In a few short weeks the 2011 NHL Free Agency period will begin as teams race to acquire the most valuable players. As a Detroit Red Wing fan facing the retirement of Brian Rafalski and the possible retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, I am particularly interested in the blue line. I did not include Lidstrom on this list of most coveted blueliners because if he decides to keep playing it will be with the Red Wings. He is deciding between Detroit and Sweden. How could you not choose Detroit? It is such a beautiful city...
Here is my list of the top 10 free agent defensemen of 2011:
1) Christian Ehrhoff, Vancouver: At 29 years old, this 50 PT D-Man is at the top of my free agent wish list. The Canucks have 3 big names to resign, and at least 1 (if not 2) of them will start next season with a new team. If I were Ken Holland I would offer him $6.5 million per season. The Canucks can't match that. (UPDATE: Signed in Buffalo for $40M over 10 years. Could have scored higher annual pay, but the appeal of his new contract is that he gets roughly half his money in the first two years of the deal).
2) Kevin Bieska, Vancouver: If the Canucks do manage to resign Ehrhoff, Kevin Bieksa would still be a strong consolation prize. One of these two Canucks should find their way into a Red Wings jersey next season. I'd offer him $5 - 6 million per season. (UPDATE: re-signed in Vancouver for 5 years at $4.6M per season. Clearly left money on the table to stay in Van)
3) James Wisniewski, Montreal: 27 years old and 51 PTS, this young man will command $4.5 to 5.5 million dollars per season. (UPDATE: signed in Columbus for 6 years at $5.5M per)
4) Ian White, San Jose: My opinion of Ian White's value increased in the playoffs as he was a very effective player for the Sharks. He's 27 years old and has his best years yet ahead of him. He should get at least a $1 mil pay raise on the $3 mil he earned last season. (UPDATE: signed in Detroit for 2 years at $2.9M per. Guaranteed he had better offers on the table, and does not get nearly the love that he deserves.)
5) Eric Brewer, Tampa: There is no doubt that Brewer increased his value after a strong playoff run with the Lightning, but as reliable as he is, I suspect he'll command about $1 million more per season than I'd be willing to pay him. He made $4.25 last season, but I would not pay him a penny more than $5 million. I need more offensive upside from my highly paid point men. Brewer is unlikely to surpass 30 PTS anytime soon. (UPDATE: signed in Tampa for 4 years at $3.9M per, signed before July 1st instead maximizing value.)
6) Anton Babchuck, Calgary: He has one of the best point shots of all the available defensemen and is worth his value in power play production. He made $1.4 million last season, and I'd offer him as much as $3.5 for next season. He's still a young man at 27 with peak production yet to come. (UPDATE: he re-signed in Calgary for $2.5M per season, a great value)
7) Tomas Kaberle, Boston: I have never been a fan of Kaberle, who has been remarkably ineffective for the Bruins in the playoffs. This alleged power play quarterback actually has made Boston's PP worse. There is no question the Bruins paid too heavy a price to acquire him from Toronto. I do not want to see this man in a Red Wings Jersey. (UPDATE: signed in Carolina)
8) Joni Pitkanen, Carolina: Still under 30 years of age, somebody will likely pay him more than he's worth because of the offensive upside, which may or may not be realized. (UPDATE: re-signed in Carolina for 3 years at $4.5M per season. That seems a little rich, but clearly the Hurricanes wanted him back.)
9) Bryan McCabe, Rangers: At 36 years old this D-Man can expect a pay cut from the $5.75 million he earned last season. I'd offer him for $2.5 million over 3 years.
10) Sami Salo, Vancouver: If he could stay healthy he would have far more value with that booming shot on the power play. But at age 37 this man does not have much left in the tank. He can help your special teams and log quality minutes when healthy, but his healthy moments are few and far between. (UPDATE: re-signed in Vancouver for 1 year $2M, which is a very fair price to pay for that slapshot.)