Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Free Agent Pool, Part 2

There has been quite a bit of rumbling around the status of defenseman Cody Franson, who played himself into a situation where he won't be a Maple Leafs player in 2014 and it isn't in the traditional, have your team give up on you way.

No, Franson, who got squeezed out of Nashville in the off-season of 2011, had such a great season, the Maple Leafs won't be able to afford his fair market value, as a restricted free agent.  Franson finished 8th among NHL defensemen in scoring in the 2013 season with 4 goals and 25 assists in 45 games and that will go a long way to help him find a big contract this Summer.

If you are comparing 2013 numbers among 25 to 27-year old defensemen, Franson ends up in a market that is very heavy on talent.  Keith Yandle ($5.3 million), Shea Weber ($7.9 million) and Mike Green ($6.1 million) are all in the neighbourhood of Franson's 2013 season.  The Leafs look at that and wonder if they can have both Nazem Kadri and their budding young defenseman.

Spoiler alert: the answer is no.

The Red Wings scouting machine continues to find and churn out players, but they are another team that has been punished (in a way) by the diminishing salary cap, so they couldn't keep all that talent that they've found.  Damien Brunner is a pretty good example, as he came into the league last season, but steps immediately into unrestricted free agency as a 27-year old.

Brunner finished 160th in pool scoring, 114th among all forwards, which puts him in the pool conversation, assuming that he finds a team for the 2014 season.  The knock on Brunner will be that he only has one season of NHL experience and it is on a very Euro-heavy line-up with lots of skill to compliment him.  The question becomes, will he adapt well to another system, possibly one that plays a little more North American, dump-and-chase kind of hockey?

The market for Brunner is likely quite small, but his better comparables are Mark Letestu ($1.25 million) and Jannik Hansen ($1.35 million), so I would think that he could find a home at those numbers.

The Red Wings are already at 21 players, including 12 forwards, with only about $1 million left to give under the cap.

2013 was a growth year for Danish forward Mikkel Boedker, who finally picked up his socks and started scoring some points.  Boedker went from ranking 329th in scoring in 2012 up to 164th in 2013, thanks to a 26-point season in all 48 games.  Boedker had always shown flashes of some scoring prowess, leading up to last season, but he finally was able to string some points together and it just so happened to be in a contract year.  Coincidence?

His age range doesn't give him a great deal of comparisons in the market, but his upper comparison could be Kyle Turris ($3.5 million) and his lower could be Carl Hagelin ($2.25 million), which would give him a nice round number to work with and should be manageable in most team situations.

The Coyotes are likely still considered to be a budget-team, since they still haven't been sold to an independent group yet, so looking at their locks and cap hits, they are $56.3 million on 19 players, which would give them over $8 million in cap space, if they were to use it all up.  Boedker is their only big RFA remaining, so it will be up to the negotiating team to make this work in the desert.

One of the big trade deadline rental players, Brenden Morrow, remains in the free agent pool into August and that just seems like a long time for the former captain of the Dallas Stars.

Between Dallas and Pittsburgh in 2013, Morrow finished with 25 points (12 goals and 13 assists) in 44 games, so he wasn't short on scoring.  The 34-year old forward will be able to give any team some real leadership, the occasional goal and all kinds of grit, but what would his potential price be?

Brian Gionta ($5 million) and Mike Fisher ($4.2 million) may be his closest comparisons on the list, both have leadership qualities and have been scoring around the same pace as Morrow, off-and-on.  That is also a large chunk of change to commit to an older player in this new cap era, which likely is the biggest turn-off to going out and signing a guy like Morrow.  Morrow would likely find himself signing a deal, closer to training camps, when his own personal value comes down a million or two.

How much more does Teemu Selanne have left in the tank?  The 43-year old Finnish winger still showed some pop in the 2013 season, which was shortened by the lockout, so the body didn't take as much of a beating as an 82-game schedule would.  If he does come back, it will only be for the Ducks, which really limits the amount of value he has in this article, but he is still considered an unrestricted free agent, so he'll be posted here any way.

Selanne finished with 24 points in 46 games for the Ducks, was still a productive member of a team that finished 2nd in the Western Conference standings through the regular season, but he also dropped a fair bit in the hockey pool scoring rankings, down from 51st overall to 174th... but you can't really take anything away from him, given his age.

Last season, he made $4.5 million and he is a guy that sets his own number.  Selanne is not a player that has any market bearing.  If he decides to come back, the Ducks and his agents will find a number worth coming back for.

Since my list is mainly sorted by points scored, more than actual interest, you can understand why Alex Pietrangelo finishes so low between these first two posts.  Just because the young defenseman only scored 24 points in 47 games with the Blues in 2013, doesn't mean he isn't the most curious of all the free agents on the list.

Pietrangelo broke out in the 2012 season, ranking 119th overall in pool scoring, but felt a drop in the shortened 2013 season, dropping down to 181st overall, 21st among all defensemen.  As a poolie, I don't think I would be ready to discount his overall value or his potential for 2014 and I don't think his team of agents are thinking any differently.

Immediately, the market numbers are going to be rather large, but his upside, you would think, would be worth the expenditure.  Slava Voynov ($4.2 milllion) signed a new deal in the off-season with the Kings and finished ahead of Pietrangelo in scoring, but Drew Doughty ($7 million) may be closer to what Pietrangelo and company have in mind, as a fellow 2008 draft pick.

According to some reports, there is some real fear that Pietrangelo might be a hold out, come the start of training camp, if things do not progress any further.

Still sitting on the free agent wire is speedster, Mason Raymond, who finished the 2013 campaign with 22 points in 45 games for the Canucks.  Raymond has been a streaky player, to say it nicely, who works best in a North-South offense, but his size has always been a hitch of his and it may be what keeps him from signing anywhere before training camp.  I would think that Raymond becomes a depth addition somewhere.

At age 27, this is his first year of unrestricted free agency and his market comparisons from the 2013 season are not likely to favour Raymond, if that's what his negotiating team is going in with, when talking to NHL clubs.  22-to-24 points in 2013 for forwards aged 26-to-27... Paul Stastny ($6.6 million), Nathan Horton ($5.3 million) and Brian Bickell ($4 million) are not going to help Raymond's cause at all.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Raymond sign somewhere around training camp, but it will be for a much more manageable number and likely for a team that could use a touch more speed in their line-up, more than anything else.

The last significant restricted free agent in the Washington Capitals organization is Marcus Johansson, who should still have some game to give, but is coming out of his entry-level deal and is in for the dreaded second contract, which has been the fear of a lot of teams of late.

Johansson didn't have a huge year for Washington, finishing 144th among all forwards with 22 points in 34 games, and really didn't associate himself with one of the team's big stars, so there may still be some question marks as to where he'll fit in the depth chart for the 2014 season.  With some of that rental talent already out the door, Johansson will likely get a good shot at the 2nd line centre position, assuming he signs on the dotted line in time.

The 22-year old Swede is likely up for a good pay day, but depth is an issue for the Capitals, so where will the balance be when the deal is done?  Kyle Palmieri's new deal at $1.467 per season would be ideal for the Capitals, but Josh Bailey's $3.3 million likely looks a little bit better for the kid.

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