Keeping with Matt's post the other day about free agent defensemen, its time to look at the UFAs going into the offseason. Some big changes could be coming Columbus' way. From last years roster, the guys that have the best chance of returning will be Commie, Hejda, Rusty, Methot, Russ, Anton and Fedor. I think 5 of them are untouchable, they are: Commie, Hejda, Rusty, Russ and Fedor (Commie, Rusty and Fedor for their contracts, Russ and Hejda beacuse they're just too valuable to give up).
Stralman came on strong but I don't think he was physical enough to keep up with faster teams. I've never been a big fan of Methot to begin with but his play last year made me think twice. His physical play could be a benefit in a trade situation.
I have a few guys in mind that could be a good fit in the 'bus plus a couple potential acquisitions, one of which has been talked about a lot around here...
Marc-Andre Bergeron - Montreal Canadiens
Bergeron is a rare breed. He has the ability to play on defense as well as the wing. With a career scoring line of 75-119-194, he can find the back of the net. He has a hard time staying in one place for an extended period of time; having played for Edmonton, the Islanders, Anaheim, Minnesota and now with Montreal, all in his 7 year career.
The good news: His cap hit against Montreal this year is only a meager $750,000 - well within the Jackets means. He brings with him a wicked point shot that has proven valuable on the PP. Seven of his 13 goals this year came on the PP. His abilities to move the puck out of the zone and push it forward would make a pairing of him and Russell deadly as we would have 5 capable scorers on the ice at one time .
The bad news: He's small. He will have trouble being physical against forwards that are much larger than him. He only stands 5'9 195.
My vote: Make an offer
Anton Volchenkov - Ottawa Senators
Anton is a tough, gritty shutdown defenseman from Ottawa. He's spent his entire career with the Sens. That should soon come to an end. I've heard reports that Ottawa has a lot of needs and Volchenkov will likely not be in their plans. He'll test free agency along with Andy Sutton, his teammate in Ottawa. He would be a great fit to toughen up the Jackets D.
The good news: His cap hit last year wasn't too high, only $2.5 million. I don't expect he'll be asking for much more than that, if at all. His out-of-this-world shot blocking is one of the reasons he's going to get a lot of attention this offseason. I just hope the most comes from Columbus. He's very, very physical and can match up against opposing teams top lines.
The bad news: Injuries will start to be a concern. While he's still pretty young, shot blocking is a great way to find yourself on IR. Keep in mind the reason we're looking for defensemen - scoring. Volchenkov isn't known for his scoring touch; he'll be lucky to see the 20 point mark.
My vote: Definitely make an offer
Dam Hamhuis - Nashville Predators
We already know a lot about this guy. He's been a nuisance of the Jackets for years. At $2 million a year, he's very affordable. I think his asking price will go up, but I think the Jackets should seriously consider this option. He, like Volchenkov will most likely be available. Early rumors are the Preds won't be able to make a reasonable offer, and the Rangers will be in the race for his services.
The good news: Hammy's instincts are very good, he's got a great feel for his position on the ice. He's a good puck mover from the zone to neutral ice and he makes smart first passes. He can also eat up big minutes - not a huge issue when we have Hejda, or Tyutin in the lineup, but valuable nonetheless.
The bad news: He lacks physicality much like Bergeron but he'll try his best, counts for something, right? Hamhuis' other achilles heel is his poor scoring ability. Again, its the one thing that would make me hesitant to sign a guy like him.
My vote: Make an offer
Sergei Gonchar - Pittsburgh Penguins
The man known as "Gonch" is one of the best offensive defensemen in the game. He would make a great addition to any team in the league. His 50 points this year ranked first overall among all defensemen who are entering UFA status this summer. Gonchar only played in 62 games. Do the math.
The good news: He's a leader on the ice, something our young team would benefit from. He can log pretty stout minutes especially on the PP; its his specialty. Smart passing and scoring from the point is his M.O.
The bad news: He is a pest on defense but nothing more. He won't throw his body around, but at his age, I don't blame him. Another issue is his tendency to take plays off. This is definitely something we don't need on the ice. His price tag last year was a hefty $5 million. Gonchar would prefer to return to Pittsburgh above anything else - they would also like to keep him, but his asking price may be too high given their cap. His age + big contract = a deal hard for Columbus to justify.
My vote: Do not make an offer.
Shaone Morrisonn - Washington Capitals
A staple of the Caps D since 05, Morrisonn is a mobile, athletic player. His 09-10 salary was only $1.975 million, which is very reasonable given his talents. The Capitals will likely look to bring him back. His size makes him a big asset on the blueline.
The good news: I mentioned his size (6'4, 215). He takes up a lot of space and he plays a stiff game. Morrisonn has a mean streak in him and is very reliable in his zone. Morrisonn has never been a minus player.
The bad news: Not a threat offensively. He's scored a career high three goals twice in his career, and has 70 points in his name. Not very flashy at all
My vote: Make a limited offer. At least say we tried.