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PRINCE OF PUCKS: Rating the free agents

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At home in Prince Edward Island, Canada, he's known as Lyle Richardson. But around these parts, he's known as Spector, FOXSports.com's Prince of Pucks. Check in with Spector for the latest NHL rumors from around the league. With the less-than-exciting NHL Entry Draft now history, hockey fans are looking toward this summer's unrestricted free agent market to stir up some off-season excitement. To help you weed through the pickings, here's my analysis of the "name" unrestricted free agents (UFAs) this summer.

Marquee talents

Goaltenders
  • , Toronto : As the UFA deadline nears, it's unknown whether or not "Cujo" will re-sign with the Leafs. His demands for $9 million per season could make him less attractive on the market. The Detroit may pass him over, and the Philadelphia and St. Louis claim they're not shopping for goalies. Thus, it leaves the New York as the only team available who might be willing to pay for him.
  • , Dallas : He's aging and has a bad reputation, but he's got two advantages over Joseph: He's more affordable and is a proven playoff winner. Belfour is said to be in training with his mentor, Vladislav Tretiak, in hopes of proving his doubters wrong next season. The are thought to covet him over Joseph, and he got a "thumbs-up" from Team Canada teammate . If the Wings pass, expect either the Leafs or to snap "Eddie the Eagle" up. Defensemen:
  • , Detroit : Turning 40 didn't slow this guy down. Chelios had his best season in years in 2001-02, garnering a Norris nomination in the process. Despite this, speculation has his contract talks with the Wings going badly. He's thought to be bound for the N.Y. if he becomes a UFA, but there's also talk he'd like to join up with former Chicago teammate .
  • , Colorado : The NHL decided not to contest his claim for UFA status, so look for a huge bidding frenzy on this hard-hitting blueliner. The will be interested, of course, as might the , and don't discount the possibility of the Avs trying to re-sign him. The consensus, however, is he's bound for the N.Y. , where he began his NHL career. Forwards:
  • , New Jersey : His all-around style of play plus his leadership makes Holik one of the most highly-prized free agents on the market this summer. The claim they'll do everything they can to re-sign him, but that appears unlikely. Rumored destinations include the , , Dallas , Detroit and St. Louis .
  • , Boston : The B's are hoping they can convince Guerin to stay, but expect the whopping high-salary offers he gets to put them out of the running early. This 40-goal winger will, like Holik, garner a lot of attention from the major players in the bidding war. Those I noted interested in Holik will also pursue Guerin.
  • , San Jose : The "Finnish Flash" has publicly stated he wants to remain in San Jose, as he believes the are a Stanley Cup contender. The want to keep Selanne in the fold and have made an official offer, plus teammates like and Vinny Damphousse are trying to convince him to stay. If he does decide to test the UFA market, the , , and are all rumored to be very interested in signing him.

    The second tier

    Defensemen:
  • , Philadelphia : Big Luke was an integral part of the blueline corps over the past two seasons. His hard-hitting, stay-at-home style will be coveted by teams seeking a physical presence on defense. The and Washington might have interest in him.
  • , San Jose : Another "oldtimer" blueliner who still has plenty left in the tank. While not the big contributor offensively he once was, Suter is still capable of playing a strong all-around game. His experience and leadership, as well as an affordable price tag, could make him a highly sought-after commodity. Forwards:
  • , Pittsburgh : He didn't want to leave Pittsburgh, but the Pens grim financial picture forced them to cut him loose. He'll probably seek between $4-$5 mil per season, which will make him a more affordable pickup for clubs who cannot afford to get into the bidding wars for the big-name UFAs, as well as those deep-pocketed clubs who fail to land the bigger UFA fish. If goes to free agency, the might look at picking up Lang. The Ottawa could be a potential bidder, but they would have to dump some salary first.

