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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    How will Bruins handle loss of Charlie McAvoy?

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    Monday brought rough news for the red-hot Boston Bruins: sensational rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy will miss at least two weeks after undergoing a procedure to treat an abnormal heartbeat.

    As you can see in the video above, Keith Jones and Anson Carter discussed McAvoy’s absence, believing that the Bruins will be able to handle it reasonably well.

    Tuesday represents the first test, as the B’s take on the New Jersey Devils in a game that’s currently in progress. It’s unclear how much it has to do with McAvoy not being in the lineup, but early on Boston is struggling on defense.

    Via Left Wing Lock, it looks like Brandon Carlo slides into the top pairing with Zdeno Chara, while the other pairings look like this:

    Chara — Carlo

    Torey KrugAdam McQuaid

    Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller

    Now, Bruce Cassidy deserves credit for taking Claude Julien’s move to a more modern system in 2016-17 to a new level this season, and players like Krug and Carlo boast some promise.

    That said, McAvoy’s beyond-his-age impact might be slipping under the radar. So far this season, only Chara (23:26 per game) is averaging more ice time than McAvoy (22:48), with Krug coming in at a distant third of 20:01. McAvoy’s possession stats have, honestly, been pretty brilliant.

    While McAvoy undoubtedly benefits from the presence of Chara and what Jones (persuasively) argues is the best offensive line in hockey in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, other blueliners haven’t been this brilliant even while receiving such a plum gig. Via this handy tool from CJ Turtoro using Corey Sznajder’s data, you can see that McAvoy has been a beast in transition and in denying opponents entry into his zone:

    In other words, McAvoy is off the charts for a 20-year-old by most measures, including a healthy 25 points in 45 games this season. If the Calder Trophy was friendlier to defensemen, he’d probably be getting more hype as one of the best rookies in the NHL.

    You don’t have to use “for a rookie” or “for a 20-year-old” qualifiers with McAvoy, though. He’s an important piece by any measure.

    Even if McAvoy’s numbers are quite inflated – again, plausible with Chara still being really good – the Bruins could feel the sting from a depth standpoint. Guys who maybe should be in street clothes instead get foisted into the lineup. Someone better suited for a mid-level role might be asked to do too much.

    McAvoy is expected, at least initially, to only miss two weeks, which would mean missing somewhere between 5-7 games the way Boston’s schedule falls. Of course, this is a heart-related procedure we’re talking about, so the Bruins need to proceed with caution if the young skater experiences setbacks.

    If it’s only two weeks, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal; it might just give the Bruins a chance to realize just how pivotal he’s been in their rise from a team fighting for its playoff life to something more.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers at Detroit Red Wings

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    CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

    PROJECTED LINES

    Philadelphia Flyers

    Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny

    Michael RafflValtteri FilppulaJakub Voracek

    Jordan WealNolan PatrickWayne Simmonds

    Jori LehteraScott Laughton — Tyrell Goulbourne

    Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere

    Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald

    Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

    Starting goalie: Brian Elliott

    [Flyers look to push win streak to four games against Red Wings]

    Detroit Red Wings

    Andreas AthanasiouDylan LarkinTyler Bertuzzi

    Anthony ManthaHenrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist

    Tomas TatarFrans NielsenMartin Frk

    David BoothLuke GlendeningLuke Witkowski

    Danny DeKeyserNick Jensen

    Niklas KronwallMike Green

    Jonathan EricssonXavier Ouellet

    Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

    NHL wants Seattle, but is the Emerald City a hockeytown?

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    By Tim Booth (AP Sports Writer)

    KENT, Wash. (AP) — They showed up on a Tuesday night in early January to enjoy the 2-for-1 beers and hot dogs, the free parking, the $15 tickets a few rows off the ice and the chance to chant ”Portland sucks,” for three hours.

    Some of the more than 5,000 people in attendance wore the jerseys of the Islanders, Sharks, Rangers, Maple Leafs, Bruins, Canucks, Golden Knights and of course, the hometown Seattle Thunderbirds of the junior-level Western Hockey League. Someday it may be the Sasquatch, Totems or Sockeyes or whatever a potential future NHL franchise in Seattle ends up adopting as its nickname.

