With Ilya Kovalchuk finally ending the suspense with his decision to re-sign in New Jersey, the feeling is the rest of the dominoes will begin to fall in short order. That’s only midly exciting news given the dearth of truely interesting players remaining on the free market. While not terribly relevant to the Flames currently, here’s the list of somewhat engaging guys still looking for work.
Perhaps the best forward left standing now that Ilya’s camping in the swamp for the next two decades. A legit top-6 talent who has scored 20+ goals in five of the last six seasons, Frolov has a reputation as a guy who needs to be "motivated" to compete hard every night. His near career low-19 goal year with the Kings last season plus some rumors of a feud with the coach have probably suppressed his value somewhat. That said, he’s consistently scored 50+ points (on some pretty bad Kings teams) and usually done so while playing against a decent level of competition. His underlying numbers have been solid or better for years. Although his goal scoring dipped and he was a healthy scratch for a game, Frolov placed 2nd on the Kings in terms of possession numbers amongst regular skaters last season behind only Anze Kopitar (+8.94/60), for example.
A solid "buy low" candidate.
The highest goal scorer from last season left standing. Stempniak scored 13 goals for the Coyotes down the stretch, but spent a couple of seasons in TOR not doing much of anything. Prior to his stint in purgatory, Stempniak was a 27 goal scorer for the Blues, so it’s not like his outburst in the desert was totally unprecedented.
Problem for Stempniak is he’s something of a "tweener". He hasn’t consistently put up points or played against tough comp enough for teams to bet on him as a top 6 forward. However, his numbers are good enough to demand a high enough contract that takes him out of bottom-6 territory. I think he’s a good bet to land on a club that lacks NHL depth where he’ll be a top-sixer by default. Think the New York Islanders.
At 35 years old and coming off some major injury concerns, Kariya is a sizeable gamble. His underlying numbers last season weren’t bad by any stretch, nor were his counting stats (18 goals, 43 assists), but there’s no question the former superstar is starting to slow down. He’s approaching an age where things can go wrong in a hurry and his contract can’t go away outside of a LTIR exemption. Rumor is, Kariya is considering retirement unless a few of his preferred destinations (probably ANA) come to the table.
The big left winger paradoxically fell on his face in PITT after being dealt from TOR, which is probably why his stock has sunk so low. A twenty goal scorer in 4 of the last 5 years, Poni was been putting up good possession stats and scoring chance stats as a Maple Leaf before being moved. So what happened?
The percentages cratered on him for whatever reason. The SH% and SV% both went in the toilet with him on the ice in Penguins colors. Just one of those things. There’s a good chance, therefore, that his struggles down the stretch weren’t an expression of some personal failing and that the prior years of decent results are a better indication of Poni as a player. Capable of skating on both the PP and PK and outchancing the bad guys (particularly lesser lights) Ponikarovsky will probably be the second best bargain behind Frolov this off-season.
Awarded a big, fat contract as a RFA last summer, Grebehskov was considered a solid building block for the Edmonton Oilers this time last year. Then his scoring and plus/minus went in the toilet, and that $3M and change cap hit wasn’t looking so good anymore. EDM dealt him to the Predators at the deadline and Nashville decided to let him walk this summer. The reason Grebeshkov was apparently overpaid this past season also lies in the percentages: in 2008-09, his PDO (SV%+SH%) was 103, the highest amongst regular EDM skaters that season. This year the bounces went the other way (PDO = 98.2) and the counting numbers went with them. And so did the perception of Grebeshkov as legit top 4 defender.
I’m not sure what to make of Grebeshkov, personally. He’s 26 and had one good season, and most of that on the back of good fortune. He seemed capable enough when I viewed him as an Oiler, but he’s not a guy I’d back the truck up for either. He’s likely a 4-6 defender and anything north of $2M is probably ill advised.
Probably the best defender left, Mitchell is a shut-down player in the Robyn Regehr mold. He’s also coming off a pretty bad concussion and is 3 years past 30. He’s capably played against the big boys since his time in Minnesota and is a time tested option on the back-end. He isn’t overly mobile and doesn’t do much in the offensive end, but there’s probably a lot of teams that could still use his services. I wouldn’t sign him to a heavy long-term deal however considering his age.
With Evgeni Nabokov taking his ball and going home, Turco is the perhaps the best goaltending option remaining on the market. Too bad there’s almost zero demand. Not a lot of clubs are looking for starters right now, particularly aging starters with big salary demands and a spotty resume that includes two sub .900 SV% seasons in the last 5 years. Turco turns 35 in August and will likely have to sign as a "1B" option and battle for the starters role in order to remain in the league. Perhaps the Edmonton Oilers will be an option should Nikolai Khabibulin end up in jail. Whatever happens, I can’t see Turco scoring anything above a nominal, two year contract,
Like I said, it’s a short list. From a Flames perspective, none of these guys are in the running given Calgary’s needs, signing habits and cap constraints. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Calgary’s list only contains one name – Craig Conroy.