By mid-August, the unrestricted free agent market has been ransacked like a Viking village.
But astute NHL GMs know there’s always a bargain or two still out there, ripe for the plucking.
In fact, here’s a whole team of yet-to-be signed UFAs who are worthy of a useful role in 2009-10:
Manny Fernandez – While Tim Thomas was earning a Vezina Trophy and denizens of new admirers, Fernandez quietly put up a 16-8-3 record and respectable 2.59 GAA and .910 save percentage. Injuries wiped out his 2007-08 season, but he had a good long run with the Wild and he’ll only be 35 this season. A reliable backup who could push for starting work.
Kevin Weekes – Backing up Martin Brodeur is like entering the NHL’s witness-protection program. And when your two years with the Devils were preceded by two years behind Henrik Lundqvist in New York, well, you might as well be wearing cement skates at the bottom of the Hudson River. Weekes is a forgotten man, but he also played 117 games for Carolina in the two seasons before the lockout. Oh ya, he’s also a fresh 34.
Martin Skoula – He’ll give you 20 minutes a night, 80 games a year. Like he has for an underrated decade. Offense? Not so much. But a dependable No. 4-5 defenseman. And he’ll turn 30 soon after the season starts.
Greg de Vries – Veteran works hard in his own zone. At 36, he should have one more two-year contract left in him.
Mathieu Schneider – He’s 40, if you can believe it, but whenever a team needs a power play quarterback at the trade deadline, they turn to Schneider.
Dennis Seidenberg – It’s taken him a while to get acclimatized, but he’s still only 28. And he set career highs with Carolina last season in games (70), goals (5), assists (25), points (30) and penalty minutes (37). Not to mention, a goal and six points in 16 playoff games.
Rhett Warrener – Shoulder surgery and various injuries kept Warrener out of the NHL last season and he played just 31 games in 2007-08. But not so long ago, this guy blocked shots like the lovechild of Brad Marsh and Dikembe Mutombo. Someone should roll the dice and see if he’s fit.
Chris Chelios – Old-time hockey, anyone?
Alex Tanguay – On paper, he’s the best of the rest. Concussion problems appear to be scaring off suitors, but he’s a five-time 20-plus goal-scorer and fired two goals in a Stanley Cup Game 7. He’s only 29 and had 41 points in 50 games for Montreal last season.
Todd Bertuzzi – He wanted to return to Calgary, but the Flames have moved on. And Big Bert said he battled through knee problems last season; he insists he’s all better now. Which, of course, he has to say as an August UFA, but it’s not hard to envision 20 goals and 60 points.
Mike Comrie – He could help almost any team as a supplementary scorer and playmaker, as long as he’s willing to take a pay cut from the $4 million he “earned” last season.
Petr Sykora – He won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh last season, even if his biggest contribution was sitting on the sidelines in the final and making sure Marc-Andre Fleury remained focused. But he’s only 32 and riding 10 straight 20-plus goal seasons. Surely, there’s a little left.
Robert Lang – Who knew the Canadiens would tank it after Lang went down last season? But the timing of Montreal’s downfall and Lang’s Achilles’ heel (tendon, actually) synchs up. Need a quiet 20 goals and 50 points? Lang’s your man.
Maxim Afinogenov – There was a time when they whispered “the next Pavel Bure” about this guy. That time is past, but he’s the type of second-chance player the Wings usually sign – and then ends up potting 30. Get him cheap and hope for the payoff.
Marcel Goc – A speedy penalty-killer who’s only 25. He’s been a Sharks regular for four years, so you know he can play.
Dominic Moore – From waivers to the second line, Moore made the most of his Maple Leafs experience last season (12 goals, 41 points in 63 games). It didn’t go quite as smoothly after being dealt to Buffalo (one goal, four points in 18 games), but he’s proven his worth as a depth center who can check or step into a more offensive role.
Manny Malhotra – A good fit for the third line, if you’re looking for offensive production and defensive reliability.
Tomas Plihal – He finally got some decent time in San Jose last season, but the Sharks decided to part ways with the 26-year-old.
Boyd Devereaux – He’s not going to score very often, but he’ll give you everything he has in heart and hustle.
Rob Niedermayer – He’s big, he’ll hit and he’ll win faceoffs. Plus, whatever team signs him might eventually be able to lure Scott, too. (Not really, but dare to dream.)
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