With the NHL Entry Draft now concluded, GMs, players, and fans turn their attention to July 1st and the day dubbed by hockey pundits as the Annual NHL Free Agent Frenzy. In preparing for that frenzy, teams had until Monday, June 25th, 2012 at 5:00pm EST to submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents in order to retain their rights. The NHL/NHLPA CBA says that a qualifying offer must include:
Players who do not recieve qualifying offers will be unrestricted free agents on July 1st, 2012. While there were a huge number of NHL and AHL players who did not receive qualifying offers, the following are some of the most notable names who are now scheduled to be UFAs on July 1st. Note that the numbers are actual NHL base salary in dollars in the 2011-12 season, not the cap hit. It is the salary itself that matters for Qualifying Offers.
Blake Comeau, Calgary Flames, Left Wing
2011-12 Salary: $2,500,000
2011-12 Stats: 74 GP, 5 G, 10 A, 15 Pts, 30 PIMs
Comeau fell off dramatically after a breakout season where he scored 24 goals for the New York Islanders in 2010-11. He also scored 17 goals for the Islanders in 2009-10. Prior to last year his career had been showing a steady upward trajectory, going from a guy shuttled back and forth between the NHL and AHL, to a guy who was a reliable source of secondary offence. When at his best, Comeau is an excellent skater who uses his agility, acceleration and top end speed to beat defenders wide and drive the net hard. He is also very effective on the forecheck. However the questions remain, why did he fall off the map so dramatically? and Can he regain his 2011-12 form?
Peter Mueller, Colorado Avalanche, Right Wing/Centre
2011-12 Salary: $2,000,000
2011-12 Stats: 32 GP, 7 G, 9 A, 16 Pts, 8 PIMs
Mueller has definitely shown the ability to be a quality top 6 scoring threat when he is healthy with 143 Pts in 254 Career Games (0.56 PPG). The problem is that Mueller just cannot stay healthy. Mueller has suffered at least three documented concussions since the 2009-10 season, including a major concussion in 2010 training camp that cost him the entire 2010-11 season, and much of the 2011-12 season. While he would return to the lineup and perform well in 2011-12, the Avalanche have evidently decided that for $2,000,000 he is not worth the risk. The Avs, or another team may take a chance on him on a cheaper deal. When healthy, Mueller is an extremely intelligent player, blessed with high end hockey sense. He is calm and composed with the puck, and this coupled with his great vision make him an effective playmaker. He is more likely to produce points when his team controls the puck in the offensive zone, than he is to score off the rush. This is due to his below average top end speed and poor acceleration.
Cam Barker, Edmonton Oilers, Defence
2011-12 Salary: $2,250,000
2011-12 Stats: 25 GP, 2 G, 0 A, 2 Pts, 23 PIMs
The Oilers are now the 3rd NHL team to give up on the 2004 NHL Draft’s 3rd Overall Pick. Barker has quite simply never lived up to the hype of his draft position, and is at best a 6th or 7th defenceman on an NHL club. It is not surprising that the Oilers did not qualify him given his salary. Poor defensively, when he wasn’t a healthy scratch Barker was often “turnstiled” off the rush in Edmonton. He quite simply does not have either the skating ability, the agility, and the quick turns and pivots needed to handle NHL forwards. While some weaker skating defencemen can make up for this with great positioning and hockey sense, Barker lacks these as well. He also doesn’t bring significant offence to the table. A name with some hype due to past expectations, but a player who is just not worth the bother. NHL GMs would be smart to stay away from Barker.
Wojtek Wolski, Florida Panthers, Left Wing/Centre
2011-12 Salary: $4,000,000
2011-12 Stats: 31 GP, 4G, 8A, 12Pts, 2 PIMs
Another player who has fallen out of favour with multiple clubs, the Panthers were Wolski’s fourth NHL team. Wolski certainly has talent as his 2009-10 stats of 23 goals and 65 points would attest. He has two NHL seasons where he has recorded over 50 points in his career, and two other seasons where he scored over 40 points. Wolski has a very good arsenal of shots, including a hard, accurate wrist shot with a quick release that often confuses goalies. He also possesses a hard accurate one-timer which is featured on the Power Play. Wolski has good vision and passing skills, and is able to set up his teammates with prime scoring opportunities. A shootout specialist, Wolski has quick hands, and a wide arsenal of shootout moves at his disposal. The reasons Wolski wasn’t qualified, and the reason why he might be on his 5th NHL team (unless he re-signs with Florida for less than the $4,000,000 he made last year) are consistency and effort level. Wolski just does not bring consistent effort every night, and can go throw long stretches where he does not battle for pucks in the offensive zone, and does not backcheck. This drives NHL coaches, GMs, and fans batty, as he has the tools, but not the motivation. Given his impressive skill set, some team may take a chance on a cheaper contract with Wolski, and if they can ever find a way to get the kid motivated, they might have a first liner on their hands. However with 3 and now possibly 4 teams giving up on him, it might be easier said than done.
