Free Agent Defensemen & the Devils: Adrian Aucoin & Jordan Leopold

The Calgary Flames are in a bit of spot when it comes to their free agents this summer.  According to NHL Numbers, they have already committed about $47 million to the cap, which even if it does't drop, it's only $8 million available for 10 UFAs and 3 RFAs.   Basically, some current Flames won't be able to return and that could include two of their top 4 on defense from this past season.   Kent W. at Matchsticks and Gasoline sums it all up real well.  While I agree it won't be a massive makeover like the Canadiens could/will be facing; at least one of these two defensemen - Adrian Aucoin and Jordan Leopold - will be available.  Given how they have played, they both are interesting options as potential signings for the New Jersey Devils.

Let's start with the veteran, Adrian Aucoin.


Adrian Aucoin

#33 / Defenseman / Calgary Flames

6-2

212

Jul 03, 1973

2008-09 Salary: $4 million



GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Adrian Aucoin 81 10 24 34 -8 46 3 0 3 0 126 7.9

While Aucoin isn't getting any younger, he's still a very viable option for the Devils. He's a two way defender and his production is quite intriguing.  The scouting report at his player page lists that he doesn't shoot enough anymore.  OK, he's not dropping 175-200 shots on goal like he did in his time with the Islanders; but the point production has been very consistent when healthy.  Every season where he would have played 70 or more games, he's had at least 8 goals and 34 points.  

Mind you, those numbers would have made Aucoin 8 goals would have made him the leading scorer on the Devils this season among defensemen.

Aucoin has spent this last season averaging 22:17 per game on Calgary and has faced the many of the opponent's top players in the process.  Behind the Net's even strength numbers on Aucoin are pretty solid relative to Calgary: second best quality of competition rating, his CORSI is at a remarkable 13.3, and the shots against per 60 minutes value does go down when Aucoin is on the ice - a change from 26.4 to 25.1.  Not a big change, but that tells me that he's been helpful in his own end.  

Oddly enough, the goals for and against per 60 minutes are not what I would have expected.  Calgary apparently scores more goals per 60 minutes and lets up fewer goals per 60 minutes when Aucoin is off the ice.  In terms of goals for, Aucoin on the ice drops the value from 3.05 to 2.62.  In terms of goals against, Aucoin on the ice raises that value slightly from 2.66 to 2.72.   I openly wonder if this has anything to do with who he paired with, as his quality of teammates rating is the second highest on the team (Stud Dion Phanuef leads in that category). 

Regardless, the points don't lie and I don't think Keenan would give anyone 20+ minutes unless they can defense.   Since the Devils could use a two-way defenseman who can put up points, doesn't take very many penalties, and can take a mean slapshot, signing Aucoin would be a good idea.   While the scouting report notes his skating ability and aggressiveness as issues; I don't feel they would be deal breaking.  Aucoin can be paired with someone who is aggressive (e.g. Colin White).  Unless Aucoin is Hal Gill-slow, how much of an issue could it be? Given that the Devils skaters are taught to help out in backchecking and returning to position, it may be something that could be adjusted for his spot on the team. 

Ultimately, if you feel that the Devils need a defender who can put up points, then Aucoin is a good option.  He fits that need and he's not a liability in his own zone.  However, there are two issues I have from outright saying that the Devils should go after Aucoin.

The first is his age. He's going to turn 36 just after free agents can sign.  I openly wonder if he can remain as productive at both ends as he gets older. Will this be the year his skills diminish? Will he become more prone to injury?  If he has to play less minutes, that's fine I think he can be set up on the second pairing and get 18-19 minutes a night without a problem.  All this means is that signing Aucoin will definitely not involve a long term deal and it makes him a bit of a risk to sign.  You can say that all signings are a risk; but in the contest of talent vs. time - time always wins.  Again, it's something to keep in mind.

The second is, of course, the money.  He made $4 million per year since the lockout and given what he does, perhaps he has justified it. You'd have to ask a follower of the Flames about that, really.  Yet, I don't think this is a case like Christian Backman where you're looking at what he has done and you're wondering how in the hell he got paid so much.   Because of his age, perhaps he can be had for under $4 million.   Yet, I don't think he'll be looking for a deal where he'll get paid too much less and that could force a tough decision for the Devils.  Do the Devils use that money for a short term deal with Aucoin, or do they spend it on someone who can be a Devil for more than a few years without a serious risk of diminishing returns.   I mean, $4 million could be spent on Oduya, Komisarek, and the other Flame to be reviewed today.

