a summer in which there is a glut of goaltending available, so there weren't going to be a lot of (or any) teams offering starting jobs.

Thus, signing a $1.5-million, one-year deal to back-up Martin Brodeur should be a comfortable enough fit.  The intriguing part of the Hedberg signing is that the Devils surely must be considering cutting back on Brodeur's workload; otherwise, they could pay half this price for this year's Yann Danis, Kevin Weekes or Scott Clemmensen.

With Hedberg on board, the Devils at least have a more established insurance policy should their starter get injured.

Atlanta addressed their goaltending need by signing Chris Mason.

I liked Minnesota's addition of Matt Cullen, a Minnesota native who can play in all situations.

IVANANS
31-year-old Raitis Ivanans played nearly 299 minutes in 61 games last season(4:53 per game), yet didn't record a single point.  Fortunately, that's not why the Flames signed the 6-foot-4, 256-pounder.

According to www.hockeyfights.com, Ivanans has scrapped 53 times (while compiling a minus-38 rating) over the last four seasons, and he tangles with the biggest of the big boys, winning more than he loses.

Signed for two years and $1.2-million, Ivanans isn't reliable enough to take a regular shift and could find himself in the press box frequently, which makes it somewhat surprising that he would warrant a multi-year investment, even if it is relatively modest.

JACKMAN
Tim Jackman, 28, is a slightly more accomplished player than Ivanans, playing adequately in a fourth-line role for the Islanders last season, scoring nine points along with a minus-4 rating in 54 games.

However, he's also not shy about dropping the gloves, fighting 38 times over the last three seasons.  While Jackman is game, he's not the same kind of intimidator as Ivanans, so he often ends up tangling with non-heavyweights.

Jackman was signed by the Flames for two years and $1.1-million, which seems like it could be a year too much, but if he can provide some fourth-line grit, the price is right.

Tampa Bay made a couple of moves to improve their defence, signing Pavel Kubina and Brett Clark.

HIGGINS
Coming off a disastrous free agent campaign, during which he scored eight goals in 67 games with the Rangers and Flames, 27-year-old Christopher Higgins still had some level of attractiveness because he's a three-time 20-goal scorer with good speed.

Florida has plenty of needs and Higgins has the versatility to fit into their lineup either as a checking forward or, depending on combinations, in a support scoring role.

Signed for one-year at $1.6-million, Higgins could work out as a good buy-low investment for the Panthers and, if he doesn't, then he could be shopped again at next year's deadline.

EATON AND JURCINA
Anything that will shore up the Islanders' defence is worthwhile and the additions of Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina should help.

33-year-old Mark Eaton is coming off a season in which he tallied a career-high in points.  Okay, it was just 16, but still, he played 19:45 per game for the Penguins and turned in his third straight plus season. 

Perhaps that streak will be challenged with the Islanders, but Eaton is a safe and reliable defensive presence, who can kill penalties and while he's not physical, has good size and blocks shots.  The Islanders' two-year, $5-million investment in Eaton makes them better, though not necessarily by a significant amount.

Milan Jurcina, 27, was shipped back and forth between Washington and Columbus last season, not playing after he was returned to the Capitals thanks to a sports hernia.  Jurcina has good size (6-foot-4, 233 pounds) and while he's never scored more than 14 points in a season, he does own a heavy shot from the point.

Signed for one year and $1-million, Jurcina may be a third pair defenceman for the Isles, but could have a chance to earn more minutes as Islanders coach Scott Gordon had Jurcina in Providence of the AHL when both were paying their dues, so there is a measure of familiarity already.

PARENTEAU AND KONOPKA
Pierre-Alexandr Parenteau, 27, has been tearing up the minors for years (283 points in 242 games over the last four seasons), finally getting a shot with the Rangers last season and acquitting himself well with eight points in 22 games.

In an ideal world for the Islanders, Parenteau would be the second coming of Matt Moulson, an overlooked player who could turn into a scoring forward if given the chance and, signed to a one-year, $600,000 one-way contract, he'll at least get that opportunity.

29-year-old Zenon Konopka has been toiling in the minors for years as well, but he landed his first full-time NHL job last season in Tampa Bay and wouldn't let go, scrapping a league-high 33 times and leading the league with 265 penalty minutes. 

He's not a one-trick pony, however, as he also won 62.3% of his draws, so for a fourth-line specialist role, Konopka isn't a bad investment by the Islanders for a year at $600,000. 

How long he can survive taking on all comers like he did for the Lightning last season, or whether he should be able to put up more than five points in 74 games, are other matters entirely.

MACINTYRE
Steve MacIntyre, 29, is a menacing figure and, at 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, is one of the contenders for the unofficial heavyweight crown, but he's also played a total of 44 NHL games over the past two seasons, managing three points.

He's not good enough to play regularly for the Oilers, but when the situation calls for nuclear warfare, MacIntyre is there for the modest price of $500,000 next season.

Nashville replaced Jason Arnott by signing speed-burner Matthew Lombardi.

EBBETT
With Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik departing last season, Andrew Ebbett fulfills the Coyotes' Michigan Wolverine obligations and the 27-year-old Ebbett would probably just like to spend the season in one place after skating for three NHL teams in 2009-2010.

His one-year deal for $500,000 is two-way, so he could end up spending some time in the AHL, but Ebett offers some skill (47 points in 112 NHL games) for the lower half of the depth chart.