Guillaime Latendresse, Minnesota Wild, Left Wing
2011-12 Salary: $2,600,000
2011-12 Stats: 16 GP, 5 G, 4 A, 9 Pts, 20 PIMs
Like Mueller, Latendresse is a talented player who has produced for Minnesota when healthy. In the 2009-10 season, he scored 25 goals and 37 points for Minnesota in just 55 games after being traded from Montreal. However he has only played in a grand total of 27 games since then. Latendresse has suffered at least 2 documented concussions in his career, including one that caused him to miss the majority of last season. In 2010-11 a chronic hip problem kept him out most of the year. In both Montreal and Minnesota, Latendresse has been questioned about his commitment to off-ice training and physical fitness. When he is on his game, Latendresse is a big bodied winger, with an excellent wrist shot and release. He is most effective when he uses his large frame to drive the net, and to lay out big hits, but he does not do these two things on a consistent basis. Latendresse also has poor first step quickness and acceleration which can hurt his defensive game, as he’s a step behind the play at times. Latendresse still has talent and size, which is an intriguing package to nearly any NHL team. If he can stay healthy, he’s a capable 2nd line LW who can provide goals if put with a decent playmaker. I feel some team will definetely take a chance on Gui.
Gilbert Brule, Phoenix Coyotes, Centre/Right Wing
2011-12 Salary: $1,850,000
2011-12 Stats: 33 GP, 5 G, 9 A, 14 Pts, 11 PIMs
Another high draft pick who did not live up to the hype. Brule has never put up the offensive numbers that were expected when Doug MacLean and the Columbus Blue Jackets made him the 6th Overall pick at the 2005 Entry Draft. Brule did put up 17 goals and 37 points for the Edmonton Oilers in 2009-10, but it seems that was a fluke season, and his numbers were inflated by getting a lot of ice time due to the number of injuries, and general lack of scoring depth in Edmonton that season. Brule is undersized, but he does skate well, and is quick to get in the offensive zone on the forecheck. He’s also a decent defensive player. Brule will probably never be a top 6 forward in the NHL, however he can still be useful to some team in a fourth line energy role.
Benoit Pouliot, Tampa Bay Lightning, Left Wing
2011-12 Salary: $1,100,000
2011-12 Stats: 74 GP, 16 G, 16 A, 32 Pts, 38 PIMs
Picked two spots ahead of Brule in 2005, the former 4th overall pick has not lived up to the hype (are we sensing a theme here?). After not recieving a qualifying offer from the Montreal Canadiens in 2011, Pouliot signed with the Boston Bruins as unrestricted Free Agent. Pouliot scored 16 goals in a third line roll for the Bruins. On Draft Day Pouliot was traded to the Lightning, and they did not qualify him. It however is a good possibility that Pouliot will not make it to July 1st, and may sign a deal with the Lightning before then. Pouliot is a fast skater and a talented stick handler who can create offense off the rush. He has a great wrist shot and a quick, release which can handcuff goalies. Pouliot is a big body, but he is often inconsistent in his efforts to get to the front of the net, or to battle for loose pucks along the boards. He is also poor in his defensive positioning and effort levels, which requires him to be insulated in the lineup with strong defensive linemates or with limited minutes and highly skewed offensive zone starts.
Marc Andre Gragnani, Vancouver Canucks, Defence
2011-12 Salary: $550,000
2011-12 Stats: 58 GP, 2G, 13 A, 15 Pts, 26 PIMs
Given his low salary of only $550,000, it is shocking to me that Gragnani was not qualified by the Canucks. Gragnani was thought to be a key component in the trade deadline deal that sent Cody Hodgson and Alexandre Sulzer to the Buffalo Sabres, for Zach Kassian and himself. Many analysts thought that the Canucks were receiving the better defenceman in Gragnani, while the Sabres were getting the better forward in Hodgson. Gragnani may not have delivered as expected last season, after coming off a breakthrough performance for Team Canada at the 2011 IIHF World Hockey Championships, however he is still a young, and talented puck moving defenceman who will be an asset to an NHL team. Gragnani is a quick and agile skater who is able to join the rush offensively. He is also an accurate passer and possesses good vision which helps both in the transition game, and on the Power Play. Gragnani possess a good slap shot, which he is able to keep low and accurate. He does show some ability to use his size to battle in front of the net and in the corners, however he still would be characterized mainly as a puck mover, and not a physical defensive defenceman. Despite all this I believe Gragnani to be the best player on this list and I believe he will receive an NHL contract that will be higher than the $605,000 the Canucks would have been required to offer him in their Q.O. if they wished to retain Gragnani’s rights.
Eric Fehr, Winnipeg Jets, Right Wing
2011-12 Salary: $2,200,000
2011-12 Stats: 35 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 3 Pts, 12 PIMs
It seemed as though Eric Fehr had broken out in the 2009-10 season with the Washington Capitals when he scored 21 goals and 39 points. However Fehr has regressed steadily and dramatically in the two seasons that have followed that campaign. Fehr has struggled with injuries, missing time in 2010-11 due to a dislocated shoulder, and in 2011-12 due to a recurrence of the shoulder difficulties and an eventual shoulder surgery. Fehr is hoping to move past these injuries and rediscover the confidence and scoring touch he showed earlier in his career. When at his best Fehr is a big body who stands infront of the net and creates havoc for goaltenders. He creates most of his goals through tip-ins and rebounds. Fehr has a hard and accurate shot, however his release is slow and can be telegraphed at times, which allows most goalies to make the save on him. Defensively, Fehr is good positionally and cuts down the passing and shooting lanes. However for a player his size, Fehr is not very physical in either end of the rink.
With such a weak UFA class this year, some of these players may make attractive targets for teams on July 1st. Younger than your typical UFA, teams may believe that these guys have talent, and its just a matter of better coaching or a change of scenery that will turn them into productive NHLers. They can certainly fill holes and add depth to a team, but it is doubtful that any of these players is a true difference maker. NHL GMs will have to be careful not to overspend on these players, and to find them the right situations to succeed. If they don’t, it will be more Free Agent Frenzy money that is unwisely spent.
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