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Through the Looking Glass to July 1 – assessing the market for Defensemen

Posted By Corey Krakower On Mar 27 2010 @ 5:38 pm In Around The Rinks | 4 Comments

This summer is going to be a very interesting one hockey-wise. With the cap likely going down and an inordinate amount of unrestricted free agents, roster turnover is going to be substantial in the offseason with teams looking to promote from within for good value contracts. In the first of three segments, here is a look at the market for defensemen.

Note that it was assumed that every RFA will re-sign, which obviously won’t be the case; and when identifying top prospects, only those deemed to be close to NHL ready were listed. These projections are based on teams carrying 7 D, when in fact some carry 8, so the numbers aren’t entirely accurate.


Signed: Visnovsky, Eminger, Festerling

RFAs: Wisniewski, Mikkelson

Top prospects: Sbisa, Gardiner, Mitera

UFAs: Niedermayer, Brookbank, Ward

PLAN: With 5 spots spoken for, the Ducks will likely fill the final 2 spots with 1 prospect, probably Sbisa, and 1 veteran top 4 d-man who can help this young defensive group develop.


Signed: Hainsey, Enstrom, Oduya, Bogosian, Valabik

RFAs: N / A

Top prospects: Kulda, Vishnevskiy

UFAs: Kubina, Chelios, Schubert, Popovic

PLAN: With only 2 openings on their roster, the Thrashers will in all likelihood count on Kulda to make the jump as he has had a tremendous year in the AHL. It is also expected that Atlanta will try to retain Pavel Kubina, but if they are not successful, they will look to the UFA market for a comparable player.


Signed: Chara, Wideman, Ference, Hunwick

RFAs: Stuart, Boychuk

Top prospects: Alexandrov, McQuaid

UFAs: Seidenberg

PLAN: It is expected that the Bruins will try to re-sign Seidenberg to round out their D. If not, they will look to add a depth defenseman via trade or the UFA market.


Signed: Rivet, Myers, Montador, Sekera, Butler

RFAs: N / A

Top prospects: Weber, Brennan, Schiestel

UFAs: Lydman, Tallinder

PLAN: Buffalo likes to promote from within, so you can be sure that at least 1 of the roster openings will go to a prospect, with the top candidate being Mike Weber. The Sabres will fill the final spot by either re-signing one of Lydman or Tallinder, or they will look to the UFA or trade market for 1 D.


Signed: Bouwmeester, Regehr, Sarich, Staios, Giordano, Pardy

RFAs: White

Top prospects: Erixon

UFAs: N / A

PLAN: Calagry is one of the few teams with all 7 spots spoken for. However, they have a lot of money invested in their D and will likely trade one in the offseason to free up cap space.


Signed: Pitkanen, Gleason, McBain

RFAs: Carson, Picard

Top prospects: Borer, Rodney, Dumoulin

UFAs: Pothier

PLAN: It doesn’t make sense for Carolina to promote another prospect, but seeing as they are in a rebuilding mode, I would expect them to fill one of their vacancies with a young player. The Canes will also add a veteran D via the UFA market, likely on a 1 or 2 year deal.


Signed: Keith, Seabrook, Campbell, Sopel

RFAs: Hjalmarsson, Hendry

Top prospects: Olsen, Lalonde, Leddy

UFAs: Johnnson, Boynton

PLAN: On the surface, the Hawks have one spot available, but with a probable buyout or trade of Brent Sopel, it will end up being 2. For the purposes of this analysis, the 1 opening would be filled by a veteran depth defenseman on a short term deal.


Signed: Hannan, Liles, Cumiskey, Wilson

RFAs: Quincey

Top prospects: Shattenkirk, Elliott, Gaunce, Cohen, Barrie

UFAs: Clark, Foote, Salei

PLAN: Colorado has 2 major positives; cap space and very good prospects. Expect the Avalanche to sign a top 4 D and to fill the final spot with one of their many young players.


Signed: Commodore, Klesla, Tyutin, Hejda, Methot, Russell

RFAs: Stralman

Top prospects: Moore, Goloubef

UFAs: Paetsch

PLAN: Even though it appears there won’t be any offseason activity for Columbus when it comes to D, it’s a safe assumption that they will attempt to trade for an elite D-man either at the draft or over the summer.


Signed: Robidas, Fistric, Daley, Woywitka, Skrastins

RFAs: Grossman, Niskanen

Top prospects: Larsen

UFAs: N / A

PLAN: See “PLAN” for Columbus. Same approach in Dallas.


Signed: Rafalski, Kronwall, Stuart, Ericsson

RFAs: Meech

Top prospects: Kindl, Smith

UFAs: Lidstrom, Lilja, Lebda

PLAN: This one is simple – Lidstrom re-signs and Kindl makes the jump.


