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A Thin Blueline

Washington won’t be in the market for any goaltenders this summer, and the defensemen who would likely be solid additions in the District are likely to command too much money to actually end up here.


This summer’s goalie market is actually somewhat decent. There are actually two guys available who have won a Stanley Cup and another who has backstopped his team all the way to the Cup final.


The 2013 backline crop is very much on the lackluster side. Given that defensemen almost always get paid quarters on the dime in summertime, you’re better off finding a more economical way of shoring up your blueline. The defensemen who are available on the Free Agent Emporium’s nearly barren blueline shelves this summer will get paid, though. They always do.


Defensemen accounted for nine of the 18 players who got a compliance buyout this summer. Three of those blueliners were signed to those deals in the summer of 2012, showing how quickly things can sour.


Here’s a look at this summer’s free agent goaltending and blueline options:



Dan Ellis, Carolina – Ellis had an opportunity to take the reins for the Canes last season when Cam Ward went down with a midseason injury. Alas, Ellis wasn’t up to the task. His brilliant 2007-08 numbers (.924, 2.34 and six shutouts) look like an outlier in light of the rest of his career, and it’s difficult to envision the 33-year-old nailing down one of the 60 NHL goaltending gigs for the upcoming 2013-14 season. He earned $800,000 last season.


Ray Emery, Chicago – Ottawa’s fourth-round choice in the 2001 draft, Emery turns 31 on the eve of the 2013-14 season. He led the Sens to the Cup final in 2007, winning 13 games with a 2.26 GAA in the playoffs that spring. Because of injuries and other factors, Emery has not played even half of his team’s games in any season since, bouncing to Philadelphia, Anaheim and Chicago in the process. He posted a gaudy 17-1 record with a 1.94 GAA and a .922 save pct. with the Hawks last season, ensuring that he’ll be seen in a new light going forward. Philly’s terminal need for netminding is likely to lead them to Emery’s door, but other clubs should have interest as well. Emery should be able to command a hefty raise on the $1.15 million he was paid last season.


Mathieu Garon, Tampa Bay – The 35-year-old Garon has been knocking round the NHL since 2000-01, and he is now in similar straits to those of Dan Ellis (see above). Garon had opportunities to carry the goaltending mail for the Lightning in each of the last two seasons, but was not up to the task. He will be hard-pressed to get another NHL deal, even as a backup. If he does sign with an NHL club, it should be for about half of the $1.3 million he averaged from the Bolts over the last two seasons.


Thomas Greiss, San Jose – Greiss has been an understudy in San Jose for all or parts of four seasons now, accumulating 52 appearances and some decent qualitative stats along the way. He earned just $587,500 for each of the last two seasons, and should get a modest raise from a team looking for a backup.


Johan Hedberg, New Jersey – Along with Martin Brodeur, Hedberg formed one-half of one of the oldest goaltending tandems in NHL history over the last three seasons. With Sunday’s acquisition of Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks, Hedberg became odd man out and was subsequently a compliance buyout in New Jersey. He is 40 now and slipped in 2012-13 after two decent seasons before that. This could be the end of the line for Hedberg, or he could get a one-year deal for short money (less than the $1.4 million per season his last pact called for) as a backup to a younger starter. Edmonton seems like a possibility.


Nikolai Khabibulin, Edmonton – The Oilers have said they won’t be bringing Khabibulin back and it’s certainly possible that the 40-year-old has seen the last of active duty in the NHL. He helped lead the Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004, but hasn’t won 30 games in a season since ’02-03 and is 33-67-14 over the last four seasons, all with the Oilers. Khabibulin did post a solid .923 save pct. in a dozen games last season, his best mark of this century. If he does earn another contract, it will be for one year and for a fraction of the $3.75 million he averaged over his last deal, a four-year pact.


Anton Khudobin, Boston – After appearing in seven games over his first three NHL seasons with the Wild and the Bruins, Khudobin was a seldom-used backup in Boston last season. When he did draw a starting assignment, he was effective, posting a .920 save pct. and a 2.32 GAA. Khudobin could return to the B’s or he miht find work elsewhere in the circuit. Wherever he lands, it will be for somewhere close to the $875,000 he averaged over the past two seasons.


Jason Labarbera, Phoenix – The 33-year-old has been a backup for four different NHL clubs over the years, getting into a career-high 45 games with the Kings in 2007-08. He settled in as the Coyotes backup over the last four seasons and was reliable in that role. Teams seeking a veteran backup will be looking into Labarbera and he could get a deal similar to the two-year pact he just finished that paid him an average of $1.25 million per season.


