BOSTON - APRIL 19: Raffi Torres (17) and Henrik Tallinder (10) will likely find themselves in new cities — with lesser salaries — in 2010-11. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Certainly regular-season success can lead to a big payday for an unrestricted free agent, but perhaps more important is how a player fares in the postseason. Elevated play in the playoffs can catapult a player to a big role with a Cup contender — or huge payday with an also-ran — while a less-than-stellar second season can cost a pending UFA a shot at joining a favorite and a lot of money.
Rob Scuderi parlayed his Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh last year into a $3.4 million-a-year deal from the up-and coming Kings. On the flipside, one-time sniper Miroslav Satan had one goal in 17 games with the Pens, which led to him packing his bags for the KHL — until the Bruins brought him back midseason and he outdueled ex-teammate Ryan Miller for two game-winning goals in Boston's first-round upset of the favored Sabres.
Here's a look at the pending unrestricted free agents for four teams whose seasons have ended after one round, and how their postseason efforts could help or hurt them.
Mike Grier — The gritty forward is one of those players who will always be identified with one team, and it's the Sabres. He did his part for Buffalo against the Bruins, filling the void left because of an injury to Thomas Vanek and even notching two goals — tied for the most on the Sabres in the six-game series. No, Grier won't fetch a huge payday because he's essentially a role player, but he's the kind of player every team looks for come playoff time — unless he's with the Sharks again. Offseason: The best result is for Grier to stay in Buffalo, perhaps on another one-year deal in the $1 million range.
Adam Mair — Like Grier, Mair is a role player so not much is expected statistically. His one goal and one assist in the Boston series is sufficient, but a borderline third-liner who doesn't play in special teams situations — in the regular season or playoffs — is more a niche than a role player. Offseason: Mair could be back if Grier is not re-signed, but the Sabres have some decent young players coming up and Mair could be a casualty. But he'll land a grinding role somewhere, perhaps with a playoff-caliber team, at around the same salary ($775,000) or slightly less.
Matt Ellis — The journeyman winger had a goal in three games vs. the Bruins and finished the regular season with three goals and 10 assists while playing a touch more than nine minutes a night in 72 games. Like Mair, he's a fourth-liner who doesn't get power play or penalty kill time. Offseason: He'll turn 29 this offseason, and time may be running out on his NHL career. Maybe he'll land a two-way deal somewhere, but an overseas gig might be his best option.
Raffi Torres — I thought Torres was going to be the deadline's best acquisition. I was wrong. The gritty forward struggled in Buffalo (two assists in four postseason games, plus a lackluster post-deadline regular season) and likely won't be back in 2010-11. Offseason: Torres really hurt his value. Perhaps he could land with a lesser team for decent money, but he shouldn't expect to get the $2.75 million he earned this season, and probably not even the $2.25 million average he earned over the course of his last deal.
Toni Lydman — Yes, Lydman was part of Buffalo's dissapointing first-round exit, but he logged more than seven minutes more in the six playoff games than he did during the regular season, leading the Sabres with 26:14 a night. Offseason: He's not a dynamic defender, but he can be a No. 4 guy if you need him to be. That being said, he should not get the $3.15 million he earned this season going forward. Buffalo has some decisions to make on the back end, but Lydman could be back at a reduced cost.
Henrik Tallinder — Tallinder benefited immensely from the emergence of rookie Tyler Myers, but the pairing wasn't as dynamic against the Bruins as it had been all year long. Offseason: Overpaid at $3.25 million this year, Tallinder will need to take a pay cut wherever he goes, and chances are he won't be staying in Buffalo.
Patrick Lalime — Lalime did not see time in net during the postseason, and his struggles down the stretch when Ryan Miller was hurt last season cost the Sabres a shot at the postseason. Offseason: With Jonas Enroth in the wings, Lalime is a goner from Buffalo, and with nine wins the past two seasons and a 36th birthday coming this offseason, his days in the NHL might be numbered.
Darcy Tucker — Tucker's days as a skilled agitator are done for. He had no points in a limited role in the Avs' six-game exit to No. 1 seed San Jose, and had 24 points in the regular season — an improvement over last season, but still not worth $2.3 million. Offseason: Tucker is 35, so a multiyear deal is probably out of the question. Maybe Brian Burke would welcome the one-time Toronto favorite back to the Leafs for $1 to 1.5 million?
