Radim Vrbata leads the cast of unrestricted free agents still on the market after a crazy Day 1 of the free agent frenzy. There’s not much left, but teams looking to fill a specific need on a short-term deal might still find some value out there.
After signing more than 60 players and spending almost a half a billion dollars, NHL teams could be excused for taking a little while to catch their collective breath before delving into hockey’s bargain bin for more talent to fill out their rosters.
And when they do, they’ll find the pickings a little slim, but there are still some jewels to be had in this yard sale for the right price. With that in mind, here are the top 10 unrestricted free agents who are still available.
Radim Vrbata, RW: Universally regarded as one of the most underrated and underappreciated players in the NHL, Vrbata and his 20-30 goals a season are money in the bank. His Wikipedia page says he’s a member of the New Jersey Devils, which is perhaps a case of somebody getting ahead of himself here. There is plenty of interest in the 33-year-old Vrbata. One of the most natural destinations is Boston, if they can find a way to get him in under the salary cap, where he would be a natural replacement for the departed Jarome Iginla on the right side.
Mikhail Grabovski, C: Apparently, the fact that Grabovski will receive $1.8 million a year until 2021 in buyout money from the Toronto Maple Leafs has not softened Grabovski’s salary demands. The Washington Capitals felt his $5 million demand on a long-term deal was a bit rich, and it is. If there’s any way a team like the Edmonton Oilers can get him down a little, he’d be a good fit on a team that needs help down the middle.
Daniel Alfredsson, RW: The veteran was one of the best free-agent signings of last season and after scoring 18 goals in Detroit last season, still has some game. Anything more than a one-year deal for Alfredsson would be risky though, which is why he’s still waiting to find a dance partner.
Derek Roy, C: He’s certainly not the perfect player, but why don’t the Nashville Predators just be done with it and sign Roy already? If they can get him on a short-term deal, he’s exactly what they need, a centerman who can dish the puck and make plays for the newly acquired James Neal to finish. The key to signing a player such as Roy would be to have him as a bridge. In Nashville’s case, it would give them more time to develop players such as Calle Jarnkrok and Filip Forsberg.
Michael Del Zotto, D: His 2013-14 season was a disaster, as evidenced by the fact that the Predators had no interest in extending him a qualifying offer. That’s why he’s an unrestricted free agent at the age of 24. Until this past season, Del Zotto had proved to be a consistent 30-40 point man from the blueline. He skates well, can quarterback a power play and can move the puck well. He’ll be eager to prove he can bounce back on a short-term deal.
Olli Jokinen, C: Jokinen can play as a second- or third-line center on a building team that needs to keep its young players from moving into that role too quickly. Hello, Edmonton. Again, on a short-term bridge deal, you could do a lot worse than Jokinen, who does a lot of things OK at this point in his career, but nothing really well. His best offensive days are definitely behind him, but he can be a capable faceoff man and penalty killer.
David Legwand, C: Nobody among the remaining unrestricted free agents had more points than the 51 Legwand and Vrbata scored last season. In many ways, Legwand is much the same kind of acquisition Jokinen would be. On a short-term deal, he could provide a bridge can buy some time until a team’s prospects can come in and replace him.
Nikolai Kulemin, RW: So what exactly is Kulemin, the 30-goal man he was three seasons ago or the nine-goal scorer he was with the Toronto Maple Leafs this past season? He’s probably somewhere in between. But he remains a good option for a team looking for a solid two-way winger. There was some speculation the Pittsburgh Penguins would be a fit, since Kulemin and Evgeni Malkin are close friends and Malkin was not apparently less than pleased with the Penguins dealt James Neal away.
Dustin Penner, LW: His time with the Washington Capitals was an unmitigated disaster, which means a team could probably get him on a one-year deal at a low number. The only way you make a mistake with Penner is if you risk money or term, but as a one-year guy to give you some size among your bottom six forwards, there might be some value there, particularly if he’s motivated.
Devin Setoguchi, LW: If it seems like a long time ago since Setoguchi scored 30 goals in the NHL, that’s because it was a long time ago – five years ago to be precise. But even if you can coax a few more goals out of him, that would make him a 15-goal scorer. He will never be Mr. Consistency, but he can provide a team with some speed and pop on the third line for one year at the right price.