Calgary Flames

With the trading away of Jarome Iginla, Jay Bouwmeester, and now Alex Tanguay, the Flames have officially entered the rebuilding phase that everyone was expecting for the past four years. With an estimated $18.5 million available in cap space, the Flames could be very active in the free agent market on Friday.  But being entrenched in a rebuild is unattractive to high-end free agents, and it would serve the Flames much better to focus less on winning and more on developing the younger players as well as creating a winning culture in the locker room.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

Steve Begin – Begin’s numbers this year were about average for him: a few goals, a few assists, and a bunch of penalty minutes. His $525k salary is low enough that there is no harm in keeping him if Jay Feaster believes he brings the right element to the locker room. But after playing for 5 teams (Mon, Bos, Nash, Dallas, and Calgary) in the last 5 years, he has probably gotten used to not staying in one place very long. However, he is 34, and is playing for the team that he broke into the league with in 1997, so if the Flames wish to resign him, I think he will be happy to continue playing at  or near the league minimum salary.

Brian McGrattan – McGrattan is known for one thing: He is a fighter who is not afraid to take on anyone. As the Flames try to get younger, and with several prospects looking to break camp with the team next year, the Flames will need an enforcer. At just over minimum salary, there is no reason not to resign him.

Anton Babchuck – After barely playing the  past two years (yet making $2.5 million per season) it was highly unlikely the Flames, or anyone, would be willing to pay a salary Babchuk was accustomed to. Sensing that, he signed with Salavat of the KHL.

Brett Carson – Carson, a third-pairing defenseman on a team that struggles to defend, has not contributed much to the Flames this season. It would be unlikely they resign him.

 

Restricted Free Agents:

Mikael Backlund, Chris Butler, TJ Brodie and Mark Cundari should all be back with the Flames next season.

 

Expected moves:

Expect the Flames to make  a move to bring back free agent defenseman Andrew Ference. Not only was Ference instrumental to the Flames run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004, his leadership is exactly what the Flames will be looking for. When Peter Chiarelli of the Boston Bruins traded for him in 2007, it was because he admired the leadership and community involvement. Chiarelli tasked Ference to change the culture in the locker room, and that’s exactly what he did, culminating in 2 cup runs in 3 years, with him winning in 2011. He is exactly what Feaster should be looking for, and his skill set, although diminished, would still be an upgrade over several current Flames D-men. Also, with Kiprusoff apparently retiring, expect the Flames to heavily pursue a goaltender in the free agent market.

 

Colorado Avalanche

After a dreadful season, the Av’s luck took a turn when they won the draft lottery, which they used to take Nathan McKinnon 1st overall in this year’s draft. They also changed their front office and manager, bringing Avalanche legends Joe Sakic in as executive VP of Operations, and Patrick Roy as head coach. They also quickly traded for the Flames’ Alex Tanguay, who played with both of them on the 2001 Stanley Cup winning team. With the “old guard” watching over the crop of outstanding young players such as McKinnon, Ryan O’Reilly, and Gabriel Landeskog, the Avs have a very bright future coming. With $11 million in cap space, they are in good shape to make whatever moves the feel are necessary.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

Milan Hejduk – Hejduk has played his entire career in Colorado, and has won a cup with Tanguay, Roy, and Sakic in 2001. At 36 years, he will not be able to command the $2 million in salary that he held with his last contract, but I would be stunned if he wasn’t on the team next season.

Chuck Kobasew – Chuckie’s numbers are steadily declining. If the Av’s see an opportunity to upgrade, I don’t think they will hesitate to do it, but I think they will be comfortable keeping Kobasew on in a 3rd or 4th line role if need be.

Sean Sullivan – At 29 years old, Sullivan has not seen a single game in the NHL. I don’t see that changing, and would expect the Avs to let him go.

 

Restricted Free Agents

Tomas Vincour has already signed with a KHL team and will not be back. Aaron Palushaj has been developing well in the AHL and should be resigned by the Avs this summer.