CRAIG
Ryan Craig, 28, hasn't been able to build on his 2005-2006 rookie season, when he scored 15 goals and 28 points in 48 games, but he's a big body who will grind it out. 

Still, with eight points in 64 NHL games over the last three seasons and signed to a one-year, $500,000 deal, it seems likely that he'll see the majority of his time in the AHL rather than in Pittsburgh.

GIROUX
Lanky 29-year-old winger Alexandre Giroux has been laying waste to the AHL the last couple of seasons, scoring 110 goals and 200 points in 138 games over the last two years and it resulted in his getting a one-year (and, more importantly, one-way) deal from Edmonton for $500,000.

Giroux has five points in 21 NHL games over the last two seasons, so it's no sure thing that he'll be able to produce at the NHL level but, for an Oilers team in need of a talent upgrade, it's worth a shot.  And if he doesn't stick with the Oilers and ends up as a high-priced leader for the new AHL team in Oklahoma City, at least it will give Oilers prospects a better chance to succeed.
 
STONE
25-year-old Ryan Stone paid his dues in the AHL before sticking with the Oilers last season though knee injuries limited him to just 27 games.

While he didn't play much and managed only six assists in those 27 games, Stone did play a sound defensive role (a plus-2 with the Oilers) on the fourth line and brings some toughness to the table as well.

The Calgary native has a two-way contract with the Flames, but with a $500,000 NHL salary, he could be an economical fourth-line solution.

NIEDERMAYER
After a solid 2009-2010 season in New Jersey, Rob Niedermayer is taking his game to Buffalo for one year at $1.15-million.  The 35-year-old has good size, can skate and should be a stabilizing influence on the lower half of the Sabres' forward depth chart.

Niedermayer can play centre and wing, so he has some flexibility depending on Buffalo's positional needs and he led New Jersey forwards in shorthanded time on ice per game last year, so he should fit nicely on a PK unit that was second-best in the league last season.

At the moment, the Devils don't necessarily have a proven third-line pivot to replace Niedermayer, though rookie Jacob Josefson could get a chance in that role.

CORVO
Returning to Carolina, 33-year-old Joe Corvo struggled in 2009-2010, due in no small part to a lacerated calf that kept him out of action for two months, and he ended the year with 18 points and a career-worst minus-10 rating in 52 games split between Carolina and Washington. 

However, Corvo had played a significant role on the Hurricanes' blueline since he was acquired in 2008, playing big minutes (24:19 per game in 2008-2009, 25:13 in 2009-2010 before he was traded to Washington) and quarterbacking the power play.

While Corvo's never been the most consistent performer, and he gets down on himself when things aren't going well, he's very talented; a strong skater with a booming shot from the point and good puck skills. 

Signed for two years and $4.5-million he's certainly capable of handling a top-four role with the Hurricanes, provided he's 100% healthy after last year's fiasco. 

With younger defencemen like Anton Babchuk and Jamie McBain capable of handling significant offensive roles, though, it may be tough for Corvo to match the kind of production he had in previous seasons, when he scored at least 37 points in the first four years coming out of the lockout, but 30-plus points shouldn't be out of the question.

LEBDA
28-year-old Brett Lebda is undersized, but a terrific skater who will provide depth on the Toronto Maple Leafs' blueline. 

Lebda has been a third pair defenceman in Detroit, playing more than 15 minutes per game just once in five seasons, and he finished with a career-low eight points and minus-2 rating in 63 games in 2009-2010.

As long as Tomas Kaberle remains with the Maple Leafs, Lebda looks like an extra body, but should Kaberle get traded, that would open up a third pair spot for Lebda.  Signed for two years and $2.9-million, Lebda is a more economical option than Jeff Finger, who may be better defensively, but not enough to justify his $3.5-million annual salary.

EMINGER for VOROS and HILLIER
Steve Eminger, 26, has been moving a lot lately, and the New York Rangers will be his sixth team (Washington, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Florida, Anaheim) since 2008.

While Eminger doesn't appear that he's going to live up to his draft slot -- he was taken 12th overall in 2002 -- he stepped into a more prominent role with the Ducks late in the season and didn't appear out of place.  From February on, Eminger played more than 22 minutes per game and had ten points and a plus-6 rating in his last 24 games.

With the Rangers, Eminger is a prime insurance policy.  If the Rangers can't come to an agreement with restricted free agent Marc Staal (a worst-case scenario), decide to bury Wade Redden in the minors or merely want competition for Matt Gilroy, Eminger is capable of filling a variety of roles on the Rangers' blueline.

Eminger has $1.125-million left on his deal, and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

What seems assured is that Eminger will provide more for the Rangers than they were expecting from Aaron Voros, a fourth-line tough guy who played just 6:09 per game in 41 games last season.

29-year-old Voros could play that kind of role in Anaheim, particularly since Mike Brown was traded to Toronto.  With 37 points and 352 penalty minutes in 150 career games, it's evident what he's capable of providing.

Voros is also entering the final year of his deal, worth $1-million.

Left winger Ryan Hillier was a third-round pick of the Rangers in 2006, but has spent most of his first two pro seasons in the ECHL, scoring 33 points in 88 ECHL games and saw action in four AHL games last season.  A two-time 30-goal scorer in junior, with Halifax, Hillier seems a long way from helping at the NHL level. 

Once there are more signings/trades, there will be more breakdowns to come.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.




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