This year the free agency pool is thin on forwards with big names. Jaromir Jagr and Mats Sundin are in the mix, but they're not getting any younger and their best days are behind them. Marian Hossa is being shopped around by his agent, but his unpredictability and his high price tag make him a dangerous gamble for almost any team. For the most part, though, there are no superstars.
There are, however, some fairly solid players. Yesterday, James Mirtle posted a ranking of the free agents (including restricted ones) according to their points per sixty minutes of 5-on-5 play. What's extremely interesting about this list is the fact that three of the top four players are Avs.
Mats Sundin is top dog with 2.74 p/60, but immediately following him, in order, are Marek Svatos, Andrew Brunette and Wojtek Wolski. That's right. All three are above Jagr, Hossa, Rolston, Demitra and all the rest. When it comes to even strength play, the guys at the core of the Avs' offense are tough to beat.
Luckily, two of those three, Wolski and Svatos, are restricted free agents and will most likely re-sign for decent money and extended contracts. One might foresee Svatos choosing an arbitration hearing if the Avs try to low ball his obvious ability to score 30 goals a year, but hopefully the high of just being married will put him in a conciliatory mood.
But Brunette is free as a bird to negotiate with other teams, and the apparent unwillingness of the Avs to re-sign him ("resign" means to quit---there's a difference) means they could be losing one of the most productive 5-on-5 players available. It's not like he'd be easy to replace. Pavol Demitra is like 90 years old. Sean Avery and Martin Straka are out of the question. Nobody else in the top 15 guys are unrestricted or potentially affordable. So the Avs could easily lose a great 5-on-5 asset and have nothing comparable to show for it---pending a miraculous breakout by TJ Hensick, Chris Stewart or David Jones.
Unfortunately, it appears the Avalanche are banking on untested youth over proven ability. I guess that's the wager you have to make in this cruel salary cap world, but it's a shame Andrew Brunette has to be the victim of that harsh reality.