This weekend, I wrote a blog exploring some of the best UFA winger options for teams looking to add depth along their flanks this off-season. Each of the nine players examined in that blog was set to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time this summer. You can read that blog here.
Today, we will look at some more under-the-radar options on the wings. Tying them together this time? Each shares the common ground of, at one point in their career, donning Ottawa Senators colors.
None of these four guys will win the GM who signs them the off-season, but each could provide solid value in his new role.
Nick Foligno – Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto GM Kyle Dubas paid through the nose to acquire the Leafs’ former Battle of Ontario adversary at this April’s trade deadline. Both Columbus and third-party San Jose retained portions of Foligno’s $5.5 million to make the money work for the cap-strapped Leafs. Toronto sent 2021 first- and 2022 fourth-round picks to Columbus, while San Jose garnered a 2021 fourth for its role.
Foligno was injured at the time but eventually got into seven regular-season games in Blue and White, putting up four assists. He also skated four playoff games for Toronto, adding another assist. Perhaps his most memorable moment as a Leaf was when he dropped the gloves to protect captain John Tavares after Corey Perry’s accidental knee to Tavares’ head felled the Leafs' center in Game 1 of their opening-round series with Montreal. How necessary that fight was is debatable – and that Dubas’ gamble didn’t pay dividends is obvious – but that willingness to step up was the typification of why Dubas sought Foligno for the post-season.
Foligno is a 14-year NHL veteran, with 957 games to his name between Ottawa, Columbus and Toronto. The Senators drafted him in the first round, 28th overall in 2006. He brings offensive ability – a career-high of 31 goals and 73 points in 2014-15 – tenacious forechecking, and the kind of leadership his fight with Perry embodied. Foligno spent six seasons as the Blue Jackets’ captain and was also an assistant captain for two of his three world championship appearances with Team USA. Foligno won the NHL’s King Clancy and Mark Messier Leadership Awards in 2017.
The Buffalo-born left winger turns 34 in October and is coming off a deal that paid him $33 million over six seasons. He no longer carries that kind of value, but he’s still a useful player who can contribute at both ends of the ice and stabilize a young dressing room. He could return to Toronto or he could join another team looking for its final piece. Foligno was a fan-favorite in Columbus and could return, but he has only 55 career playoff games to his credit and has never played beyond the second round. If he wants to change that, Ohio probably isn’t the spot for him.
Mike Hoffman – St. Louis Blues
Mike Hoffman bet on himself when he signed a one-year, $4-million contract with the St. Louis Blues shortly before the 2020-21 season. That gamble didn’t pay off per se – he’s no more valuable now than he was in January – but it wasn’t an absolute disaster either, so Hoffman at least has another kick at the can this summer. He and agent Robert Hooper will have offers, as will always be the case when a sniper of Hoffman's ilk is on the market.
As recently as 2018-19, Hoffman lit the lamp 36 times in 82 games with the Florida Panthers. He tied Johnny Gaudreau and Brad Marchand for 18th in goal-scoring that season. Hoffman also had a career-high 70 points for the Cats that year. That 36-goal campaign seemed like Hoffman officially stamping his place as a top goal-scorer in the league; since becoming a full-time NHLer in 2014-15, he’d hovered right around that 30-goal plateau in each season, finally eclipsing it during his high-water mark 2018-19 campaign. He was on pace for 35 goals when the 2019-20 season hit its pause.
Hoffman is a classic, all-offense sniping winger whose defensive game is a significant detriment to his overall value. He did nothing to rewrite that story in 52 games for the Blues this season, but a shot like Hoffman’s will always find a home. He turns 32 in November and will be on his fourth team in five seasons, despite his eminently apparent goal-scoring ability. So perhaps he'd be best off finding some medium-term security and sacrificing AAV. A one-year pact to play triggerman for Connor McDavid in Edmonton is also an option, but Hoffman derived much of his offense from the powerplay this season, and Edmonton’s PP is already inundated with left-hand shots – including the recently re-signed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Ryan Dzingel – Ottawa Senators
The summer that now awaits probably isn’t what Ryan Dzingel imagined it would be in July 2019, when he signed a two-year, $6.75-million deal to join the Carolina Hurricanes. At that time, Dzingel was coming off his best NHL season – one in which he hit career-highs of 26 goals and 57 points with Ottawa and Columbus. And at the 2018-19 trade deadline, Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen valued Dzingel highly; his rental cost was two second-round picks and Anthony Duclair. The Blue Jackets were in ‘why not?’ mode knowing they’d be losing Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky that off-season, but that was an impressive valuation nonetheless for the then 26-year-old Dzingel – a seventh-round pick in 2011 – to earn.
The trade brought the 6-foot, 190-pound Ohio State product back to his college hockey stamping grounds. The Blue Jackets would then pull a monumental upset by sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the 2019 playoffs. But Dzingel wasn't a big part of it, scoring just one goal in nine playoff games and earning a healthy scratch in the second round. So he departed the Buckeye State for Tobacco Road's greener pastures.
Dzingel struggled to find his footing in Raleigh, too. In parts of two seasons with the Hurricanes, he managed just 10 goals and 33 points in 75 games. He found himself relegated to press-box duty again in the post-season; healthy-scratched for four of Carolina’s eight playoff games in 2019-20.
Midway through 2020-21, the Senators re-acquired Dzingel for Alex Galchenyuk and Cedric Paquette. Dzingel had six goals and nine points in 29 games after returning to Ottawa.
Dzingel – whose value is derived almost solely from his offense – unquestionably disappointed the past two seasons. But that means his next deal should be a bargain, and he could be a strong bounce-back candidate. The two seasons before signing with Carolina, Dzingel scored at a 27-goal, 51-point pace. Since signing that pact in 2019, he's managed just a 13-goal, 33-point pace. Both Dzingel's individual shooting percentage (11 percent vs. a career-average of 14 percent) and on-ice shooting percentage plummeted the past two seasons. So if those figures return to normal, the offensive output should accompany them. Dzingel is just 29, so his story is far from done.
Alex Galchenyuk – Toronto Maple Leafs
So what if Alex Galchenyuk was drafted as a center and played only eight games in Ottawa? He donned Sens silks, and he’s played mostly as a winger in the past several seasons, so he (barely) qualifies for this list.
Galchenyuk, picked third overall by Montreal in 2012, has earned himself a ton of frequent flyer miles during his nine-season NHL career. Since the start of 2018-19, Galchenyuk has played for Arizona, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Ottawa and Toronto, and was briefly Carolina's property in between his Ontario stops.
It’s been a stop-start career for the 6-foot-1, 194-pounder. He’s shown flashes of potential – including producing a 30-goal campaign as a 21-year-old with Montreal in 2015-16 – but his success has always been fleeting.
Galchenyuk signed a one-year, $1.05-million pact with Ottawa in October 2020. He struggled to stay in the Sens lineup, scoring one goal in his eight games with the team before being dealt to Carolina for Dzingel. Two days later, he was flipped to Toronto for Egor Korshkov and David Warsofsky.
There, he again showed some of the tantalizing potential that has defined his career and has kept earning him chances. Galchenyuk had four goals and 12 points in 26 games with the Leafs, rocked an xGF% of 57.57 at 5-on-5 and earned significant minutes with Tavares and William Nylander.
Galchenyuk will never be the player who was promised based on his time starring alongside Nail Yakupov for the Sarnia Sting, but if he can find a similar situation to Toronto – playing alongside skill forwards, without having to do the heavy-lifting – he can be a decent offensive producer at a bargain-basement price.