June 30, 2010
Some believe this crop of unrestricted free-agent defensemen are very underwhelming, and they'd be correct in comparison to, say, the NBA's free-agent forwards.
But compared to the NHL's forwards and goaltenders, looking at the list of UFA blue-liners is like walking into Wonka's candy room for the first time. Which is to say that signing Anton Volchenkov(notes) is like eating Twinkie crème out of a giant mushroom. (Hey, there's something you won't read in McKeen's.)
The only real bummer is that Scott Niedermayer(notes) decided to hang up the skates rather than participate in the Frenzy, because July 1 could have used Ducks, Devils and Canucks fans all foaming at the mouth over their respective connections to the all-star. Of course, when aren't Canucks fans foaming at the mouth ...
Here are 10 UFA defensemen that, should your team sign them, shouldn't ruin your week.
The veteran Russian had 50 points in 62 games, despite Mike Yeo screwing up the power play. He led the team in power-play time (5:06 on average) and skated 24:33 on average at even strength. There's no question he's still productive at 36; but the real issue is his looking for a long-term (3 or 4 years) deal at 36. Hence the impasse with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
2. Anton Volchenkov (2009-10 Cap Hit: $2.5 million)
Volchenkov's famous for his hitting and shot-blocking ability, and would be an asset based solely on those attributes. But Ivan from Fear The Fin, a San Jose Sharks blog, feels there's more to the Russian than what we saw with the Ottawa Senators:
It's also important to note here that while Volchenkov's offensive role was limited in Ottawa, some of it has to do with the coaches and the systems he was asked to play in. As I alluded to it earlier, when playing in Russia and for Russia, Volchenkov did see plenty of power play time and he did not look lost running the Russian power play at the most recent Olympics. Due to lack of resources, we saw Douglas Murray(notes) get a share of power play time for the Sharks last season. With a better shot and a skating ability, Volchenkov would be an improvement in that area, should he join the Sharks.
Volchenkov also played an average of 3:31 a night on the penalty kill. He's a well-rounded defenseman who averaged 2.4 hits per game and 2.7 blocked shots per game. He's a difference-maker.
Why Paul Martin ahead of Hamhuis? Having seen Martin patrol the blue line for the New Jersey Devils for the last few years, he's the stealthiest defender of the group. He can move the puck, but he can also play a shutdown role with smart approaches to offensive players and good work in the corners. He played on special teams, but hasn't had the offensive upside that, say, Brian Rafalski(notes) had (to use a player from a similar mold). But for a team that needs a 1-A or second pairing anchor, Martin will be a coup.
Hamhuis's age (27), his durability (he's missed 9 games in 6 years) and his two-way game (over 20 points in each of his NHL seasons) have made him a coveted defenseman on the market after the Nashville Predators said he wouldn't be back. The problem is that he and his reps understand how coveted he is, so they're dictating his preferred role (as the Philadelphia Flyers discovered) and asking for double his current cap hit. It's a number that'll only increase if he goes to market.
The Czech Republic native is a pure stay-at-home defenseman. Perhaps his game has developed so strongly over the years because Michalek knows what he is. A minus-22 over his six-year career (he played his rookie season in Minnesota), Michalek was plus-5 in 2009-10. An excellent shot-blocker who is sound positionally, Michalek can be part of a team's top pair of shut-down defensemen. Although he has just 27 career goals, he can play the point on a second-unit power play.
His price won't be anywhere near what Martin or Hamhuis will make, because his offense just isn't there. But he's a rock on 'D' who led the Coyotes in average ice time (22:38). He'll also just be 28 this December.
The Atlanta Thrashers could get a hometown discount here if Kubina likes the direction of the team as much as he seems to claim, but there's no telling what he'll be offered if the 33-year-old behemoth (6-5, 250) hits the market. He had 38 points in 76 games last season, and fits well on the power play. We expect him back in Atlanta, though.
He may never be the player that his play back in 2006 promised he could be, but Tallinder is a solid defender with top-paring abilities. For argument's sake, Die By The Blade offers the drawbacks on Tallinder during his time with the Buffalo Sabres:
Tallinder played alongside Myers and much of his steady campaign has to be credited to the young rookie's rise. He lost the puck to an opponent 33 more times than he'd grabbed it from them and his quality of linemates were behind Myers', Tyler Ennis' and Jason Pominville's. He doesn't shoot very regularly and he missed the net on 31 instances, which is why he took the least amount of shots amidst all the defensemen including Andrej Sekera and Chris Butler who played far less matches than he. Conclusively, Tallinder could transform into a more physical person and take bumps into the boards for the better of a play.
He's not all that physical, and he certainly isn't all that offensive; he's just a solid complimentary defender that should come in at a great price behind some of the other names here.
Total wild card. He hasn't played since Jan. 16 after suffering a concussion on an Evgeni Malkin(notes) hit. He missed the playoff for the Vancouver Canucks, and absence made the heart grow fonder: Mitchell's strong, stay-at-home game was missed when player like Dustin Byfuglien(notes) were setting up lawn chairs in front of Roberto Luongo(notes).
He costs too much, he moves around from team-to-team like a puck bunny ... but Morris gives you strong, physical defense. And hey, based on last postseason, he can turn into Paul Coffey for a game, too.
No idea what kind of smoldering bridges there are between the Chicago Blackhawks and Johnsson, but that was a bad fit after the Cam Barker(notes) trade. Johnsson, however, remains a guy who averaged 23:46 per night with the Minnesota Wild and can bring a puck-moving, offense-oriented game to the right team. And you know the price tag's coming down. (Some might have placed Joe Corvo(notes) here. Because some are bigger Joe Corvo fans than we are.)
So there you go: The 10 free-agents you shouldn't mind seeing in your lineup next season.
How do we know? As another UFA defensemen might say, we're experts.
Because we saw the replays, you see.