With a month and a half of NHL free agency gone, there remain a surprising number of quality players still available. Regular readers will recall Scott Lewis’s great series on UFA bargain hunting, and a surprising number of players are still available from his lists:
- Goaltenders: Manny Legace, Vesa Toskala, Jose Theodore and Ray Emery are all still available. The problem here is that most teams already have their tandems locked up, and Europe/retirement might be the final destination for at least one or two of these guys when next season rolls around.
- Defence: Scott listed five players, and all five are still waiting for a contract. Jay McKee, Nick Boynton, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Garnet Exelby and Lukas Krajicek aren’t standouts but any of them could be helpful in a defined role. Other players of similar calibre – Randy Jones, Paul Mara, Shane Hnidy and Aaron Johnson, to name four – are also worth considering.
- Centre: Half of Scott’s list has been signed, but two players still remain: Mike Comrie, last seen as a winger inexplicably demoted to Edmonton’s fourth line, and Eric Belanger, who is just as valuable as Scott says he is. I’d expect both to catch on somewhere, but I don’t expect either to get particularly lucrative contracts. I’m also curious to see if older players like Doug Weight, Robert Lang and Brendan Morrison get deals.
- Wingers: Miroslav Satan, Fernando Pisani, Jon Sim, Marek Svatos and Alex Tanguay all made Scott’s list, and only Sim and Tanguay have been signed. Satan could be useful in a specialized offensive role, Pisani in a specialized defensive role, and Svatos to any team that can handle a small forward. Seriously – prior to scoring 11 points this past season, Svatos had never scored fewer than 30 in four previous years.
Aside from Scott’s lists, there are a few other players who have managed to squeak through the cracks to date, and in alphabetical order I’m going to look at some of them:
- Kim Johnsson: Splendid defenceman who will have to take a pay cut to stay in the NHL.
- Paul Kariya: Came back from an injury-filled 2008-09 with a subpar campaign. Still, he’d be a handy top-six forward and a guy who might be undervalued at this point in his career.
- Ilya Kovalchuk: Seemingly the only hockey story left.
- Jere Lehtinen: Technically on the list, but I’m guessing it’s Dallas or retirement for the capable two-way forward.
- Clarke MacArthur: Assuming he doesn’t hold out for the money he was awarded in arbitration, he should be in the NHL next season.
- Willie Mitchell: He’s had offers; the Red Wings, Sharks, Canucks and perhaps half a dozen other teams have all been rumoured as destinations at one point or another. Mitchell is a quality shutdown defenceman, and right now seems likely to be had for less than I would have thought at the beginning of the summer, and probably less than he’s worth.
- Fredrik Modin: He’ll turn 36 next season and I’m not sure a decent playoffs was enough to keep teams interested after disastrous/injury-filled campaigns. If I were an NHL G.M. I’d look at him on the cheap; if I were Modin I’d probably find more money in Europe than in North America.
- Antti Niemi: Pretty hard to ignore the Blackhawks’ former goaltender here. Skill-wise, I’m not convinced he’s a huge upgrade on Emery or Theodore but he did win a Cup last year and that’s going to make the difference. He just may have to settle for a 1B role, given the lack of spots available.
- Owen Nolan: Still a useful NHL player, as he showed in Minnesota each of the past two seasons. He adds grit and NHL experience, and I think he’ll get another deal despite his age.
- Patrick O’Sullivan: Good player coming off a disastrous season where virtually every part of his game was questioned. I think he’ll be forced to sign at a bargain basement rate and that whoever inks him looks really smart by the end of 2010-11.
- Lee Stempniak: A third-line forward who started scoring goals like crazy in Phoenix, Stempniak deserves another NHL contract. That said, if he ends up getting paid to score goals, some team is going to be disappointed.
- Petr Sykora: Worse players currently have NHL contracts, but I’m guessing he ends up in Europe.
- Raffi Torres: There was a big difference between his play in Columbus and his play in Buffalo; he’s a useful piece for some team’s third line.
- Jason Williams: Despite a bad year, he’s still a useful player. I’d bet he gets a job somewhere in a specialized role at a discount rate.
And at this point there are many, many others still available (full list from CapGeek.com). I’d like to pose a question to our readers: who do you like, and where do you see them signing?