Friday, July 3, 2009

Free agency so far


It's about 7 p.m. EDT on Friday, the third day of free agency. Most of the major free agents have signed, with winger Alex Kovalev and defenseman Francois Beauchemin still available along with plenty of other quality players, including center Saku Koivu, much to the dismay of Wild fans.

A look at what the Wild and Penguins have done so far:

winger Martin Havlat, defensemen Greg Zanon and Shane Hnidy
Losses: winger Marian Gaborik (Rangers)
Remaining wish list: center Saku Koivu, possibly another winger and/or defenseman

Analysis: Overall, I think the Wild has fared fairly nicely. Gaborik was unlikely to return and Chuck Fletcher didn't take long to find a replacement in Havlat. Gaborik is the more explosive of the two, but Havlat is still a quality player who will put up numbers - if he stays healthy. He played 81 games last season, the most in his career and the first time he's appeared in over 68 games since his second year in the league when he made 72 appearances with Ottawa back in 2001-02. And if Gaborik runs into health issues on New York's ice - as Michael Russo Wild Road Tripper believes - this could end up being an upgrade.

Zanon might best be described as a poor man's Rob Scuderi - but I mean that literally. Zanon might be Scuderi's equal or even better in terms of defensive play, shot blocking and penalty killing, but Scuderi's contract will pay him quite a bit more than Zanon's. I'm actually a little jealous; I wanted Zanon as Scuderi's replacement if Missile left (which he did).

Hnidy is one tough SOB who will likely slot into Minnesota's 5/6 spot. Relatively minor signing, but a necessary addition to bolster the defense.

Minnesota might not be done. If Koivu doesn't sign, Fletcher might go after a winger or explore trade options. Steps in the right direction for Fletcher. This doesn't make the Wild a Cup contender but one-year fixes aren't easy to do. The Rangers delve into free agency and hand out rich contracts all the time, and it hasn't gotten them much in the last 15 years. Fletcher can't change the team's fortunes with the 16th overall pick and one free agency period, so it's more than a little premature to call for his head.

wingers Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko, forward Mike Rupp, defenseman Alex Goligoski
Losses: defensemen Hal Gill (Montreal) and Rob Scuderi (Los Angeles), goalie Mathieu Garon (Columbus)
Remaining wish list: No. 4/5/6 defenseman, backup goaltender

Analysis: Ray Shero brought back two key members of this spring/summer's championship team, each at significant discounts, getting Guerin for $2 million and Fedotenko for $1.8 million - down from $4.5M and $2.25M respectively - both on one-year deals. That provides a workable top two lines, though Shero maybe looks for another winger for Evgeni Malkin, rather than use Max Talbot there for the entire season.

But two other important figures in the Cup run departed, with Gill getting a two-year contract worth $4.5 million - a raise from last year - from Montreal and Scuderi cashing in with the Kings for a whopping $3.4 million annually for four years. The two formed an effective duo and were the Penguins' top penalty killers, and the only replacement signed so far is restricted free agent Goligoski, whose game is offensive rather than defensive.

The loss of Garon is not a big deal. Garon barely played since coming over in a trade and is replaceable.

Retaining Guerin and Fedotenko - especially at those discounts - is good. Losing Gill and Scuderi - and not having capable replacements yet, though Ben Lovejoy could step in (emphasis on could) - is very bad and makes Pittsburgh's free agency so far a wash at best. Finding a strong defensive defenseman will fill the last hole.

Both teams still have players to sign, so we'll see how the GMs tweak their lineups between now and opening night.

(Also, on a completely unrelated note, I'm a big fan of the Subway food chain. Not their commercials, just their food.)

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