Hidden Gems Of The UFA Class Of 2012
In the midst of all the insanity surrounding the top UFA’s, there are more than a few really quality players who will be available that won’t command seven or eight million dollars a year. Superstars are the difference between playoff and non playoff teams, depth is the difference between contenders and champions. While Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and the rest decide their fates, the signings of the right depth guys could decide the fate of several general managers.
On defense, few players will have earned a raise with more determination than Jason Garrison. His path includes the BCHL, three years of collegiate play a season and a half in the AHL and playing for the not very successful pre-Tallon Florida Panthers. In his second full professional season he merely doubled his point total from the previous season, and then in his first NHL playoff appearance potted three points in four games. Mike Lundin is not likely to be the lead sports story wherever he signs this summer. That doesn’t mean he’s not a solid defensemen. Over a hundred blocked shots last season for the Minnesota Wild, he missed much of last season with a couple injuries, but the former fourth round pick has averaged over twenty minutes a night the last two seasons in two different organizations. Jaroslav Spacek is one of the elder statesmen of this draft but he hasn’t lasted this long in the NHL by being luggage. Last season in thirty-four games for the Carolina Hurricanes he had more powerplay goals than in his previous two seasons with the Montreal Canadien’s combined. If I hadn’t witnessed the last few weeks of signings I’d say he might be forced to take a pay cut to keep playing, now he might get a raise.
The left wing is home to a couple men who can shore up perhaps the shallowest position league wide. Alexi Ponikarovski has put up some solid points and over a hundred hits each of the last four seasons. The fourth round pick has been a reliable second or third line player his entire career and I think it’s unlikely the Ukrainian goes to far past July 1 without signing. How many former ninth round picks can you name that are less than half a season from their 1000th NHL game? If Steve Sullivan isn’t on your list, shame, shame! Five powerplay goals last years isn’t a bad total, especially when you’re behind Malkin, Crosby, Neal and Letang in powerplay time. The soon to be 38 year old was a point per game guy in the playoffs this spring.
On the right side, two guys had career worst seasons playing for the Calgary Flames, Tom Kostopoulos and David Moss would probably like a do-over, and maybe a fresh logo to play for. Moss missed most of the season with injuries, Kostopoulos simply couldn’t buy goals last year on a team that collectively was quite poor at scoring. A contender who could tuck them into the lineup might just spark their offense again. About the only thing that tailed off last season for Jordin Tootoo was PIMs, he had career highs in games played, assists and points. He managed a mere five fights and 151 hits in the thirteen minutes a night he played.
Jason Arnott had the third highest point total of any UFA center on the market. Picked seventh overall in his draft, the soon to be 38 year old can likely play another season in the NHL if he chooses. Dominic Moore might just add a tenth jersey to his collection this year. Since being drafted the third rounder only spent one season in the AHL, and no more than two anywhere else. He wins faceoffs, agitates opponents, kills penalties, and gets a new deal when one is due. Any team looking to help a player rebound might want to take a run at Brad Boyes. The former forty-goal man has a ton of talent, health and motivation seem to be in a less than useful measure, but the right situation can change things a lot.
Overall this free agent class while highlighted by four or five genuine high end talents, isn’t all that great, but it does have more than a couple players who will easily find work in the NHL.
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