Free Agents – Who’s Left?

With simply two months remaining until the 2009/10 NHL season gets underway, and some big-name free agents nevertheless left unsigned, there is certainly room for change. Topping the list of unknowns is the ever-enigmatic Mats Sundin. Sundin spent most of last season deciding whether or not he wanted to return, and finally signed a pro-rated $8.6 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks, to score only 28 points in 41 games. Sundin’s play improved in the playoffs, where he managed 8 points in 8 games, but the Canucks were nevertheless deleted. Now Sundin is again undecided as to whether or not he will return. If a team picks him up, Sundin could be either a huge difference maker or a huge distraction during negotiations. This is a hard call, but if Sundin does return, I’m guessing he’ll only play half a season… not to mention he will most likely need to take a pay cut.

Next on the list are former Habs Alex Tanguay and Mathieu Schneider. Both had OK seasons with the Canadiens last year, but after bringing in many new players, neither looks to be a part of GM Bob Gainey’s current plans. Schneider is a capable offensive denfenceman who could change the dynamic of teams lacking on the blueline, while Tanguay, though he hasn’t reached the plateau however, has the calibre of a 30-goal, 80-point scorer.

Players that may need to take a pay cut in order to get a deal done are Keith Tkachuk, Mike Comrie, Robert Lang, Maxim Afinogenov, and Miroslav Satan. All made in excess of $3 million last season. Few, if any, of them earned it. Among the more affordable free agents remaining are Petr Sykora, Jason Williams, and Todd Bertuzzi. Of his 13 NHL seasons, Sykora has scored 20+ goals eight times, and reached 30+ twice. Though aging, Sykora is nevertheless a dependable winger who could bring an immediate jump to any team’s thoroughness chart. Jason Williams spent last season in Columbus, but rumours have him either going back to the team who drafted him, the Detroit Red Wings, or possibly signing in the KHL. The possibility of him staying in Columbus isn’t excluded either, but looks doubtful. Todd Bertuzzi is a story in himself. A promising scorer in his rookie season, Bertuzzi struggled with injuries and inconsistency until playing some of his best hockey in Vancouver with Brendan Morrison and Markus Naslund. After an incident which saw Bertuzzi sucker punch Colorado centre Steve Moore in the back of the head, Bertuzzi never played another game as a Canuck. After playing with the Panthers, Red Wings, Ducks, and Flames, Bertuzzi is starting to regain his form and could be a good addition for a team in need of grit and secondary scoring.

As far as free-agent goaltenders are concerned, one name stands out in particular – Manny Fernandez. In 325 games, Fernandez has 143 wins, 15 of which were shutouts, a .912 save percentage, and goals against average of only 2.50. With Tim Thomas and youngster Tuukka Rask in Boston, Fernandez was not offered a new contract. The market for goalies isn’t strong at the moment, but look for a team like Atlanta, or already Detroit to pick him up.

In other free agent signings, the Boston Bruins bolstered their defence by adding Derek Morris (NYR), while Colby Armstrong (ATL), Denis Grebeshkov (EDM), Tomas Plekanec (MTL), Travis Zajac (NJ), and Tuomo Ruutu (CAR) all signed with their respective 2008/09 teams.

– Josh Lind

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