From a fan (and media) excitement standpoint, this summer’s free agent ‘frenzy’ has been a bit of a dud.
Some players who changed sweaters will certainly have a strong impact, but the feeling around the THN office is that no game-changing, vault-the-team-into-the-upper-echelon signings or trades have taken place.
And, outside of Mr. Kovalchuk, you’re not likely to find one that falls into that category prior to season’s start. But there are still a number of quality players available.
Here are the 10 best, for both immediate and future help, by my eye:
1. Ilya Kovalchuk, 2009-10 cap hit: $6.4 million
He’s a sublime talent to be sure and the world’s second-best pure goal-scorer, but at what cost (and for how long)? Is it better to sign one player who can score 40 or four who can score 10 for the same price or less?
2. Alexander Frolov, $2.9 million
Had his worst season (19 goals, 51 points) since the lockout, but there’s a sense the 30-year-old has the potential to be a consistent 30-goal, 70-point man. Will find a home shortly after Kovy does.
3. Alexei Ponikarovsky, $2.1 million
Despite being a bust for the Penguins after he was brought over from Toronto in a pre-deadline deal, the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder has been a consistent contributor (0.54 PPG) during his nine NHL seasons.
4. Denis Grebeshkov, $3.2 million
The 18th overall pick in 2002, Grebeshkov, now 26, has played 227 career games with four NHL teams. That raises question marks, but his talent level doesn’t. He’ll thrive in the right environment for the right price.
5. Marty Turco, $5.7 million
Back-to-back disappointing seasons have soured many, but lest we forget Dallas was a struggling team as a whole the past two years. The 34-year-old would be an upgrade in few markets, but only if the cap hit fits.
6. Kim Johnsson, $4.9 million
A concussion robbed him of a Cup ring with the Blackhawks last season and may very well rob him of his career. Until that point, however, the 34-year-old Swede would still be a solid top-four D-man on many franchises.
7. Paul Kariya, $6 million
The 35-year-old is definitely on the downswing of his career, but he’s also definitely good for 20 goals – assuming he can stay healthy. Has made more than $82 million during his career, so at this point you have to believe an opportunity to win is paramount.
8. Andy Sutton, $3 million
Big, mean and still a decent shutdown defenseman at age 35. Has fared quite well in the post-lockout NHL despite not being the most fleet-of-foot. Will eventually find a home, but will need to take a pay shave.
9. Maxim Afinogenov, $800,000
It’s a gamble with the 30-year-old waterbug Russian. You don’t know if you’re getting the man who scored 24 goals and 61 points last season in Atlanta or the boy who averaged eight goals and 24 points over his final two campaigns in Buffalo.
10. Jose Theodore, $4.5 million
Another early playoff pull aside, the 33-year-old ’02 Hart Trophy recipient put together a solid season in 2009-10, especially in light of the family tragedy that led to his acknowledgment as the Masterton Trophy winner. Went nearly three months (23 games) without a regulation loss to close out the regular season.
(NOTE: Teemu Selanne would be on this list, too, but I omitted him because he’ll either retire or re-sign with the Ducks)
PUCK PANEL: WHO IS THE BEST UFA LEFT?
Host Ryan Dixon sits down with managing editor Edward Fraser and writer Ryan Kennedy to discuss… Who is the best free agent left on the market… Whether or not Ilya Kovalchuk is worth what he is asking… And the ramifications of the San Jose Sharks signing Chicago Blackhawks restricted free agent Niklas Hjalmarsson to a $14 million, four-year offer sheet. PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
Edward Fraser is the managing editor of The Hockey News. His blog appears weekly.
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