NHL Free Agent Frenzy Preview: The Defence
Yesterday I started my look into the NHL’s free agent market with a look at the top goaltenders available. Today I move on and look at the defence. One thing we notice is that this year’s crop is extremely thin. One of the thinnest I can ever remember for defencemen. With Lubomir Visnovksy re-signing with the Isles and Sergei Gonchar (Stars) and Mark Streit (Flyers) recently involved in trade and sign type deals, the group took a further hit. Clearly the gems of the free agent market are the forwards, but we’ll look at them tomorrow. For today, lets see what is out there come July 5th.
1) Rob Scuderi, Los Angeles Kings,
2012-13 Salary (before being pro-rated): $3.4 million Cap Hit $3.4 million
2012-13 Stats: 48 GP, 1 G, 11 A, 12 PTS, 4 PIMs, -6, 21:47 TOI per game
Scuderi is a defence first defender. He plays big minutes and is a valuable penalty killing contributor. The 34-year-old isn’t flashy, but his value is seen when you consider that he has been a top 4 defender, playing against opposing team’s top 6, on two Stanley Cup winners, the 2009 Penguins, and 2012 Kings. Scuderi isn’t known for his offence, and he’s not known for his big hits, but he does whatever it takes to win. He clears the crease, battles in corners, and is a great shot blocker. He’d be a fine addition to any team looking to upgrade the defensive aspect of the game.
2) Ron Hainsey, Winnipeg Jets
2012-13 Salary (before being pro-rated): $3 million Cap Hit $4.5 million
2012-13 Stats: 48 GP, 0 G, 13 A, 13 PTS, 10 PIMs, -8, 22:51 TOI per game
The 32-year-old Hainsey has really seen his game evolve over the years. Once thought of as a slick skating, puck-moving, powerplay quarterback type of offensive defenceman he has really improved his defensive game as the offence has waned. He is still very mobile and has good size and reach to play a defensive game. He’s still not physical though, and people shouldn’t expect that despite the fact he’s listed at 6’3″ 210 lbs. Still he can play all situations and eat up a lot of minutes in the top four of someone’s blueline. He’s a left-handed shot who can play both right and left defence.
3) Jordan Leopold, St. Louis Blues
2012-13 Salary (before being pro-rated): $3 million Cap Hit $3.0 million
2012-13 Stats: 39 GP, 2 G, 8 A, 10 PTS, 14 PIMs, -8, 20:04 TOI per game
The 32-year-old was acquired by the Blues from the Buffalo Sabres as a late season rental. He plays a solid two way game, with a good shot and goal scoring instincts on the powerplay, and a strong defensive game in his own end of the ice. Can struggle with consistency, but when Leopold is on, he’s a valuable minute muncher and top 4 defender who is mobile, and plays with some grit at both ends of the ice.
Edit: Take Leopold off the market as he agreed to a two year deal to stay in St. Louis.
4) Ryan Whitney, Edmonton Oilers
2012-13 Salary (before being pro-rated): $5.5 million Cap Hit $4.0 million
2012-13 Stats: 34 GP, 4 G, 9 A, 13 PTS, 23 PIMs, -7, 18:28 TOI per game
30 year old Whitney fell out of favour with Oilers coach Ralph Krueger last season, and was often a healthy scratch. Prior to that he had foot issues which cost him time. He never became the number 1 defenceman the Oilers wanted when he was acquired from Anaheim. However Whitney is still a good offensive contributor, who is a strong skater and puck mover, and also has good passing and shooting skills to quarterback the powerplay. He can be soft defensively though, and has a tendency to have brain cramps in his own end.
5) Marek Zidlicky, New Jersey Devils
2012-13 Salary (before being pro-rated): $4 million Cap Hit $3 million
2012-13 Stats: 48 GP, 4 G, 15 A, 19 PTS, 38 PIMs, -12, 20:59 TOI per game
The 36-year-old veteran defender is also more well known for his offensive skills than his defensive skills. While he has lost a half-step in recent years, he still has good mobility, and can move the puck on the rush. He also is very good on the powerplay with crisp passing and an underrated shot. However Zidlicky has never been great in his own end of the ice, where he can be prone to bad giveaways at times, or being overpowered by bigger stronger defencemen.
6) Toni Lydman, Anaheim Ducks
2012-13 Salary (before being pro-rated): $3 million Cap Hit $3 million
2012-13 Stats: 36 GP, 0 G, 6 A, 6 PTS, 12 PIMs, -1, 19:23 TOI per game
The 35-year-old has been an excellent mentor to the young defencemen on the Ducks blueline. He’s a defence first player who gets by with outstanding positioning and hockey sense, good mobility, a quick and active stick, a solid first pass that gets the puck moving quickly, and a bit of grit in front of his net and in the corners. Lydman is very comparable to Scuderi, in that he’s not flashy, but the job gets done.
7) Ian White, Detroit Red Wings
2012-13 Salary (before being pro-rated): $2.75 million Cap Hit $2.875 million
2012-13 Stats: 25 GP, 2 G, 2 A, 4 PTS, 4 PIMs, +5, 19:35 TOI per game
The 29-year-old White is another undersized offensive defenceman. He fell out of favour in Detroit due to some poor giveaways in his own end of the ice, and his inability to handle big, strong forwards. However he still has offensive skills and is good at skating the puck out of danger and making good crisp passes on the breakout (most of the time), or in the offensive zone. White is young enough that some team will give him the opportunity to play on their blue line.
8) Andrew Ference, Boston Bruins
2012-13 Salary (before being pro-rated): $4 million Cap Hit $4 million
2012-13 Stats: 48 GP, 4 G, 9 A, 13 PTS, 35 PIMs, +9, 19:29 TOI per game
A valuable member of the Eastern Conference Champions, the 34-year-old Ference was a top 4 defender on the team, and valuable penalty killer. He played over 24 minutes per game for the Bruins in the playoffs, and his absence was felt in games 5 and 6 of the Bruins first round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ference is a physical, defence first defender who plays a rugged style despite being listed at just 5’11” and 189 lbs.
9) Michal Rozsival, Chicago Blackhawks
2012-13 Salary (before being pro-rated): $2 million Cap Hit $2 million
2012-13 Stats: 27 GP, 0 G, 12 A, 12 PTS, 14 PIMs, +18, 18:06 TOI per game
Averaged over 19 minutes per game in the Hawks run to the Stanley Cup. Rozsival was a solid third pairing defenceman for the Champs. He plays a solid positional game, and is willing to block shots. Moves the puck out of the zone well, and has good mobility. Another one of our not flasy, but effective defensive defencemen on the market.
10) Douglas Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins,
2012-13 Salary (before being pro-rated): $2.5 million Cap Hit $2.5 million
2012-13 Stats: 43 GP, 1 G, 5 A, 6 PTS, 35 PIMs, -9, 17:35 TOI per game
Acquired as a trade deadline rental Murray has a reputation as a physical defensive stalwart at the back end. That may have been true in the past, but last season it looked like the 33-year-old had really lost a step as he was often beaten in the skating department. Was he playing through an injury? or was he aging quickly before our eyes (as physical defencemen can do in their thirties). Can he regain his past form? or is he now a 6th/7th defenceman? These are the questions an NHL team must ask before signing Murray.
Check back tomorrow, where we will look at the forwards, and see a much more promising crop than this group of UFA defenders.
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