UFA Options is a continuing series that gives a brief run-down of the unrestricted free agent market this summer, team-by-team. Our next team for consideration is the Minnesota Wild.
A new head coach is just one of the decisions facing incoming general manager Chuck Fletcher. Marian Gaborik, the team’s franchise player since expansion is going to be entering unrestricted free agency, and he’s not alone. Three regular defensemen and depth forward Stephane Veilleux are also eligible.
Most years, Marian Gaborik would be the best free agent LW on the market. This year, there is a variety of riches: Martin Havlat in Chicago, Daniel Sedin in Vancouver, and even Dany Heatley in Ottawa who is available via trade. And all of that assumes that Marian Hossa is going to stay put in Detroit. He’s one of the games most exciting talents and a pure goal scorer; as one example, in 2006-07 he scored 30 goals in just 48 games – in Minnesota.
The downside to Gaborik is of course that he’s brittle. Since the lockout, he’s played 207 out of 328 possible games; only one of those four seasons has been a full year (2007-08, where he played 77 games).
Veilleux is a relatively gritty LW with decent size and improving offensive totals. Of course, that improvement comes at a glacial pace (5-10-16-18-18-23 are his point totals by season) so he should win the Art Ross trophy some time in his 90’s. Veilleux had the worst plus/minus mark on the team, something that can in part be attributed to being repeatedly run out in the defensive zone.
He’s a relatively inexpensive third or fourth liner and he brings a fair bit to the table; somebody will make use of him next season.
The Coyotes first-round pick back in 2000, Kolanos is an accomplished minor-league scorer who has bounced around the league; since 2005-06 he has dressed for ten different NHL, AHL and European teams. He’s a better scorer than his six points would indicate, but he’s probably not a good enough player to be anything more than a minor-league depth player at this point.
Skoula’s had an interesting career transformation since leaving the Colorado Avalanche. Once upon a time – back when Colorado was still winning or contending for the Stanley Cup – he was a bit of an offensive blue-liner, a 25-30 point guy. After 8 and 10 goal seasons during that time period, Skoula hasn’t scored more than four.
Skoula had the worst plus-minus on the team this year, although that’s a bit misleading; he’s a relatively capable positional defender (another one of those guys who doesn’t really play with an edge despite good size) whose greatest asset is his ability to make a first pass out of the defensive zone. He isn’t overly expensive and is probably a #4/#5 defenseman on a good team.
Aside from Kurtis Foster, who only played in ten games (more on him in a moment), no member of the Minnesota Wild had a better plus/minus than Bergeron. No defenseman on the team scored more than his 14 goals, and none had a better Corsi rating than Bergeron’s +6.7/60. Don’t let any of that fool you. Of Wild defensemen, only Marek Zidlicky was as consistently run out against subpar opposition and in the offensive zone.
Bergeron remains the same flawed player that he was in Edmonton (where he was a favourite of mine) – an effective puck-mover with a great shot and the ability to throw a big hit (despite his rather smallish frame). He’s also a nightmare in his own end positionally, not strong enough to win battles with opposition forwards, and prone to bad decisions. He’s a cheap and useful player for a team in need of some offensive kick, but he needs a carefully defined role to be of use to his team.
Every so often, the proposal gets made to bring no-touch icing to the NHL. Critics call it boring and say that the excitement of the chase for the puck is worth the risk. I’m sure Kurtis Foster would disagree. In March of 2008, Foster was involved in just such a chase with Torrey Mitchell of San Jose:
Foster’s broken leg kept him out of hockey for nearly a full year; he now has a metal rod inserted into his femur to keep it in place. He played only 16 games this season; scoring 6 points in both 6 AHL and 10 NHL contests. Right now it’s fair to ask if Foster will be able to get back on his original career trajectory. He was a late-bloomer, only establishing himself as an NHL regular at age 24, but he has intriguing potential. He has NHL size (6’5”, 230lbs), a booming slap shot, and good skating ability for such a big man – even being able to rush the puck. Weighed against that is occasionally suspect defensive play, the occasional odd decisions that seem to plague most offensive defensemen, and an inconsistent hitting game.
He’s a gamble, but a relatively cheap one and the kind that could very well pay off in a big way for any NHL GM; any team in need of a third-pairing defenseman should at least consider Foster.