[Editor's Note: This probably won't be a weekly thing, but I'm not closing any doors just yet]
Unrestricted free agency in the NHL officially starts this Friday at noon (or earlier, if you live in a time zone where they play good hockey). This news hasn't meant so much to Red Wings fans in a long time. Coming off of Brian Rafalski's retirement and almost a $5M jump in the salary cap, Detroit's management finds themselves a group of real buyers for the first time since the last lockout. With about $16M in space, Detroit will look to replace Rafalski's production on the blue line as best they can before filling out the remainder of the roster.
As such, there are a handful of unrestricted free agent defensemen the NHL that Wings fans have their collective eyes on. Each of those D-Men have until Friday to re-sign with the team for whom they played last season, but it's a pretty good guarantee that most of them will test the somewhat shallow free agent market to see how many GMs they can get to overspend for them. Since Detroit's options are limited to "pick one of these guys" or "get ready for the year of the Janik [shudder]", it's pretty clear they're going to have to sign a D-man and hope that the magic of putting on the Red Wings' uniform will do the trick.
Let's take a look at some of the higher-profile guys. Follow me after the jump for more.I figure that there's a half-dozen of these guys and the Wings are only going to end up with one (maybe two). Therefore, I've decided to call them all terrible. The good news is that it will turn out that I'll be right about five out of six. When whoever the lucky guy is actually signs, I'll apologize for saying he sucks. Until then, here's the list of assholes:
Drafted: 4th Overall (2002) - Philadelphia Flyers
Last Contract: Made $4.5M in the third and final year of a deal with a $4M cap hit.
Why he sucks:
Pitkanen was the 2nd defenseman taken in the 2002 draft (behind fellow bust Jay Bouwmeester) in front of guys named Wisniewski, Ballard, Whitney, Babchuk, Daley, and Duncan Keith; all of these guys are better at playing defense than Joni Pitkanen. He's been so important to the makeup of the teams he's been on that he's been traded twice in his career; once because he was deemed about as valuable as Joffrey Lupul. He made the All-Rookie team in 2003-04 and then fell off the map, probably breaking his patella in the process. This guy has never sniffed 80 games in a season, his last trip in the I-have-a-boo-boo mobile was because of food poisoning in late March. I don't really blame him for that though, because I'd also have trouble stomaching Carolina Hurricanes hockey for an entire season. Just think, Wings fans, for a mere $5M (or, comparatively, $2M too much), you too could have a guy who breaks down more often than a Ducati and has the same problems with consistency as the guy who was taken 287 spots after him in the draft, a one Mr. Jonathan Ericsson.
Drafted: 101st overall (2001) - San Jose Sharks
Last Contract: Made $3.4M in the third and final year of a deal with a $3.1M cap hit
Why he sucks:
Better than Pitkanen, Errorhoff rose above his draft station to be worthwhile enough to the Sharks to be dumped off to make salary cap room in 2009. This crucial bit of any team's defensive future has the stink of Vancouver's Stanley Cup Finals failure all over him, as he managed to put up an impressively horrible -13 rating in the playoffs while being unable to stop offensive powerhouse teams like the Predators and Bruins. If we're looking to add another left-shooting defenseman who can't put up points as well as Rafalski could while also being able to play defense no better, at least he's the second-best German defenseman in the league... maybe.
Drafted: 1st Overall (1994) - Florida Panthers
Last Contract: Made $6M in the last of a 5 year deal with a $6.5M cap hit
Why he sucks:
There aren't very many players in the game who have enough NHL experience to have a pixelated avatar in a SNES game and there are even fewer who are worth around $6M. In fact, Nick Lidstrom is the only one. Ed Jovanovski is not Nick Lidstrom. He's not even close. Unless you've got a direct line to Mr. Peabody and his WABAC machine, we're about three years past Jovanovski's expiration date. It's funny to think that a guy who is actually younger than the team's captain seems more like he's hockey's version of the guy who drank out of the wrong cup in Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade. When he grabbed Darren Helm by the neck after a clean hit in the playoffs and tried boring him to death with stories about what pictures used to be on his money as a kid, it was pretty clear that Jovo is done at a high level.
Drafted: 191st overall (2002) - Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Contract: Made $2,999,995 on a one-year deal
Why he sucks:
If playing hockey were all about having an awesome moustache then sign Ian White up yesterday. However, playing hockey is more about showing the mental growth it takes to not sign a contract where you and an idiot GM squabbled over whether or not you're worth $3M or $5 less than that. Here's a piece of advice: if you ever walk away from a contract negotiation leaving Darryl Sutter convinced he just won a pissing contest with you, then you suck. Also, for a five-year veteran, I should be able to remember a single thing he's done in his own zone and I can't.
Drafted: 204th Overall (1996) - Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Contract: Made $4.25M in the last year of a 5 year deal worth $4.25M per season
Why he sucks:
No offense to my handsome and debonair blogging partner, but Kaberle looks like Graham would look if he were born with the wrong number of chromosomes. For 6'1" 214lbs, it's a little disheartening to go looking for an indication of how he plays the physical game and get answers like "what physical game?" As for his offensive game? Kaberle isn't so much a puck-moving defenseman as he is a hit-avoiding chicken. He passes so much because he plays like he doesn't want to get hurt. He apparently has the same level of concern for the puck's well-being also because he never shoots the damn thing. If we're just looking for a guy to take up space, I'm pretty sure Derek Meech will come a lot cheaper.
Drafted: 156th overall (2002) - Chicago Blackhawks
Last Contract: Made $3.25M on a one-year deal
Why he sucks:
Remember when Sean Avery's idiot antics and stupid penalties got him run out of Detroit? Yeah, well that's what bringing in Wisniewski would bring back to the Wings: a talented but hot-headed me-first manchild. Signing Wisniewski would double the amount of regular season games that Red Wings players have on their career suspension cards, but at least it would improve them in the standings for the best NHL team to root for in a game of dirty charades. Sure, he'd come cheaper than Raffi and could be just about as valuable all-around, but do you really want to see Jonathan Ericsson get another big opportunity to pick up minutes when this guy goes apeshit, forgets who he plays for, and gives Tomas Holmstrom a big ol' Hassan Chop to the back of the neck?
So there you have it, folks. The six defensemen most likely to be brought to Detroit this season and they all suck... except for the guy that they end up signing. When it comes to that guy, read what I said about him and know that I was honestly kidding. As for the rest of them? Worthless, the whole lot.