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Five potential destinations for first-time free agent Corey Perry

He's never known any NHL organization other than the Anaheim Ducks, but following his buyout, the veteran winger is set to become a free agent. Where will the former Hart Trophy winner end up next season?

Corey Perry’s tenure with the Anaheim Ducks ended not with a bang but with a whimper. On Wednesday, the only franchise the veteran winger has ever known announced they were buying out the final two years of the 34-year-old’s contract, and with that, Perry is set to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.

So, what comes next? As we noted yesterday, it’s the dawn of a new day in Anaheim. Out with the old and in with the new. That process began with the hiring of bench boss Dallas Eakins and is going to continue ahead of the 2019-20 campaign, which should see the Ducks go all-in on the youth movement by injecting their up-and-comers into the lineup and letting them sink or swim. For Perry, though, comes the chance to prove he’s still got it, an opportunity to take his game elsewhere and show the hockey world that he can still be an effective big leaguer.

Truth be told, that shouldn’t be all that difficult, and it should be said that Perry wasn’t bought out because he was past his expiration date or that he had gone from useful to useless. Rather, it was a matter of dollars and cents, as in Perry was taking up too much of both and clogging the lineup in the process. At $8.625-million per season, his cap hit was likely to be among the 20 highest of any forward in the NHL next season. That’s a problem when he’s tied for 148th in points over the past three campaigns, an output which is level with that of Richard Panik and Jason Pominville. To put that further into context, Panik and Pominville earned a combined $8.4 million last season. Perry wasn’t exactly providing much in the way of bang for the Ducks’ bucks.

Still, there’s no one who is about to suggest Perry can’t be a contributor elsewhere and there’s still some tread on his tires even if he is coming off of a season in which he missed more than half the campaign due to injury. Who will take a shot on the former Hart Trophy winner, though? Here are a few potential suitors:

Atop the Hurricanes’ to-do list this off-season is re-signing Sebastian Aho, but that’s about it in terms of heavy lifting. In fact, amid reports that Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney are as good as gone and considering Micheal Ferland seems set to test the market, Carolina is going to have money to burn and Perry seems a risk worth taking for a couple of reasons.

What the Hurricanes have, without a doubt, is top-end scoring. Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Nino Niederreiter can provide that, and there’s hope that another step forward for Andrei Svechnikov means Carolina has another true top-six weapon at their disposal. What the Hurricanes lack, however, is consistent depth offense, which is exactly what Perry can provide. Also, with the possibility that Justin Williams either retires or departs, bringing in another veteran voice to help guide the locker room might be worthwhile. And one last thing: if Ferland does depart, the Hurricanes might want someone to fill that pesky, chippy, get-under-your-skin forward role. At his age, he might not possess the same upside as Ferland, but Perry certainly knows how to be a pest.

There aren’t many places Perry could go and land top-six minutes. Matter of fact, even if half the league showed interest in the veteran, chances are only a handful of those clubs would pitch Perry on playing on either of their top two lines. One of the teams that can, though, is the Avalanche, who have a surefire top unit in Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen followed by a lineup filled with question marks.

But there’s more to it than simply fitting in the top six. Colorado has more than enough cap space – likely more than $25 million even after Rantanen re-signs – to bring Perry aboard and not have it impact their financial flexibility in any great way. That means it’s a gamble that the Avalanche can afford to take even if it happens to blow up in their faces. Plus, Colorado isn’t exactly creating a logjam up front if they bring in the veteran, which an important aspect in all of this. All of the Avalanche's top forward prospects, players such as Martin Kaut and Shane Bowers, are at least one season away from making a full-time leap. Thus, Perry isn’t taking anyone’s spot. Instead, he’s acting as a stopgap.

Artemi Panarin is leaving Columbus. We know that much. It seems like that Ryan Dzingel, whose time with the Blue Jackets didn’t exactly work out as either side had hoped, is a good candidate to leave, as well. And given the money Jeff Skinner and Kevin Hayes signed for recently, chances are Matt Duchene is going to at least test the open market unless Columbus is willing to hand him a blank check before the beginning of free agency. This is to say that the Blue Jackets are going to need some scoring, depth or otherwise, next season, and Perry could be that player.

Is he going to be a top-six, 30-goal winger that replaces what is lost in Panarin or Dzingel? Oh, no. Not one bit. But depth offense isn’t really one of the Blue Jackets’ strong suits and, if nothing else, Perry can be a 15-minute bottom-six winger who also logs minutes on the power play. That is certainly a piece Columbus could use given their atrocious scoring rate with the man advantage last season.

And hey, maybe the Rick Nash connection from Perry’s time as a London Knight helps here. The former Blue Jackets captain did just rejoin the organization as a special assistant to GM Jarmo Kekalainen. Maybe his first order of business is convincing Kekalainen to take a shot on Perry.

As they say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and there are those who continue to draw a link between Perry and the Oilers. There is a need for help up front in Edmonton, too, so you can see why the connection has been made. Obviously, the offense is going to be centered around Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, as it was last season, but there’s a staggering lack of help up front beyond that trio. Milan Lucic is either done with the Oilers or a sure bet for fourth-line minutes. Kyle Brodziak, Zack Kassian and Sam Gagner are hardly needle-moving offensive players. So, if Perry wants a shot at top-six minutes next season, Edmonton might be among his best bets.

The thing is, too, that it’s not impossible to fathom Perry as a top-six fit with the Oilers. His skating isn’t what it once was – he was never a burner in the first place – but if Perry was put on a line with McDavid? Well, that might just work out for both. The veteran winger would be the one to do the dirty work while McDavid played set-up man. It could be a perfect match.

The trouble is money. Edmonton has $8.8 million to spend if the cap reaches $82 million. Would they be willing to give up anything more than one-third of that in order to bring aboard an aging winger on the decline?

When was the last time a Stanley Cup champion was so well positioned in the off-season following their victory? Heading into the summer, the Blues have upwards of $17 million with which to work assuming the cap rises to at least $82 million, and the big-name free agents they have to retain are…well, there are none. Patrick Maroon is arguably going to be the most costly UFA, and RFA goaltender Jordan Binnington is going to be due a raise, though he could be in line for a deal more akin to Matt Murray’s three-year pact that paid $3.75-million per season following his 2016 Stanley Cup victory than some gargantuan long-term contract.

And that’s where Perry fits in. While some in St. Louis might not be over the moon about adding the 34-year-old winger, he can be an effective bottom-six scorer and produce on the power play. The Blues struggled with the man advantage in the post-season and any boost in that area next season would be welcome. And if Maroon decides to move on, there’s even more reason to chase Perry down. Who knows, too. Maybe Perry will be willing to take a discount for the chance to join the defending champions.

(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)

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