For the low price of about $4 million per season, Tomas Kaberle can be yours. He enjoys passing, drinking from elaborate mugs, and consuming the world’s most expensive champagne.
Signing a player from the second tier of NHL free agents is like getting clothes for Christmas from a grandparent.
The sparkle of gifts underneath the tree brings the usual sense of anticipation and excitement, but when the wrapping paper is ripped apart in a fit of gluttonous fury, the glee quickly dies. The clothes are usually on the fringe of being fashionable, but you smile politely and shrug your shoulders, knowing that you still have the closet space. If you don’t want to disappoint grandma, you have to quickly realize the value of discarded, old-fashioned, and previously enjoyed goods.
We’re now into well into Day 4 of the NHL’s free agency period, and we’ve seen the expected gag-inducing overspending, and the unexpected display of a championship-over-money mentality. What we haven’t seen yet is a Tomas Kaberle signing.
Kaberle leads the list of remaining unrestricted free agents, a list that has everything the bargain shopper desires to desperately reach the cap floor add the missing pieces and role players to a Stanley Cup contender.
Let’s take a leisurely stroll down UFA lane, but just be careful to avoid the carcass that is Alex Kovalev’s career. We’ll pay close attention to the top three remaining UFA forwards and defenders during our pleasant meandering journey, with some honourable mentions thrown in for good measure. And since I thoroughly enjoy making predictions that can be ridiculed and mocked, I’ll take a wild educated guess and try to peg where those top three players will land.
Pack your picnic, we’re going to the land of misfit players.
1. Jason Arnott
Cap hit last year: $4.5 million
How can he contribute?: It’s hard to believe that Arnott is only two years removed from a 33-goal season, but although his production has declined (17 goals and 31 points this year), his value lies in unmeasurable intangibles like his ability to be a veteran leader. A team in need of that veteran presence should be able to land Arnott for a relatively cheap price, likely around $2 million annually.
2. Sergei Samsonov
Cap hit last year: $2.5 million
How can he contribute?: We’re already at the point where we’re choosing between the likes of Samsonov and Kovalev. Clearly neither are impressive or particularly appealing, but given the ultimatum between two quickly fading forwards, I’ll side with the more consistent option. Samsonov has hovered around the 15-goal mark in each of the past four seasons, showing that at 31 years old he still has value as a bottom six forward.
3. Ryan Shannon
Cap hit last year: $625,000
How can he contribute?: Available for about the price of a beer at the Air Canada Centre, Shannon may develop into the classic late-bloomer. Still young at 28 years old, he posted modest career-highs of 11 goals and 27 points this year during the first season in which he received consistent playing time.
Honourable mentions: Kovalev, Cory Stillman, Nikolay Zherdev, Ryan Carter, Jaime Lagenbrunner
1. Tomas Kaberle
Cap hit last year: $4.25 million
How can he contribute?: Kaberle’s role is clear, but the reason why he wasn’t fulfilling that role in Boston is still somewhat of a mystery. He’s expected to be the puck-moving, powerplay quarterback, and had his career high in powerplay points when he scored 51 in 2005-06 during the Kaberle-to-McCabe glory years(?) in Toronto. Yet in 58 games for the Bruins after he was acquired at the trade deadline Kaberle had only eight powerplay points.
Prediction: Boston (huge limb here…)
2. Bryan McCabe
Cap hit last year: $5.75 million
How can he contribute?: Now that McCabe has rounded the bend and will soon be on the wrong side of 35, rust is building on that cannon that once boomed from the point. McCabe has played a full 82-game season only once over the last four years, but when healthy he’s still flashed offensive ability. Similar to Arnott, McCabe has demonstrated that even during his fight against age and brittleness he can still be productive, and he’s only two years removed from a 15-goal season.
3. Scott Hannan
Cap hit last year: $4.5 million
How can he contribute?: An ideal commodity for a GM pursuing a sturdy, big-bodied defenceman who’s sound in his own zone, Hannan’s primary selling point is his 6’1″, 225 pound frame. The lingering question is how much cap space teams are willing to sacrifice for that standard bruising D-man who makes a limited offensive contribution. Ed Jovanovski saw his yearly price tag decrease by nearly $2.5 million after he signed a deal with the Panthers at a cap hit of $4.1 million. Jovanovski’s drop could forecast a similar decline for Hannan, opening up the market for more bidders.
Prediction: New York Islanders
Honourable mentions: Shane O’Brien, Brent Sopel