Ten most promising potential UFA forwards in 2011 (plus a complete list)

Thumbnail image for jumbojoevchicago.jpgWhen a sports team (or group of fans) spouts the “Wait ’til next year” line, they usually mean that the next season could bring better things. Yet after a few days of the free agent frenzy, that saying might also apply to July 2011.

It’s very early to look at future unrestricted free agents – especially since many of them will probably sign extensions at some point before then – but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun picturing different scenarios.

In the next few posts, I’ll go over some of the most promising unrestricted free agents by position.

Let’s begin with the forwards. All of the eligible forwards (listed by CapGeek.com) are included in the spreadsheet below. (Click to enlarge)

ufas2011.JPG

OK, now that you have the full list, here are the 10 best potential 2011 UFA forwards. These aren’t necessarily in order from top to bottom, though the top five are better than the bottom five.

Joe Thornton
Current Age: 31
Previous Cap Hit: $7.2 million

Could Jumbo Joe become the gem of the 2011 summer? That remains to be seen, but even if you think he shrinks from the playoff spotlight, he’s still regularly among the league leaders in assists and points. If he decided to test the free agent market, he could really garner some interest.

Brad Richards
Current Age: 30
Previous Cap Hit: $7.8 million

I often call him Brad “RICHards” for a reason … the one-time Conn Smythe winner landed a ridiculous contract after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup. Despite being a great playmaker, Richards isn’t quite worth that money, but he’s still young enough that he could get another good deal or two. Will he stay with Dallas?

Alex Seminsemin2.jpg
Current Age: 26
Previous Cap Hit: $6 million

He’s injury-prone (missed nine games, 20 games and 19 games in the last three seasons), not particularly defensively sound and floundered a bit in the playoffs … but he’s still a dynamic, young scorer. He scored 40 goals and 84 points last season and 34 and 79 in only 62 games in 08-09. He has his warts, but would still be in his prime come UFA time.

Mikko Koivu
Current Age: 27
Previous Cap Hit: $3.25 million

As a member of the offensively stunted Minnesota Wild, Saku’s younger brother flies under the radar a bit but he’s a nice two-way player whose numbers keep improving (from 42 to 67 to 71 points in the last three seasons) as he enters his prime. He could be an under-the-radar gem if the Wild don’t cough up the money to keep him.

Simon Gagne
Current Age: 30
Previous Cap Hit: $5.25 million

When he’s not dealing with concussion problems or other injuries, Gagne is one of the league’s natural goal scorers. He’s already the source of trade rumors in Philadelphia, so chances are another NHL team will be sending him paychecks starting in 2011-12.

After the jump, the next five forwards who could be desirable unrestricted free agents next summer. (Plus some honorable mentions)


Jason Arnott
Current Age: 35
Previous Cap Hit: $4.5 million

He’s getting older, but Arnott is a big center with some offensive zest. He’d garner a nice amount of demand as an unrestricted free agent.

Patrice Bergeron
Current Age: 24
Previous Cap Hit: $4.75 million

It’s hard to believe Bergeron is only 24 right now; it seems like he’s been through a career’s worth of challenges with his injury history. He won’t blow you away with his skills, but he can score a bit, play sound defense and win more than half of his faceoffs.

Mike Knubleknuble.jpg
Current Age: 37
Previous Cap Hit: $2.8 million

Knuble’s had quite the career supporting some of the league’s most talented scorers, spending time with Peter Forsberg and Alex Ovechkin among others. He might be a little too old to command big money next summer, but if he decides to keep playing, he could once again be a great depth signing.

Ville Leino
Current Age: 26
Previous Cap Hit: $800K

If Leino can play like he did for the Flyers during the playoffs, he should see an enormous pay increase from his frugal current deal. Even if this postseason was a bit of an outlier, he should see a raise of some kind.

David Backes
Current Age: 26
Previous Cap Hit: $2.5 million

OK, he hasn’t lit up the world, scoring-wise. Still, Backes is a big body who has a 31 goal season to his credit. I’m going to go out on a limb and say he might be in higher demand than some guys with heftier resumes but grayer hair.

Honorable mentions

Injury prone players: Tim Connolly (a potential point per game guy with atrocious luck on the IR), Steve Sullivan (see: Connolly), Justin Williams, Erik Cole, Marco Sturm

Getting older but still valuable: Jamie Langenbrunner, Cory Stillman, Andrew Brunette

Flighty but skilled: Alex Kovalev, Michael Ryder

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    Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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    WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

    Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

    Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

    Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

    A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

    Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

    “When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

    Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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    The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

    Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

    Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

    “His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

    Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

    The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

    NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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    The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

    In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

    Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

    In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

    Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

    Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

    Flyers survive early Mason mistake to upset Wild

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    Insert the ‘It’s not how you start but how you finish’ cliche right here.

    The Philadelphia Flyers fell behind the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, as Zach Parise was the beneficiary of a Steve Mason mistake just 2:07 into the first period.

    Mason couldn’t control the deflection into the zone, coughing up a rebound in front. Eric Staal forced a loose puck to Parise and he buried it to open the scoring.

    Yeah, not ideal for the Flyers, who are still clinging to the slimmest of playoff hopes.

    But they responded with three unanswered goals, including this beauty from Sean Couturier.

    Philadelphia took over for a 3-1 victory, with Mason making 24 saves on 25 shots, as Minnesota’s struggles continue. The Wild still sit second in the Central Division but have only two wins in their last 10 games and were unable to secure a playoff spot Thursday.