Saturday, 25 July 2009

Bags Are Packed But Nowhere To Go

After a busy day that saw me put in a good day's work staining a deck, I was hoping to come inside and find that some teams have spent wisely with the number of decent free agent players out there. Alas, nothing major went down outside of Jason Spezza's weddings which, I'm happy to report, went off without a hitch. Or a Heatley. But that's another story altogether. My heartfelt congratulations go out to Jason Spezza and Jennifer Snell on their happy ceremony today, and I wish them all the best in the future.

Back to why I'm here, it seems that there are a number of excellent free agents still out there waiting for a contract offer. And the names aren't just your average run-of-the-mill third-liners. There are players who, put into the right situation, could actually be game-breaking players. Let's take a look at who might fit where.

Maxim Afinoganov: At 29, Afinoganov isn't getting any younger. He still has world-class speed, and shows flashes of brilliance when he plays. Which is part of the problem. Since the lockout, Afinoganov played 77, 56, 56, and 48 games in the four seasons that followed. He put up career numbers in the 77-game 2005-06 season which saw him tally 22 goals and 51 assists. If a team can convince him to sign an incentive-laden contract, he could be a steal if he has another career year. Otherwise, the risk may be high for a base salary anywhere over $1.5 million per year.

Teams that could use him: Atlanta Thrashers, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Phoenix Coyotes.

Marc-Andre Bergeron: The 28 year-old defenceman brings a solid offensive game to the blueline. He won't overwhelm anyone with his skating nor will he put up gaudy point totals, but he does have a solid breakout pass, and can skate the puck out of his own zone. For a team looking for a transition defensive player, Bergeron would come a lot cheaper than players like Brian Campbell or Dan Boyle.

Teams that could use him: Atlanta Thrashers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Phoenix Coyotes.

Steve Eminger: Eminger is a former first-round pick in 2002, and, in this writer's opinion, has gotten better since he broke into the league. He's not the fastest skater, but he has good vision and plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Eminger's game uses his big body presence, and his physical play down low rarely allows an opponent to gain the edge. To me, he's a poor man's Willie Mitchell or Brooks Orpik. You may be able to get him for cheap if he's given a top-four spot on the blueline.

Teams that could use him: Anaheim Ducks, Atlanta Thrashers, Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders, Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks.

Mike Grier: Grier is a rugged, hard-working forward who never takes a shift off. The 34 year-old hasn't played less than 61 games in his career, a sign of his durability. He kills penalties, he's a dressing room leader, and he skates against the opposition's top line. I'm not sure why no one has approached him yet as he would fill a major need for most teams - a guy who battles every shift, doesn't take penalties, and fills whatever role he's asked to fill.

Teams that could use him: Buffalo Sabres, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs.

Josh Harding: The 25 year-old restricted free agent goaltender is looking for a new home after the Wild signed veteran Wade Dubielewicz. Harding has gone on record that he feels he could be a starting goaltender in the NHL, and his numbers don't lie. He hasn't posted a GAA over 3.00 in any season including his time with the Regina Pats in the WHL. He is fundamentally sound, and his youth combined with his drive should make him an attractive free agent for any team willing to pick up a capable goaltender with an offer sheet.

Teams that could use him: Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks.

Joey MacDonald: MacDonald spent last season in hockey purgatory, posting a record of 14-26-6 with a 3.37 GAA on Long Island. The 29 year-old has spent most of his career in the AHL where he continually posted solid numbers, but his time seeing more rubber than a Goodyear factory last year should make him an attractive, fairly inexpensive goaltender. Perhaps the one thing that MacDonald does better than the other goaltenders out there is his ability to work hard. MacDonald never quits on a play, and he routinely bailed out his team last season.

Teams that could use him: Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks.

Drew MacIntyre: Another goaltender who has seen incredible success in the AHL, MacIntyre would be a fabulous compliment to any current NHL starter. The 26 year-old, like MacDonald, never quits on a play, and, in my estimation, should have gotten a better shot in Nashville last year after leading the Milwaukee Admirals to the second-best record in the AHL. As a back-up goaltender, MacIntyre would be a great option if any starter faltered.

Teams that could use him: Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks.

Brendan Shanahan: This future Hall-of-Fame candidate is still on the market. Yes, there's some concern about his age as he's 40 years-old, but there's no doubt that he can still bring his game while providing some valuable leadership. He's probably only going to sign near his New York home, so there won't be many options, but he doesn't need a monsterous contract. From his comments, it sounds like he'll play simply for the love of the game at this point.

Teams that could use him: Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders.

Mats Sundin: Personally, I don't care if anyone doesn't sign him. He was a waste of money for the Vancouver Canucks last season after holding out for half the year. If he's not willing to play in September pre-season games, there's no sense in talking dollars and cents. While Vancouver has expressed an interest, my list of teams below should tell you a lot of who I think should sign him.

Teams that could use him: None. Please retire. You're not even close to playing at the same level you did in Toronto.

Alex Tanguay: Alex is an interesting case. He puts up decent point totals, yet everyone seems to shy away from the winger. At only 29 years-old, it would appear that the veteran would be in the prime of his career, but he remains in talks at this point of the free agency period. There are views that is he is a player who only plays as well as the centerman he's lined up with, meaning he isn't a game-breaker himself. I think that if Tanguay is given the chance, he could rebound in a big way this season.

Teams that could use him: Atlanta Thrashers, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, New York Islanders.

There are some other impact players still out there, but, if I were building an NHL team, these players would be on my list of "must talk to" free agents. Ok, every one of them except Sundin. All of them have shown that they can play at the NHL level, and none of them should be overly expensive if a team has the cap room. Personally, the young goaltenders are particularly interesting as every team is looking for that "next great goaltender", yet the three men listed above seemingly aren't getting a look.

Maybe I should talk to Balsillie about his expansion team. I could build a pretty solid team through free agency this season.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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