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My top 5 free agent bargains and other mailbag topics


There's always lots of talk this time of year about the worst free agent signings. I'd like to know [what] you think the best values were. Seems like there were a few smart buys. I like what my Penguins did with [Paul] Martin and [Zbynek] Michalek. Do you agree? -- Jay Lesley, Vermont

Martin and Michalek rank as two of my favorite signings of the summer. The duo add a completely different dimension to a Pittsburgh defense that could be better than the group that won the Stanley Cup two years ago.

Outside of them, here are my top five:

Kurtis Foster: The 42 points he accrued in 71 games with the Bolts last season were the second-most scored by a defender who was available in free agency, so he has a chance to make a significant impact on Edmonton's offense. He's still young (just 28) and will play top-four minutes. He could provide huge value for the $3.6 million he'll earn over two years.

Marty Turco: I'll admit this one could go either way, but the more I think about it, the more I love the upside of his one-year, $1.3 million deal. He lost his confidence, his focus and arguably his drive playing behind a Dallas blueline that relied too heavily on a Kiddie Corps the last couple of seasons. He could regain his mojo with the help of one of the most polished groups of defenders in the league. And don't neglect the effect his puck-handling skills could have on Chicago's transition game.

Devin Setoguchi: The RFA wasn't going anywhere, but even under those terms, the one-year extension he signed for just $1.8 million looks like a steal for GM Doug Wilson. Not only did it grant San Jose some cap flexibility, it bought another season of a winger who should return to the 30-goal, 60-point form that made him such a critical member of the Sharks in 2008-09.

Chris Mason: Goalies were as cheap as houses in Las Vegas this summer, and Mason could turn out to be the most undervalued property on the block. At just $1.85 million, he brings veteran leadership and the ability to soak up a lot of ice time -- he played a career-high 61 games at age 33 last season. He'll be a great mentor for Ondrej Pavelec, and he gives the Thrashers a stabilizing presence between the pipes that just might give them an edge in their drive for a playoff spot.

Johnny Boychuk: A couple of years ago, I was convinced that he was a tweener, an AHL star who would never be able to crack an NHL lineup in a role other than injury replacement. Watching him last season, though, I was taken by how well-rounded his game had become. The offensive potential was there -- he has a cannon from the point -- and he's plenty physical, but his defensive reads really impressed me. He's still developing, but he looks like a player who should assume a top-four role in Boston this year. That's strong value out of a two-year, $3.85 million signing.

When is some team going to approach Bobby Ryan with an offer sheet that he can't refuse?-- Kyle Bellamy, Texas

Probably right after the Flyers sign me to solve their decade-long goaltending woes.

Ryan's not going anywhere. There isn't an offer the Ducks won't match, and opposing GMs understand. Even the Hawks, a team battling to stay under the cap, managed to match an over-value deal for a player they wanted to keep (Niklas Hjalmarsson). Anaheim isn't letting Ryan get least not under someone else's terms. By that I mean a trade isn't out of the question if the two sides are still at an impasse once training camp gets underway. Remember, the issue with Ryan isn't dollars as much as it is term. If there's a team out there willing to settle for just three years of his services and give up a couple of significant assets -- wonder if Toronto would consider parting with Luke Schenn? -- then Ryan could end up wearing different colors next season.

Sergei Kostitsyn in Nashville: bargain of the offseason or disaster in the making?-- Helen Stakitch, Tenn

Look, when the adjective most commonly associated with a player is "enigmatic," it's probably best to put your head between your knees and prepare for a rough landing. No one denies that Kostitsyn has the talent to be a productive second-line forward in the NHL. He has the skill set to chip in 20 goals and 60 points if he puts his mind to it. But what evidence is there that he will?

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Some will point to his no-risk contract (one year, $550,000). If he was in it for the fat stacks, he could have piled up a lot more rubles in the KHL, so maybe he's serious about getting his head right. And I've learned never to underestimate what Barry Trotz can accomplish. If there are five coaches capable of getting Kostitsyn to focus, Trotz is one of 'em.

Hey, I like the signing. A team that needed an offensive injection at a bargain price took a chance and slapped a sweater on a player who fits the bill. But the best predictor of future behavior is past action...and we've all seen plenty of Kostitsyn's selfish, mercurial play. If I had to bet, I'd put money on him wearing a different jersey after the end of this deal.

What's the story with Kyle Turris? Does he have a chance to make an impact this season in Phoenix or is he going to turn into another bust draft pick for the Coyotes? I'm starting to worry that we've got another Krys Kolanos on our hands. -- Nikki Pulaski, Scottsdale, Ariz.

The jury's still out on Turris, but it's a little goofy to think about giving up on a player taken in the first round just three years ago. If there was a mistake made here it was probably in encouraging Turris to leave the University of Wisconsin after just one mediocre season more than drafting him third overall.

Back then, Turris was coveted for his world-class vision and hockey sense, but he was built like one of the Olsen twins. He was rushed because the financially struggling Coyotes needed their marquee prospect to help sell tickets, but it quickly became apparent that Turris lacked the physical maturity to play in the NHL. His confidence suffered, and he needed all of last season to retrench in the minors. He's "bulked up" over that time to 6-1, 185 -- far from a bruiser, but not far off the playing weight of skill centers like Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman -- so he's better prepared to make a serious push for a job this season.

The timing couldn't be better for the Yotes. After Matthew Lombardi defected to Nashville, they were left with little depth down the middle. Martin Hanzal is developing nicely and has one of the slots nailed down (assuming, of course, that the RFA re-signs). Wojtek Wolski could move back to the middle, but there's not much beyond that. A job is there for Turris to snatch.

The scouts I spoke with were mixed on his readiness ("He needs to prove something at the next level," said one; "He could use another year to develop," said another), but the chance is there. I expect him to stick.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I'm really encouraged by all the talk out of the NHL's rules meeting [last] week that we might actually see an end to the shootout. Listening to guys like Ken Hitchcock speaking sure seems like the sentiment is turning against it. You think we might actually see the end of the shootout soon?-- K. Spordelakis, Calgary, Alberta

I think we're more likely to see the shootout implemented in the postseason than have it become a relic of the regular season...and no, I don't expect any playoff games to go to the skills contest any time soon.

Fair to say that anti-shootout sentiment is getting a lot of press lately. It's hard not to notice when high-profile types like Hitchcock or his former boss in Columbus, Scott Howson, offer such frank criticism. And like almost every other aspect of the game, it's constantly under review, including at the league's R&D event last week in Toronto where critics were not in short supply.

But here's the reality that will end the debate for the foreseeable future: the shootout is one of the most compelling marketing elements the game has working in its favor. It may not represent the best that hockey has to offer, but it's a tremendous hook for the casual fan with its display of skill and it creates tremendous highlights for the late-night sports shows that cater to the generic sports fan. And like it or not, the league is reaching out to that group.

Look, I consider myself a traditionalist when it comes to most aspects of the game, but I'll count myself among the strongest supporters of the shootout. If it were up to me, I'd bump it up to five shooters and adopt the international policy that allows players to take multiple attempts (the better to showcase the superstars that fans want to see). So if you're looking for support as a shootout abolitionist, you're barking to the wrong writer.

Now, if you want to talk about getting rid of the loser point, you've got my ear...