After a mostly silent draft from a trade standpoint, even if Stan Bowman and Doug Wilson made a lot of teal and red clad sphincters audibly clench when they approached the registry table, it appears that Bowman is going one of two directions. The first option is that he’s going to allow this group, which for all of their faults were a goal away from another Cup Final berth against an inferior opponent, another crack at the Chalice minus some deadweight and augment as the deadline approaches. Or he’s going to let the market get set tomorrow in a barren UFA market place and parlay some of his cost-controlled assets into greater return and/or cap space.
One thing that has become abundantly clear however, is that the West is figuring out it’s going to take real, adult center depth to get by the Kings, and their southern California rivals the Ducks have made some serious improvements down the middle. Red Assed Uncle Bob Murray has slotted Ryan Kesler and Nate Thompson, a real bottom six center who went unheralded in Tampa, without losing anything of consequence from his roster that’d won two straight division titles. And that’s neglecting to include Andrew Cogliano, a natural center who for some reason spent a significant amount of time on the wing last year. Not to mention what San Jose has in Thornton-Coutoure-Pavelski, provided Doug Wilson doesn’t do something profoundly idiotic (albeit beneficial to the West).
So the primary focus of the shopping list will again be the center position, with basically only one wing even potentially on the list (spoiler alert: it’s Jarome Iginla), and a backup goalie. While Raanta’s first trip through the league before the turn of the year was fine, once Crawford returned, things got ugly and bad for the Finnish netminder, and the Hawks may want an insurance policy that isn’t Jason Labarbera. But the blue line and the wings are where the Hawks have a lot of cheap depth in the organization, and for them to continue to retain their core pieces, that talent has to contribute.
- Jarome Iginla – RW – Bruins – Given the way Iggy’s contract was structured with Boston and that the cap didn’t raise as much as anticipated, the B’s are left eating a serious amount of bonus overage and are unlikely to sign Iginla, who was once again productive, hitting the 30 goal mark at age 37. But the Hawks have two right wings in Hossa and Kane, and the only hope to land Iggy is to sell him on a cheap contract and Cup chase from a third line role. It’d be a sentimental bone to throw one of the most respected players in the league, but again, the Hawks probably have too much depth on the wings to make it feasible.
- Chad Johnson – Bruins – This could be the second straight summer that the B’s could watch Tuuka Rask’s backup walk in free agency after benefiting by playing behind one of the tightest defenses in the league after Anton Khudobin did so last summer. Khudobin shined during Cam Ward’s utterly predictable stints on the shelf, and Johnson may seek an opportunity to do the same. Johnson started 23 games for the B’s and posted a .925 save percentage for just $600K, which is as ideal of a stat line for a backup goalie on a team with a clear #1. At 28, however, he’s in an interesting middle ground, where he’ll need to decide what he is, whether he’s comfortable as a backup and make around a million bucks, or take a stab at a starter’s role.
- Ray Emery – Flyers – Ahh, everyone’s friend Ray M. Murray. Razor had a rough year in Philly, well, because he was a goalie for the Flyers and that’s just what happens. But he and Crawford obviously have a good rapport here, and there’s an element of the a known evil versus an unknown one, and Emery’s lateral mobility issues are well documented. But he’d be cheap, that’s for sure.
- Paul Stastny – Avalanche – Stastny is quickly shaping up to be the prize of this decidedly dreadful free agent class, but that doesn’t take away from his value as a player on his own merits. Stastny has proven to be a reliable scorer in his career, topping 50 points every time he’s played 50 or more games. On top of that, he’s a career 52% at the dot, and was one of the only players on the Avalanche last year not completely submerged by shot attempts against while taking the toughest competition in the least favorable zone starts. The problem is that he’s currently making $6.6 million against the cap, and stands to make more given the marketplace. Even if there have been rumblings of the Hawks being in on him, it’s in all likelihood a pipe dream unless Bowman moves some serious pieces to make room, the way Steve Yzerman did last night. The hope is that he lands somewhere in the east, as anywhere in the west makes for a headache for the Hawks.
- Brad Richards – Rangers – Brad Richards is a confounding case. This past year, everything seems to point to what would shake out to be a solid second center behind Toews – He had 51 points on a Rangers team that couldn’t find its own dick offensively, and drove possession to the tune of a 54% Corsi share, even while being slightly below water at the dot at 49.8%. The fact of the matter is that Richards has always scored, but probably hasn’t ever been a true #1 center, which is what he was expected to be and paid to be in New York, which led to his being benched in the playoffs and his subsequent buyout. But if he’s willing to take a low salary here while sitting on the millions Slats is still paying him until the Rapture, it might be a nice fit for a reclamation project, and there’s no softer landing than between say, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp.
- Jussi Jokinen – Penguins – Confusingly used as a top 6 wing in Pittsburgh on a team that was completely undone by its lack of depth, Jussi Jokinen has again, always produced out a second center position, where he’d had a history of several 50+ point and 55% faceoff seasons in Dallas and Carolina, who for some reason could not give him away for nothing. All Jokinen does is drive possession, but for some reason infuriates coaches because of an appearance of lack of commitment on defense, and based the way Brandon Pirri was treated up until his exit here, would leave Quenneville always wanting “more” out of Juice and subsequently putting him in his dog house, or even possibly the pressbox.
- Mikhail Grabovski – Capitals – Grabbo fits a very similar profile to Jokinen, however his game is a little bit more shooty and not as proficient at the dot, even being used in a clear-cut center role. But like Jokinen, Grabovski also is playing a lot more offense than defense (when Randy Carlyle isn’t burying him), and should come with a similar $4.5ish million dollar a year price tag. And like Jokinen, he also seems like a player that Joel Quenneville would hate.
- Vern Fiddler (Stars), Manny Malhotra (Canes), Marcel Goc (Penguins) – There is a chance that Stan and Q actually give the reins to the second line to Teuvo with how high they’ve been on him, but even in that case the Hawks do need another center other than Toews and Kruger, and these three are value options for fourth line duty and allow Marcus Kruger to get out of The Dungeon. Vern Fiddler is a nasty little weasel of a player that is in actuality now what everyone thought Dave Bolland was, never, ever shuts up, and wins draws. Goc is more in the mold of Kruger himself, being undersized and quick, with above fourth line hands, but can certainly play the role. Malhotra, the sentimental pick, basically invented the role of the dungeon dwelling center during the Canucks run to the final, and appears to be fully recovered from his horrific eye injury.