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Morning Skate: Free Agent Run-Up

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci has covered hockey for Rotowire since 2002 and is the author of Blue Line Buzz since 2011 as well as being the co-author of Morning Skate. He also is a contributor to Talking Red, a New Jersey Devils blog and podcast. He is an English teacher and formerly wrote for The Coast Star in Manasquan, New Jersey where he and his sports section won several New Jersey Press Association awards. Dan Pennucci is a supporter of the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC. He's attended sporting events in six countries.

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson is a four-time winner of the Hockey Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

(Ed note: This column deals with post-draft reactions from Dan and Janet as well as discussing the run-up to last Friday's free agent frenzy. All emails were sent before 12 noon ET last Friday, before the craziness ensued. Next week will have a free agency fallout wrap-up.)
 
From: Dan Pennucci @dpennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Monday, July 1
Subject: Happy Canada Day
 
So, you guys going nuts up there with draft wrap-up and Canada Day? Is Vancouver still alive after they basically broke the Internet yesterday.

(On a side note, I'm digging the Jays Canada day unis and hat. Always liked their gear.)

Thoughts that occurred to me while at Prudential Center in Newark yesterday for the Draft:

-Chris Pronger is a huge man. He was there with the Flyers' contingent

-Valeri Nichuskin was waiting way too long to be picked and didn't look too happy when he finally went.

-The camera went right to Seth Jones when Florida approached the podium for its No. 2 overall pick. A bit awkward.

-Being in the building for a group Bettman-loathing is a great experience

-The Flyers' first round pick, defenseman Samuel Morin, did not draw rave reviews from my friend who attended the draft with me. He and his family have been Flyers' season ticket holders for years and he was not comforted with the weaknesses listed in the International Scouting Services profile of Morin "Pivots, Decision making."

-Seems like Montreal got a real steal with Zach Furcale of Halifax early in the second round.

-I don't think I saw E.J. Hradek, Kathryn Tappen and the rest of the NHL Network crew sit down after their pre-draft segment.

-I wonder who was happier in Tampa Bay, Steven Stamkos or Jonathan Drouin?

-The NHL had quite a lot of fan entertainment at the draft with auctions, card sales, the awards trophies on display and a seemingly interminable line to see the Cup.

-Each team submitted a video montage to be shown when their first-round pick was up and some were much better than others. Tampa's was set to the mid-90's hit by Live, "Lightning Crashes," but Toronto's was tremendous because it seemed to highlight many of the stereotypes about the team and their fans clinging to the past. The Buds' package focused on shots of the ACC and myriad images of 1967, Wendell Clark, Mats Sundin etc.., and just a few clips of Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf.

-The two blueliners Buffalo drafted, Ristalainen and Zadorov, are enormous.

-I'd left and was home by the time it happened, but it had to be nice for Martin Brodeur to draft his son, Anthony, in the seventh round.

-News has filtered through the Devils' beat writers that the Cory Schneider trade was completed Saturday, but the announcement was held until Sunday afternoon to be announced in front of the home fans. In this day and age, how does that stay quiet and not break? Considering Lou Lamoriello is involved, I'm not surprised, but how does news of that magnitude stay quiet in the hockey world?

In all, it was a great experience stick tap to David Sarch of Talking Red for that.

Now, onto breaking all this down:

-How do you see Cory Schneider fitting in with New Jersey? A butterfly goaltender replacing the very antithesis of a butterfly goaltender? Where do you draft Schneider this year?

-Fantasy-wise, who do you see of the rookies making the most impact? Any defensemen that will be relevant?

-Valeri Nichuskin - utterly skilled, massive upside, but the 10th pick?

Happy Canada Day.