Expected Moves:

The goaltending position has been a week spot for many years now for the Avs. With legendary goaltender Patrick Roy coaching the team, I would expect this to be addressed this off season. I would look for the Avs to make a play for Ryan Miller of the Sabres this summer.

 

 

 

Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers have some of the most amazing talent pool in the league in their forwards, but their defense and goaltending are still lacking. Devan Dubnyk did not steal the starting job as anticipated, which leaves more questions than answers.

Ryan Whitney – While he has played well for Edmonton, and they have the room to resign him, the allure of free agency is too compelling for Whitney to not test the waters. There should be quite a few teams seeking his services, and the Oilers might have to get into a bidding war to retain his services, which they might not be willing to do.

Nikolai Khabibulin – He’s had a great run. But at 38 years old and his productive years behind him, new GM Craig McTavish already announced they do not plan on retaining the ‘Bulin Wall’. Demand for his services should be very weak, and his future might lie in Europe, or on a beach during a well-deserved retirement.

Mark Fistric – A heavy hitting D-man who loves to throw his weight around, Fistric might have a bit more value on the open market than he does in Edmonton. Rumors say the Oilers aren’t willing to go much higher than the 1.5 million he made last year, while he is looking for a raise to the 2 million range. His physical presence would be missed if they let him go.

Ryan Jones – It’s a toss-up if the Oilers will choose to keep Jones. He doesn’t project to be too valuable on the open market, but does bring some value to the organization.

Lennart Petrell – Like Jones, Petrell is a low-level forward who is probably only in the NHL because the Oilers needed to fill a roster spot. He would not command much on the open market, and will probably find himself out of an NHL position come fall.

Jared Smithson – He is still a serviceable 4th liner on most teams, 3rd liner on not-so-deep teams. He is a big body and does have decent hockey sense. It would be wise for the Oilers to resign him as a depth player, as he will probably be taken by another team to plug a hole in their roster if he makes it to free agency

Restricted Free Agents:

Magnus Paajarvi – A highly-talented, yet enigmatical forward Paajarvi has been both highly touted and considered a bust. When on his game, he is capable of highlight reel goals and is worthy of being on a line with top prospects Taylor Hall, Nail Yakapov, and Jordan Eberle. But other nights he is a ghost and has been demoted. I believe it is far too soon to give up on him, but the Oilers will sign him to a short term contract to mitigate their potential losses.

Sam Gagner – The Oilers reportedly made Gagner a multi-year offer, indicating they believe he is capable of great things (such as his legendary 8 point game), but like Paajarvi has been inconsistent. Maybe the allure of playing for Dallas Eakins will make it worth his while to stay, maybe he feels he needs new scenery. But the fact is no extension has been signed yet. If it’s a money issue, then let’s hope it’s resolved before the season starts. If he is destined to get out of town, he could fetch the Oilers a decent return.

Theo Peckham – Another young player that has a lot of upside that hasn’t been reached yet, Peckham could be looking at an exit from Edmonton via the trade route. I would have expected him to be resigned by now, and the fact that he isn’t is pretty telling.

 

Expected Moves:

Edmonton needs a goalie. Dubnyk is not reliable enough to declare as a number one starter. I expect them to make a run at Ilya Bryzgalov, who would  fit in nicely. Assuming, of course, Edmonton has nice parks and isn’t frozen all the time. If they cannot sign him, look for a few RFA sign-and-trade deals in a try to get Ryan Miller from Buffalo.

 

 

 

 

Minnisota Wild:

After nearly blowing the 8th seed, squeaking into the playoffs, just to be turned aside by the Cup-winning Blackhawks, the Wild are sitting with a mere 2.5 million dollars to fill four roster spots. None of the free agents are considered critical, so they could plug a few holes with replacements without having an impact of team chemistry or performance on ice. The team hasn’t had a full season (or a training camp) with last year’s mega free agency haul of Zach Parise and Shea Weber yet, so this season could be one of major advancement for Minnisota without changing much of their roster.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

Pierre-Marc Bouchard – Bouchard is a solid hockey player who made 4 million last year. The Wild have 2.5 million to spend. Draw your own conclusions. Agent Alan Walsh announced that he will not be back next season.

