Former Islander Watch takes a look at the Top 10 FI Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs). Islanders who are on the current roster but not signed to a contract (i.e. Dubie, Satan, Vasicek) were not considered for this list. Therefore the list consists of extant FIs. With that said, this list is rather paltry as the availability of high-quality FIs has taken a nosedive in recent due to a wave of long-term contract signings. Here are the Top 10 starting with number 1:
* No. 1 - Martin Straka (LW) - Despite being hampered by injuries this last season, Straka was an offensive force for much of the season for the New York Rangers. Straka really turned it on in the playoffs as the Rangers again stalled in the 2nd Round. During the regular season Straka played in 65 games recording 41 points on 14 goals and 27 assists. In the playoffs, Straka had 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) on 10 games. If he has completed recovered from his injuries Straka will be a hot commodity around the league. When he is on Straka provides nearly a point per game in offensive contribution and is especially good at setting up powerplay goals.
* No. 2 - Michael Peca (C) - For all the criticism about inconsistency, Peca had a strong showing playing nearly a full season for the first time since 2005-06. More of a defensive offenseman (2 time Selke Award winner), Peca pitched in with 34 points (8 goals, 26 assists) on 65 games. Peca had a strong showing on the lowest scoring team in the NHL managing a -1 rating and 11 powerplay helpers. Peca should pique the interest of a handful of teams looking for a solid 2nd or 3rd line center with plenty of leadership experience.
* No. 3 - Alexei Yashin (C) - Despite the fact that Yashin will be cashing paychecks from the Isles for years he will not undersell himself to anybody. With that understood, there are NHL teams (ahem... Minnesota) who would be interested in procuring the help of Yashin if the price is right. Yashin had a good season in Russia (Yaroslavl) notching 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists) on 56 games, winning the MVP award of the Russian League. (How do you win MVP with less than a point per game, huh? Really people!) Anyway, Yashin could slither his way back to the NHL. Then again, maybe not.
* No. 4 - Stephen Valiquette (G) - The list gets kind of dodgy from here on out. Prior to this season the 30 year old professional AHLer had never played a full season. He impressed with his work as the backup for New York Rangers goalie Henrik "the Bum" Lundqvist. Vali played in 13 games compiling a 5-3-3 record with a slim 2.19 goals against average, a healthy .916 save percentage and 2 shutouts. Nothing is for sure about his future but Valiquette could attract interest from teams looking for a solid, yet unproven 2nd stringer. Oh, and the price should be very affordable.
* No. 5 - Randy Robitaille (C/LW) - As part of the goodbye Yashin party following last season, Robitaille jumped ship and joined him in Yaroslavl. Robby did not stay long (14 games) before procurring a position with the at-the-time mighty Ottawa Senators. Robitaille had a spotty season with the Sens bouncing from first line to second line owing to a number of injuries. At times he was flashy and others trashy. On 68 games he recorded 10 goals and 19 assists for 29 points, unspectacular considering he had recorded 40 points only the season before. But Robitaille has always been a touch-and-go kind of forward and should find work on a second or third line with some team, we think.
* No. 6 - Bryan Smolinski (C) - Yes, Smolinski wants to keep playing. Yes, he has expressed interest in staying with the Montreal Canadiens. We will see how that works out. Simply put, Smoke was unspectacular last season for the Habs notching only 25 points (8 goals, 17 assists) on 64 games, a 19 point drop from the prior season. Add to that his completely absence following the first three games of the playoffs (3 points from 1 goal and 2 assists on 12 games) and Smolinski is a potential liability wherever he ends up. Smoke still wants to play, we will see if anybody wants to give this seasoned professional that opportunity.
* No. 7 - Jim Dowd (C) - Late this season Jim Dowd got a lot of press: the old man on the resurgent Philadelphia Flyers playing only hours away from his home town in Brick, New Jersey blah blah blah. Whatever. The truth of the matter is that Dowd is a 10-point-per-season grinder who will eat about 13 minutes a game for any team. He had 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) on 73 games last season for the Fly a whopping 2 point improvement over his previous season's output. Dowd is definitely aging (he will be 40 in December), but he can be a scrappy and solid 4th line center for a team looking for experience from an obscure Stanley Cup winner (1994-95 New Jersey Devils).
* No. 8 - Dick Tarnstrom (D) - There was a time when Swede Dick Tarnstrom had turned his back on the NHL, then opportunity struck again with the Edmonton Oilers. By the midway point of the season the 2nd honeymoon with the Oil was over and Tarnstrom landed in the barren wasteland that is Columbus. However, Tarnstrom did show some flashes of offensive ability and may have secured himself a payday come July 1. Tarnstrom struggled managing only 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists) on 29 games with Edmonton before notching 9 points (2 goals, 7 assists) on only 19 games with the Blue Jackets. A one-time 52 point scorer, we here at FIW are sure that Tarnstrom will secure NHL employment next season, we are just not that excited about this rapidly aging Scandinavian.
* No. 9 - Eric Godard (RW) - Godard scored a goal last year! Yay! Not know for any offensive ability, toughman Godard is free to go where his muscle will take him after a season and a fraction with the Calgary Flames. Godard played 74 games last season after an injury-shortened 2006-07 campaign. He recorded 1 goal and 1 assist for 2 points while racking up 171 penalty minutes. His kind of toughness is always a commodity and a few teams will come knocking at his door. However, the salary might not be so hearty.
* No. 10 - Arron Asham (RW) - In New Jersey anonymity is easy to maintain. But when people are asking where you went because you cannot find a scoresheet, that is a different story. Asham's first since with the Devils was full of woe as he suffered two cold streaks (23 games and 19 games) failing to pot points in over half the season with those droughts alone. In the end, Asham managed only 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists) on 77 games. Now we know Jersey is offensively starve but those numbers are just anorexic. A 13 point drop from the prior season, the tough Asham could be in real danger of not finding work in the NHL next season. We hope he makes it somewhere, but that might be a tough sell.
Thanks for reading. We will have more UFA news and updates as they happen. The trade window opens July 1 and we will be updating as rapidly as we can as we almost certainly watch a new litter of FIs being born.