June 29, 2007

Free Agent Forwards: Who are the Targets?

First, I'll start off with the latest Smyth news. According to Spector (http://www.spectorshockey.net/rumors.html), Smyth's agent Don Meehan was on Leaf's Lunch on AM 640 CFMJ, and he claimed that Smyth will test the market. Darren Dreiger of TSN reported the same. So, although it's possible Smyth could still come back, it seems that will most likely not be the case. That said, the Islanders will have plenty of money to spend on free agents starting Sunday, and they have many holes to fill especially at all 3 forward positions. I wanted to give a run down on who sources say the team will target and who I feel the top targets should be.


Danny Briere: The Sabres' co-captain last season scored 32 goals and 63 assists for 95 points in 81 games. Briere also notched 15 points in 16 playoff games. Some people might say that Briere is not as good as his numbers indicate, but I argue that he really is that good. In an injury plagued season in 05-06 where he was limited to just 48 games, Briere still amassed 58 points and left people wondering what his totals would have been if he avoided injury. Last season they got to see what he could do over a full year and he did not dissapoint. Many reports have indicated that if the Isles lost Smyth, they would offer Briere a blank check and have him fill in the spaces. That scenario could very well happen with the recent news on Smyth and the latest developments on Briere claiming he will test the market on Sunday after declining a 5 year, $25 million contract from Buffalo. Briere will get much more that $5 million on the open market, and could get as much as $8 million. As the Isles, I offer the 29 year old a 6 year deal worth between $7.3 million and $7.8 million per year.

Scott Gomez: The best available playmaker on the market, Gomez could have as many as 10 teams bidding on him. Recent reports have the Flyer's zeroing in on Gomez, but the same reports say the Islanders and Rangers aren't far behind. In 72 games with New Jersey last season, Gomez had 13 goals and 47 assists. His numbers clearly indicate he is a playmaker, and he would be quite a signing for the Isles. He likes living in the tri-state area, which automatically makes both the Rangers and the Islanders suitors, as well as making a return to the devils a possibility. Many around the NHL feel that gomez would flourish in a system outside that of the Devils' continuous trap that they employ. The Isles wanted to implement a more up tempo system last year, but it didn't work as well as Nolan wanted because the speed was just not there. Replacing Yashin with Gomez automatically puts the speed there, and would go a long way in luring other players to the Island. The fact that he is only 27 means that Gomez will probably get an offer somewhere for 7 years, around 7 million.

Chris Drury: Drury was co-captain with Briere on the Sabres last season. One of the best 2-way centers in the game, Chris Drury is going to be sought out by many teams looking for leadership and character along with 35+ goals. Although he isn't your typical natural goal scorer, Drury knows how to put the puck in the net. Last season, Drury had 37 goals and 32 assists for 69 points. Drury may top out at around 70 point's every year, but teams know that he has a knack for scoring when it counts. Historically, Drury has always been clutch in the playoffs and has scored some key goals over the years, his most recent being in game 5 in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Rangers when he tied the game with 7 seconds left in regulation. The Sabres went on to win in overtime and won game 6 to take the series. The Rangers have Drury up high on their list, but the Island could also be a possible sell as he is from Connecticut. On the Island, home would be just a short ferry ride away for Drury. Look for him to get around $7 million on a long term deal.

Paul Kariya: With the potential loss of Jason Blake, the Islanders need to find someone to fill his shoes. In my opinion, Paul Kariya fits the bill. Kariya had two great seasons in Nashville and is expecting to test the market on Sunday. He also plays the same position as Blake. Last season he had 24 goals and 52 assists, good for 76 points. He was key in helping Nashville finish as one of the top teams in the West. In 4 out of the last 5 seasons, Kariya has played in all 82 games. He is one of the best playmaking wingers out there, and will most likely cost around $5 million. His playmaking is valuable, and might even be more valuable to the Isles if they fail to sign one of Briere or Gomez (which is very, very possible) At 32 years old, I would offer him a 2 or 3 year contract and take it from there. If I were the Isles, I would go after this guy real hard. He is definitely worth it and could very well end up here. In 05-06, he played with both Brendan Witt and Mike Sillinger in Nashville, and both of them love being on Long Island. It is possible that they sell the team enough to Kariya to persuade him to take Blake's spot.

