Only one team gets to revel and wallow in blissful euphoria following a gloriously successful season.
The rest have to figure out what went wrong, and how to fix it. Some have more problems than others. Some teams have better solutions than others. Then there's 60 percent of the Southeast Division, which is rarely able to even put a band-aid on the gaping wounds in their organizations.
Hitting the Post hereby reveals a breaking news story: Free agents are often looked upon as "missing links" or "key ingredients." Sometimes they work (see Chicago: Hossa, Marian) and sometimes they don't (see Rangers: Anyone.) Thusly, HtP reveals an exclusive list of several marquee free agents. You will not find these names anywhere else. (Assuming you don't look anywhere else.)
This is the big enchilada in the pond. He's good. Scores a bunch of goals, creates some havoc. Just don't ask him to enter the defensive zone. Don't make him captain either. He's Russian, so you also have to send him to a cardiologist to see if he has any heart.
You'll also need to back up the Brinks truck to get him to sign. At 27, Kovalchuk is just entering his prime.
He may have earned some more cash with his performances in the second and third rounds of the playoffs. Invisible in the first round, Marleau - who's often had his postseason resume questioned - finished with eight goals in 14 playoff games. Had anyone else bothered to show up for San Jose, maybe the Sharks would've hoisted that silver thing.
Apart from that, Marleau is a threat to score 30 goals every season. He peaked at 44 with the arrival of Dany Heatley, who himself scored a lot. Marleau, 30, is also capable of taking and winning many faceoffs. He's also going to be pricey, so my Penguins won't get him, even though he's basically exactly what they need (goals and faceoffs.) Stupid salary cap.
Wait, I said this was a list of marquee free agents. Moving on.
There's still some gas left in the tank for this 36-year-old defenseman, who might or might not re-sign in Pittsburgh. According to Pierre LeBrun over at ESPN, Gonchar seems to be looking for a three-year deal, while Pittsburgh is hesitant, perhaps justifiably so, to go beyond one.
Gonchar showed his age at times but still recorded 50 points in 62 regular season games (11 goals) along with 12 postseason points in 13 appearances. He remains a top-notch offensive blue liner and his defensive game is underrated.
Once New Jersey removed Kovalchuk from the trade market, Whitney stepped in as many teams' top choice. Sometimes confused for the bad R. Whitney (defenseman Ryan, now in Edmonton), Ray was one of the most dangerous players for a Carolina team that actually was pretty competitive once the season started in December. (I know, it started in October. Well, the Hurricanes didn't begin playing until December.)
Whitney is older than Gonchar, at 38, so he's more likely to be running on fumes first, but put up 21 goals and 58 points last season. Normally good for the 25 to 35 range for goals, Whitney is also capable of manning one of the point positions on the power play. A cheaper option than Kovalchuk or Marleau, Whitney will also provide lesser production but will still be a valuable addition for a team looking to get over the hump. (Like my Penguins. But he's too expensive for them too, probably. Stupid salary cap.)
Fans of Western Conference teams are saying: Who? That's what happens when your career involves Tampa Bay, Toronto and Atlanta. Kubina is a slightly younger, right-handed, poor man's Gonchar. At 33, Kubina provides a dangerous shot from the blue line, with five seasons of double digit goal-scoring in his career. He's normally good for around 40 points a season, though with talent around him, might be able to up that.
Or might not. During the Lightning's run to the Stanley Cup, Kubina registered just four assists in the postseason after tallying 17 goals in the regular season. Still, teams looking for a power play quarterback should give him a call.
For Minnesota fans, just picture another Greg Zanon. Except a little bit better and much more expensive. For those unfamiliar, Volchenkov is better at stopping pucks than Vesa Toskala. A great shot-blocker, Volchenkov puts the "defense" back into "defenseman." If he's not stopping pucks, he's likely to throw a hit.
Goalie 1, Goalie 2
These two guys are the same. Both are aging goaltenders who probably can still stop a puck, but questions exist over their mettle when spring hockey is played. One's already been run out of his old town in favor for a guy with injury problems. The other was part of yet another underachieving team.
Their names: Marty Turco and Evgeni Nabokov.
Those are essentially the big-name free agents. Some might not get to July 1. Lesser names include guys like wingers Alexei Ponikarovsky and Alexander Frolov, centers Matt Cullen and Saku Koivu, defensemen Andy Sutton (poor man's Volchenkov), Paul Martin and Joe Corvo, and goalies Jose Theodore and Chris Mason just to name a few. Some key restricted free agents include centers Tomas Plekanec and Joe Pavelski, wingers Wojtek Wolski and Blake Wheeler and defenseman Erik Johnson.
I seem to recall HtP held a chat last July 1 for all the free agent goings-on. Might have it again this year. If I'm not catching up on my sleep from the World Cup, which is a distinct possibility.