Approaching mid-August, the NHL’s unrestricted free agent market has nearly been picked clean of quality talent, yet a few defensemen who would be good additions for teams seeking blueline depth remain available.
Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski recently listed Bryan McCabe, Scott Hannan and Chris Campoli amongst this summer’s unsigned veteran blueliners, along with Anton Stralman, Jeff Woywitka, Steve Staios and Nick Boynton.
Wyshynski noted Kevin Allen of USA Today considered McCabe the best of the bunch. He pointed out a shortage of offense-minded blueliners makes the 36-year-old more valuable, especially for teams looking for help on the power play.
That’s what the New York Rangers believed they’d get from McCabe when they acquired him from the Florida Panthers prior to last February’s trade deadline, but in his 19 regular season games with the Rangers, he managed only six points. While those all came with the man advantage, the Blueshirts were expecting more from McCabe.
Perhaps a better choice is Campoli, who had a strong finish following his trade from Ottawa to Chicago (seven points in 19 regular season games). The fact he’s only 27 also means he has the advantage of youth on his side.
Campoli became an unrestricted free agent when the Blackhawks walked away from his arbitration award last month. Six teams reportedly expressed interest in his services and a decision may be reached as early as this week.
Hannan, 32, split last season between Colorado and Washington and considering he has been a reliable defensive blueliner for most of his NHL career, it’s a surprise he’s still available.
However, Wyshynski noted Hannan’s “terrible, game-costing line change” in Game 2 of this past spring’s Eastern Conference semifinal between Washington and Tampa Bay, which perhaps partly explains why Hannan remains unsigned.
Whatever McCabe and Hannan end up getting in a contract, it will be considerably less than they’ve made in the recent past.
McCabe is coming off a five-year deal that paid an annual cap hit of $5.75 million, while Hannan just completed a four-year deal at $4.5 million per.
Meanwhile, Campoli just completed a one-year, $1.4 million deal and even at this late date he could still land something from $1.5-2 million for next season.
As for the other notables still available, their prospects of landing new NHL deals will prove more difficult.
Stralman, 25, is only one year removed from a career-best 34-point performance with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but last season he managed just 18 points. A telling stat is that he is a combined minus-28 over the past two seasons.
Woywitka, 27, has spent most of his career bouncing between the NHL and American League. He did play 63 games with Dallas last season, but it could be argued he got that much playing time because of the lack of depth on the Stars blueline.
Staios was for years considered a valuable, veteran leader with the Edmonton Oilers prior to his trade in 2010 to the Calgary Flames, but at 38, age and injuries have caught up with him.
Boynton, 32, was at one time considered a solid physical defenseman, but injuries have hampered his effectiveness and limited his playing time. He’s played on six teams since the NHL lockout.
Like McCabe and Hannan, Stralman ($1.95 million last season) and Staios ($2.7 million) will have to accept a significant pay cut if they want to play in the NHL next season.
Meanwhile, Woywitka ($650,000) and Boynton ($500,000) can forget about getting any significant pay raises to stay in the big league.
THE THIN RED LINE
As bare as the market is for blueliners, the forward pickings leave much to be desired.
Teemu Selanne, Chris Drury, Sergei Samsonov, Cory Stillman, John Madden, J-P Dumont and Mike Grier remain the most notable unsigned forwards.
Selanne is clearly the best of this group, but he’s also recovering from off-season knee surgery and recently told a Finnish newspaper he won’t make a decision on his future until September. If he does return next season, it’ll only be with the Anaheim Ducks.
Age, declining performance and injury histories are factors behind why the others are still looking for work.
The list of UFA goalies is even shorter, with Marty Turco, Ray Emery and Pascal Leclaire still available.
Emery recently accepted a training camp invitation from the Chicago Blackhawks, where it’s anticipated he’ll land the backup role. Turco and Leclaire, however, apparently haven’t received much interest from NHL clubs.
Last week, Turco’s agent claimed his client will play next season, but he didn’t specify where he would end up. Turco may have to sign with a European team at this late date if he hopes to continue his playing career.
The same goes for Leclaire, whose once-promising NHL career was hampered by a series of injuries. He rejected the notion of retirement this spring and it is expected he’ll sign with a European team in hopes of playing his way back to the NHL.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.