Bill Guerin: Though on the older side at 36, Guerin proved last season that he can still play. After a terrible season in Dallas, the right winger's contract was bought out and he signed on with the St. Louis Blues where he was one bright spot on a bad team. He was dealt to the Sharks at the deadline, and he had an immediate impact, scoring 8 goals in 16 games for the Sharks. Overall, Guerin Finished with 36 goals and 56 points. He could help soften the blow of loosing some of Smyth's scoring and will also be a much cheaper alternative who won't need to get signed long term.


Mike Comrie: One of the youngest free agents on the market, Mike Comrie (26 years old) will be looking for a new home. The center has the potential to be a 30-30-60 guy, and has hit that a couple of times in his young career. Last season he had 20 goals and 25 assists for 45 points in 65 games with the Coyotes and the Senators. Comrie would look great on the 2nd line for many teams, especially the Islanders. He will probably get between 3-3.5 million. I offer him a 2 year contract at that amount and see what he does. He has had character issues in the past, but I am a firm believer in Nolan and really feel he can get through to Comrie. He's my option for 2nd line center.

Robert Lang: The aging center had a decent year in Detroit, and it appears his best years are behind him. However, Lang can still contribute to may teams. In 06-07, Lang had 19 goals and 33 assists for 52 points. He is another good option for second line center, and if Comrie slips away I would not mind him on a 1 year contract. It is worth noting that he is country mates with Satan, and should he remain an Islander Lang might be talked into coming here by Miro.

Michael Peca: Yes, you read that right. The former Islander captain is again a free agent, and After 2 years off of the Island might indicate that he would like to come back. Captain Crunch enjoyed his time here except for his run ins with ex-Islander Alexei Yashin, which ultimately lead to the trade that sent Peca to Edmonton. Now with Yashin gone, it is realistic to think Peca would return, unless the shots he took at the team when Garth Snow was hired have that much of an effect on the possibility. Should he come back, it would mean Mike Sillinger would become the second line center and Peca would be the 3rd. With some good second line options available, I would rather hold off on Peca unless we really lose out on everyone. Peca might be looking for $3 million and that is very pricey for the player that he has become. He suffered through injuries last season, and only played 35 games. It will be tough for him to get that kind of money from anyone.

Danius Zubrus: Many Isles fans are high on him, and have hopes the Isles will chase him. He could be a perfect fit here, but I see him as more of a 3rd line winger. My 3rd line right now would be Bergenheim-Sillinger-Hunter, and that would mean Zubrus would come as a 2nd liner. I'd rather chase after Kariya and if that fails Ladislav Nagy before I consider Zubrus as a second liner. Unless the Isles have a plan to put Bergie or Tambellini on the 2nd line, there might not be a spot for Zubrus. He has put up good numbers the past 2 years, although that is attributed to the constant scoring by Alex Ovechkin on Washington. Zubrus is one of the better defensive forwards in the league and fits the bill for a Nolan Type player, but again I just don't see him as a second liner.

So that wraps up my analysis of some of the potential Isles targets for the forwards. There are only some of the key guys who the Isles have interest in or many people say they should have interest in. It is likely that the Isles land one of these players, but probably not one of the top 3 centers. My wish is to get Briere/Gomez and Kariya, but that is highly unlikely. There are plenty of options out there, so they should be able to grab some decent players if they can't grab some of the best on the market. With the cap going up to $50.3 million next season, the Isles could try and sign 2 big names if they so choose.

Sean and I are going to come up with a way to cover the first day of free agency when the discussions with players can begin at midnight in Saturday. We may have a post where we constantly update who the Isles are talking to and who else is bidding against them. We'll see how we do it. Either way, we'll keep our phones on in case some of the people we know have something to tell us. Hopefully we can provide you with some great info and we can rejoice together.


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