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Free Agent Roundtable: A Wild Week

Dan Pennucci

Dan is a former sportswriter and English teacher. He has been covering hockey for Rotowire since 2002. Supports the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC.

Janet Eagleson

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

Dan Pennucci to Janet Eagleson:
Subject: Free Agency
It's been a hectic week of teams signing players in what they hope will be the answers to their problems. Many teams made small moves to ensure their squad's depth while other made massive splashes that seemingly served as announcements to the league that they will be a team expecting to make the postseason (i.e., Minnesota). Speaking of the Wild, let's begin with our takes on their signings of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to identical 13-year, $98 million cap-circumventing contracts.

Both players arguably bring many intangibles to the ice in terms of leadership, work ethic and hockey sense, but can you consider these players elite? In terms of numbers, they're above the mean, but neither will be one of the top scorers at their position. There's the ever-present question of how Suter will play without Shea Weber by his side, so let's start there: How does this move affect Suter and where do you see his value rising or climbing in his new role? Parise's value?

Janet Eagleson to Dan Pennucci
Subj: Re: Free Agency
First, my condolences -- I know you're a Devils' man. Losing Parise must hurt.

As for them landing in Minny, I'll sum it up like this: wild signings won't equal Wild success ... for the team or necessarily, either man individually.

Suter is arguably a top-eight NHL defender, maybe even top five. But that's on the ice. For our purposes -- and alongside Shea Weber -- he was probably only about the 18-to-20th best fantasy defender. A move to Minny makes him their top dog, but he moves from being Tonto to The Lone Ranger, literally and figuratively. There's no one else there to help. That wouldn't be quite so bad if he had a horse like Pekka Rinne that he could rely on, but the old brood mare named Niklas Backstrom and oft-lame Josh Harding don't exactly inspire confidence.

Parise goes from having Adam Henrique and Ilya Kovalchuk as linemates to Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley (spit). Or Devin Setoguchi (gag). Koivu is a decent set-up man -- when he's healthy, that is -- but Heater is on the serious decline. He can't skate worth beans (could he ever?) so he's always going to be the last man into the zone. Parise will be the guy digging out the puck ... over and over and over again. Yikes. That's a recipe for major wear and tear on the body. And now he has to think about who's between the pipes ... there ain't no Martin Brodeur around anymore.

Fantasy-wise, both players will suffer.

- The pressure on Suter as The Lone Ranger will suppress his offensive output and lower his plus-minus. And that will slip him down the fantasy ranks to around 25th.
- Parise will still be a top-five fantasy left winger -- that position is a complete vacuum. He might get a few more PPP with Suter dishing the puck and he'll certainly fire the puck as usual. But overall, he drops from about 15th on my list of forwards to the low-20s.

The Wild will get a lot of attention in their home market with these two guys in their lineup. The signings may have saved several thousand season ticket subscriptions. But they won't see true playoff success until Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle skate alongside Parise. And Jonas Brodin starts helping out Ryan Suter.

Are we thinking the same way? And now I have a few for you.

How much do Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr have left in their tanks for Dallas fans? And what about Jay Feater's moves -- trading for and then overpaying Dennis Wideman, and then signing Jiri Hudler? Does either team improve?


Dan Pennucci to Janet Eagleson
Subj: Burning Jerseys

Yes, many in the Devils' fan base are not taking Parise's leaving as quietly as I am: Most are greeting it with vitriol, betrayal, childish Tweets about Parise and burning No. 9 jerseys. I love your analogy about Suter and The Lone Ranger. I find it disconcerting that Parise had one of his lowest point totals in recent years when he and Ilya Kovalchuk finally showed some chemistry along with two-time Memorial Cup winner Adam Henrique (Go Spits).

I'm eager to see what this does to Charlie Coyle's progress, as many reports I've read on him have him being a star in the NHL, so do the Wild bump Matt Cullen or Devin Setoguchi to a bottom-six forward role? Suter will be paired with Tom Gilbert and after that I think it's what, Mario Scandella and a lucky fan in Section 17? I do see the Wild above Calgary (more on them in a minute), but it should be interesting to see them battle with Colorado and Edmonton for one of the final playoff spots out West.

