Who do you think of when you hear the term “mucker” or “grinder” or “team player”? I think of retired players such as Mike Ricci and Darren McCarty or current NHL’ers like Mike Knuble or Tomas Holmstrom. These guys go out onto the ice, play hard-nosed, in your face hockey, take major punishment in front of the net and chip in a few timely goals. They play their asses off, draw penalties (while serving a few) and they are the heart and soul of the team. Every club needs these guys in order to take some pressure off of the top units.
Currently, I can’t think of a single Avalanche player that fits this profile. T.J. Galiardi and David Jones have tried to fill that role, but neither can seem to pull it off very well. I suppose you could put Cody McLeod into the category, but he’s more of a “tough guy/enforcer” that can score. The Avs need some role players, guys that can chew up ice time and get on the score sheet every so often…
That being said, let’s take a look at four – yep, I said four – different “role players” that could be available July 1st…
This current Chicago Blackhawk is a 6’3”, 203lb., left winger from Ilava, Czechoslovakia. He was taken by Detroit in the second round (38th overall) of the 2000 draft and has played a full 5 seasons in the NHL. It seems that with each passing year, he gets better and better. In 81 games for Chicago this year, he had 15G, 27A, 60PIM & 77Hits. 13 of his 42 points came on the power play and he had 178 shots on net. This guy is not afraid to crash the net, rough it up in the corners and he can definitely score. Bonus fact: Chicago is unlikely to sign him again because they are up against the cap!
I don’t know about any of you, but I would LOVE to have this guy back. He is the ultimate team player – the type of guy that every club wants in their locker room. Yes, he is definitely aging (he’ll be 38 in August), but his production hasn’t dropped and he is as healthy as a horse – he has played all 82 games in 7 of his last 8 seasons. He is good for 20+ goals and 35+ assists every year, and he doesn’t spend a lot of time in the penalty box. Brunette is probably one of the smartest players in the league right now and he has unbelievable vision and remarkable hockey “sense”. Think they can pry him away from Minnesota again???
So, here’s another guy that’s getting pretty old in a young man’s sport, but he is definitely worth taking a chance on. He is a clutch player and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Much like Brunette, this 6’1”, 205lb. right winger would bring leadership and experience along with the ability to score. He is not afraid to mix it up down low and throws his weight around pretty well (96 hits this year). Even though Langenbrunner will be 36 this year, he has valuable Stanley Cup experience and I think he’s still worth a shot.
Of the 4 players I’m covering today, Upshall probably carries the most risk – he tends to be quite injury prone. Out of the last 6 seasons, he has only hit the 70 games-played mark twice (hmmm – sounds like the Avs may like him – ie: Tomas Fleischmann and Peter Mueller). On the flip side, when this 27 year old native of Ft. McMurray, Alberta, Canada plays, he can be a game changer. He had a pretty good year between Phoenix and Columbus, hitting the 82 game mark with a line of 22G, 12A, 54PIM & 108Hits. Upshall is a hard worker and, if he stays healthy, could be a great addition.
There you have it. Any one of these players could completely change the complexion of the Avalanche. These guys know what it means to fight for every inch of ice and will win the battles in the corners and in front of the net.
My next installment of ‘Free Agency Targets’ will cover pure goal scorers – snipers if you will. Enjoy!!!