No Regard

June 29, 2008

T-3: The New New Thing(s)

Pitkanen

(Courtesy The Edmonton Journal)

Three days until the most exciting free agent season in sports opens up, so let’s build off yesterday’s look at the older unrestricted free agents with a look at the younger restricted free agents.

In the old days (pre-2005), restricted free agents were about as useful as Jason Spezza in the playoffs. There was the occasional shocking moment, like when New York Rangers GM Neil Smith signed Joe Sakic to a 3 year, $21 million deal in 1997 only to have it matched by Colorado and get labeled a douchebag for trying to break the “unwritten rule” regarding RFAs, but for the most part nobody even monitored who was coming up on restricted status because they never left their current team.

Last year changed that, and while Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe had his hand in the two huge RFA splashes (one successful, Dustin Penner, the other unsuccessful, Thomas Vanek), the fact that the contracts were even offered was a sign that things have changed.

Although Philadelphia Flyers center Jeff Carter has already signed (3 yrs, $15 million), there are still a bunch of good names out there for teams that may be willing to take a risk. Before I rank the RFAs, here’s the compensation package breakdown, based on per year salary average (courtesy of nhlscap.com):

The current expected RFA compensation table for 2008-09 is:

Amount

Compensation Due

$863,156 or less

None

$863,156 – $1,307,811

3rd round pick

$1,307,811 – $2,615,623

2nd round pick

$2,615,623 – $3,923,434

1st and 3rd round pick

$3,923,434 – $5,231,246

1st, 2nd, and 3rd round pick

$5,231,246 – $6,539,061

Two 1st’s, one 2nd, one 3rd round pick

$6,539,061 or more

Four 1st round pick

There are no RFAs worthy of that last package, so the question becomes who is worth what? Here’s my breakdown. TSN.ca did a very similar piece that you can read here, which, unfortunately, I didn’t know about until I started writing this. Oh well, we’ll see how our lists compare, but I’m thinking they’ll be very similar.

Worth the $5,231,246-$6,539,061 Compensation Package

1. Jay Bouwmeester, Florida Panthers, Defenseman

As durable as they come, Bouwmeester is, in my opinion, the best defenseman available this year, Brian Campbell and Wade Redden included. Consider his age (25 at the drop of the first puck next year), his offensive talent in all situations and ability to play +19 hockey over the last three years for bad-to-mediocre Panthers teams. I’m not huge on +/-, and he has a few teammates with better numbers, Olli Jokinen (former teammate now) and Nathan Horton the most prominent, but when you consider how much Bouwmeester plays and how he had pretty much nobody else on the backline to help him (good for you if you consider Bryan Allen, Mike Van Ryn and Jassen Cullimore help), it’s an impressive statistic.

Rumors are floating that Jay is dying to get out of South Florida, so he may be willing to take under the $5.2 million per mark over 4 or 5 seasons, but I doubt it. Any team wanting him will likely have to post something like 5 years, $30 million to get the job done. He’s worth it.

2. Corey Perry, Wing, Anaheim Ducks

Championship experience, a maturity well beyond his 23 years (won’t be 24 until next May) and skills of an elite power forward. I don’t care what anybody says, if I’m building a franchise and I can choose one forward from this year’s free agent class, it’s Perry, not Marian Hossa. He’s cut down on his stupid penalties and is becoming more and more comfortable using his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame to wreak havoc in front of the net on the powerplay. He’ll be a 40-goal scorer, 15 of those on the power play, before he turns 25.

He’s unlikely to leave the Ducks, but he could be this year’s Vanek – the guy someone’s willing to overpay for in an effort to pressure the Ducks into a decision. If that happens, I’d imagine it will be before the end of next week, so if he’s not tendered by someone come Friday, he’ll re-up with Anaheim long term.

The Best Of Those Worth The $3,923,434-$5,231,246 Compensation Package

1. Mike Green, Defenseman, Washington Capitals

The best under-25 power play backliner in the league. But, were his 22 PPPs this year a result of playing with the MVP, Alex Ovechkin? He’s a great skater with a great shot, his minutes were impressive, but Mike Green is still a one-year wonder until he proves otherwise. That’s the risk teams going after him will have to take, much like Dustin Penner last year. I think he stays in DC and will be a No. 1 defenseman for a long, long time.

2. Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Center, Minnesota Wild

The top priority for Wild GM Doug Reisbrough, Bouchard is the best RFA center on the market now that Carter is gone. A very heady offensive player with a knack for finding the smallest of holes to make a pass, Bouchard reminds me a lot of Boston Bruins star Marc Savard. He plays at under 170 lbs, which could be a problem as time goes on, especially if he moves to a more physical division like the Atlantic. If I was a team like the Thrashers, who might have to overpay someone just to reach the cap floor of $40.7 million, I’d see if Bouchard would take 5 years, $25 million and give up the 1st, 2nd and 3rd. He’d be an amazing compliment to Ilya Kovalchuk and a great mentor for Bryan Little. The thing is, he’s unrestricted next summer, so some teams might be willing to let everything play out with the Wild in hopes that they get cold feet on committing big money long term if they resign Brian Rolston. We’ll see.

RFAs I’d Avoid, For Whatever Reason

Joni Pitkanen, Oilers – Blah. Consistently inconsistent, you never know what he’s going to bring you effort-wise. He’s also awfully fragile for 6-foot-3, 220 lbs. Maybe I’m just gutless, but I don’t know if I’d be willing to give up several draft picks for someone who defines boom-or-bust signing.

Pascal Leclaire, Blue Jackets – No chance he leaves Columbus, but I need to see more before I’d be willing to commit the likely $5-5.25 million per it will take to get him locked up long term.

Lower End RFAs I’d Target For Under the $2.6 Million Range

Nigel Dawes, Steve Bernier, Rostislav Olesz, Brooks Laich

Check back tomorrow for the young, unrestricted free agents.

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