    Risky propositions

    Goaltenders:
  • , New York : He couldn't be blamed for the horrid defensive play of the the past two seasons. He's been a proven performer in the past and may be willing to take less than $7 million per season. However, there are questions regarding his surgically repaired knees, which could affect his value. If the Leafs lose Joseph, they might take a shot at Richter. There's still talk the might, too, despite Clarke's insistence he won't be dabbling in the UFA market.
  • , Boston : Yeah, he's got good regular season stats, and his price tag could make him attractive to even mid-market clubs. His playoff record, however, leaves much to be desired. Look for "Lord Byron" to be among the last of the "name" UFA goalies to be signed, once Joseph, Richter and Belfour are snapped up. Defensemen:
  • , Buffalo : Injuries drastically reduced this big blueliner's effectiveness in recent years. If he could stay healthy, he'd make a welcome addition to any defense corps. He made $1.65 million last season and should be an affordable pickup for those seeking blueline depth, but do so at your own risk. Forwards:
  • , Vancouver : When he's healthy, Cassels is one of the better set-up men in the league. However, injuries — notably a serious concussion last season — kept him out of Vancouver's roster for extended stretches. He's apparently willing to accept the same money as he made last season ($3.2 million).
  • , Philadelphia : Despite having one of his best seasons in years, finishing among the top scorers in the NHL in 2001-02, Oates bounced from Washington to Philadelphia to free agency within a year. A combination of his age, faltering post-season performances and a reputation for being difficult with management and coaching staff could adversely affect his market value. Still, there is talk of the Wings signing him and pairing him up again with old teammate , or of the signing him to center their hot-shot youngsters Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk.
  • , Chicago : He's seeking over $7 million per season and will probably get it from either the or . However, he struggled last season, while many of his Blackhawk teammates improved. Is this indicative of a player in decline, or was Amonte's unhappiness with Chicago GM Mike Smith the real problem?
  • , San Jose : What more can be said about Fleury's season of weirdness that hasn't already been said? Yes, he can still post up good numbers, but after his antics with the this past season, look for suitors to be few and far between. The dealt for his rights, and Fleury might be wise to sign up with them for the right price. There is talk of Wayne Gretzky hoping to sign him to play in Phoenix, but I suspect that's all it is, talk.
  • , St. Louis : His numbers took a tumble last season, which many observers chalk up to losing his favorite set-up man, , to free agency last summer. Speculation has the hoping to reunite these two, in hopes of Turgeon rebounding from a moribund '01-02 season. Like Amonte, however, the question of whether he's simply had an off year, or whether he's in decline, could dog Young throughout the summer.

    Bargains

    Defensemen:
  • Bryan Berard, New York : He's still not the high-risk offensive blueliner he once was prior to his eye injury, but he did chip in 23 points last season. His asking price should be very affordable for any club looking to bolster their depth, but don't rely on him to be one of your top-two defensemen.
  • , Vancouver : A limited payroll has forced the to dump Lachance, who was one of their better defensemen last season. Indeed, the 2001-02 season was the first time Lachance played up to the promise he once had when he was drafted fourth overall in 1991. That, and the fact he only made $875,000, could make him an affordable addition to most NHL rosters. Forwards:
  • Tie Domi, Toronto : Casual hockey fans dismiss Domi as a brawler who laid out the ' with a cheapshot elbow in the 2001 playoffs. However, there is much more to Domi than that. He's a "sparkplug" player, a guy who can contribute strong minutes on the third line, energizing his teammates with a hit, a strong shift or a fight. A positive presence in the dressing room, look for clubs like Anaheim, Atlanta, Columbus, or Florida to seek a character player like Domi.

    Lemons

    Defensemen:
  • , Calgary : The stock of this guy has dropped so much that the couldn't even find any takers on the waiver wire for him. Even if his asking price were dirt-cheap, he's not the player he once was. Still, there are teams out there who'll be desperate enough to give him a shot. One of them is rumored to be the Atlanta , whose blueline needs all the help it can get.
  • , Detroit : This guy screwed himself by spurning a three-year deal from the worth $2.5 million per season, which forced his trade to Detroit. Once there, Slegr played so horribly that he was benched throughout most of the playoffs, only earning a berth in the Cup Finals because was suspended. He made $1.8 million last season and will be lucky to get the same as a UFA. Suddenly, that offer from the doesn't look so bad, eh, Jiri?
  • Dimitri Khristich, Washington : If teams are smart, they'll avoid this guy like the plague. I once took Harry Sinden of the Boston to task for walking away from an arbitration award to Khristich during his days with the . Seems Sinden was right after all, as Khristich's numbers have fallen drastically since his 71-point season in 1999. Check out Spector's hockey page and buy his book.
  • Tagged: Bruins, Flames, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Hurricanes, Stars, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Flyers, Avalanche, Sharks, Blues, Maple Leafs, Canucks, Capitals, Jets, Tony Amonte, Jiri Fischer, Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Pierre Turgeon, Scott Niedermayer, Jeremy Roenick, Luke Richardson, Jaromir Jagr

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