In a bid to completely rob me of all of my story ideas before I publish them, Birdwatchers' Falconer asks if we should buy out The Todd, and Brad over at Game Time makes a pretty darn good case for buying out Eric Brewer. Now is the time for both teams to clear out space on the roster, both for prospects looking to make the cut after camp and for potential RFA and UFA signings starting on July 1st.
I have already gone through what the Thrashers need to do at the Draft (and tomorrow my pick in the mock draft will be up at NHL Hot Stove), but the chances of us drafting a player ready to hop into the league at 8th overall is fairly slim to none. Once the draft is complete and it gets closer to Thrashers' prospect camp time, I'll do some writing on who might be set to make the jump and who isn't quite ready yet. There're lots of young players that have been talked up by management, and other young players who the fans have been waiting on to crack the line-up permanently for both Atlanta and St. Louis.
But before we even think about prospect camp, there's the bonanza that is the free agent signing day. And there are lots of people out there to look at, both UFA and RFA. RFAs are a hassle to grab, and UFAs you have to court and offer a dowry to that's slightly larger than a prized pig. Both kinds of free agents require a responsible look at the salary cap for not only this season, but for the future considering that your young kids on entry level contracts today will probably be asking for a slight pay raise when it comes time for you to re-sign them. Luckily, both St. Louis and Atlanta have considerable space - St. Louis only has $28,923,333 committed to players for next season, and the Thrashers have $30,076,667. This is good for the lowest and second lowest amounts of committed salary for next season as of today (June 16th). Needless to say, there's some wiggle room for both franchises.
More after the jump. And to make said jump, click the post title, because the blog editor isn't letting me put the "read more" link in because it hates me.
It goes without saying that each team's priority is to lock up their restricted free agents first (Atlanta's here, St. Louis' here). The Blues have significantly more than the Thrashers, and the one in most demand will probably be Alexander Steen, who is due a bit of a raise (let's say to $2 mil). Offer sheets are a funny thing - most teams won't do it out of respect for other teams' management unless you're Vancouver and REALLY want David Backes. Really, the only time that RFAs move is if they're signed and dealt for current players - or if negotiations hit the arbitration point.
The UFAs are the trick to lock up. Each team will have a few that they will not tender an offer to and will let walk, some have UFAs who they will give an offer to and not press the issue if that offer is declined, and there are some who will actively work with their pending UFAs to get them to stay. Of course, the final call is in the hands of the free agent himself as to if he's testing the market or not.
Barry Tallackson (I have no clue who the hell this is)
The Blues have a few more UFAs than the Thrashers do. The color code is this: blue are players who the team could or could not re-sign. Green are players that the teams have been fairly obvious about wanting to retain. Red are the players who are gone. And, of course, these are all my own assumptions. Obviously by looking, the Thrashers have more question marks than sure things - Kubina re-signing is just speculation, because why in the world would we *not* want him back? The Blues have four who are AHL players (Paddock, Armstrong, Tallackson, and Guenin), which leaves two forward slots and possibly two defenseman slots open. The Thrashers will probably have one defenseman position open (hopefully not two), a goaltender issue as always, and four forward positions.
Obviously the Blues will want to try to steer Alex Pieterangelo to the NHL next season, which plugs up one of the defensive spots. Ian Cole is also another possibility to make the club out of camp. Lars Eller might very well make a push for the top six, which fills Kariya's slot. Basically, that'll leave St. Louis with a possible hole on defense and a hole in the bottom six. I'll leave the (five)hole at goal alone for right now.
Atlanta is going to have the usual ginormous holes to plug. Riley Holzapfel is expected to push at camp. The Thrashers also just signed Swedes Karl Klingberg and Fredrik Pettersson, both of whom have had their praises sung by GM Rick Dudley. Patrice Cormier has also been said that he can look forward to a solid chance to make the club. There are four forwards right there. The issue is that if we fill too many holes with prospects, we won't have the seasoned guys that we need. Also, the scoring could very well be made entirely up of Kane, Bergfors, Antropov, and Peverley. I'd like a little more firepower to give these guys a boost. I would prefer said firepower to continue to come from Maxim Afinogenov, but that isn't going anywhere apparently. The Thrashers are ripe for a top six UFA acquisition. Defensively, Paul Postma was a scoring terror for the Calgary Hitman, and he finished with 15 goals and 29 points for the Wolves last season. Artus Kulda had the highest +/- rating in the AHL at a +47, and he played very well with his old juniors teammate Zach Bogosian at the end of this past season as a call up for the injured Christoph Schubert. Between the two, Kulda has the biggest chance of making the team, which should fill the need that the Thrashers have at defense.
Goaltending for both teams is a sticking point. Atlanta would do well to re-sign Hedberg, who is coming off of a career season. Pavelec has a bright future ahead of him, but no one's sure which Ondrej Pavelec we'll be getting next year. Drew MacIntyre and Peter Mannino both had outstanding seasons but neither are ready to step up. Unless Atlanta wants to grab a seasoned 1B goaltender for more than they'd probably pay Hedberg, it would behoove them to re-sign moose. The Blues have mentioned that they're already working with Mason's agent, so that upgrade in goal that a lot of fans want might have to wait - and honestly, Mason's got solid stats, or at least as solid as the UFA goalies out there.
Ok, now that we have all of the whats out of the way, we need to look at the whos: who is going to plug these holes? To re-cap, Atlanta needs a top six forward and a possible back-up/1B goalie. St. Louis needs a defenseman and a bottom six forward, though they could benefit more from a top 6 one and some line re-jiggling.
I hate to do this, but if Afinogenov doesn't re-sign with Atlanta, he could be a good move for St. Louis. He would be much less expensive than Kovalchuk or Marleau, and while he might not be good for as many goals as either of those players, he would fill the demand that the Blues have for another quick scorer. The problem there is the same as we have with Boyes - what if it's an off year?
Defenseman wise, well, ok, Gonchar'd be freaking awesome, but everyone knows that the Blues are too cheap for him (or Volchenkov, or Niedermayer). How about poaching Hamhuis from Nashville - if he isn't already practically betrothed to Vancouver. Corvo's also available. If Brad's dream of waiving Brewer comes true, that would be a definite upgrade.
Atlanta's needs are, as always, tougher to fill - though with the addition of Dudley it should be markedly less so. If Afinogenov leaves, we could always take a chance with another streaky winger in Ponikarovsky, though his lack of success in Pittsburgh leaves doubts. Maybe he'd benefit from a reunion with Antropov. Lee Stempniak is also available, and he could be a serviceable plug-in for Armstrong if none of the prospects work out, but that seems doubtful. Also, if he hasn't retained the scoring push that he found in Phoenix, then we're out some goals. Frolov, well, if he brings his good work ethic, could be a good substitution. I just would worry about the noted temperament issues.
Goaltending should not be a huge expense for Atlanta. We want Pavelec to get as much starting time as possible, but we need a good insurance policy. We could steal Niittymaki and basically end the curse that has been driving us so insane for so long. Biron and his unnaturally blue eyes might also be a good addition. Dan Ellis has proven to be solid in Nashville, but he doesn't respond well to having competition in goal for the starting position - he didn't raise his game last season.
You might notice that there aren't any big, flashy names tossed out there as suggestions for either team. I have to be realistic. Sorry. Both teams are noted non-big spenders, and Atlanta occasionally has problems with free agents wanting to come here - last season was a notable exception with Antropov. Hopefully both teams are responsible and intelligent with free agent signings, but don't expect any jaw droppers come July 1st. Or 2nd. Or really the 3rd.