It’s the dog days of summer and the stream of off-season signings has all but come to a halt. But just because all is quiet on the free agent front doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t still talent available.
A quick perusal of who’s left on the open market doesn’t exactly present one with a who’s-who of the NHL, but there are still some potentially intriguing additions available. The top names, of course, are those who fall into the how-have-they-not-signed yet category, players such as playmaking defenseman Jake Gardiner, big-bodied winger Patrick Maroon and even greybeard goal-scorer Patrick Marleau. But beyond those few, there are a number of others who could be worthwhile additions at or around the time training camp starts to fire up, particularly for those teams who feel they need to add one final piece to the puzzle.
Who could be on that short list? Well, how about Thomas Vanek? The veteran winger has been a journeyman in recent years, but he’s a still a capable scorer and good power play hand who put up 16 goals and 36 points last season. Teams seeking a depth pivot could do much worse than giving Brian Boyle a call, too. He’s a penalty killer and faceoff guru who can chip in here and there offensively. And for a team who wants a potential reclamation project, Derick Brassard might fit the bill. He’s only 31 and not all that far removed from being a sought after trade chip. He struggled last season, but there’s still some tread left on those tires.
A late-summer signing can make an impact, as well. In the post-lockout era, there are several players who have found new homes on in mid-August or later who have gone on to turn in quality campaigns. Here are the five players who made the greatest impact after putting pen to paper in the late stages of the off-season:
Vinny Prospal, New York Rangers – Aug. 16, 2009
That Prospal, who was 34 at the time, had just followed up a 33-goal, 71-point campaign with a 19-goal, 45-point season had many potential suitors hesitant to sign the veteran center, particularly if he was looking for anything close to the $3.5-million he was earning at the tail end of his expiring four-year deal. And try as he might to find a home in the early part of the summer, it took until well into the second month of free agency for the Rangers to finally step up with an offer that was to Prospal’s liking, a one-year, $1.15-million pact that saw him take more than a 50-percent pay cut.
How did Prospal respond? By proving he had plenty of gas left in the tank. That season in New York, he averaged upwards of 20 minutes per night, scored 20 goals and 58 points and finished second in team scoring. That led to another one-year deal on Broadway, which was followed by two solid seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets to close out his career.
Todd Bertuzzi, Detroit Red Wings – Aug. 18, 2009
As he entered into his mid-30s in a brand new era in the NHL, one where youth, speed and skill was beginning to take over from experience, size and grit, Bertuzzi had to spend several weeks searching for a landing spot ahead of the 2009-10 campaign. And while it’s not as though his past campaign had been poor – he had scored 15 goals and 44 points for the Calgary Flames – his season hadn’t been quite enough that teams were climbing over each other for his services.
But late in the summer, the veteran-laden Red Wings decided to add one more, bringing Bertuzzi aboard on a one-year, $1.5-million pact that represented a $450,000 decrease in salary from the campaign prior. As Prospal did in New York, Bertuzzi did in Detroit. He made the most of his opportunity by registering 18 goals and 44 points while skating in the middle of the Red Wings’ lineup. Bertuzzi wound up turning his one-year deal with Detroit into a five-season stay in Motor City, too. Not bad.
Raffi Torres, Vancouver Canucks – Aug. 25, 2010
Torres’ on-the-edge style got him in hot water fairly often and that he had been such a thorn in the Canucks’ side during his time with the Edmonton Oilers made him a contentious signing even it was a one-year, $1-million deal. It wasn’t long, however, before those in Vancouver understood the method to management’s madness. Though he saw limited action on a loaded Canucks team, the minutes he did play were effective. In 80 games, he scored 14 goals and 29 points, all while playing less than 13 minutes per game. He also notched his first and only career hat trick.
The real kicker here, though, is that Torres kept bringing the same style of play in the post-season and he was a useful contributor during the run to the Stanley Cup final. He played in all but two games on that Canucks Western Conference championship club and chipped in three goals and seven points, including the game-winner in Game 1 of the final.
Brad Boyes, Florida Panthers – Oct. 1, 2013
Inconsistency plagued Boyes throughout his career, but when he was at his best and had the hot hand, he was exceptional. Case in point, his back-to-back 30-goal campaigns in 2007-08 and 2008-09 when he scored a combined 76 goals and 137 points in 164 games. But coming out of those seasons, Boyes’ scoring touch seemingly disappeared.
In his next three seasons combined, he scored 39 goals and 120 points in 230 games, which led to Boyes landing a mere one-year deal during the lockout shortened season. His putting up 10 goals and 36 points in 48 games in 2012-13 was promising, but teams were wary that a drop off was coming. Hence, he had to wait to land a contract ahead of the 2013-14, and when he did, it was a mere one-year, $1-million contract with the Cats.
Turns out it was the best deal Florida could have signed. That season, Boyes was back to his old ways. In 78 games, he found twine 21 times and registered 36 points, finishing first and fourth on the team, respectively. That led to a two-year, $5.25-million extension, a deal that was unfortunately bought out after a 14-goals, 38-point output the following season.
Lee Stempniak, New Jersey Devils – Oct. 3, 2015
Acquired as a depth addition by the playoff-bound Jets one season prior, Stempniak seemingly had all the makings of an appealing veteran piece. He could contribute offensively, was responsible defensively and he wasn’t about to gripe about playing at the bottom of the lineup. Yet, after his brief stay with Winnipeg came to an end, he found himself out of work. What made Stempniak’s situation all the more puzzling, though, is that when he finally found a fit mere days before the start of the season, all the Devils had to offer was $850,000 on a one-year deal. It turned out to be the steal of the season.
Granted, Stempniak had more opportunity on a thin New Jersey roster than he would have been given elsewhere, but he made the most of his time with the Devils. In 63 games with New Jersey, he scored 16 goals and 41 points, all the while logging just shy of 19 minutes per game.
The added bonus? Stempniak wound up netting the Devils a 2016 fourth-round pick and 2017 second-round selection at the trade deadline when he was shipped off to the Boston Bruins. New Jersey later used the second-rounder to acquire defenseman Mirco Mueller.
(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)
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