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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    Raanta rewards Rangers for starts over Lundqvist by blanking Blackhawks

    VANCOUVER, BC - NOVEMBER 15: Goalie Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers shares a laugh with teammate Antti Raanta #32 after defeating the Vancouver Canucks 7-2 in NHL action on November 15, 2016 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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    If someone told you that the New York Rangers started a goalie on back-to-back nights, and that goalie wasn’t Henrik Lundqvist, you’d probably wonder if he was hurt or retired.

    Nope. It just so happens that Antti Raanta is playing at an incredibly high level, Alain Vigneault noticed, and that decision paid dividends on Friday night. Raanta won both nights of a back-to-back, allowing a single goal (with the Rangers protecting him, being that he only needed to stop 43 of 44 shots during that span).

    Raanta and the Rangers blanked the Chicago Blackhawks with a 1-0 overtime win, at least briefly climbing to first place in the massively competitive Metro Division:

    1. Rangers – 39 points in 29 games played
    2. Penguins- 37 points in 27 GP
    3. Blue Jackets – 36 points in 25 GP
    4. Capitals – 35 points in 26 GP
    5. Flyers – 35 points in 29 GP

    Nick Holden ended up scoring the only goal of the game:

    Meanwhile, the Blackhawks lost but at least salvaged a standings point and it seems like Patrick Kane is OK after this injury scare:

    Raanta improved to 7-1-0 on the season, allowing two goals or less in all but one of his appearances so far this season. That’s the kind of work you’d expect to see if you’re going sit a guy who’s, you know, a living legend.

    Blue Jackets remain in thick of things in Metro on tough night for Red Wings

    DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 01:  Boone Jenner #38 of the Columbus Blue Jackets is congratulated by his teammates after scoring the go ahead goal against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on December 1, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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    As the Columbus Blue Jackets keep rolling, the Detroit Red Wings are probably just happy to get Friday behind them.

    For the second straight game, the Blue Jackets beat their opponent 4-1.

    They’re now on a five-game winning streak, and like the climbing St. Louis Blues, things look great if you go back a little further. They’re 10-1-2 in their last 13 games and 13-2-3 since November began.

    Columbus is now at 16-5-4, giving them 36 standings points. They’re once again in breathing distance of leading the Metro Division when you consider games in hand.

    Update: Here’s how the standings look after the Rangers beat the Blackhawks 1-0 in overtime:

    1. Rangers – 39 points in 29 games played
    2. Penguins- 37 points in 27 GP
    3. Blue Jackets – 36 points in 25 GP
    4. Capitals – 35 points in 26 GP
    5. Flyers – 35 points in 29 GP

    That’s a stout division, and the Blue Jackets remain shockingly effective. Then again, with results like these over and over again, it might be time to merely expect such impressive work.

    ***

    For Detroit, it was a rough night. Jonathan Ericsson couldn’t play, Mike Green was a little banged up and Petr Mrazek was pulled for Jimmy Howard. This goal summarized some of their struggles:

    Blues blaze through Devils, even in New Jersey

    NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 09: (L-R) Brad Hunt #77, Robby Fabbri #15 and Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues celebrate Fabri's first period goal against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 9, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    The New Jersey Devils have been incredibly difficult to beat at home. Lately, the St. Louis Blues have been on a roll just about anywhere.

    On Friday night, the Blues were the hotter team, handing the Devils their first home loss in regulation in 2016-17. And it wasn’t particularly close, with St. Louis winning 4-1.

    It’s a convenient time to note that the Blues rank among the hottest teams in the NHL. Most recently, they’re 5-1-1 in their last seven games, but they’ve been especially impressive since they flirted with .500 at 7-6-3. Beginning with a 4-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 15, the Blues are on a 8-2-1 tear.

    This leaves them second in the Central with a 16-8-4 record.

    That’s impressive stuff.

    This 4-1 win was quite the showcase for Robby Fabbri and Vladimir Tarasenko, in particular. Tarasenko collected three assists while Fabbri scored two goals on Friday night. His second goal was particularly slick:

    The Blues are right in saying that this was a pretty fitting opportunity to drop a “Holy Jumpin.”

    Oh yeah, don’t forget about Jake Allen, either.

    Leon Draisaitl continues hot streak with silky smooth goal (Video)

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    Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”

    Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).

    Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.

    Read more about his rise here.

    Update: The Wild were able to shake off that goal, ultimately beating the Oilers 3-2 via a shootout.