Martin Biron posted a .918 save percentage and 2.59 goals-against average and guided the Flyers to the Eastern Conference final. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
My associate Adam Proteau deemed the Atlantic Division the second-best in the NHL and who am I to disagree? Other than the Islanders, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see any of the Flyers, Rangers, Penguins or Devils atop the division (or conference, even) when all is said and done.
While the Atlantic features several top contenders, it’s also home to a healthy array of players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, 2009. Here’s an examination of the three best UFAs from each of the division’s teams. Click HERE to view my countdowns from the NHL’s other five groupings.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Brian Gionta ($4 million 2008-09 salary)
Production has dipped over the past two seasons, but – even if he falters in ’08-09 – his near-50-goal campaign coming out of the lockout bodes well for his wallet.
John Madden ($2.9 million)
It sure doesn’t seem like it, but Madden will be 36 come July 1, meaning he’ll have to settle for a one- or two-year deal.
Johnny Oduya ($600,000)
When many thought the Devils’ blueline would fall apart, the Stockholm native was there to help keep it together.
Other ’09 UFAs – Bobby Holik, Mike Rupp, Kevin Weekes.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Mike Comrie ($4 million)
He shouldn’t be confused as a No. 1 center, but the 27-year-old is a solid second option up the middle.
Bill Guerin ($4.5 million)
He’ll be 38 next summer, so his years of 20-goal production are nearly done.
Mike Sillinger ($2.3 million)
Will a 13th NHL team come calling?
Other ’09 UFAs – Andy Hilbert, Joey MacDonald, Doug Weight.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Dmitri Kalinin ($2.1 million)
I was surprised he only got a one-year deal this summer. A big year on Broadway will land him wads of dough in ’09, though.
Paul Mara ($1.95 million)
Can you believe Paul Mara is only 28? Don’t look for him to improve on his one-goal, 17-point campaign as he’ll be hard-pressed to get PP time this season.
Pat Rissmiller ($1 million)
Former Shark will be out to prove he can score like his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame suggests he should.
Other ’09 UFAs – Colton Orr, Thomas Pock, Stephen Valiquette, Blair Betts.
Martin Biron ($3.5 million)
Will battle the Wild’s Niklas Backstrom for the honor of top UFA goalie in 2009.
Mike Knuble ($2.8 million)
The big right winger will turn 37 three days after becoming a free man, but he’s missed only 18 games over the past four seasons. He’s still good for at least 20 goals.
Antero Niittymaki ($1.375 million)
With a goals-against average under 3.00 and a save percentage over .900, he’ll easily find a home as a backup somewhere.
Other ’09 UFAs – Lasse Kukkonen, Ossi Vaananen, Derian Hatcher.
Petr Sykora ($2.75 million)
The 31-year-old put up totals he hadn’t seen since the early part of the century in ’07-08. He can’t do it alone (he never could), but he certainly belongs in a top-six role.
Miroslav Satan ($3.5 million)
Bigger and slower than Sykora, he’ll give you identical production if all else remains equal.
Hal Gill ($2.1 million)
Brought over from the Leafs at the deadline, Gill was a solid presence in the playoffs. Every team needs a good stay-at-home guy.
Other ’09 UFAs – Kris Beech, Ruslan Fedotenko, Dany Sabourin, Rob Scuderi, Darryl Sydor, Jeff Taffe.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Fridays.
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