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NHL Free Agency: Top 5 Best Bargains Still Available

In a league with very little cap space left to work with, it's peculiar to see so many names without homes this deep into the summer. Here's a look at five players who could bring nice bang for your team's buck.
Sonny Milano

The calendar is now deep into August, and a number of key free agents are still out there for the taking.

A good chunk of them seems capable of being had for pennies on the dollar, too. 

In a league with very little cap space left to work with, it's peculiar to see so many names without homes this deep into the summer. Who are the best remaining options and where could they land?

Let's take a look. 

Paul Stastny
2021-22 Stat Line: 71 GP, 21 goals, 24 assists, 45 points, 17:46 TOI
2021-22 Cap Hit: $3,750,000

If Kadri doesn't end up returning to Denver like everyone already assumes, there's another two-way center waiting in the wings for a reunion in the Rockies.

Sure, Stastny finds himself on the back nine of his career, getting set to celebrate his 37th birthday at the midway mark of the 2022-23 season. But the veteran still has plenty left in the tank even at his advanced age, projecting to remain a play-driving contributor down the middle who possesses more than enough offensive pop for his role and can reduce chances in his own end, too.

What more could you want for an Avs team navigating life (potentially) without Kadri?

Even amidst a turbulent Jets season, Stastny still managed to tilt the ice in a positive direction whenever he happened to step on it, generating individual expected goal and scoring chance shares of 53.05 percent and 52.71 percent at even-strength, respectively. Couple that with his typical 20-goal, 45-point output, and Stastny was his same old dependable self last season, continuing to impact the game at both ends of the ice as a solid veteran leader.

On a one-year deal at around $3 million or so, Stastny would fit seamlessly in the Avs' lineup that could then allow J.T. Compher to ease into the second-line center role he seems destined for. And given how much of the summer has already passed, that number might even get bumped down to the $2.5 million range. 

It just makes too much sense. Make it happen! If not, there's still enough teams that would benefit from Stastny's services.

Phil Kessel 
2021-22 Stat Line: 82 GP, 8 goals, 44 assists, 52 points, 16:40 TOI
2021-22 Cap Hit: $8,000,000

Phil Kessel still has plenty left in the tank. 

As his goal-scoring prowess dwindled with age in recent seasons, Kessel somehow managed to shed the distinction of being a one-dimensional sniper that has followed him around for his entire career and became one of the league's more underrated playmakers in his twilight years. 

In 2021-22, Kessel racked up just eight goals, by far his lowest total to date. But the quirky winger compensated with a surprising 44 assists, still ultimately reaching the 50-point plateau and continuing to be an effective distributor both at even-strength and on the power play. 

Kessel has already made so much money in his career, and even won two Stanley Cups, that he frankly has little left to accomplish. But if a third ring is something he wants to earn before he hangs it up, taking a low-money, one-year deal with a contender for this season seems prudent. 

By now, Kessel isn't looking for a payday. He just seems like he wants to have fun. And what's more fun than winning? 

P.K. Subban 
2021-22 Stat Line: 77 GP, 5 goals, 17 assists, 22 points, 18:18 TOI
2021-22 Cap Hit: $9,000,000

Look, P.K. Subban is obviously not the player he was back in the early-to-mid-2010s, when the dynamic defender was winning Norris trophies and crafting entire highlight reels all by himself. But the 33-year-old isn't entirely washed either, putting together a decent little season for himself on a bad Devils team in 2021-22 that maybe, just maybe, suggests he still has something to offer.

In a relatively sheltered third-pair role, Subban still demonstrated the ability to move the puck and tilt the ice in his team's favor despite a noticeable drop-off in his offensive totals, posting an impressive 52.34 percent expected-goal share at even-strength while helping the Devils generate 51.75 percent of the available scoring chances during his five-on-five usage.

Subban could be a fun bargain for a team looking to add some veteran presence and puck movement to its blueline -- especially for what will likely be something in the realm of league minimum. 

His 77 games played last season show that health may be less of an issue than it was in the past, and he'll at least be great for off-ice content.

Why not?

Evan Rodrigues 
2021-22 Stat Line: 82 GP, 19 goals, 24 assists, 43 points, 15:50 TOI
2021-22 Cap Hit: $1,000,000

What a meteoric rise Rodrigues had in 2021-22.

It took Rodrigues just one full season to go from being a run-of-the-mill bottom-six seat-filler with few intriguing traits to a bonafide middle-six center who appeared destined to triple his most recent paycheck on the open market. 

He's earned it, frankly.

When Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin missed the entire first month of last season with respective injuries, Rodrigues helped keep the Penguins afloat up front in their absence, taking on his first taste of top-six usage and looking wholly comfortable in the role. 

Even when Crosby returned in November, Rodrigues continued to hold down the fort in the middle of the lineup until Malkin returned in January, going on a tear for the first 40-ish games that completely changed his standing within the organization.

Whereas Rodrigues was nothing but a cap-centric throw-in to make the salaries work in the trade that sent Kasperi Kapanen back to Pittsburgh in 2020, his absence is now set to leave a gaping hole in the Penguins' lineup in the event he doesn't come back -- which, given the club's cap situation, seems more likely by the day. 

Teams have now seen what Rodrigues can do as a top-six player. He's a known commodity now, and could seemingly command something in the realm of $3-3.5 million per year on a four-year deal. 

However, whether teams have the space to give him that this late into the summer remains to be seen. 

Once Kadri's impending contract re-sets the market, don't be shocked to see Rodrigues sign soon after. And for a reasonable rate, given how tight the cap situations around the league will be. 

Sonny Milano 
2021-22 Stat Line: 66 GP, 14 goals, 20 assists, 34 points, 15:16 TOI
2021-22 Cap Hit: $1,700,000

It took Sonny Milano a while to truly carve himself out a spot in the NHL. Longer than most expected of him, really. 

But the little guy finally broke through last season as a consistent big-league producer, pairing particularly well with rookie phenom Trevor Zegras to give the Ducks some exciting offensive punch on an otherwise depleted roster.

Financials played the primary factor in the Ducks' decision to decline to extend Milano a qualifying offer and banish him to the free agent market. The 26-year-old made $1.7 million last season, had arbitration rights heading into the summer, and was coming off a year in which he scored 34 points in 66 games on a bad team. In the eyes of an arbitrator, his case was solid. And if both sides elected to head down that route, the Ducks could've been saddled with a far higher number than they'd be comfortable paying him. 

So, they cut him loose. And for some reason, no one has bitten yet. 

Milano is too good to be without a home this late into the summer. Something's going on here. Perhaps it means the door isn't closed on a reunion in Anaheim. Milano finally found some consistency with the Ducks after bouncing around early in his career and could potentially circle back around come training camp. 

But if that's not the case, 31 NHL teams should be vying for his services, at what should be a very reasonable rate. 

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