Matt Cullen- Like Bouchard, Cullen has been notified that he will not be back this year. This is also a move to get below the dropping salary cap. By not signing him, the Wild shed another 3.5 million dollars.

Brett Clark- Another player making 3.5 million that will be dropped by the Wild, Cullen could see himself reborn, so to speak, on another team that will use him on the power play, where he had 17 points in 2011 with Tampa Bay. Simply a way to dump salary to get to the dropping ceiling, the Wild will look for a cheaper replacement.

Restricted Free Agent:

Jared Spurgeon- The only RFA on the Wild, GM Chuck Fletcher said after the draft that the team intends to resign Suprgeon, and that talks are progressing. While an offer sheet would be highly unlikely for Spurgeon, I still expect his to be signed to an extension before July 5th, if for no reason it appears both sides are not that far apart.

Expectations:

Almost none. They will either sign a low budget player or two to fill in the holes left by the departing UFA’s, or they will simply bring people up from within their own organization. Otherwise they are set to have an outstanding year, and hopefully win a playoff round or two.

 

 

Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks finally made the change that had been called for since they lost to the Bruins in 2011. They fired Alain Vignaut after several disappointing first round exits, and hired fiery head coach John Tortorella, who is known for his toughness on his players. It will be a very interesting year to see how the Canucks handle this change, especially as Torts will force the players to address their main weakness: their lack of toughness. They also made a major change in trading Cory Schneider, a move that stunned the hockey world, but did get them below the salary cap (for now)

Derek Roy – Roy will not be returning to the Canucks. It was only a few years ago that he scored 70 points for the Sabres, so expect quite a bit of interest from team on July 5th.

Manny Maholtra – Manny will not be back. He still feels that he can contribute and has been working hard to prove to teams that his eye injury is not something that will make him a liability, but remains to be seen how much interest he generates.

Mason Raymond – Raymond is not expected to be resigned. This is more of a salary dump to be cap complaint, as he has performed well in Vancouver. Expect significant interest from other teams this summer.

Max Lapierre – While I believe Vancouver would like Lapierre back, I think the salary cap will prevent that. I find it hard to believe that unless he gives Vancouver a home-own discount, the Canucks will be able to outbid what he will likely be offered on the open market.

Steve Pinizotto – The 29 year old played in 12 career games, all for the Canucks, and scored 0 points and was a -6. While is $600,000 dollar salary is attractive, the Canucks can find someone else to do that for the league minimum.

Andrew Alberts – Alberts has played well for the Canucks, but he made over 1.25 million last season, and could very well be in line for a raise if he hits the open market. The Canucks could very well make a trade to relieve more salary so they can resign a few players. If they do, expect Alberts to be one of them.

Cam Barker – The 2004 for draft saw Alexander Ovenchkin get taken 1st overall, followed by Evgeni Malkin, and…. Cam Barker? Boy has his stock fallen.  Expect him to hit free agency and still sit around the $2 million mark, which the Canucks can’t really afford anyway.

 

Restricted Free Agents:

There is no reason to believe Sale Weiss, Chris Tanev, and Derek Joslin won’t be resigned by the Canucks. All three have terrific upside, low salaries, and will fit nicely into the Tortarella system.

 

Expectations:

Now that Schneider is gone and Luongo is the undisputed starter, the Canucks will need to come up with a backup. It will need to be someone that is good enough to take over in the playoffs, yet will be OK with not starting too many regular games this year. Hello Tim Thomas? Actually, I expect this would be a perfect role for Evgeny Nabakov, but we will have to wait and see…

 

 

 

With that, we look forward to July 5th, and the fireworks it will bring. Who will come out on top? Will Calgary or Edmonton climb out of the cellar enough to not allow the Canucks to cake-walk to another division crown? Will they even be in the same division next year? It’s 2:30 in the morning and you probably haven’t read all 2500 words of this anyway 😉

 

Enjoy Free Agency day, readers!

 

follow me on Twitter: @dave_carr_nhl

 

 

 

 

 

 

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