    This scene plays out regularly inside the ShoWare Center, about 20 miles southeast of downtown Seattle. Junior hockey in Seattle has a storied history. Hockey’s history in the Emerald City dates back more than a century to when the Seattle Metropolitans hoisted the 1917 Stanley Cup.

    All indications are that the NHL and Seattle are on the verge of a marriage sometime in 2018. The arrival of an NHL franchise – likely in 2020 or 2021 depending on construction of a remodeled Seattle Center arena – will fill a void in the gloomy months of the sports calendar and drop the NHL into the biggest market in the country without a winter sports team.

    But can a booming Seattle eventually become a hockeytown?

    ”It’s the last place in the United States in my opinion to catch on to hockey,” said former Philadelphia Flyers general manager and current Thunderbirds GM Russ Farwell.

    ”Everyone assumes that because we’re close to Canada we’re into hockey and that’s not the case,” Farwell continued. ”There is no reason this can’t be a good hockey town and I think there is a lot of pluses.”

    The first test of Seattle’s willingness to embrace the NHL will arrive in the coming months when the prospective NHL ownership group begins a season-ticket drive, the same way the league tested Las Vegas.

    But finding a foothold in Seattle will be an examination of how starved fans are for another team. Basketball is embedded in the DNA of the region thanks to 41 years of the SuperSonics until 2008 and a lengthy history of producing NBA talent. When the rain of the fall and winter drive young athletes inside, they grab a basketball and head for the nearest gym to play pickup games.

    Basketball courts and coffee shops seem to be on every corner, but ice rinks are scarce.

    ”The chance to participate and stay involved and play the game needs ice rinks and that’s all it would take,” Farwell said. ”There’s no reason this couldn’t be grown to be a good hockey city and center and stuff but it’s not automatic and it’s not just going to happen.”

    Any NHL team in Seattle would find a completely different landscape than a decade ago when the Sonics and NBA moved to Oklahoma City and the city lost its winter sports outlet.

    Seattle’s skyline is filled with as many construction cranes as snowcapped peaks in the surrounding mountains. Amazon has taken over an entire section of the city, joined nearby by satellite offices of Google and Facebook. The amount of wealth now in the Seattle market is part of the reason Oak View CEO Tim Leiweke has regularly called Seattle ”a brilliant marketplace” and one of the most enticing expansion opportunities in pro sports history.

    Seattle has become a city of transplants due to the booming local economy. A hockey franchise would provide those newcomers a team to rally around, much like what happened when the Sounders of the MLS arrived in 2009.

    But it’s a different sports marketplace than a decade ago, when ticket sales and television revenues were driving franchise success. The globalization of sports due to technology has become a challenge for all leagues, said Jennifer Hoffman of the College of Education at the University of Washington.

    ”I think the question about our population is what sports are they interested in? And that’s going to be a challenge for all of our franchises, our big franchises and our smaller ones,” Hoffman said. ”It’s not a Seattle phenomenon but we’re a good case for this point in history where digital transition is really occurring and it’s really hard to know who your fans are and where they are.”

    John Barr believes there are plenty of potential hockey fans in the Seattle market. A Bay Area transplant, Barr has become the voice of hockey fans with his NHLtoSeattle.com website and social accounts. Barr got hooked on the sport while attending San Jose games when the Sharks arrived the Bay Area. He’s regularly makes trips to Boston, Minnesota, Montreal, Nashville and Las Vegas for games.

    ”The Seahawks run this town and I think a lion share of people obviously want the Sonics back,” Barr said. ”I totally understand the hierarchy there, but I just think this is a great opportunity for the area to have the NHL and have a winter sport.”

    Season tickets are just one of several significant obstacles. Arena construction won’t begin until later this year with an ambitious goal of completion in late 2020. There are also transportation issues near the arena site.

    And the franchise needs to be awarded in the first place. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wouldn’t even entertain discussion about Seattle recently.

    ”The application has not yet been filed so any speculation about Seattle is, at this point, a little premature,” Bettman said.

