Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Hockey fans alert: Free agency analysis ahead

Yes, I'm into hockey now full bore. My Phillies are too lame; I don't get excited about the Eagles, mainly because everyone else around here does; and I much prefer college basketball to the NBA.
Now that the NHL is back, the "silly season" is at hand, when free agents wander hither and yon in search of primero dinero (that's big bucks, for the folks in Wapwallopen).
Here, now, either orr's look at the top of the Class of 2005 unrestricted free agents (the kind who can sign with anyone without costing the signing team anything):
1. Scott Niedermayer, D, New Jersey. He's only the best defenceman in hockey (sorry, Pronger, Blake and Lidstrom fans). He does it all. And he's had his run-ins with New Jersey's Napoleonic GM, Lou-Lou Lamoriello. Some stuff I've read has him headed to the Left Coast, which is closer to his home. Me? I think he's outta the swamps of Jersey. I know the Flyers will make a serious run at him.
2. Peter Forsberg, C, Colorado. Why isn't Forsberg No. 1? Well, he had been making noises even before the lockout about ending his career in his Swedish homeland. And he's had some serious injuries in each of the past two seasons (even last season, playing in Sweden). I think Colorado wants to keep him if he comes back to North America, but can they afford him?
3. Nikolai Khabibulin, G, Tampa Bay. He'll be in demand, he'll be tough to sign (remember, he held out for almost an entire season a couple of years ago), and he'll wind up being overpaid. Tampa obviously wants him back, but there are a lot of other teams that could use him.
4. Chris Pronger, D, St. Louis. He could be moving on, although I think he'll get a deal from the Blues that he can live with. Again, as with Niedermayer, West Coast teams seem to be most interested, from what I'm hearing and reading.
5. Adam Foote, D, Colorado. You never saw a No. 1-type defenceman going unrestricted. We've got three serious No. 1 types coming out now. Foote is likely to leave Colorado, I think, because the Avs just can't afford to come with the bucks to keep both him and Forsberg.
6. Alexei Kovalev, RW, Montreal. The mercurial sniper seemed to like Montreal after his late-season arrival in 2004. The question becomes, would he take less bucks to go back to Pittsburgh and be united with Super Mario and Sidney the Great in the city where he had his most productive seasons?
Those are the Big Six, as I see it.
There are a bunch of decent attacking defencemen coming unrestricted, such as Sergei Gonchar (Boston), Sandis Ozolinsh (Anaheim), Teppo Numminen (Dallas), Alexei Zhitnik (Buffalo) and the New York Islander trio of Adrian Aucoin, Roman Hamrlik and Kenny Jonsson (who I'm reading is likely to stay in Sweden instead of going back to the Island). Once a dynamic duo, the gloss is pretty much off Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne (Colorado), but they'll get suitors for sure. And you can roll the dice on the injury-plagued Jason Allison and Adam Deadmarsh (L.A.) or take your chances on a healthy, but inconsistent teammate, Ziggy Palffy. I suspect Martin Straka (L.A.) is headed back to Pittsburgh. And who knows where Eric Lindros (Rangers) will wind up (not in Philly, that's for sure)?
Buyouts have added some forwards on the downward slope (John LeClair, Tony Amonte, Brian Savage, Ray Whitney) and may add more (Bobby Holik). But I suspect Derian Hatcher and Darren McCarty won't have trouble finding work. McCarty may even wind up ahead on the deal.
The one X-factor is the fate of Jaromir Jagr. His contract is in violation of the rule that maxes out salaries at 20 percent of the cap. He's listed at 8.4 million; the cap max is 7.8 million. (He's the only one, according to numbers on the NHLPA Web site). Would the Rangers have to buy him out, since renegotiation appears to be forbidden in the new agreement?
I know I've missed some names here and there. Feel free to add, comment, etc.