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Monday, July 1
Subject: Mike Gillis Watch

Yes, Canada is still reeling from the Canucks-Devils trade. Orca's GM Mike Gillis has some splainin' to do ... to Bobby Lou and to the Vancouver fan base. I guess Francesco Aquilini told Gillis he wouldn't finance the Luongo buy-out -- maybe the real estate holdings of the Aquilini Investment Group aren't doing so well. Then again, he found the money to buy out Keith Ballard. That team has a two-year window, but they don't have enough depth down the middle. Gillis is in the electric chair -- this had better be the right move. 

Cory Schneider will fit into the Jersey system just fine. And I suspect there will be pressure by January to anoint him the starter. It'll be a difficult period for the Devils and Hall-of-Famer Marty Brodeur -- Johan Hedberg almost usurped Marty last season. It'll be a rough season for you and the Devils. But maybe it'll just give Marty more time to scout his son. Seriously though, I saw the pick live on TV and it was a great moment.

Nichushkin could end up making a lot of teams look silly. The guy has Rick Nash in him and maybe even a little Evgeni Malkin (although he's not quite that talented). He needs a slick playmaker to play beside and he'll get that in Jamie Benn. Nichushkin's KHL contract is clear and he wants to play in the NHL. He has a shot at it, too. That said, he will not play in the AHL, so it's all or nothing this October.

There are a lot of guys who seem close to the NHL. Seth Jones is close, but perhaps not in Nashville. Nathan MacKinnon and Sasha Barkov should break camp with their respective clubs, with MacKinnon delivering more right out of the chute. Sean Monahan has every opportunity to do something that no one has been able to do recently in Calgary. That's called play center. And I love Jonathan Drouin in Tampa Bay. He's a wheelhouse passer -- he can dish to anyone's wheelhouse and do it on the fly. He'll be a perfect partner for Steven Stamkos.

Zachary Furcale was a steal for Montreal and it was a dream come true for him. Quebec boy gets drafted by his favorite team. The images of his father at the draft were priceless. The old man was blown away, holding his head in shock. It's one of the moments I'll remember from Sunday.

Here's another potential steal -- Myles Bell, the Devils' sixth rounder. He must be clean and fully rehabbed, or Lou Lamoriello would never have drafted him. There just isn't room for bad boys in New Jersey. Bell was a potential first rounder when the incident in 2011 happened. He's no longer a defenseman; Kelowna converted him to RW because of his rocket of a shot (he hit 98 mph as a 17-year-old). He's coming off 93 points, including 38 goals, in 69 games last season as a 20-year-old and could prove that you really can atone for your mistakes.

Speaking of atonement -- do you think Tim Thomas can come back? Will he be forgiven his sins or is this just another freak show waiting to happen?

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Tuesday, July 2
Subject: Thunderstorm Round

The Vancouver reaction on Twitter was hysterical. Dan, my Flyers' fan friend who attended the draft with me, said "That's it?" when the price for Schneider was announced, more so thinking, "Hey, we need a goalie too." Has to be awkward for Roberto Luongo going back into that locker room now and I loved the wrinkle that Schneider received a text from TSN's James Duthie, according to reports, that Schneider needed to turn on the draft. I figure by the February-March time of the season, Schneider will be the team's No. 1 and Brodeur will hopefully take the backseat with grace. Yes the Anthony Brodeur pick was a nice moment, especially with the Devils getting the pick in a trade with LA.

A highly ironic moment at the draft was Mike Gillis thanking New Jersey and Lou Lamoriello for their hospitality.

I read up on Myles Bell today and it was a shocking story, we'd just got done talking about that on the Talking Red podcast. The Devils needed players in the system that can score and Bell seemed as good as any to get that late. Basically, if the Devils are drafting you, you've been extensively scouted and they seem to have few character issues in the room. Whether Bell makes a splash in the NHL this season, who knows, but someone needs to shoot the puck this season for New Jersey

I'm intrigued by Jones and would love to see the impact he makes when called up by the Preds. It's great he doesn't have to be thrown in to a porous system and fed to the wolves as he would have been in Colorado or Florida, whose defensive system seems predicated upon allowing as many shots as possible. Yea, I'll be targeting Drouin this season and Nichuskin, even if he's already an enigmatic Russian.

