Free agency is looming for the NHL and like any other year, no one has any idea what to expect. Sure, there aren’t that many great unrestricted free agents available, but there are still players out there. Will there be a feeding frenzy when the clock strikes midnight? Will there be offer sheets to restricted free agents? Will the whole day be a dud? OK, the last thought is highly unlikely.
The Anaheim Ducks have several looming issues that need to be addressed, some of them sooner than free agency.
1) Bobby Ryan is a restricted free agent starting July 1. GM Bob Murray has made him a qualifying offer to retain negotiating rights, but the two have been unable to come to terms thus far. Is it term of contract? Dollar amount? An agent who wants more and is making things difficult? Whatever the reason, both sides seem to be saying they are close. Murray has also mentioned he will match any offer sheet presented to Ryan.
Really? ANY offer sheet? That seems highly unlikely if a team wants to pay more money than Ryan is currently being offered by Anaheim. Or if the deal is longer. Or has the right incentives.
With a lack of high quality UFA’s, the RFA pool might look a bit more tempting to teams this year. Murray could be taking a very risky stance by waiting until after July 1 to deal with the Ryan situation. If it does not come out successfully, it could be Murray’s downfall.
2) Defense. Scott Niedermayer retired and Chris Pronger was traded last year. Lubomir Visnovsky came in at the trade deadline and fit in well with the team and the system in place. After that it drops off precipitously. Steve Eminger is signed. Sheldon Brookbank got a new contract. Brett Festerling is on board. Brendan Mikkelson is RFA and received a qualifying offer. Luca Sbisa is in the wings and now eligible to play in the AHL. James Wisniewski is the other RFA and his situation is not as good as Ryan’s, which leads to…
3) Wisniewski. He appears to want more than the Ducks are willing to give and is eligible for arbitration. The Ducks could be headed there and it usually doesn’t end well for either party. Wisniewski will try to prove his value to the team and the team will try to argue why he is worth much less than that. Not pretty at all. The Ducks could use Wisniewski on their blue line, with his toughness and skill and their lack of depth in that department. Which is why we go back to #2 and the need for the Ducks to bolster their defense through free agency.
4) Forwards. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Check. Second line? Not so clear. Joffrey Lupul is still rehabbing from back surgery in December. He should be ready to go by training camp, but there is a huge question mark next to his name. Jason Blake is signed and taking up a lot of cap room for someone his age.
Bobby Ryan is definitely needed as a top six guy. Teemu Selanne, who is unrestricted, would still have a lot to give if re-signed for another year. Selanne, as well as Saku Koivu, both seem to be in a wait and see mode.
Selanne’s possibility of one more year has produced interesting rumors about Paul Kariya, also unrestricted on July 1. Would the Ducks bring him back to play alongside Selanne?
Todd Marchant will remain solid on the third line. Kyle Chipchura, George Parros, Ryan Carter, Matt Beleskey and Troy Bodie will round out the bottom six.
That top six could be a little thin without some key personnel, however. So that brings us to….
July 1. Tomorrow. As usual, no one knows what will happen, but whatever happens, it certainly won’t be a dull and boring day.