The dust is starting to settle on free agency, yet there are still a number of notable veterans without contracts for the coming season. Where might the open market’s elder statesmen end up?
Since the opening of free agency, we’ve seen youngsters and tough guys inked to contracts. The same goes for those who’ve been bought out and players looking for a shot at suiting up in North America for the first time in years. But the one thing we haven’t seen, for better or worse, is a run on veteran players.
That’s not to suggest that no 35-plus players have earned themselves, because a fair number have. Most recently, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau inked brand new deals, while the likes of Mike Cammalleri, Justin Williams, Ron Hainsey, Chris Kunitz and Patrick Sharp have found new homes in free agency. Even with that list of signings, though, there are still a number of incredibly notable names left available when taking a peek into free agency, and a fair number of those fit into the 35-plus category.
From living legends to heart-and-soul types, skilled defensemen and savvy veteran rearguards, here are the 10 top veteran free agents still on the market, and a look at where they could land:
Jaromir Jagr, RW — Age: 45
2016-17: 16G, 30A, 46 Pts.
It’s somewhat surprising that the Panthers let Jagr walk, because it’s not as if the surefire Hall of Famer was struggling to put up points. He had 16 goals and 46 points this past season, playing in every single game for the injury-riddled Cats, and maintained second line minutes for the duration of the season. Yet, the decision was made for the Panthers to cut ties with Jagr, and that means he’s on the open market.
The best bet for Jagr at this point in his career would be to land somewhere where less is expected of him, though. If he can land somewhere where he can play third-line minutes, get trotted out on the power play and not be a focal point of the offense, that would be the ideal situation. Legend or not, Jagr’s career is beyond the back nine. He’s the guy pulling a few extra Titleists out of his bag to put around on the 18th green. Still, it’d be a shame for Jagr’s career to end this way, so here’s hoping he can find a suitable suitor.
Potential Destinations: Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights, Montreal Canadiens
Shane Doan, RW — Age: 40
2016-17: 6G, 21A, 27 Pts.
Did anyone see the Coyotes and Doan ever parting ways? He was the face of the franchise and synonymous with the club. He dotted the record book, was still wearing the ‘C’ in Arizona and it seemed as though he was destined to retire as a Coyote. Alas, Doan finds himself searching for a new home.
For Doan, that should mean one thing and one thing only: finding the best fit in the chase for a Stanley Cup. There are a number of teams who could be considered legitimate contenders, but Doan needs to find a club that has a willingness to bring him aboard to play a fourth-line role as a rough-and-tumble winger who can chip in here and there. He doesn’t have the gift of speed or pure scoring ability anymore, but Doan can still provide leadership and stability to a bottom-six. Those are qualities teams in the hunt for a title may be after. That is, if Doan doesn’t decide to retire.
Potential Destinations: Dallas Stars, Anaheim Ducks, Pittsburgh Penguins
Matt Cullen, C — Age: 40
2016-17: 13G, 18A, 31 Pts.
Cullen has absolutely nothing let to prove. The 40-year-old has shown over the past two seasons what some have known for years now, and that’s that he is vastly underrated for his ability at both ends of the ice. Cullen’s career has spanned more than 1,300 games, he has scored nearly 250 goals and he’s nearly a 700-point player. Add that to the three Stanley Cups he’s won, including back-to-back titles with the Penguins, and Cullen has a good enough resume to skate off into the sunset without a care in the world.
That said, given how well Cullen performed in the past post-season, it’s clear he still has something left in the tank. He scored two goals and nine points, was a monster in the faceoff circle and brought stability to the bottom of Pittsburgh’s roster. Any team would be lucky to have him if he’s willing to come in at the right price.
Potential Destinations: Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota Wild or retirement
Jarome Iginla, RW — Age: 40
2016-17: 14G, 13A, 27 Pts.
It feels wrong that Iginla has either finished up or will be entering into what could very well be his final season in the NHL without ever hoisting the Stanley Cup. He has come close, of course, getting all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2003-04, but Iginla has never actually been able to lift the trophy. But what better time than the present to take one final shot at it?
Iginla didn’t have a great season in 2016-17, managing just 14 goals and 27 points in 80 games between the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings, but the fact he started to come a bit more alive after the trade to California — and into the playoff hunt — might be a sign he can still contribute on a contender. He’s not going to put up 30 goals and be a top-six talent any longer, but as a bottom-six scorer and power play triggerman, teams could do worse than Iginla.
Potential Destinations: Dallas Stars, Anaheim Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets
Andrei Markov, D — Age: 38
2016-17: 6G, 30A, 36 Pts.
The asking price is apparently quite high for Markov, with some reports placing a new deal in the $6-million range per season. If that’s what Markov is looking for, he might be hard-pressed to get it, but if brings his demands a bit lower, there’s a fair chance he can find himself a home this summer.