Rumors are abounding about Tim Thomas' return to the NHL and if you're a team in need of a goalie and willing to take a chance, why not? He's still better than most of the goalies available, he's won a Cup. Sure, he might take a few weeks off to stock up on supplies in his bunker somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, but he can't be that much of a distraction to a team? Well, maybe he'll be a slight distraction and I suppose the Caps won't be signing him, although that would make for some great theater with Thomas a few blocks away from the Obama White House.

Only two years for goalie Bob in Columbus? I was expecting longer

Okay, summer thunderstorm round: Your take on the contracts or players to be signed:

Mike Smith
Bryan Bickell
David Clarkson
Mike Ribeiro
Nathan Horton

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: July 3
Subject: Goalie Bob

Bob the Goalie's contract is just what I expected. The cap is down for 2013-14 and expected to rise in 2014-15. My guess is that it continues to grow, so Bob the Goalie will be in line for a lot more money next renewal. Smart move on his part. As for Tim Thomas, aren't most goalies flaky? There will be a team that chalks it up to Tim being Tim, and all will be OK. His teammates will consider him strange, but as long as he delivers, they'll keep their mouths shut. But for that being said, I do not think he can reclaim his glory. He's a 39-year-old hybrid flopper who took a year off hockey. Being a mountain man or whatever he was doesn't inspire faith in his flexibility, reflexes, etc. That year off sounds like a bad process -- this year's outcome will be either dumb luck or poetic justice. I err on the latter.

Now to contracts.

Mike Smith is done -- six years at a hit of $5.666666 million. I had no idea the NHL was that rich. It's smart money for him, though, but not if Dave Tippett exercises his out clause if the team gets moved. The desert is the best place for him; I think he's exposed anywhere else (although, I suspect he would have gotten $6.5 had he dipped his toe in the water).

Bryan Bickell -- four years at a hit of $4 million. I like it for him; he understands where his bread is buttered and it's playing heavy on a line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Still, Bryan Bickell at $4 mil or Scott Hartnell for $4.75? 

David Clarkson -- see Bickell, Bryan above. Does Clarkson lie between Bickell and Hartnell? Probably. I've heard reports about 10 days ago that Clarkson is already committed to the Leafs. Who knows exactly ... Friday will be fun.

Mike Ribeiro -- here's another instance of bad money over good. Ribeiro is fine enough, but he's not a point-per-game like he showed in the shortened season. He'll get more than the $5 mil he made last season -- centers are hard to find. But can he deliver 65 points -- where does that slot him? Vancouver might be a fit; there's desperation down the middle. But he's not exactly defensive minded. Then again, maybe his wife Tamara and her hash tag, #pissedbeyondbelief (at the Caps for not re-signing her hubby) would be a welcome focus for the spotlight. Keep it off Bobby Lou and Mike Gillis, and their little love spats.

Nathan Horton -- good riddance, I say. He's never had it so good. Milan Lucic? David Krejci? You and your ego turn your nose up at linemates like that? Horton is a passenger, not a driver. But he'll get driver money. Then he'll get hit and end up on the IR, and talk radio in his new home city will explode. Toronto might take a run (stupid if they do). There will be at least 15 clubs intrigued by what he can bring. He got paid $5.5 this year at a cap hit of $4. I suspect he thinks he should average at least $5.5 or more.

Now to Vinny Lecavalier who is set to ink a deal for $4.5 mil and five years with the Philly Flyers. Can he stop pucks? I do like the signing. What are your thoughts? And give the horrible track record of twinetenders, will Philly take a flyer on Timmy? 

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson

Sent: Thursday, July 4
Subject: Vinny!