Marek Svatos — Mile High Hockey named him co-winner of the site's MWP (Most Worthless Player). Need I say more? Offseason: Svatos was, simply put, dreadful all year, but did score once in three playoff games. If MHH has its say, Svatos won't be back. He'll be 28 this offseason and someone will want to take a chance that he can regain his 20-goal form at a decent price, but it won't be last year's $2.35 million. Maybe a contender (Detroit) will take a flier at around $1.25 million, or an also-ran will hope to benefit from his ability at a low price. Europe could come calling with big cash, too.
David Koci — Wow! MHH's other MWP winner! How, exactly did Colorado make the playoffs given all their injuries and lackluster play (psst ... it's coaching, leadership and some great performances out of some blossoming young stars)? Koci never appeared in the playoffs and got into just 43 regular season games, registering one goal and 84 penalty minutes. Offseason: Koci's a legitimate heavyweight — though an average fighter — so he could find a home with a team in need of a pugilist. At $575,000 last year, his salary can't get much lower — unless he can only land a two-way deal.
Matt Hendricks — The soon-to-be 29-year-old center got his first real shot at the NHL this year, managing 16 points in 56 games, plus played in all six playoff contests against the Sharks (no points). Also in his favor is his use on the penalty kill. Offseason: Hendricks made $500,000 this season, and could land a similar deal to return to the Avs. The big question is if another team has seen enough of him to throw a one-way deal his way. It may be Colorado or bust.
Chris Durno — Durno played in just one playoff game (no points) and 41 regular-season games (four goals, four assists). With Koci out of favor, Durno could step in as a fourth-liner who has the size to fight the league's heavyweights while adding a hint of offense. Offseason: Durno, like Hendricks, made $500,000 this year and would likely be thrilled to be back at the same price. With Tucker and Koci likely on the way out, the Avs probably wouldn't mind having him back to take some of the fighting pressure off Chris Stewart.
Stephane Yelle — The Avs brought Yelle back from Carolina at the deadline to infuse some playoff experience, leadership and, I'm sure, nostalgia from the good ol' days. He's 35, which isn't too old, and isn't expected to put up any kinds of numbers any more — which he didn't with the Canes or Avs. Offseason: Yelle had to wait a long time this offseason before finally landing in Carolina ($550,000), then was sent through waivers before regaining a spot in the lineup and playing fairly well before heading back to the Avs. Colorado's youth movement probably doesn't have room for Yelle, and his options are limited. If the Avs are a no, it might the end for Yelle in the NHL.
Brett Clark — Once again, we look to our friends at MHH. The verdict? Clark was part of the worst defensive pairing — regardless of partner. Ouch. He had 20 points this season, then played just one game in the first round of the playoffs. Offseason: His $3.5 million is coming off the books, and don't expect it to be back in Colorado — or anywhere else at that number. He might get around $2 million a season from a team in need of someone who can play close to 20 minutes a night, including power play and penalty kill experience.
Ruslan Salei — MHH already has him pegged for the KHL, and it's east to see why. Salei made $3.275 million in 2009-10. He fought injuries all season, playing just 14 games, and got in just one postseason match. The injuries may be an aberration — he has four 82-game seasons on his resume — but there will certainly be concern around the league since he is already 35. Offseason: Salei won't be in Colorado, and maybe nowhere in the NHL, next season. Even if he lands in the NHL, he'll need to take a huge paycut — perhaps a third of what he made last year or less.
Adam Foote — The Avalanche captain made $3.25 million this season, and at 38 (39 this offseason) he battled a variety of injuries in playing 67 games. He still played more than 21 minutes a night in Colorado's six postseason games and more than 19 minutes in the regular season. Offseason: If Foote wants to play another season, Colorado should welcome him with open arms. Not enough has been said about Foote's leadership as a key factor in the Avs' shocking season. Will he make more than $3 million? No way. But if he'll play for $1.75 million, Colorado should snap him up and throw a ticker-tape parade in his honor.
Peter Budaj — Budaj never could seize the No. 1 job in Colorado, and Craig Anderson's outstanding season makes Budaj a backup option in Colorado and nothing more. He went 5-5-2 this season with a respectable 2.64 goals against average and .917 save percentage. Coincidentally, the last two stats are mirror images of Anderson's numbers, except Colorado's new No. 1 won 38 games. Budaj played briefly in Game 5 against San Jose, allowing one goal on four shots. Offseason: The Avalanche could decide to stick with Budaj for familiarity's sake, and he likely won't fetch much more than the $1.25 million he made in 2009-10. It seems like the best fit, but the Avs or Budaj could be looking for a change.