The concern with Markov is likely his health, as he missed 20 games this past season due to injury, but he still seems to have enough left in the tank to become a quarterback on the man advantage and chip in a handful of points at even strength. This past season, Markov scored one goal and 12 points on the power play, and he has skated big minutes for his entire career. He can still do that, but finding a balance between price and term has to happen before any team takes a chance on Markov.
Potential Destinations: Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils
Brian Gionta, RW — Age: 38
2016-17: 15G, 20A, 35 Pts.
Despite getting up there in age, Gionta has been remarkably consistent over the past several seasons. Since his age 35 season back in 2013-14, Gionta has averaged the equivalent of 15 goals and 38 points across an 82-game season. That’s not half bad, and his presence on the Sabres as a veteran leader was quite valuable to the rest of the squad. The thing is, though, that Gionta may not see himself anywhere other than Buffalo.
At the trade deadline, Gionta made it clear he wanted to remain a Sabre and it has been reported that he wants to continue to play in Buffalo next season. However, after Jason Botterill took the GM’s seat from Tim Murray, Gionta’s future with the Sabres could be up in the air. There’s really not that much more for Gionta to prove, as he’s been a consistent NHLer, as well as a Stanley Cup champion, across his 1,000-plus game career. So, it might be Buffalo or bust for Gionta.
Potential Destinations: Buffalo Sabres or retirement
Brian Campbell, D — Age: 38
2016-17: 5G, 12A, 17 Pts.
Campbell was brought aboard by the Blackhawks last summer on a sweetheart of a deal, and it gave the veteran rearguard the chance to contribute on a blueline that was in dire need of help. That wasn’t quite the case, though. Campbell didn’t see much more than third-pairing minutes in Chicago, and it wouldn’t be quite accurate to say he helped make the Blackhawks’ defense that much better. Now, that’s not to say he can’t still contribute.
In Campbell’s final two seasons in Florida, he was a bonafide top-pairing defenseman and a consistent offensive contributor for the Panthers, and he’s only one season removed from those years. After inking a one-year, $1.5-million in Chicago, maybe Campbell is open to a similar deal to go to another contender. He’s a veteran who can still move the puck well and skate well, and putting him on a pairing with a younger defender could do wonders for an up-and-comer. Just ask Aaron Ekblad.
Potential Destinations: Dallas Stars, Calgary Flames, Ottawa Senators
Chris Neil, RW — Age: 38
2016-17: 1G, 3A, 4 Pts.
No matter where Neil goes, he’s not showing up to be a point producer. Yes, he’s had some decent years in the past, including a 13-goal, 28-point season as recent as the 2011-12 campaign, but Neil is primarily a pest, a voice in the locker room and a guy who is willing to put his body on the line to win. Trouble is, players of his ilk are going by the wayside, and that may mean there aren’t many places he can fit come the 2017-18 campaign. That’s not going to stop him from looking, though.
It’s much harder to pin down where he could fit, though. Most likely, a contending team isn’t going to want to spend the money to bring in an aging pugilist and heart-and-soul guy, but a younger team that’s looking to fill out their roster or give potential future grinders a role model of sorts could bring Neil along.
Potential Destinations: Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Vegas Golden Knights
Francois Beauchemin, D — Age: 37
2016-17: 5G, 13A, 18 Pts.
Even though he was the second-highest scoring Avalanche defenseman with the third-highest average ice time among all skaters, Colorado made the decision to cut ties with Beauchemin just as he readied himself for the final season of his three-year, $13.5-million deal. That’s a tough break for Beauchemin, but he might be exactly who a team seeking for some additional offense from the blueline and a veteran presence in the dressing room wants to add.
Of course, wherever he goes, Beauchemin needs to be happy with a lessened role. No matter how steady he may have been as a defender earlier in his career, the fact of the matter is he’s nearing 40 in a game that has only gotten faster in recent years. There’s no way he can keep up with the Connor McDavids of the NHL at this point, so Beauchemin is better utilized against bottom-six competition as a third-pairing guy. Luckily, that could make him a fit in a number of organizations.
Potential Destinations: Anaheim Ducks, Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings
Mike Fisher, C — Age: 37
2016-17: 18G, 24A, 42 Pts.
The past season was a long one for Fisher. Not only did he suit up in 72 games for the Predators, but he played hard minutes throughout the post-season, skating in 20 games for Nashville en route to the Stanley Cup final. Unfortunately for Fisher, a veteran of nearly 1,100 games, his season didn’t end with glory as the Predators lost to the Penguins in six games.
The question now, though, is whether Nashville’s captain returns for one more go-round. Offensively, his regular season was quite good given his age, as he chipped in 18 goals and 42 points. The latter was the 10th-best mark among any age 35-plus player in 2016-17, so it’s clear he can still contribute. Fisher slowed significantly in the playoffs, though, managing just four assists.
Nashville is in a good position, though, and they’ll enter the season as strong contenders for the Stanley Cup with their stellar D corps and productive batch of forwards. Most likely the only way Fisher returns to action is if he decides he wants to be apart of the group once again and take another, and possibly his final, shot at a championship.
Potential Destinations: Nashville Predators or retirement