With all due respect to Tie Domi and Todd Simpson, calling the remaining group of unrestricted free agents the Â“bestÂ” of anything is an overstatement, and then some.
The first week of free agency Â– the first couple days, really Â– saw all the big stars sign, as the likes of Rob Blake (Los Angeles) and Zdeno Chara (Boston) and Jason Arnott (Nashville) were snapped up quickly, leaving a second tier of UFAs still looking for work.
So, with the big names gone, NHL GMs are left to sort through the also-rans and hope to uncover an impact player at a bargain-basement price. Or, at least, a body that can capably fill a roster spot until a prospect is ready to step into the big time.
Here’s a look at who’s left:
Anson Carter: The Canucks finally find a winger who can figure out how to play with the Sedin twinsÂ…and then they don’t re-sign him. So, Carter’s comeback year (33 goals) puts him in a good position for free agency. The fact he remains unsigned is puzzling; when he’s on top of his game, he provides scoring punch and physical play.
Petr Sykora: It wasn’t so long ago that Sykora was a vital component on New Jersey’s top line that led the Devils to the Stanley Cup. Big and fast, and with a laser shot. After leaving Jersey for Anaheim, Sykora’s game fell off so much that the Ducks unloaded him last season to the New York Rangers, where the rest of the NHL’s Czech players call home. It turns out he misses Arnott and Patrik Elias more than they miss him, but Sykora still has the ability to play on a team’s top two lines.
Mark Recchi: He’s 38Â…but coming off a Stanley Cup with Carolina. He won’t be the 100-point producer he was in his heydayÂ…but he’s coming off a fifth straight 20-plus goal campaign. With 484 career goals, you gotta figure sparkplug winger is good for at least 16 more this season.
Eric Lindros: The irony is lost on no one that Lindros’s body, once his biggest asset, is now his biggest curse. The good news is, he didn’t miss any games last season due to the concussions that have plagued him the past several years. The bad news is, he banged his wrist, tore some tendons and missed the final 49 games of 2005-06. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another. He’ll likely end up back in Toronto, where he wants to play, if he agrees to sign for a million or less.
Mike Peca: After his worst regular season in the NHL Â– at least from October through February Â– Peca played a pivotal role in the Oilers’ post-season surge. If the playoff version is back, Peca is a steal of a two-way player who can skate, check, lead and score.
Viktor Kozlov: Offensively skilled, but the knock on him is that it sometimes appears like nobody’s home. He can dazzle for a shift or three, then disappear for a week. Still, he’s got enough game to help a low-scoring team.
Oleg Kvasha: See Kozlov, Viktor.
Jan Bulis: He was a healthy scratch at times last season, playing for Bob Gainey’s Canadiens. Then again, he scored four goals in a game, and a career-high 20 during what he called a Â“personal-bestÂ” season. Bulis is only 28, and could be a nice pickup as secondary scoring support. As John Lennon sang so eloquently: Â“All we are saying/is give Jan Bulis a chance.Â”
Richard Park: After establishing himself with the expansion Minnesota Wild, the two-way winger joined Vancouver last season and under-performed. So he became one of the many Canucks kicked to the curb, and he’s still waiting to be picked up. Look at it this way: he’s not going to be any worse than last year, and he may chip in 15 goals as a third-liner.
Jason Allison: Wonderful hands, great puck control, excellent vision and a superb passer. Allison can boost any power play in the league. But, yes, he is slow. And his 5-on-5 play, especially defensively, has been called into question. Oh yeah, there’s also a pretty daunting injury history (he played 66 games last season, which was quite acceptable). But anyone who can average close to a point per game will find a home in the NHL.
Other forwards of note: Radek Dvorak, Greg Johnson, Konstantin Koltsov, Jaroslav Svoboda and Martin Rucinsky.
Brian Leetch: He may be 38, but he’s still Brian Leetch. Rumors of a Rangers reunion have been floated.
Danny Markov: Still feisty after all these years. Remember Vladimir Â‘The Impaler’ Konstantinov? Markov is the poor man’s version.
Dick Tarnstrom: Remember Brian Leetch? Tarnstrom is the (very) poor man’s version.
Cale Hulse: Won’t be in the top four of any team’s blueline crew, but a serviceable depth defender who plays with an edge.
Radoslav Suchy: More skilled than his surname suggests.
Other defensemen of note: None, really, unless Eric Desjardins still has some gas in his 37-year-old tank. And who knows, maybe Rory Fitzpatrick can provide support to somebody’s blueline.
There’s Dominik Hasek and Ed Belfour, both of whom have been talking with the Red Wings Â– and both of who turn 42 before the playoffs. So, just maybe, there’s an injury concern with these future Hall of Famers.
They’re talking with Detroit because the Wings opted to get rid of Manny Legace, who provided great regular season work, but just couldn’t get it done in the playoffs. Surprisingly, Legace says he hasn’t had any teams come calling. Somebody should.
Another option, if only at backup, is Sebastien Caron, released by Pittsburgh.
And that’s about it for free agent players-of-impactÂ…unless you really believe Domi still has some fight left in him.
Sam McCaig’s From The Point appears every week during the season and bi-weekly during the off-season only on thehockeynews.com. Have a point to make with Sam McCaig? You can reach him at email@example.com.