Free agency is a high nearly unrivaled on the hockey schedule. Guys who played in a system they didn’t fit in last season can shoot for a better fit. Players who’s entry level deals are expiring can look forward to a more comfortable income. Fans who loathed the contract of an anchor on their roster can cheer its expiration. Best of all, any UFA becomes possible, if only for an hour or two. Here are some of the players I find most interesting in this years class.
Scott Hannan: If he insists on the $4.5 million a year of his last contract he could be in for slim pickings. Offensively speaking he’s not quite as gifted as the otherwise comparable Andrew Ference. He does play about six minutes more per game than Ference in Washington, but there were a lot more injuries on the blueline of the Capitals this season. Still at 32, 6’2 and 225 he’s likely got two or three more seasons of similar contributions before beginning to decline.
Joel Ward: What a post season party this man had. He led his team in scoring, briefly led the NHL in goals in the post season, and made life miserable for the Vancouver Canucks in the second round. If you look up the word “workhorse” in your dictionary of hockey terms this mans picture might just be there. Of his ten goals last regular season five were power play goals and four were game winners. Those were good for third and second on the team, relied upon in all situations he led the Predators forwards in time on ice last season, its hard to see him not being retained at a decent price. Its also unlikely he’ll fail to get a deal worth more than the $1.5 million he got last season.
Scottie Upshall (@ScottieUpshall): After a season ending knee injury two seasons ago, he responded by coming back with a career high in goals and hits. With the ability to play both wings, good speed and some playoff experience it will be interesting to see where he lands. He was traded at the deadline from Phoenix to Columbus where he was reunited with former Flyers teammate RJ Umberger and now another former Flyer Jeff Carter has joined the crew. The $2.25m he earned last year probably isn’t far off from what his next deal will be. It will be interesting to see if the 27 year old goes for a short three year or less deal or for a longer one that might include a no trade clause.
Simon Gagne, is almost certainly the most pure scorer under thirty five in this free agent crop. He’s also got a collection of injuries that stretches on for pages. His last contract was for north of five million a year which is perfectly acceptable for a two time forty goal scorer. His last two season topped off at 17 goals a piece. While all players are a risk, as a GM I can see people steering clear or only offering one or two year deals
Anton Babchuck. The well traveled blueliner has seen a few cities already in his career. Of all the free agent defensemen he’s got the second highest powerplay goal total. He’s first in short handed points in that group. Overall he was the third highest scoring defenseman in this UFA crop. At 27 with those stats if his agent can’t double his salary this season they should be fired.