Kukla's Korner Hockey
by The Upper Canadien on 09/09/10 at 09:46 PM ET
In the summer of inaction we saw Kovalchuk sign, unsign, and then sign again. We saw players head to Russia. We saw Canadiens forward Glen Metropolit, and Islanders stalwart Richard Park head to Switzerland. But more than anything, we saw unrestricted free agent after unrestricted free agent after – wait for it – unrestricted free agent remain unsigned. And don’t even get me started on the RFA players still sitting at home without a contract.
So who’s left?
Without further ado, The Upper Canadien presents the best of the rest – ten players left as unrestricted free agents who could step in and make a difference across the NHL.
Eric Belanger – This 15 goal scorer and penalty kill expert was supposed to have re-signed with the Washington Capitals almost a month ago – but he didn’t. Belanger remains on the open market, and he must be asking a lot, because Dominic Moore seems to be a reasonable comparative and he signed quite a while ago with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Sure, Belanger is more physical, and sure, he probably deserves more. Will he get it? It’s starting to seem unlikely, unless the Capitals move some salary to bring him aboard. Belanger would help many a team with their PK while chipping in on offence.
Bill Guerin – While Guerin doesn’t have Belanger’s wheels, he’s got more experience. With age comes beauty, or something like that, and last year Guerin scored 21 goals battling through injuries for Pittsburgh. I have said many a time that I would love to see Guerin (or the gritty Owen Nolan) on the Canadiens third line. With the Jeff Halpern signing, that won’t happen – but Guerin would look great on a team like Vancouver or Philadelphia looking for a little scoring depth and with a little cap room to burn.
Owen Nolan – This former Sharks captain is a year younger than Guerin, scored 16 goals last year, and is as gritty and tough as they come. He was a leader in Minnesota and would provide edge and veteran presence to any team he joins. Any team that gets Nolan cheap, say for $750,000, is getting a steal of a deal, and a potential 20 goal scorer at that. He’s still a good weapon on the power play.
Jose Theodore – Whether you call him Jose Close-the-door or simply “The Odour,” Theodore had his best season in years as a Washington Capital, winning 33 games en route to the Caps having the best record in the East. However, Theodore’s best years are clearly behind him, as he has rarely shown the poise and reflexes he did as a Hart Trophy winner for Montreal almost a decade ago. Theodore is a veteran with loads of experience under pressure and many teams could do much worse if they need an experienced backup or 1a goaltender. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Theodore head to Edmonton if the Oilers figure out a way to cut ties with Nikolai Khabibulin. Otherwise, I think he’s destined for backup duty.
Marc-Andre Bergeron – This former Hab scored 13 goals in only 60 games last year, making him one of the leaders in defensive scoring. That said, he is well known for gaffes in his own end and is often caught out of position. Personally, I think Bergeron’s lack of defensive ability is exaggerated, however he’ll probably have to play the waiting game until a team needs an offensive weapon due to injury. Make no mistake, however, Bergeron can score and his slapshot is a very dangerous weapon.
Ryan Johnson – He’s without question the best one goal scorer left on the market. An exceptional shot blocker, Johnson will sacrifice his body game after game to help his team. I’m surprised Vancouver didn’t bring him back, and whoever signs him will be getting a good, solid veteran. He is one player I fully expect to sign and be playing when the season begins.
Brendan Morrison – This former all star had resurgence last year, totaling 42 points in 74 games. That said, Morrison has definitely lost a step from his days as a Canuck and he is more of a depth signing than a top-flight centre. He’d be a great compliment on a team that already has a bonafide number one centre and is perhaps lacking a pivot for the second line. Toronto could do worse if they are still looking for a natural passer to feed pucks to Kessel.
Darcy Tucker – Tucker won’t be scoring twenty-five or thirty goals anytime soon, but he’s a respected antagonist who can irritate with the best of them. There is no doubt that the years have taken a toll on Tucker’s body, but he’s a physical presence that adds value to any fourth line needing a body that can hit. He’s another guy I’ve mentioned the Canadiens should consider, although I am pleased with the slightly more talented, less physical Jeff Halpern being a Hab instead.
Miroslav Satan – Here is one that boggles my mind. This guy is known league wide as a leader, and he captains Slovakia ahead of many better known NHLers due to the respect he has earned as a veteran. He comes in late to Boston and scores key goals down the stretch and in the playoffs – and nary a whisper. Satan is only 35 and is a player loaded with talent who has a penchant for going through droughts – but he can still play. I’m flummoxed that he has yet to find home, and he’s another veteran that I hope has a place to play come the first week of October.
So there you have it folks
There may be other players that you feel are better that remain unsigned, but these ten could all step in and make a difference immediately. Who do you want your team to sign? Where will these guys go? Only time will tell, and other than the odd theory, such as Vancouver needing scoring depth, Toronto needing a centre, and Edmonton needing a goaltender, I’d just be guessing. Some of these guys genuinely deserve a shot after the careers they’ve had (remember Owen Nolan and his hat trick goal on Hasek at the all star game?) and as a hockey fan I really hope they find a home before the season begins.
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