Evgeni Nabokov, New York Islanders – When the Islanders claimed Nabokov off waivers from Detroit early in 2011, the veteran Russian netminder refused to report to the Island, drawing a suspension instead. He later relented and has had a pair of solid seasons for the Isles since after a year away from the NHL. Nabokov recently said that returning to the Island is his first choice this summer, but he and the team have not been able to come to terms. Philadelphia should at least kick his tires, and Edmonton and Calgary may want to check him out as well. Even at 37, he may be able to match or exceed the $2.75 million he was paid last season.


Jose Theodore, Florida – The ex-Caps goalie and former Hart Trophy winner missed most of last season with a groin injury and will turn 37 before opening night. Theodore was reasonably good for the Panthers in 2011-12, and he has expressed a willingness to return, albeit in a backup role. Wherever he lands, he is likely to be a backup at this stage and to earn less than the $1.5 million he averaged over his two-year deal with the Cats.


Tim Thomas, New York Islanders – Thomas never played for the Islanders; he was sort of a placebo goalie obtained merely so that the frugal Isles wouldn’t have to spend money on an “actual” player while still meeting the NHL’s salary cap floor regulations. As Paul Simon once sang, “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.” After a year of hibernating, the 39-year-old Thomas has expressed an interest in returning to the NHL. He won the Conn Smythe and the Vezina Trophy in 2011 and was still relatively solid the following season. Teams in need of a starter could and will do a lot worse than Thomas. He averaged $5 million a season over the last four campaigns, but may need to settle for about half that amount and shorter term this time around.


Left Defensemen

Toni Lydman, Anaheim – A veteran of 847 NHL games, Lydman turns 36 just prior to the start of the 2012-13 season. In his prime, he was routinely a guy who would chip in 20 points and a few goals a season while averaging 20 minutes or more a night. He has averaged fewer than 20 minutes a night in three of the last four seasons, including each of the last two while totaling no goals and 19 points over the last two seasons. Much of that decline can be attributed to his usage, which has been almost entirely in a defensive role. Coming off a three-year deal that paid him an average of $3 million annually, Lydman can expect as much as a 50 percent salary cut. But he’s a defenseman, and it’s July. So he could even get a raise.


Andrew Ference, Boston – The 34-year-old Ference has played in 760 NHL games since breaking in with the Pens in 1999-00. He was a No. 3 defensemen for his first three seasons in Boston before dropping back to No. 5 for two seasons. Ference has been Boston’s No. 4 for each of the last two campaigns. He’s solid if unspectacular and moderately physical. He skates well, moves the puck efficiently and is dogged in 1-on-1 battles. The only real question mark surrounding Ference is, how much longer will he be effective as a No. 4? And the answer is: probably not as long as the contract he’s going to get this summer. Ference earned an average of $2.25 million per season over the last three seasons. I can see him getting another three-year (or more) deal for around $3 million a season.


Ron Hainsey, Winnipeg – Hainsey was once a guy who would chip in offensively but he has now gone two seasons without scoring a goal; some of that decline is due to usage. He averaged nearly 23 minutes a night for the Jets last season and was Winnipeg’s No. 3 in terms of ice time, also being the Jets’ most frequently used penalty-killing blueliner. He is one of the more underrated members of this summer’s class. Hainsey earned an average of $4.5 million a season over the life of his just-completed five-year deal. Expect him to get paid a bit less ($3-4 million) this time around on a shorter term as well.


Scott Hannan, Nashville – Hannan was a top four stay-at-homer/shutdown pair in the NHL for the better part of a decade, but at 34 he is now a third pair guy who can also chip in on the penalty killing outfit. He signed a one-year deal for $1 million last summer and should be able to get a similar pact this July.


Filip Kuba, Florida – After signing him to a two-year deal worth a total of $8 million last summer, the Panthers bought Kuba out this summer. A top four, two-way defenseman since 2000-01, the 36-year-old Kuba can still be effective in that role on a good team. He was Erik Karlsson’s partner in Ottawa when Karlsson won the Norris Trophy in 2012. Kuba also plays both special teams. He is big but not physical, moves the puck well and has mobility. He’d make a good lefty No. 4 for a team in need at this stage of his career and should come in around $3 million or less.