Jay Feaster, yeah, about that. He's been run through the ringer by the Calgary media from what I've read and fans are none too happy with him. I liked Dennis Wideman last season, but mostly because I burnt one of my last picks in a deep league on him last year. I will not be drafting him again. Apparently, I didn't like him as much as Jay Feaster liked him. This is the same Feaster threatened to trade his whole team in February last year, correct? Wideman, like new Canuck Jason Garrison, fell off the second half of the season with just two of his 11 goals after the All-Star break and eight assists in the final 10 weeks of the season. Wideman makes an intriguing mid-to-late round pick, but Calgary's offense after Jarome Iginla doesn't inspire confidence. Wideman has produced in Boston, Florida and Washington and has been traded from all of them, must be something there.

The Hudler signing I think is a product more of the market than anything. I don't see him as an upgrade over Olli Jokinen, and, like Jokinen, his career numbers reek of inconsistency. Hudler had 25 goals last year and shot an inhuman 19.7-percent; no way he’s duplicating that. The only other time in his career he's cracked 20 goals, it's been sandwiched by seasons of 13 and 10 goals, missing just nine games over those three years. Hudler doesn't have the track record to warrant that contract. I can't see Calgary being competitive this season, especially with their neighbors to the north on the rise like they are.

Ah, Dallas. Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr were signed to nurture and foster the team's young talent. From what I saw last season, Jamie Benn can have a blind man on his wing and produce. I have to think Jagr will play similarly to what he did last year in Philadelphia: flashes of talent, nagging minor injuries and 50-55 points. I like Benn and Loui Eriksson (70-plus each of the last three seasons) but I'm skeptical if Michael Ryder can score 30 again. Dallas has a solid group of top-six forwards, but their defensive corps leaves quite a bit to be desired.

Speaking of overpaying for defense, Matt Carle to Tampa at $5.5 million per season? Carle was the best player on the ice for Pittsburgh and New Iersey during the Flyers' two playoff series this year. Couple that with Sami Salo's $7.5 million deal, I'm skeptical of the Lightning.

Lastly, do you like the situation P.A Parenteau heads to in Colorado (exact same contract as Hudler)?

Janet Eagleson To Dan Pennucci
Subj: Shane Doan Watch
Your point about Dennis Wideman -- the fact he's been traded away from a lot of teams -- is very astute. He makes a great initial impact in every place he lands and then wears out his welcome in a few short years. I think he'll follow the same pattern in Calgary. Hudler actually has a chance to be something -- although I'm not sure what -- in Calgary's new system. Bob Hartley wants to play a puck possession game so theoretically, Hudler is well equipped. That is, if he isn't pounded into submission or frozen by the great, cold Alberta winds.

I do think the contract for P.A. Parenteau is money better spent than on Hudler, though ... if he skates with Matt Duchene. Parenteau's game is at its best when he's chauffeured -- he's a way better passenger than a driver. But I like the fit. He's a little underrated in my books, sort of the same way that Matt Moulson has been underrated. And I think he's ready for a hockey market like Denver.

Carle is a question mark for me. He's a better player now than he was the last time he was in Tampa Bay. But his game was at its best when he played with the great stabilizer, Chris Pronger. Who's the Bolts' Pronger? Victor Hedman is big, but he's not tough by any means. So does he line up with Eric Brewer? Sami Salo? Hey -- don't forget your former Devil, Matt Taormina! The Bolts were burned on the "overpay me" scale in both cases, but such is the life of free agency. I think Steve Yzerman is just looking to make that back end "sturdy" and nothing more.

Now, three questions for you:

1. Whassup with the Rangers? Don't they need more scoring and less third- and fourth-line meat?
2. Does Brad Boyes hit 35 goals this year if he can snag a spot beside John Tavares?
3. Shane Doan has had interest from at least 15 teams. Where does he land if he leaves Phoenix?

Dan Pennucci to Janet Eagleson
Subj: Life on The Island
Parenteau needs to be traded to Tampa Bay this season in order to complete his 2009 top-draft-pick bingo and play with Victor Hedman. Something tells me Parenteau will be fine with being a passenger next to Matt Duchene, as he liked the view with John Tavares. I like the Avs' young talent and Parenteau can dish the puck, as evidenced by the numbers he put up this past season with Tavares and Matt Moulson. Parenteau is most definitely on my list of mid-round targets and Jamie McGinn is a late-round sleeper considering what he did in Denver after the Sharks traded him.

