Hawks fans will miss goalie Nikolai Khabibulin if their goaltending goes awry this season. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
Free agency has been a fun ride so far, but sometimes you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone. Sometimes it’s the player who doesn’t re-sign who has one of the biggest impacts on the team he leaves, which may explain why Carolina GM Jim Rutherford rarely lets any of his charges out of the family.
But there has been attrition this summer already, so here’s a look at some players who may be missed by more than just the fans who bought their jerseys last year.
Greg Zanon, D – Formerly of Nashville, now a member of the Minnesota Wild. Zanon is one of those quietly effective players who may not be known by fans outside his market, but is definitely known by fellow NHLers. Zanon’s 237 blocked shots will be missed in Nashville, as will his overall physical and responsible play. It’s too easy to make fun of the “new” Minnesota brain trust for upgrading on defense ahead of offense, but you can’t knock the team for bringing Zanon in.
Nikolai Khabibulin, G – Once a Blackhawk, now an Oiler. On paper, Chicago is a Stanley Cup contender this year, except in one glaring category: goaltending. Cristobal Huet is officially the go-to guy finally, but that’s not necessarily the best news for Hawks fans. The 33-year-old French national has still yet to win a playoff series and he’ll definitely be expected to do so next summer. Khabibulin may have a lot of miles on the odometer, but he makes the Oilers better and the Hawks look a little sketchy come April.
Ian Laperriere, RW – Ex-member of the Avalanche joins the Flyers. Colorado hasn’t made a lot of popular moves lately and letting ‘Lappy’ walk out the door has to be near the top of the list. A great character guy who stuck up for teammates and played hard, Laperriere will be loved by Flyers fans. And if new Avs GM Greg Sherman thinks David Koci is Laperriere’s replacement simply because Koci fights, he’s got a long way to go as an NHL exec.
Hal Gill, D – Used to be in Pittsburgh, heading to Montreal. Considering the Penguins just won the Stanley Cup, it’s natural to expect some losses from the ranks and so far GM Ray Shero has done pretty well in keeping the team together. But Gill was an excellent penalty-killer thanks to his albatross-like reach. Not only that, but his 6-foot-7 frame discouraged opponents from taking too many liberties with the Pens’ skill players, even if Gill isn’t known for his snarl. Whether he thrives in Montreal remains to be seen, but Gill will be missed in Pittsburgh.
Kyle Quincey, D – Briefly a King, now heads to the Avalanche. Quincey was actually dealt by Los Angeles to Colorado as part of the Ryan Smyth trade, along with Tom Preissing. To me, this deal was incredibly strange if you’re a Kings fan. Quincey was a revelation for L.A. last season, putting in major minutes on a young blueline and proving he was basically a victim of depth in Detroit. With Quincey and Preissing gone, the Kings have an even greener defense corps than they did last season (even with the addition of Rob Scuderi), which is almost impressive in that it seems impossible. As he did in L.A., Quincey will quickly prove in Colorado that his former team gave up on him too soon.