Signed: Souray, Gilbert, Whitney, Smid

RFAs: N / A

Top prospects: Petry, Chorney, Peckham, Plante

UFAs: Strudwick, Johnson

PLAN: In the process of a major rebuild, the Oilers will look to fill 2 of the 3 spots from within. Expect there to be some serious competition in camp between the 4 prospects listed above, all of whom are capable of playing in the NHL. The remaining spot will be filled with an experienced UFA D-man.


Signed: Ballard, McCabe, Kulikov, Allen

RFAs: N / A

Top prospects: Ellerby, Garrison, Robak

UFAs: N / A

PLAN: Florida is in a similar situation as the Oilers. They too have 3 available spots with very capable prospects in Ellerby and Garrison who both finished the year in Florida. Both are projected to make the team next year, with the final slot being filled by a UFA.

Los Angeles

Signed: Doughty, Johnson, Scuderi, Greene, Drewiske

RFAs: N / A

Top prospects: Hickey, Teubert, Voynov

UFAs: O’Donnell, Jones

PLAN: Just a quick note that Peter Harrold is signed but was not included in the count because he plays a lot of forward. The Kings have a wealth of young talent and will rely on one of Hickey or Voynov to be an NHL regular next year. They will also re-sign O’Donnell or perhaps a similar D on the open market.


Signed: Burns, Barker, Zidlicky, Schultz, Zanon, Stoner

RFAs: N / A

Top prospects: Cuma, Scandella

UFAs: Scott, Hnidy

PLAN: The Wild have an impressive group of defensemen with a good combination of size, speed and puck moving ability. The only vacant roster spot will be awarded to the winner of a fierce battle between Cuma and Scandella in training camp.


Signed: Markov, Hamrlik, Spacek, Gorges, Gill, O’Byrne

RFAs: N / A

Top prospects: Subban, Weber

UFAs: Mara, Bergeron

PLAN: The Habs have 6 defensemen under contract and a premier prospect in PK Subban that is the closest thing to a guarantee to earn a roster spot next year. The only acquisition would be by a trade, but that is easier said than done with contracts to Hamrlik and Spacek that are not easy to digest.


Signed: Suter, Weber, Klein

RFAs: Franson, Grebeshkov

Top prospects: Blum, Ellis, Sulzer

UFAs: Hamuis, Bouillon

PLAN: The Predators will try their best to re-sign Dan Hamuis but if they can’t, they will need to replace him with a free agent shutdown defenseman. The remaining roster opening would be up for grabs in training camp, with Blum and Sulzer being the prime candidates.

New Jersey

Signed: Greene, White, Salvador, Salmela

RFAs: Fraser

Top prospects: Corrente, Urbom, Burlon, Eckford

UFAs: Martin, Mottau, Skoula

PLAN: It’s difficult to project what the Devils will do. They could re-sign Martin or someone else on the market and promote 1 prospect from within; or they could even sign multiple free agents and demote guys like Salmela and Fraser. Option 1 seems more likely given the history of the organization.

New York Islanders

Signed: Streit, Martinek, Gervais, Hillen, MacDonald (assumption that Witt will be bought out)

RFAs: N / A

Top prospects: Kohn, de Haan, Hamonic

UFAs: Meyer

PLAN: The Isles are trying to get younger and better on defense and the plan should continue in the offseason. It’s expected that the Islanders will try to make a splash in the offseason on the UFA market, but at the same time they will look to their prospects to fill the other void on defense.

New York Rangers

Signed: Redden, Roszival, Gilroy, Del Zotto

RFAs: Staal, Girardi

Top prospects: Sanguinetti, McDonagh, Sauer

UFAs: N / A

PLAN: The Rangers are stuck with what they have, due in large part to the grossly inflated contracts signed by Redden and Roszival. Barring a buyout or a trade, expect the Rangers to fill the only vacant spot with one of their prospects, the favorite being Sanguinetti.


Signed: Philips, Kuba, Karlsson, Carkner

RFAs: Campoli

Top prospects: Cowen, Wiercoch, Lee

UFAs: Volchenkov, Sutton

PLAN: Even though both Cowen and Wiercoch are solid prospects, I don’t think either will be with the Sens next year at the NHL level. Lee is a possibility if they let Campoli walk. The Sens will ultimately look to UFAs to fill their 2 openings, with Volchenkov and Sutton expected to be their “PLAN A”.


Signed: Pronger, Timonen, Carle, Bartulis

RFAs: Coburn, Parent

Top prospects: Marshall, Bourdon

UFAs: Krajicek, Rathje

PLAN: To keep it simple, Philly has 6 spots accounted for and Kevin Marshall should be good enough to play in the NHL next year. Cap wise, you can bet there will be movement from Philly, with Carle and one of the RFAs expected to be trade bait for cutting payroll.