Doug Murray, Pittsburgh – Murray is a big (6-foot-3, 245) physical defenseman who relishes the physical aspects of the game. He didn’t have much mobility in his prime and has even less now at the age of 33. Never a workhorse in terms of minutes, Murray has averaged 20 minutes a night or more only once in his eight seasons in the league. For most of his career in San Jose, he was a 3/4 who was a go-to guy on the penalty kill. He’s still frequently deployed while his team is down a man, but his minutes are now more third pairing in nature. Murray earned $2.5 million a year over the last four seasons and could draw a similar pact because of the dearth of defensemen on the market.


Rob Scuderi, Los Angeles – The 35-year-old Scuderi figures to be among the most sought-after free agents in this summer’s blueline class, which says more about the class than it does about Scuderi. Scuderi was the Pens’ No. 5 D when Pittsburgh won the Cup in 2009. He moved on to L.A. where he was No 4 before sliding up to No. 3 because of an injury to Willie Mitchell in 2012-13. Scuderi is and always has been strictly a stay-at-homer; his career high in points is 16 and he has tallied just seven goals in 585 career games. He was fifth in the NHL among all defensemen with an average of 3:13 per game in shorthanded ice time. With 30 hits in 48 games he can hardly be termed “physical,” but Scuderi is a good fit paired with an offensive-minded partner. He was paid $3.4 million annually over the last four seasons, and could get a similar deal even though he’s four years older. It’s good to be an NHL defenseman in July.


Ryan Whitney, Edmonton – Drafted fifth overall in 2002, Whitney is still young enough (30) that you’d expect him to be the top pair player he was in his prime, but there are some serious warning signs attached to him. First of all, his ice time dwindled precipitously over the last two seasons on the defensively challenged Oilers, and he was a frequent healthy scratch as well. His mobility has been compromised by right knee and ankle ailments over the last two seasons, and Whitney has looked like the shell of the player who signed a six-year deal with Pittsburgh six summers ago. With his ice time and production way down, his salary should follow accordingly. Whitney earned $4 million a season over the last six years; look for that to be cut in half. If he’s healthy, he may still have upside. But that’s a big “if” right now.


Right Defensemen

Adrian Aucoin, Columbus – Two days after celebrating his 40th birthday, Aucoin hits the free agent market. He has played 1,108 games with seven different teams after being drafted in the fifth round in 1992. He had a solid career that he should be very proud of, but at this stage he is a 6/7 who could be useful as a mentor to a young defensive corps. That was his role with the Blue Jackets last season, and if he ekes out another year in that role somewhere in the NHL it will be for far less than the $2.25 million he was paid in 2012-13.


Joe Corvo, Carolina – At 36, Corvo has to be seen now as a third pair option who can chip in on the power play. He’s susceptible to poor reads and plays in his own end and his minutes are down about 25 percent from what they were from 2008-10. Although his ice time has dwindled, his production has held steady, largely because of his power play minutes. He has already done two tours of duty with the Hurricanes, and I’m not sure if they’re interested in bringing him back. Corvo got a one-year deal from the Canes last summer that paid him $2 million. He’ll be hard-pressed to improve upon that this summer.


Michal Rozsival, Chicago – Rozsival turns 35 just before the start of the 2013-14 season. He has evolved from a top four, power play guy to a third pair guy who is in and out of the lineup. Rozsival was the No. 5 in Chicago last season where he helped the Hawks win the Cup. He doesn’t kill penalties and is prone to defensive zone mistakes and poor coverage, as we saw at times during the playoffs. He earned $2 million on a one-year deal last summer and is probably looking at something similar this July.


Ian White, Detroit – The 29-year-old White is a smallish (5-foot-10, 199) rearguard whose main role is to move the puck safely and contribute on the power play. After signing a two-year deal with the Wings two summers ago, he had a strong first season in Motown. Often partnered with Nicklas Lidstrom, White played 23 minutes a night while matching his career high of 25 assists in 2011-12. With Lidstrom’s retirement, White struggled last season. Although he averaged 19:35 a game, he was a frequent scratch and often played 16-17 minutes when he was in the lineup. White managed just two goals and four points in 25 games, the worst offensive season os his career. He’s likely looking at a one-year deal for much less than the $2.875 million he averaged annually with the Wings.


Marek Zidlicky, New Jersey – The 36-year-old Zidlicky hits the market after two seasons in the Devils’ top four. Zidlicky doesn’t kill penalties, but he is an effective power play component. Eleven of his 19 points last season came with the extra man. Zidlicky’s value is almost entirely in what he brings offensively. He can be an adventure in his own end, and figures to be on the wane at this point of his career. He’s coming off a deal that paid him $4 million annually over the last three years. Zidlicky won’t exceed that deal this summer, but he might get close to a similar deal if he is matched with a team in need of a power play boost.