Matching key NHL free agents with their ideal teams
By Allan Muir
Maybe it's the time of year. Or maybe it's all those FarmersOnly.com ads that ran in a loop on NHL Network during the playoffs. Whatever the case, I can't help but think that there are some free agents and teams that would be perfect matches for one another ... even if they just don't know it yet.
I can't bring them together, but I can point them in the right direction. And I can do it without the help of a talking dog.
With the July 5 free agent frenzy fast approaching, here's a look at the game's top free agents and their perfect landing spots.
Nathan Horton -- Maple Leafs
Yeah, there's a big sentimental push to bring home David Clarkson, but Horton is younger (by a year), more experienced and has a better resumé highlighted by significant contributions to a Bruins team that twice reached the Cup final in a three-year span. He'll likely be more expensive, and he doesn't bring the same physical element as Clarkson, but he's also a safer bet. Plus, think of how much fun it would be to stick it to Boston!
UPDATE: Sorry, Toronto. Sounds like Horton's just not that into you. He's looking for something a little more low-key, where the media will be less demanding than what he faced in Boston. With that in mind, how about the Dallas Stars? They're on the rebound after being dumped by Vincent Lecavalier, they've got the cap space, and they're looking to make a splash in free agency to rebuild their credibility in the market.
Jaromir Jagr -- Bruins
With Horton out of the picture, the B's need someone to fill a top-six right wing position. Jagr will come fairly cheap, he knows the system and he'll probably be more effective during the regular season than he was during the tight-checking playoffs. Plus, it wouldn't hurt Tyler Seguin to spend a little more time around someone who takes his profession seriously.
David Clarkson -- Canucks
It would take some financial pruning to clear some space (ditching Alex Edler's contract, for instance), but Clarkson is exactly what the Canucks need to keep their window open for another couple of years. He'd bring Vancouver the imposing physical presence they'll need to compete out west, and a decent scoring touch that might continue to blossom if he is lined up alongside the Sedins (even if only on the power play).
There's some sentiment for Boston here, but if Iggy really wants a Cup, he needs to look up his old buddy Darryl Sutter in Los Angeles for his best chance. The Kings have limited cap space and a couple other holes to fill, so this wouldn't be a huge payday, but it might be worth taking a few bucks less for the opportunity to skate on the second line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter for a team that has a real chance to go all the way.
The words "Jason Spezza's back" can be read two ways. First, Ottawa's franchise forward is ready to return to glory in 2013-14, which is exciting. Or it could be read as a grim warning that the Sens' top center is one tweak away from spending another season on the sidelines. Ottawa finished 27th in offense last season, primarily because Spezza couldn't go beyond the first five games. The Sens can't afford to assume that he'll be 100 percent next season, or ever again. Coming off a career year, Ribeiro provides high-end insurance. He's a dazzling playmaker who can get the most out of Ottawa's young wingers ... and he's only missed eight games over the past three seasons.
Danny Briere -- Islanders
Briere made it clear after being bought out by the Flyers that he wanted to play somewhere on the East Coast so he could be close to his children in Philadelphia. The Isles could use both a second-line center and a veteran presence in the room to fill the leadership vacuum created by the departure of captain Mark Streit.
Jay Feaster was clear. The Flames have to "win in free agency." Good luck with that. Rebuilding teams rarely rank highly on the wish lists of top free agents, so Calgary might have to shop off the scratch 'n' dent shelf. Bryzgalov fits the profile -- to many teams, he's considered more trouble than he's worth -- and he would fill a glaring hole that's expected to open up as soon as Miikka Kiprusoff makes his retirement official. Bryzgalov would not only stabilize the back end, he'd get the Flames back up over the salary cap floor of $44 million.
A homecoming of sorts (he played his junior hockey in Plymouth, MI) might be exactly what Weiss needs to salvage a career that was circling the drain in Florida. The Wings are in need of a second-line center after cutting ties with Val Filppula, and Weiss brings the speed and defensive awareness that would allow him to fit smoothly into their system. He could play on both special teams, and maybe add a bit more pop to the offense than Filppula. And after a couple of lousy years, he might be a bargain.
GM Jim Rutherford was willing to trade his first rounder to add an NHL-proven defender to Carolina's roster. He couldn't find a partner at the draft, but he might yet solve his problem in free agency. Ference is smart, quick, low-key and a tremendous locker room presence. Scuderi is a rock steady, stay-at-home type. Both could step onto the second pair, chip in on special teams, and bring some stability to Carolina's back end.
Spurned by Vincent Lecavalier, and in dire need of a bit of size and nastiness up front, the Habs could bolster their top-six with the addition of Clowe. The former Shark played well for the Rangers down the stretch, proving that his cold start in San Jose was nothing to be (too) worried about. Plus, bringing him on board would allow Montreal to drop Rene Bourque to the third line, where he would be much more effective.
The prevailing wisdom had Khudobin headed to the KHL after the 2013 season, but his strong play backing up Tuukka Rask has several GMs singing, "Doby, please don't go!" Edmonton seems to be the best fit for him: a young team with some upside where he can take over for Nikolai Khabibulin and battle with Devan Dubnyk for playing time.
Tim Thomas -- Flyers
As I wrote yesterday, Paul Holmgren and Thomas might be the only two out there who are nutty enough to take a chance on the other. Of course, this would require Philly to ditch some more salary ... or Holmgren to perform some kind of Jedi mind trick to convince everyone that he's actually under the cap.
The Jackets were looking to add a proven NHL scorer at the draft, but failed to find the right deal. It won't be any easier in free agency. Columbus is a team on the rise, but not yet at the point where a premium free agent is going to commit long term. Brunner and Filppula make for viable options. Both have top-six skill with some upside, but they won't be anyone's Plan A, so they should be reasonably affordable.
He's one of those players you can't imagine playing for another team. Come on, you two crazy kids. Find a way to make it work.