National Hockey League training camps open in a little more than two weeks and surprisingly, there are a fair amount of unrestricted free agents (UFA’s) who are still looking to put their names on the dotted line. Some are veterans, who probably need to look in the mirror and realize that it’s over. The game has become a young man’s game, thanks largely to the salary cap, and for some, the ship has sailed. As a fan of the game, I’d like to say, thank you for your years of entertaining brand of hockey and congratulations for making it to the pinnacle of the sport. Having said that, looking at the forward, defenseman, and goaltender positions and those who are still available for the taking, three stand out and make this writer say, “Why are they still free agents?”
Ilya Kovalchuk aside, and he really doesn’t count as a free agent because he re-signed with New Jersey and although the arbitrator declared him a free agent for the second time this summer, he recently agree to a revamped contract offer from the Devils. So, let’s remove his name from the list. The other forward who should have been signed by now and still has enough left in the tank to help any team be a success is former Boston Bruin Bill Guerin. Ok, who just said he’s over the hill? Really? Yes, the pride of Wilbraham, Massachusetts is 39 years old and has played for 9 different NHL teams but he is still a lock to score 20 goals. He has done so in 12 of his 19 seasons at hockey’s highest level. Guerin potted 21 last season for Pittsburgh. The former Boston College star has become one of the league’s best leaders in the game and his wealth of experience is one that would benefit any team in giving it’s young players the opportunity to see how a proven, successful, veteran prepares for each practice and game. Not to mention, he garners respect just for the facts that he has two Stanley Cup rings, a World Cup of Hockey championship ring, and an Olympic silver medal. He has appeared in four NHL all star games and, oh, by the way, he was the Most Valuable Player of the 2001 All Star Game. Bill Guerin deserves at least one more season in the NHL and the salary cap hit would not be a huge one for the team that signs him.
On the blue line, a team looking for a top four defenseman can do a lot worse than give a bi-weekly paycheck to Marc-Andre Bergeron. Bergeron has seven NHL seasons under his belt and is known as a power play specialist. In 399 NHL games, the Trois-Rivieres, Quebec native has scored 194 points with 34 of those points coming in 60 games this past season with the Montreal Canadiens. At 5’ 10” and 197 lbs, Bergeron is small for an NHL defenseman but his skating ability, speed, puck handling, and decision making skills more than make up for the lack of size. Perhaps his biggest asset is his slap shot, which has been recorded at 103 miles per hour. Last season, he earned $750,000 in Montreal, not a lot of money in today’s NHL. Certainly, one organization can use Bergeron’s skills and they will not be breaking the bank to sign him.
When looking between the goal posts, one only needs to look at one name and shake his, or her, head. How does last season’s Stanley Cup winning netminder, Antti Niemi, not have NHL teams banging his door down and sitting at his dining room table waiting to get his signature on a contract? After leading the Chicago Blackhawks to the 2010 Stanley Cup victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, Niemi was awarded a new $2.75 million deal by an arbitrator but the Blackhawks chose to walk away from the decision making the Finnish goaltender an unrestricted free agent. It seems unfathomable that no NHL team can use Niemi’s size, (6’2” 210 lbs) and quickness to instantly improve themselves. In 42 career NHL games, he has posted a 2.32 goals against average and a save percentage of .910 and if it’s consistency you are looking for, Niemi put up a .910 save percentage in 22 Stanley Cup playoff games. When comparing $2.75 million to some other goaltenders’ salaries around the league, most of whom have not won a Stanley Cup; it says here that Chicago made a huge mistake in cutting this elite champion loose.
These are, of course, one man’s opinions but with many players looking for work and believing they can all help an NHL team become the next Stanley Cup champion, these are three who can get the job done. Besides, two already have.
Topics: Antti Niemi, Arbitrator, Bill Guerin, Boston Bruins, Boston College, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Finnish, Goals Against. Average, Ilya Kovalchuk, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Montreal Canadiens, National Hockey League, New Jersey Devils, NHL All Star Game, Olympics, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Playoffs, Save Percentage, Trois-Rivieres, Wilbraham, World Cup Of Hockey