Signed: Jovanovski, Vandermeer, Yandle, Sauer

RFAs: Lepisto

Top prospects: Ekman-Larsson, Ross, Ahnelov, Summers, Schlemko

UFAs: Morris, Schneider, Aucoin, Michalek

PLAN: Phoenix got favorable results when they decided to  slowly bring along their prospects rather than rush them into the NHL. Having said that, Phoenix is going to try and bring back 2 of Morris, Aucoin and Michalek. If all 3 of them sign elsewhere, only then will they look towards their prospects.


Signed: Orpik, Goligoski

RFAs: Letang

Top prospects: Despres, Lovejoy, Strait, Grant, Sneep

UFAs: Gonchar, Eaton, Leopold, McKee

PLAN: With limited flexibility cap wise, the Pens D will undergo a massive overhaul. They will end up signing 3 UFAs (2 targets will be Gonchar and Leopold) and will have no choice but to promote at least 1 player from their prospect pool.

San Jose

Signed: Boyle, Vlasic, Murray, Huskins

RFAs: N / A

Top prospects: Petrecki, Demers, Joslin

UFAs: Blake, Wallin, Leach

PLAN: The Sharks have invested a lot of money in their top players and will not be able to take on any big contracts on D without trading a F. At this point, San Jose will be forced to sign 2 affordable depth defensemen who are UFAs, and will rely on one of their prospects to step into a top 6 role.

St. Louis

Signed: Brewer, Jackman, Polak

RFAs: Johnson

Top prospects: Pietrangelo, Junland, Cole, Rundblad, Fairchild

UFAs: Colaiacovo, Sydor, Weaver

PLAN: The Blues have a strong defensive group that is only getting stronger. Pietrangelo is a sure thing to crack the roster, and one of their other prospects (Cole or Junland) should also be ready to make the jump. For that last D, St. Louis may try to re-sign Mike Weaver, or another UFA if that fails.

Tampa Bay

Signed: Hedman, Ohlund, Meszaros, Walker, Smaby

RFAs: Lundin, Ranger

Top prospects: Wishart, Mihalik, Lashoff

UFAs: Foster, Hale

PLAN: The 7 spots on Tampa’s blueline are technically spoken for. However, the first problem to address is the Paul Ranger situation. If he does not return, that will open up a spot for one of their prospects. Tampa will not be able to sign any UFAs unless they trade a big salary first.


Signed: Phaneuf, Kaberle, Beauchemin, Komisarek, Schenn, Finger, Gunnarsson

RFAs: N / A

Top prospects: Blacker, Aulie

UFAs: Exelby, Van Ryn

PLAN: The Leafs have nothing to do, as their D corps is complete….that is until they trade Kaberle and demote/buyout Jeff Finger, both of which are imminent.


Signed: Ehrhoff, Bieksa, Edler, Salo, Alberts

RFAs: O’Brien

Top prospects: Sauve, Oberg

UFAs: Mitchell

PLAN: If Willie Mitchell is out of their price range, the Canucks will either sign a “well priced” UFA or could potentially look to Toronto and try to trade for Tomas Kaberle. Their prospects are weak and will not be ready to become NHL regulars.


Signed: Green, Poti, Erskine, Sloan

RFAs: Schultz

Top prospects: Carlson, Alzner

UFAs: Jurcina, Morrisson, Corvo

PLAN: Alzner and Carlson will both make the team next year and will be impact players for years to come. There is no work to do in Washington on defense.


Total D in the NHL: 210 (30 teams * 7 D per team)

Defensemen under contract: 132

Restricted free agents:  29

Prospects expected to play in the NHL: 24

Projected spots available: 25

Total UFAs: 60

Top 10 “most desirable” UFAs (aka which guys will get the most dollars):

1 – Anton Volchenkov

2 – Paul Martin

3 – Dan Hamuis

4 – Zbynek Michalek

5a – Sergei Gonchar

5b – Niklas Lidstrom

7 – Pavel Kubina

8a – Derek Morris

8b – Joe Corvo

10 – Willie Mitchell

**Niedermayer would be “5c” but he’s likely going to retire**

In a nutshell, these numbers are suggesting that of the 60 players eligible to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, 2010; only 25 of them will continue their careers in the NHL. Obviously, some teams carry 8 D, some of the prospects identified will not make the jump, and some RFAs will not receive qualifying offers. Regardless; you can count on 5 things this summer when it comes to D; contracts will not be as outlandish as in recent years, some players will be forced to sign 2-way contracts, some will need to attend training camp on a try out basis and you can bet there will be quite a few players retiring and quite a few continuing the mass exodus to play in Europe.

Next week’s feature will be a look at the goalies, and will conclude in 2 weeks with a look at the forwards.

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