The Lecavalier signing is a bit surprising considering the Flyers have to address needs like getting quality defenders not named Mark Streit. Streit is an upgrade in terms of getting a player that can move the puck out of the zone; their system has not been working the last two years in terms of limiting opposition chances and they've shown themselves to be vulnerable to the forecheck. Streit's a great playmaker, but a shutdown defender? I don't think so. I do like the Flyers' power play with a healthy Kimmo Timonen and Streit though. Some definite value there come draft day for fantasy leaguers, but don't pay what the Flyers did.

Lecavalier strikes me as a guy that can score 20 next season and be a good veteran presence on the scoring lines. He's not who he used to be and I'm surprised the Flyers paid what they did, but that's the market. It appears the Flyers are set with Steve Mason, although who knows what they'll do.

Good points you made about Tim Thomas, but I still say someone takes a roll with him. Possibly the Flyers, but they go from one media distraction in the locker room in Bryzgalov to another in Thomas. You know the political questions will come up wherever he lands as will the "what have you been doing for the last year?" questions

Nathan Horton strikes me as a risk-reward player considering his injury history, exacerbated by that shoulder injury in the Final. The concussion risk is too much to ignore. Where else will he land on a line with a power forward that can dominate a game when he chooses and one of the better puck-possession centers in the Eastern Conference in David Krejci?

Clarkson rejected the Devils contract offer they made at the draft, so it will be intriguing to see where he ends up or what someone pays for him.

Did I see something that Tyler Bozak wants an eight-year deal from the Leafs? Can't see Toronto holding onto him. Where does he end up?

Who do you like as values after the big names have been signed? 

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Friday, July 5, 10:36 AM EST (before free agency)
Subject: Payday

Dan, Dan, Dan -- there is no such thing as value on Free Agent Day. Relative value, maybe, but only against the ghastly overpaid deals already paid. Bob the Goalie and his agent are the smartest of the lot. The cap is already projected to be north of $80 mil in about three years. So they went short and reasonable now to position for the motherlode soon. And if an injury happens, so be it -- he still has good cash in the bank and enough money to pay tuition to get a good education (and a future that isn't on the couch or golf course, counting his laurels).

I've heard Horton is interested in Columbus. One acronym -- WTF? I get it that he's an Ontario boy and Ohio is closer to home than Massachusetts, but you have to hate Claude Julien A LOT to do that. The Tyler Seguin deal is interesting. I've heard murmurs that he's 21 going on 12 and that's harming his career. Watch his pre-game skates, particularly in the postseason -- other guys are zoned in, focused on their intentions for the game and he's off at the side making goof-eyes with crowd. If Claude Julien can't get him focused in that tight system ... wow. He'll grow up at some point, but the Bruins clearly don't see it happening any time soon.

Tyler Bozak is an interesting case. I loved the read in the Toronto Star on Friday by a guest writer who's working to become a player agent. He laid out the case he'd present if he were Bozak's agent and it's convincing -- five years and $25 mil seems reasonable given the details he described. It's hard when you're so close to a market -- you often lose sight of the facts because of all the hyperbole that's tossed around. But the writer lays out the comparables of Mikko Koivu, Travis Zajac and Brooks Laich, and, objectively, he's not wrong. The former two have slightly higher offensive upsides, but the special teams work and the face-off work is eerily similar. If the numbers aren't lying, then a deal under $4 mil would be a steal ... just not at eight years.

The Mikhail Grabovski buy-out smells -- the guy is getting married Friday and it's clear he had no clue this might even be coming. He's mad and rightfully so -- his quotes are AWESOME. I particularly love this one: "... if you feel support from your coach [you'll find success]. I don't feel any support from this [expletive] idiot." It's a great read. And you just know he's going to come back and absolutely torch the Leafs.

So what's going to happen today? A bunch of GMs are going to play a bunch of players insane money they do not deserve. CBA be damned. But I'll be glued to my smartphone and the radio, watching and listening like a bystander at a car crash. I own it.

Eagle out.