Carle in Tampa is intriguing. He put up 38 points this season without Chris Pronger and the Bolts had a need for a puck moving defenseman. I knock Salo often, but he can still fire the puck when healthy. Carle on a power play with Steven Stamkos and Mighty Mite make him a viable source of assists in the middle rounds.

The Rangers apparently don't need scoring, just shot-blocking grinders, as I saw while watching the Eastern Conference Finals. Marian Gaborik is too skilled to ignore come rounds four-to-six and I like Ryan Callahan very much, especially in leagues that count shot-blocking and hits. He's a tremendous captain. The Rangers have been awfully quiet and should get a move on addressing their scoring issues, other than trading for Rick Nash.

I can see Boyes topping out around 25-28 goals and well worth a late-round pick, especially in leagues that count shots on goal. He may be a low-rent version of Matt Moulson. Someone has to score goals for the Islanders, and we're getting past the point where we can refer to Kyle Okposo's potential. Boyes' best years in St. Louis came with Andy McDonald as his center whereas Tavares shoots more. Boyes I see at 25-28 goals and challenging 50 points.

The Shane Doan talk on Twitter is getting amusing as it appears Doan could be joining every team from Phoenix to playing alongside Racki in Thunder Bay (where he will get vengeance for Patrick Swayze). If the Coyotes' ownership situation was more settled, I don't think it's even a question if he's back. A lot of teams would love to have Doan. I'm seeing the Rangers, Detroit, Carolina. I'm going to say Detroit if he leaves, instill a bit more grit in the Wings' top six.

Two for you: Jason Garrison in Vancouver? Stay away or does he have another 16-goal season in him?

Is Alexander Semin worth taking a chance on?

Lightning Round

Best Signing: Johan Hedberg, NJ. Great backup goalie to shore up the crease.
Worst Signing: Sheldon Souray to Anaheim for 3-years, $11M
Best fantasy potential in new city? P.A. Parenteau, Colorado, 4 years, $16 M

Janet Eagleson to Dan Pennucci
Subj: Youngblood
Ahhhh ... Racki references. You know, I always wondered how Patrick Swayze could be cast as a junior-age hockey player at the tender age of 34.

No, Jason Garrison does not have another 16-goal season in him, but I'm not staying away entirely. Garrison was, in part, a product of his experience beside Brian Campbell, who is one of the better dishers in the game. So it'll be hard for Garrison to replicate the power-play output playing alongside Alexander Edler, who also likes to shoot. But there's so much talent on that first five-man PP unit in Vancouver that I see a modest measure of success.

Alexander Semin is an enigma wrapped up in a riddle. But he's worth snagging if he lands in Pittsburgh or another city with a truly elite center. He's money in the bank beside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, even if he only really shows up every third game.

All-in-all, there were a lot of crummy signings. We've talked about a couple of the worst -- Jiri Hudler and Dennis Wideman in Calgary. That's simply too much money for too little production for a team too close to the cap. But I'll go out to right field for a real stinker -- Nashville dropping $13 million over four years for Paul Gaustad? That's good money after bad, particularly after they overpaid with a first-round draft pick just to get him in the first place. He's never scored more than 12 goals in a season and only topped 30 points twice. Ouch.

The best? There wasn't much to be honest. I like the Parise/Suter combo in Minny, but saviors they are not. But they did sell several thousand season tickets and will make the Wild relevant again in a very heavy sports market. The Wild may have saved their franchise with the moves.

Two good and unheralded signings could bear fantasy fruit in ways few might expect. Michael Leighton was a cheap sign for the Flyers and he can play well when he comes in cold. Look out if Ilya Bryzgalov struggles again. And I can't believe I'm about to say this, but Olli Jokinen gives the Jets depth up front that could get them into the playoffs. The Evander Kane-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler line stays intact, but the number two line of Andrew Ladd-Jokinen-Nik Antropov brings a whole different dimension to Winnipeg. They're a lot harder to defend. And Olli could end up with better point totals than his 61 of last year.

This has been fun. Let's do it again next year.