Ranking the NHL’s top UFA defencemen

Mike-Green;-Detroit-Red-Wings

Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green passes the puck to a teammate during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings in Washington, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011. (Ann Heisenfelt/AP)

While the draft should prove to be memorable, this isn’t the strongest class of free agents, with July 1 looming, We’re all aware of that.

All that means is that the traffic will be heavier around those free agents who do have some pedigree. Especially on defence, a position where players tend to take longer to reach their prime. That makes defence a position where UFA-aged players have more valuable years ahead, it can be argued.

Couple that with the accepted fact that depth on defence is the key to any long playoff run, and we bring you a thin but highly sought after UFA Defencemen, the Class of 2015:

1. Mike Green
Age on July 1: 29
2014-15 Team: Washington Capitals
2014-15 cap hit: $6,083,333
2014-15 Numbers: 10-35-45 in 72 games; 34 PIMs; plus-15; CF60 – 55.4.

His market: Green turns 30 less than a week after the season opens. He’s an interesting study in that Green will never live up to the promise he showed in posting 73- and 76-point seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

Defensive deficiencies caught up to Green, and injuries — he played just 67 games between 2011 and 2013. He still has some offensive ability, averaging over 40 points in each of the last two seasons, and now the puck isn’t in Green’s net every second shift, the way it once was.

Think of Dennis Wideman, who was run out of Washington, then matured into an integral part of the Flames playoff run this season.

How much is a veteran, 40-point Dman who can still run a power play worth? The challenge will be Green’s salary ask versus the fact he is probably best cast as a No. 3 on a good team. Green may price himself out of range for many of the top teams that are close to the cap.

Best fits: Boston, San Jose, Dallas, New Jersey

2. Andrej Sekera
Age on July 1: 29
2014-15 Team: Carolina Hurricanes, Los Angeles Kings
2014-15 cap hit: $2,750,000
2014-15 Numbers: 3-20-23 in 73 games; 14 PIMs; minus-3; CF60 – 62.1

His Market: The same attributes that made Sekera the most sought after defenceman at the 2015 trade deadline will make him very popular come Wednesday. Sekera is the new-age Dman: skates and moves the puck well; can play on the powerplay but not quarterback it; can play 22-23 minutes with the puck spending more time outside his zone than inside. Who doesn’t want that guy, right?

Well, Sekera cost the Kings a conditional first-round pick and a prospect, but couldn’t help them make the post-season.

With Robyn Regehr’s retirement, and Slava Voynov’s legal situation, we believe the Kings shouldn’t let Sekera get to July 1 as a free agent. If he does, he’ll have no problems finding a new team.

Best Fits: Florida, New Jersey, Edmonton

3. Johnny Oduya
Age on July 1: 33
2014-15 Team: Chicago Blackhawks
2014-15 cap hit: $3,375,000
2014-15 Numbers: 2-8-10 in 76 games; 26 PIMs; plus-5; CF60 – 55.4

His Market: Oduya turns 34 on Oct. 1, so term will be an issue. There are a ton of miles on the body of this defenceman who was part of the last two Stanley Cup runs in Chicago.

Here’s the issue: Oduya is a perfect No. 4, fitting in behind the perfect No. 2, Brent Seabrook. Nobody argues that he slotted in ahead of Duncan Keith, Seabrook or Niklas Hjalmarsson in Chicago. Pay Oduya like a No. 2 however, and you’re going to be disappointed.

Give Oduya a five-year deal, and depending on his health you may be talking buy-out after Year 3.

Best Fits: Boston, Los Angeles, Florida, Toronto

4. Cody Franson
Age on July 1: 27
2014-15 Team: Toronto Maple Leafs, Nashville Predators
2014-15 cap hit: $3,300,000
2014-15 Numbers: 7-29-36 in 78 games; 28 PIMs; minus-7; CF60 – 56.1

His Market: Franson will be just 28 when next seasons begins. He’s 6-5, 220 lbs and a right-hand shot, so those facts alone are going to be enough to ensure solid employment.

He disappointed in Nashville however, and the jury is out on just what kind of Dman you’re getting with Franson. Big, but not a physical as some former GMs hoped he’d be. He was offensively productive on a bad team in Toronto, but gave Nashville just four points in 23 regular season games last season.

Still, depending on price point, Franson is the youngest of the prominent UFA’s on defence, which could make him good value.

Best Fits: Vancouver, San Jose, Arizona.

5. Christian Ehrhoff
Age on July 1: 32
2014-15 Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
2014-15 cap hit: $4,000,000
2014-15 Numbers: 3-11-14 in 49 games; 26 PIMs; plus-8; CF60 – 56.1

The Market: Ehrhoff has never been the same player that he was when he left Vancouver, signing a 10-year, $40 million deal with the Sabres. He’s since been bought out, and last season a guy who used to be good for 35-45 points per season had just 14 in 49 Penguins games.

He’s a No. 3 if he’s playing well, and can give a PP the big shot. He can still play 21 minutes, but the big German turns 32 this July. His best days are behind him.

Best Fits: New Jersey, Edmonton

6. Francois Beauchemin
Age on July 1: 35
2014-15 Team: Anaheim Ducks
2014-15 cap hit: $3,500,000
2014-15 Numbers: 11-12-23 in 64 games; 48 PIMs; plus-17; CF60 – 54.1

The Market: Not certain Anaheim won’t re-up Beauchemin at the last minute, but finding a trade destination for Clayton Stoner may be a prerequisite in Anaheim.

Beauchemin is a solid, character veteran who fits well inside Anaheim’s young D-corps. He has made his worth as a partner/mentor for first Cam Fowler, then Hampus Lindholm. Any GM with a young blue-line would love Beauchemin to take over the same role on a new team.

The down side? Sometimes the wheels fall off of 35-year-old defencemen in a hurry. Beauchemin has less than 700 NHL games though. He should be able to deliver on a 3-year-deal.

Best Fits: Montreal, Boston, Edmonton, Calgary

7. Paul Martin
Age on July 1: 34
2014-15 Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
2014-15 cap hit: $5,000,000
2014-15 Numbers: 3-17-20 in 74 games; 20 PIMs; plus-17; CF60 – 55.8

The Market: Martin is that prototypical “minute muncher” who will give you 22, 23 minutes a night.

He doesn’t score much, fight, or play particularly physical, but he’s a veteran of 700 NHL games who calms things down back there. The only problem becomes when a thin UFA market forces teams to overpay, and the player can not live up to his salary.

8. David Schlemko
Age on July 1: 28
2014-15 Team: Arizona Coyotes, Dallas Stars, Calgary Flames
2014-15 cap hit: $1,187,500
2014-15 Numbers: 1-3-4 in 44 games; 8 PIMs; plus-6; CF60 – 57.3

The Market: Schlemko was a bit of a revelation this spring. Flames GM Brad Treliving brought him into Calgary and he was a valuable No. 5, giving the Flames 14 trusty minutes a night.

He is the new third-pairing Dman: Not huge or physical, but inexpensive, skates well and can retrieve and then move the puck responsibly. Times are a-changing, and Schlemko is the kind of depth defenceman who makes you better.

(Corsi For 60 stats courtesy of puckalytics.com.)

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