Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Top 10 Poolie Unrestricted Free Agents of 2007

With the Free Agency Frenzy quickly coming upon us, the pool should know where some of it's top players are going to go. Some are much easier than others... and those others are going to be available to the highest bidder. This is according to my pool points list and shouldn't necessarily be considered as "wise hockey moves."

The Sabres will have to boogey to keep Daniel Briere about. He finished 12th in pool scoring with 95 points and was a big reason as to why the Sabres did what they did last year. I can't really imagine Briere working well without Lindy Ruff's system, unless he possibly moved to another team known for their team speed. With the cap budgets being what they are and what Briere will probably have offered to him, it will be tough to see him in some markets, but I think Buffalo will end up keeping him before it's all said and done. The Sabres are more Briere's team than Drury's team and if I was GM Darcy Regier, I would be keeping Briere.

Now, I understand that Selanne is teetering on the edge of retirement, with his shiny new Cup and all, and since the Ducks have re-signed Giguere already, it would seem rather difficult to see Selanne back at big money with the Ducks, unless one of their big defensemen were to retire. If Selanne chooses to stay in the league for another season, he may be a prime candidate as a free-agent pick-up. He finished 13th in pool scoring and has been in the Top 20 in back-to-back seasons... he may not be a difficult player to sign if the right team and the right offer came along... especially if he holds out his decision until late. If Selanne re-signs in Anaheim or moves on to somewhere else, he should be a first round selection in your pool.

The 42 year-old Dominik Hasek said he'll return to the game, which almost guarantees another round with the Detroit Red Wings. This is one of those easy picks in a column like this. Hasek managed to win 38 games last year and maybe it was more because of the efforts of the guys up front more than him, but in the pools... wins are wins. If you don't mind Hasek or are left with a late first round pick in your pool, then Hasek might be your guy early on. The age question remains, but if you're sold on Detroit doing well, maybe your second goalie pick should be the other Detroit keeper, Chris Osgood.

At 31st in pool scoring, Michael Nylander had a very good year. Quite possibly one of his best. He had great linemates and played pretty well also. Could the Rangers really afford to let Nylander go? Who would Jaromir Jagr's set-up guy be? I don't think he could get the same production out of a centre like Briere, Drury or Gomez... why should Sather tinker with his lines like that? The Rangers will be out to spend some dough this off-season and I don't think Nylander will be a priority when there are other players about. If the Rangers lose out on the big 3 centres of the Frenzy, then Nylander will be back in the fold. Nylander is a high pick in your pool if he remains with the Rangers and a much lower pick if he goes somewhere else.

At just under a point-per-game last season, it should be the belief that Vyacheslav Kozlov is another guy who did very well with a linemate who scored a bundle. Kozlov and Marian Hossa were quite the dynamic duo in the regular season and should be considered again to be that, if Atlanta is to re-sign him. Atlanta though is in a limbo of decision making... standing at the proverbial fork in the road. Which way are they going to go forward with? With Hossa only having one more year on his deal left, it may be worth the Thrashers' while to sign up Kozlov for one more year to see what happens. If not, some team is going to get a very talented centre who can play with your more dynamic forwards.

It's been a couple years since, but Paul Kariya is once again a Unrestricted Free Agent. The Nashville Predators have looking like a team who is vastly changing around the direction and/or hockey philosophy of late and it's hard to say if Kariya is a part of that. Hell, if Tomas Vokoun isn't, then who is? The way the Predators built around Kariya (to an extent) should make Kariya a sought after player on the market... and he most certainly is. I don't think you'll find a hockey market in the league, who could be a player in the Frenzy, who wouldn't want Kariya in their fold. Saying this... Kariya's production shouldn't be affected too much and his 76 points in 82 games is certainly nothing to sneeze at... in the second round of a pool. Watch where he goes in the Frenzy, his stock may climb... but it shouldn't fall at all.

Maybe a name you have or haven't come to expect on these sorts of lists, but Jason Blake has been a sought after name for quite a while for a lot of teams and he should be a sought out name in the hockey pool world as well. Blake's stock went up this past season when he scored a career-high 40 goals and he moved up to 58th in pool scoring. His previous high in the pools was 95th. Blake is finding his way in the new NHL and has now moved up into the top three rounds of a good pool and may find himself in a new town with a good centre that could possibly help him score 50. It's certainly not out of the question. The risk to reward ratio is about even... it's probably best to be safe with him and draft him about where he finished last season.

The second of the highly sought-after centres ranks eighth on this list, more or less because he missed five games in the season. Chris Drury is more sought-out for his leadership qualities and his playoff experience more than his actual scoring ability. That isn't to say he doesn't have great hands or skating ability, but you watch most shows and a lot of interviews and it's more Drury's character that is worth the big money. Sure his 37 goals in the regular season helps, but in the pool, there are 59 other guys that finished higher than him in points. The really big bonus on Chris Drury is... his stock continues to go up. This was his fifth straight season that he's gone up in the pool rankings and he's becoming a player that doesn't rely on his linemates. I wouldn't move him up too high on your list, but if you really want him late in the second round... this may be the year to do it.

Ninth on the list (possibly could be higher) is Ryan Smyth. There is no question the amount of character and leadership he brings to the table and in a healthy season, he could raise the roof of any season. Smyth lost 11 games to injury in the season and only managed 68 points. He's a guy you can almost count on for a point-a-game, so all things considered... you should be able to move him up on your lists. Smyth doesn't seem to want to return to Long Island or else he probably would have signed already and the inkling of GM Garth Snow shopping his rights isn't helping the case much. Where will he go then? Try not to count Edmonton into the mix. Smyth and Ales Hemsky aren't exactly a dynamic duo, so I don't think it'll happen for that much money. It'll be an Eastern team that misses out on a big centre or has a little extra room to move.

Finally, the list will conclude with Sheldon Souray of the Montreal Canadiens. Talk about a stock that moved... he went up a whopping 149 places in pool rankings going from 226 to 77th. When you thought of Sheldon Souray before, he was a very well ranked defenseman that hardly ever disappointed, ranking along the lines of a Brian Rafalski (also a UFA, by the way). Souray had himself a career year with 26 goals and 64 points, one of the top ranking defensemen in the pool. His point shot will be what attracts a lot of teams, as it will be a boost to any power play. 19 of his 26 goals came with the extra man, so we all know how valuable he is when the doors open to the opposition penalty box.

There's a lot of talent to be considered when it comes to UFA's, but these are the guys who could very well make more of an impact in your pool selections. It does matter what team these guys end up with for the sake of chemistry and overall personnel. Just because a Briere could end up in Los Angeles, doesn't mean he's going to be a better player.

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