    In the corner of his office, Thunderbirds Vice President Colin Campbell has a photo of Wayne Gretzky in the foreground with Campbell behind the glass. He grew up in Edmonton and was a Zamboni driver for the Oilers in his younger years. Now he ponders the future of hockey in Seattle with the NHL on the horizon.

    ”It always amazed me when I first got here that people didn’t even know there was a hockey team in town. Well, that’s still the case,” said Campbell, who moved to Seattle in 1995. ”It’s still out there, and yet we’re doing very well in this building and everything is going good. But it’s a big market, it’s a tough market to reach … so with an NHL team coming in and working together it will create new opportunities to grow.”

    Oilers’ Jesse Puljujarvi bouncing back strong from AHL demotion

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    It wasn’t the easiest start to a career, but Jesse Puljujarvi of the Edmonton Oilers has used an AHL demotion to take hold of a regular NHL spot this season.

    The No. 4 overall pick from the 2016 draft played 28 games last season in Edmonton before being sent down to Bakersfield for the rest of the year. It was the right move by general manager Peter Chiarelli, even though it should have happened earlier than it did, especially when you look at just how much his ice time had been declining.

    Fast forward to training camp this past September and the 19-year-old Puljujarvi still needed some more seasoning in the AHL. Head coach Todd McLellan said at the time they expected him to be one of their nine-best forwards and weren’t willing to keep him up with the big club to be stuck on the fourth line.

    “We didn’t feel like he won that position and therefore we wanted to get him to Bakersfield and have him start the season there and get him working on his game,” McLellan said after camp.

    Puljujarvi got a second chance in November when injuries forced an opening on the Oilers’ right side. “He’s not going to be our savior,” McLellan said. “Everybody else has to contribute and help him feel comfortable.”

    Had it not been for injuries, it was anyone’s guess when Puljujarvi would have received another shot. He wasn’t exactly lighting it up in the AHL with a goal and five points in 10 games. The call up was basically a test. We need a body on the right wing. Show us what you got. The answer so far has been a passing grade: nine goals and 14 points in 30 games.

    Using his size — 6’4, 211 lbs. — Puljujarvi has positioned himself in and around the net more compared to last season and it’s reflected in where most of his 80 shots have come from, as HockeyViz.com shows. He’s also shooting more and is currently second in the league in shots per 60 at even strength (11.77), per Natural Stat Trick, up from 7.27 a season ago.

    The production has resulted in more ice time, which is up three minutes from last season. As a young player, it’s common for the points to dry up and have that drought affect your play, but that hasn’t been the case for Puljujarvi, something the coaching staff has noticed.

    “He’s played well. He’s played confident,” said McLellan earlier this week. “The big test for him is that he went dry for five, six, seven, eight games without anything. Was he going to regress and lose his confidence? I thought he looked very confident the other day so that tells me he’s continuing his growth and he’s able to fight off those negative demons, if you will. As a result, he gets a little bit more time on the power play and we’re trying to position him where he can use his shot somewhat. He’s really starting to understand the systematic part of it and he’s been fun to be around the last little bit because he’s believing in himself and everyone else is believing in him.”

    On and off the ice, Puljujarvi has shown an infectious personality as he works on his English. The hanging tongue when he skates? “That’s my thing, I don’t know why I do it.” Videobombing Connor McDavid while eating pizza? “That’s one time!”

    Then there was the one afternoon during Edmonton’s bye week where Puljujarvi hit up a local outdoor rink and ended up playing some shinny with a couple of stunned young fans, leaving them with some photos, a signed stick and plenty of memories.

    “I just wanted to go outside and do something. It’s always fun to skate,” he said.

    One thing to take out of an Oilers season that hasn’t had a lot of positives is Puljujarvi’s emergence. He took advantage of an opportunity and it appears as if his days in Bakersfield are behind him for good.

    “The sky is as tall as he wants it to be,” said Connor McDavid. “He’s big, skates well, is confident, has a great shot. But I think it all goes back to his size. He’s 6-4, still young, trying to (grow) into his body. He’ll be that solid-on-his feet, good puck-battle guy. Good in front of the net. The sky’s the limit for him.”

    ————

    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.