That all said, Aucoin for 1 or 2 years at $3 million as a stop gap offensive defenseman solution could be a shrewd move.  If Aucoin still has "game" at ages 36 and 37 and can put up 30+ points, then he's fit the need very well. 

The other option from Calgary is a younger, two way defenseman, Jordan Leopold.


Jordan Leopold

#40 / Defenseman / Calgary Flames

6-1

200

Aug 03, 1980

2008-09 Salary: $1.5 million



GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Jordan Leopold 83 7 17 24 -15 24 1 0 1 1 107 6.5


Leopold started out his career with Calgary for three seasons and then moved onto Colorado. In this past season, he was traded back to Calgary as part of a deal involving a draft pick and two players. (I think it also led to that 83 games played number)  Kent at Matchsticks and Gasoline was happy about the trade and noted that he worked well the defensive defenseman, Robyn Regher.  He also noted that Leopold has struggled with injuries, a bit of a laundry list of ones can be seen at his player page.  But he was healthy all of last season, so I'm not particularly worried.

As far as his game goes, he's generally a second pairing defenseman.  He averaged 18:48 per game last season and when he got to Calgary, as I understand it, he went right to the second pairing with Regehr.  Based on that, I think  Leopold can drop into the #3/#4 spot without issue.  Based on what else I read about his game, I think he would be an improvement over Mike Mottau.

One the strengths on the scouting report catches my eye: he's strong on clearances and transitions.  Given how the Devils got eliminated in Game 7, one cannot overstate the importance of a good clearance.  It's not sexy, it's not a highlight move, and they can only add to the team being pinned back at times - but it is a good skill to have.  I also wonder if by transition game that includes breakouts because the Devils could really benefit if they have someone to lead those rushes.  Johnny Oduya does this well...sometimes. While the Devils enjoyed plenty of success dumping it in and grinding opponents out along the boards for the puck; Leopold can provide a different dimension in their offensive approaches.  Even if that just means transitions, well, hey, more counter-attacks aren't a bad thing.

In terms of what Behind the Net's even strength numbers have on Leopold, I'd take them with a grain of salt.  Leopold was on an awful Colorado team for most of the season and that has skewed his numbers. The goals against per 60 minutes for when Leopold gets on the ice jumped from 2.62 to 3.11.  Yet, the shots against per 60 minutes decreases from 26.2 to 25.1 when Leopold gets on the ice; and the goals for per 60 minutes does increase from 2.20 to 2.42.  Though, his quality of competition rating was very low  - the lowest among regular Flames.  Still, with 62 games in Colorado, it doesn't really tell me whether Leopold contibuted or tookaway from the defense when he was on the ice.

That all said, Leopold's numbers aren't as great as Aucoin's.  OK, he's way better at staying out of the box than Aucoin, but that really isn't saying too much.   Does he put up some points? Yeah.  He hasn't hit his best offensive season, 2003-04, though.  Leopold put up not only his most goals (9) and points (33), but also shots (138).  I think he could stand to shoot a bit more.   He did that in this past season with 107 shots, so he's getting there.  That said, I don't like reading about offensive potential for a soon-to-be-29 year old defenseman.   If the issues were about decision making or handling his aggression, those can be improved over time.  I doubt potential can be realized just shy of 30, so I don't think Leopold would fit the need of an offensive defenseman. 

Yes,  He has talents that would certainly help; but the lack of production is what is really concerning.   In terms of money, while I think Leopold will get a raise - it's not going be a substantial one.   His injury history along with this lack of proven production could keep that price down - and make him more attractive financially for the Devils.  Though, if a team feels that they have what is needed to unlock this offensive potential; then forget about.  Still, I feel Leopold won't get much more than $2.5 million unless there is something about him I completely missed.

Between the two, I am actually more in favor of the Devils going after Aucoin than Leopold.  Leopold could be had for a longer term deal and go right in that second pairing option.  Yet Aucoin has the history of production and for me, that cannot be emphasized enough.   The Devils don't have any defensemen where you can say this guy can produce and haven't had any since Brian Rafalski.  While Leopold may have the potential, Aucoin actually has done it before and in recent seasons with Calgary. Granted, he may not be able to fill it for very long; but I'm confident that Aucoin would fill the need for an offensive defenseman.  I don't have that same confidence about Leopold.

Do I think Aucoin should be the primary target for an offensive defenseman? Not yet, but he should be considered.  Maybe you have some thoughts on these two defensemen that you'd like to share.  Would you like Aucoin in Devils red or do you think there is a better option? Maybe you know more about how well (or how poorly) Leopold did in Calgary.   Have your say in the comments below.

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