Alexander Frolov — The Kings expected big things out of Frolov in their return to the postseason, but he managed just one goal and three assists in L.A.'s six-game exit to the Canucks. On top of that, his goals were down 13 from last year (32 to 19) and his 51 points were a post-lockout low. Offseason: Frolov's talent in undeniable — he is an elite puck handler and set-up man and will still be just 28 when next season starts. With all of the Kings' young talent, chances are Frolov and his $4 million salary will be out of Hollywood next season. But despite his struggles this year, a bidding war isn't out of the question given his considerable skills. He could earn even more than he did this year.
Fredrik Modin — After a rough three-and-a-half seasons in Columbus, Modin joined the Kings as a bargain-basement deadline addition. He didn't do much down the stretch, but he potted three goals and added an assist in Los Angeles' six playoff contests. Offseason: He made $3.5 million this season and will be hard-pressed to reach $2.5 million on the market, but the Kings have to like what he brought in the playoffs and could opt to keep him on, say for one or two years at $1.75 to $2.25 million a season.
Raitis Ivanans — Ivanans understands what it means to be a fighter: you play all season, dropping the gloves to defend your teammates or rile up your bench, then sit and watch most of the playoffs from the press box. He got less than six minutes of ice time in one playoff appearance and had no points in 61 regular season games, amassing a team-high 136 PIMs. Offseason: This was Ivanans' fourth season in L.A., and it makes sense that two sides could come to a deal similar to the $600,000 he made each of the last two years.
Jeff Halpern — Halpern joined the Kings from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline, managing two assists in 16 regular season games and no points in six postseason outings. A solid role player, Halpern never really got going in L.A., picking up some PK duty and a total of about 10 minutes a night. Offseason: Halpern won't get anywhere close to the $2 million he made this year, but he can still be a serviceable fourth-line center who can hop up a line in a pinch. The Kings are probably done with Halpern, but another team might offer him something in the $750,000 range.
Randy Jones — I like Jones, but he made $3 million this season? That seems like a bit much for a third-pairing defenseman. Still, Jones had 21 points in 48 games this year in an injury-plagued campaign. Offseason: Jack Johnson's uncertain future in Los Angeles may lead the Kings to consider re-signing Jones, but at a lesser price. Jones can be effective on the power play at times, but will find it hard to get top-four minutes anywhere in the league. He should land a deal somewhere in the $2 million range.
Sean O'Donnell — O'Donnell was a pretty good bargain at $1.25 million this season, logging nearly 19 minutes a night in the reguar season and slightly less in the playoffs. He'll never pile up points, but he's durable, tough and will sacrifice for his team. Offseason: Although he's 38, O'Donnell should be able to get a small raise, either in L.A. or elsewhere, given the season he had. It may just be a one-year deal, but a $500,000 raise seems fair.
Wade Belak — Belak is a versatile player who can play the fighter role on a nightly basis. His ability to play both forward and defense make him a useful swing player, but he was rarely used by Barry Trotz in Nashville, and did not play any of the Predators' six playoff games against Chicago. Offseason: Belak might have to take a paycut from the $650,000 he made the last two seasons, but someone — probably not the Preds — should come calling for a big fighter who can play all over the ice if needed.
Dan Hamhuis — Hamhuis will be one of the big-ticket guys on the UFA market this season. He had just 24 points this year — and two assists in the playoffs — but can easily log more than 20 minutes a night and could be a top-pairing guy on many teams around the league. Offseason: The Preds won't be able to afford the big raise he's due after he made a reasonable $2.5 million this year, plus no team has stockpiled d-men quite like Nashville. On the market, Hamhuis could get $4 million a year or more on a multiyear deal.
Francis Bouillon — The long-time Canadien came back to Nashville — where he spent four games in 2002-03 — on a one-year, $750,000 deal. At more than 19 minutes a night for 81 games, it's safe to say Bouillon earned his coin. Offseason: Despite Nashville's aforementioned defensive depth, the Predators would probably like to have Bouillon back, and can probably get him at the same price or just slightly more.
Dan Ellis — When Ellis signed a two-year deal for a total of $3.5 million two offseasons ago, it was considered a steal around the league. Ellis had seized the Preds' No. 1 job and looked like a great find and bargain for Nashville. Enter Pekka Rinne. The Predators' hotshot netminder wrestled the job away from Ellis last season and didn't let go, leaving Ellis as a reasonably paid backup, not the bargain he once seemed. He didn't get a sniff in the playoffs. Offseason: He's going to be 30 this offseason and could be a good fit with a team that has a shaky goaltending situation, since he's shown he can be a No. 1. He will probably earn about the same money — $1.5 to 2 million annually — and get a better shot at being the top guy again.
Next week we'll tackle the Devils, Senators, Coyotes and Capitals/Canadiens.