Editor's Note: Okay, so this is pure recycling on my part. I posted these UFA target pieces a week ago and wanted to get them back up on the main page heading into tomorrow's UFA Frenzy. Enjoy.
Even though the draft comes before the UFA period, there seems to be plenty of coverage on the players we might take at the #9 spot for me to try and rehash some of it here. I also am convinced that we’re going to trade up in the draft, anyway, so perhaps we swap that #9 pick for something higher and we pick a player that none of us are expecting to be on the board as it stands.
That being said, I want to look at five potential UFA targets for both the forward and defence positions come July 1st. This first of two installments will look at the forwards. Please note that I haven’t bothered to put guys like Hossa, Sundin, and the Sedin sisters because we can’t really afford them. These five players all fit the top 6 forward billing that Murray has publicly sought and can potentially be signed for a salary that fits our payroll post-Heatley. Let me also say that I’m strongly for keeping Mike Comrie at somewhere in that $2M - $2.5M as a playmaking winger on the second line. With a healthy hip and a renewed season in a strong program, Comrie will come back strong.
1. Mike Cammalleri (last year: CGY, 39g, 43a, 82pts, -2, $3.35M cap)
A healthy Mike Cammalleri is an 80-point player. In the last three seasons, he’s accomplished the feat twice, once in LA and again last year in Calgary. In Ottawa, he would be the first ever ‘second line centre’ that we’ve only heard about in campfire stories. Sure, you could try and bump him to the wing with Spezza, but I think he’d be better suited on a second line with a Mike Fisher type. He has proven that he can handle the heat of playing in a hockey-crazed city, as well, and at 28 years old, he’s got a way to go. The burning question is about his salary demands. We already have a $4.2M second liner in Fisher, so can we really afford a $5M second line centre? In my opinion, he lets you have two legitimate lines that are a threat to score and you really just need to fill the top line with a kid that can keep up with Spezza and Alfredsson.
2. Brian Gionta (last year: NJ, 20g, 40a, 60pts, +12, $4M cap)
This is one that might sneak in under the radar for us. Gionta doesn’t put up Cammy numbers and isn’t a full blown replacement for Heatley, but he’s a guy that has the potential for 70+ pts and is most certainly fast enough to keep up with Spezza. He has the hands for it, too, but he’d have to play on the top line to be worth the salary for $5M that it is going to take to get him. He also turned 30 this year, two years older than Cammalleri. A natural winger, he’d be the forechecker that Heatley wasn’t and while he doesn’t have the same shot as his predecessor, he has far better speed and vision and could fit in better with Clouston’s pressure system. Again, though, we’d be looking at $5M for this one.
3. Alex Tanguay (last year: MTL, 16g, 25a, 41pts (50 games), +13, $5.25M cap)
Here’s another winger that can put up points and he’s been doing it for longer than both of the first two. He’ll also cost that same $5M and doesn’t necessarily have the speed to guarantee him a spot on the top line. Another positive with Tanguay is that he’s a very reliable two-way player that knows his way around his own end and isn’t a liability out there. The one question mark is that his career has been just as much about playmaking as it has been about burying pucks. That’s all good and well, but that doesn’t mesh great with Spezza, who is already one of the top setup men in the entire league. Instead, he might have to play on the second line and that begs the question of who will finish the plays there. Tanguay is a player, no doubt, but he’ll need to score more to really fit our needs. Turning 30 this fall might tell us, though, that what you see is what you get with Alex.
4. Maxim Afinogenov (last year: 6g, 14a, 20pts (48 games), -7, $3.33M cap hit)
Finally, a controversial pick! Afino fell out of favour with the fans in Buffalo a few years ago and hung around simply because nobody wanted to trade for him. There were times when he was rumoured to be headed to waivers just so the Sabres could move on. One thing that can’t be denied, though, is the Afinogenov possesses great hands and great speed. What he seems to lack, though, is heart and desire. Is this because he had to live in the armpit of America for years and was just waiting to get out of Buffalo, just like most of his other teammates? Or does this guy just suit the old stereotype of being a European disinterested in the North American game? The bright side here is that his salary is about to get cut significantly, probably down to $2M or less. Given the talent that is buried in this guy’s psyche, that might be worth a flyer to see if he thrives in a new environment where he is counted on for secondary scoring, not primary scoring. His life on the top line is over, but he’d be a steal as a second liner with 50 point potential. High risk, high reward. Turning 30 this year, Afinogenov has a ton to prove on this next contract.
5. Mike Knuble (last year: 27g, 20a, 47pts, +5, $2.8M cap hit)
Okay, so I’ll admit that the talent and upside has dropped off significantly from the first few guys like Cammalleri and Gionta down to Knuble. But Mike Knuble, who is hitting 37 years old this summer, is your dreamy underrated second liner. He has been averaging a better than decent 54 points over the past 6 years and probably has 2-3 good years left. The only way that we really have a need for Knuble, though, is if we determine that we’re ready to contend within the next few years. If the return from the Heatley trade doesn’t give us roster players and if Leclaire isn’t a top ten goalie, then Knuble is wasted money for us. If we can write off last season as an anomaly and Clouston gets us back into the upper half of the Conference, then Knuble is a great fit for $3M or less. Our hope should be that we see how the first day of the UFA period goes to see where we fit in the conference, then determine if Knuble is a fit.
Left off the list:
Martin Havlat – too much money and he’s as injury prone as ever. Sure, you can drop $6M on a scoring winger that knows the city, but the kid doesn’t play a full season.
Erik Cole – again with the injuries, eh? This guy has shown that he only does well playing as a smaller Cam Neely in Raleigh. Not worth the $4M that he’ll get.
Anyone else at forward that we can get? Let me know.