The NHL’s unrestricted free agent market has been seriously depleted, but there are still players on the open market who can help a team – and Adam Proteau has five examples.
Some two weeks after the beginning of unrestricted free agency, the NHL’s pool of talent-for-hire has shrunken considerably. Players raced to sign for as much money and/or term as possible in the first few days of the month, and since then, the pace of signings has slowed to a trickle. Some players may choose to wait the rest of the summer and into training camp to see if trades and/or injuries open up a roster spot and/or a better salary.
That said, there are still players out there who have something to contribute. My colleague Ken Campbell assembled a list of them in early July, but all but three players on it – veteran winger Daniel Alfredsson (who will return to Detroit or retire), two-time Stanley Cup-winner Dustin Penner and Devin Setoguchi – have been taken off the market after agreeing to new deals. So who’s left? In no particular order, here are five UFA players who can help a team:
1. Lee Stempniak, RW. The soon-to-be-32-year-old has bounced around the league since he broke in with the Blues in 2004-05 – and while he’ll never be mistaken for Alex Ovechkin, he’s about as reliable a 10-15-goal-scorer as you’ll find in the league. He’ll also come significantly cheaper than the $2.5 million he’s earned in each of the past two seasons.
2. Daniel Winnik, C/LW. Winnik hasn’t equaled or improved on his NHL career high of 11 goals in 2010-11, but that’s not why you’re interested in him. You’re interested in the 29-year-old because he’s a solid penalty killer (who averaged 2:31 of shorthanded time on ice last season with Anaheim) who can chip in with some offense (he had a career-best 24 assists and 30 points for the Ducks last year). And he’s never made more than the $1.6 million he made last season, so you don’t have to break the bank to acquire a sturdy piece for your third or fourth line.
3. Andre Benoit, D. You’re not going to find many blueliners left who averaged 20 minutes or more a game last season, but Benoit did that with Colorado. The 30-year-old didn’t play his first NHL game until the 2010-11 season, but he posted seven goals and 28 regular-season points for the Avs in 2013-14 and won’t kill a team in its own end. If a European league doesn’t scoop him up with a more lucrative offer than he’ll get in the coming weeks, he’d be the type of affordable depth pickup or injury insurance that can help a team beset by injuries.
4. Raphael Diaz, D. The 28-year-old Diaz split his NHL season between three teams (Montreal, Vancouver and New York) and had two goals and 13 points in 63 games. He’s a decent option for a team needing depth on the power play and its third defensive pairing, but if you’re a team looking for someone who can make your own zone tougher to play in, you’ll probably want to pass on the Swiss native.
5. Martin Brodeur, G. It’s crazy to think a guaranteed first-ballot Hockey Hall-of-Famer such as Brodeur is still looking for work – unless you’ve seen how much the former Devils legend has slipped in recent years. The 42-year-old hasn’t had a save percentage above .908 since 2009-10 and still believes he can be a starter in the league, but the lack of interest should serve as a wakeup call. If he’s convinced to serve in a backup role with limited game action, he might be able to reproduce his old magic for a while. But any team hoping he can come in and play well as a starter for a long stretch is fooling itself.