June 30, 2009
Many National Hockey League general managers are of the belief that you should build a team from the goal out and, to use a football motto, defense wins championships.
As we've seen many times before, it doesn't take six superstar blue-liners to hoist the Stanley Cup. A mix of some offensive flair with defensive-minded bodies along with a touch of brave souls willing to give up the body to block shots is a blueprint that wins championships.
This year's free agent defenseman class features players that fall into each of those categories, with most looking for a significant raise in salary.
Here's a look at who we see as the Top 10 UFA defensemen, pending buyouts and re-signings. No Niedermayer, because he's coming back as a Duck.
Current Team: Calgary Flames (for now)
Current Cap Hit: $4.875 million
The Good: Durable, smooth skating defenseman brings an offensive flair to the table. Still just 25-years old and already one of the top offensive blue liners in the league. Could his desire to play in a more passionate hockey environment see him improve even more?
The Bad: Flames General Manager Darryl Sutter has about $12 million in cap space to sign Bouwmeester and fill out the remaining roster. Would J-Bo be willing to take less now that he has a chance to play in a hockey mad city like Calgary?
The Ugly: Good luck Calgary (or whoever he lands with) media trying to pry an interesting quote out of him.
Current Team: Vancouver Canucks
Current Cap Hit: $3.5 million
The Good: Veteran puck-moving defenseman would be a bonus for any team. He can still provide offense and showed a bit more toughness breaking 100 minutes in penalties in 2008-09.
The Bad: His average time-on-ice has decreased every season since 2003-04 from 25 minutes to 21 this past season.
The Ugly: Coming off a year where he had his lowest goal and point totals after playing a full season.
Current Team: Montreal Canadiens
Current Cap Hit: $1.7 million
The Good: Bruising blue-liner and excellent shot blocker. With the star power in the Eastern Conference, teams need a shut down defenseman and Komisarek can be that guy if you're willing to open the wallet.
Current Team: Anaheim Ducks
Current Cap Hit: $1.65 million
The Good: Sold minute-muncher that played well after returning from a serious ACL injury this past season.
The Ugly: Beauchemin blossomed as soon as he landed in Anaheim. Was his coming out a product of the Ducks system? We'll see soon enough.
Current Team: Minnesota Wild
Current Cap Hit: $1.16 million
The Good: His big shot can be an aid to any power play. Was the Wild's second leading scorer with defense and added seven goals with the man advantage.
The Bad: His small frame (5-10, 197 lbs.) causes problems when trying to slow down larger forwards.
The Ugly: Is there a reason he's on his fourth team in seven seasons?
Current Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
Current Cap Hit: $713,000
The Good: Made himself plenty of money with his performance in the Stanley Cup Finals. One of the more underrated players in the league.
The Bad: Could Scuderi be another in the long line of "contract year wonders"?
The Ugly: If you're a Penguins fan hoping Scuds get re-signed, there'll be a pit in your stomach if some GM out there throws a Jeff Finger(notes)-type contract out at him, thereby putting the Leafs defenseman further ahead of Wyshynski on The Hockey News' Top 100 People of Power and Influence list.
Current Team: Florida Panthers
Current Cap Hit: $1.5 million
The Bad: Battled injuries before playing a full season in 2008-09. If healthy, can be a solid presence on any defense corps.
The Ugly: Part of the Hobey Baker curse. Offensive machine in college; not so much in the NHL.
Current Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
Current Cap Hit: $2.075 million
The Good: Good shot blocker and crease clearer. Teams love big defensemen and Gill brings that size, even if he doesn't play like it.
The Bad: He may be 6-7, 250 lbs., but he isn't as physical a presence as you think and might possibly skate like a duck.
The Ugly: If he wins another Stanley Cup, there's a good chance he breaks out the porn-stache while celebrating.
Current Team: New York Rangers
Current Cap Hit: $1.95 million
The Bad: Offensive numbers are way down since he left Phoenix, but he's had his only two "plus" seasons with the Rangers.
The Ugly: If free agency fails, he always has a backup career as Zach Galifianakis' body double in "The Hangover" sequel.
Current Team: Dallas Stars
Current Cap Hit: $5.35 million
The Good: Despite being 38-years old, Zubov, if healthy, is an asset. In 16 seasons, he's only scored less than seven goals five times.
The Bad: With a new GM, change is coming to the Stars and that could mean the end of Zubov's days in Dallas.
The Ugly: He's coming off a season where he had two hip surgeries and he'll have to take a significant paycut if he wants to stay in the NHL next season.
All cap figures from NHLNumbers.com.