With all of the big new contracts signed this year, there are a lot of players with big shoes to fill. There are a lot of players with a new responsibility to be "the guy" for their respective clubs. There are a lot of players that need to step it up this season and show why they were worth the big bucks that their teams threw at them.
So which players are actually going to live up to those big bucks, and be "the guy"? It's hard to say just yet, but let's look at the guys to be watching when the puck drops this October.
Continued from Part 1:
4. Scott Hannan - Colorado
. Scott Hannan isn't a guy that you will notice on the score-sheet every game, unless you look at minutes logged. He is accustomed to playing a lot of big minutes, and playing against teams top lines. He has never been a minus player in his NHL career, his worst being an even rating in 02-03. His job will be done if he can shut down the other teams top scoring units, and put up around 30 points and a plus rating. He will be a good compliment for John-Michael Liles (his most likely partner), an offensive specialist.
Verdict: Scott is a great pickup by the Avs. The length of the deal makes sense for both sides. The money may be slightly much compared to what a player like Hannan would normally make, but with the available defensemen this off-season, it was necessary to lock him up. The only thing about this deal is, Hannan may not be the guy to lead the young Colorado defensive group. He will do his thing and do it well, but I'm not sure that he is the #1 guy to build around, which is probably what the Avalanche are hoping he will be. They have never truly replaced Rob Blake and Adam Foote, so while Hannan is a great #2 guy, he can't replace what those other two guys brought. I would have liked the Avs to make a pitch for someone else in addition to Hannan, because if their defense can hold up, the could make some serious noise this season.
5. Paul Kariya - St. Louis
. This one is pretty simple. Kariya is a seven time All-Star, has won two Lady Byngs, has over a point per game over his career, is usually a plus player (+/-) and has been back on his game since the lockout. He has great speed, amazing hands, and a great shot. When on his game, there are few more dangerous offensive players in the game today. Kariya is the type of player that isn't just a great player, he makes the players around him better every shift. Once he left Anaheim he seemed to disappear, but don't let that fool you, he is still a big-game player.
Verdict: A no-brainer, great pick-up by the Blues, exactly what they needed. He will continue to put up big numbers as he has in the past. He truly is going to be "the go-to-guy" when it comes to the Blues offense this year. He is established, and a player that a lot of teams would have loved to have had this off-season. One of the best signings this summer. It is a good length (three years), although I would have liked it a little better if it was $5 million instead of $6 million per season.
6. Kimmo Timonen - Philadelphia
. Last season the Flyers had an absolutely awful defense corps. Their top guys were an aging group of immobile d-men that don't exactly fit what the new NHL was going for. The Flyers recognized that issue and realized that they needed a big-game, offensive, puck moving defensemen to be the cornerstone of what will soon be a very young group of defenders (with guys like Parent, Picard, Coburn and Kukkonen). The list of impending UFA's to fill that role was limited; Timonen, Souray, Schneider and Rafalski were the top names out there. Schneider was too old to sign to a long term deal (which is what the Flyers wanted, a long deal), and Souray is great offensively, but his defensive capabilities are sometimes questionable. That left the Flyers with the option of going after Timonen or Rafalski. Timonen is a terrific skater, can rush the puck, quarterback the PP, will put up 50 points a season, and is dependable on his own side of the rink. He is a little smaller than some would like a #1 defenseman to be, but he can hold his own. But almost the exact same thing can be said for Rafalski...
Verdict: The Flyers locked up Timonen for the next six years, at a high price, but the contract is heavily front-loaded which allows for some flexibility later on (only $3 million in the last year of the deal). The numbers are a little high for what he may be worth ($8 million the next two seasons) but did the Flyers really have any choice? They needed a top defenseman, and there were not many available, they had to pounce on their opportunity. The one question mark that there is with Timonen is his very limited playoff experience (the one edge that Rafalski definitely has on him), although Kimmo is a good enough player that it should not be an issue. But I am split on this one. Just because of there being such a similar player out there in Rafalski that signed for less money (slightly less). Had Rafalski not been a UFA then I say great signing by Philly, they saw a need and addressed it in a competitive market. But I may have gone after Rafalski instead, after all he does have some Stanley Cup rings.
Also, just a note. The Flyers didn't give up on Pitkanen by signing Kimmo. Pitkanen is going to be just as good if not better than Timonen, (just not for a little while) and I'm sure the Flyers know that. But they are looking to make a run at the cup, and realized that they could not wait for Pitkanen to develop, they needed their #1 guy right now.
These are definitely not all of the guys to keep an eye on though this season who just earned themselves some juicy contracts. Watch out for Ladislav Nagy, Derek Roy, Nathan Hortan and Brian Rafalski as well. Nagy is a strong pick up for the Kings, who made some good signings this offseason, Roy and Horton are really hitting their respective strides in the league and could be in for great breakthrough seasons, and Rafalski, well...is Rafalski, just on a better team this year. He could make a big impact.