Inquirer Daily News
All-UFA Team: The best of the leftovers

By Dan Di Sciullo
NHL Editor


Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Despite his surprisingly deliberate search for a new team, Ilya Kovalchuk is still gaining headlines as the top free agent left on the NHL's open market.

While it's certainly shocking that we are two weeks into hockey's signing season and the uber-talented Russian winger has not yet decided on a new home, it should also be noted that Kovalchuk is far from the only recognizable unrestricted free agent left to be had.

Kovalchuk would clearly head the list of any All-Free Agent team, but, for our purposes here, we'll pretend that Kovalchuk has already signed.

First off, his value right now is so much higher than any other available player that including him on our team would qualify as a no-brainer. Secondly, so much has already been said about Kovalchuk this summer that I think we are all suffering from a severe case of "Kovi fatigue". Whether he lands in New Jersey, LA, St. Petersburg or elsewhere, at this point there is really nothing left to say about the guy that hasn't already been stated dozens of times over.

With the requisite Kovalchuk talk out of the way, let's take a look at some big free agents that have flown under the radar this summer.

LEFT WING

ALEXANDER FROLOV

Like Kovalchuk, Frolov is a talented left winger who should just be entering the prime of his career. Unlike his countryman, Frolov has been dogged by criticism concerning his consistency and his frequent offensive dry spells. Still, while it's clear Frolov is no Kovalchuk, the 28-year-old did manage to produce 168 goals and 381 points in seven seasons with the Los Angeles Kings. He also notched 32 goals in 2008-09 before disappointing with just 19 tallies in 81 games last year for the Kings.
Alexander Frolov has been dogged by criticism concerning his consistency and his frequent offensive dry spells.
Frolov's lapses in production are a big reason the Kings are in the Kovalchuk race to begin with, but perhaps a fresh start with a new club could do the former first-round draft pick a world of good. It remains to be seen whether Frolov's new home will be in North America or back home in the Kontinental Hockey League.

RIGHT WING

TEEMU SELANNE

Even though he recently turned 40, Selanne's age shouldn't prevent him from producing should he decide to come back for an 18th NHL campaign in 2010-11. But it's hard to determine if "The Finnish Flash" is a true free agent or if he will only re-sign with Anaheim, the city he's called home for the last five seasons. With Selanne's countryman Saku Koivu signed for two more years, Selanne will likely only consider offers from the Ducks, who are in a transitional phase but still have use for this future Hall of Famer. Selanne has played in just 145 games over the last three seasons, but has produced an impressive 125 points (66 goals, 59 assists) over that span. Bill Guerin is another right wing option who is also 40 years old. The American had 21 goals and 24 assists for Pittsburgh last year and, unlike Selanne, Guerin has shown that he is open to signing with just about anybody who is interested.

CENTER

MIKE MODANO

The highest-scoring U.S.-born player in NHL history still may opt for retirement, but if he does return for the 2010-11 campaign it won't be for the Dallas Stars -- the franchise he's been a part of since being selected first overall by the Minnesota North Stars in 1988. Modano, 40, saw his minutes dwindle the last few years in Dallas, but he still managed a decent 14 goals and 30 points while playing in just 59 games during an injury-plagued 2009-10 season. Detroit has expressed interest in signing Modano, as have the Minnesota Wild, who would certainly give their fans a thrill if they could lure the future Hall of Famer back to the Twin Cities. Perhaps a return to the North Star State could rejuvenate his career, but if he is dogged by injuries once again then it would clearly be time to call it a career.

DEFENSEMEN

WILLIE MITCHELL

Mitchell's 2009-10 season ended in January when he suffered a concussion, and the 33-year-old has yet to resume skating. Still, his combination of size, skill and responsible play make him the best all-around defenseman left on the open market. Mitchell had four goals, eight assists and was a plus-13 for Vancouver last season and the Canucks clearly missed his steady play on the back end in the playoffs this past spring. The only reason he is still available is because of his post-concussion symptoms, but if he makes a successful return to skating soon it won't take long for NHL suitors to come calling.

MARC-ANDRE BERGERON

Bergeron offers much more than Mitchell in the offensive zone, but his defensive lapses are a cause for concern. Despite playing in just 60 regular season games with Montreal last year, Bergeron still managed to post 13 goals and 34 points for the Canadiens and also added six points in 19 playoff games for the Habs. Bergeron's biggest asset is a terrific shot, which makes him a very valuable weapon on the power play. Still, Bergeron's deficiencies in his own zone prevent him from being a guy who can log tons of minutes for a contending team.

GOALTENDER

JOSE THEODORE

Many folks would place Marty Turco ahead of Theodore as the best goaltender available, but it's clear that Theodore has been the better backstop over the past few years. Theodore was Washington's main goaltender again last season, but for a second straight playoffs, head coach Bruce Boudreau opted to switch to Semyon Varlamov as the No. 1 guy early in the postseason. Boudreau's decision puzzled me the first time and made just about as much sense this past spring, but perhaps Theodore could do better on a team that has an interest in playing defense rather than simply blaming the goaltender when things go bad in the playoffs. To be fair, Theodore's stellar 62-24-12 record in his two regular seasons with Washington also had a lot to do with the Capitals' high- scoring offense, but at 33 years old, the former Hart Trophy and Vezina winner at least proved he can still carry the load for an NHL team.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.

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Dan Di Sciullo