So often, the opening of the “free agent frenzy” is a day to look back on in regret. The day of temptation has the ability to overwhelm the competitive senses of GMs and lead them to raise the pay grade for players above what most of us would consider reasonable or even manageable. Supply and demand, with demand vastly outweighing supply.
But there are still bargains to be had. Last summer, the New York Islanders signed Brad Boyes to a one-year, $1 million deal and got 35 points out of him. The Toronto Maple Leafs signed Jay McClement to a two-year, $3 million deal and got one of the better penalty-killing forwards in the game.
We all know who the big targets are - the ones likely to get head-shaking new contracts. However, there are potential steals out there. Below is a list of players whose potential impact should outweigh their paycheck. Of course, this being free agency, there is still a chance one of these guys gets a shockingly hefty contract for what they bring.
10. Jonathon Blum
Unqualified by the Predators, Blum was pushed out by a depth of potential on Nashville’s blueline. He has only shown glimpses of reaching the heights expected of him when he was drafted 23rd overall in 2007 – expectations that perhaps got out of control after a strong 23-game showing in 2010-11. Blum may never be a top pairing defenseman, but he’s an excellent buy low option with still plenty of promise. Even if he ends up as a third-pair guy, the likely low investment would be worth it.
9. Tim Thomas
Now this is the wild card of free agency. If Thomas just wants to play – and not play only if the money is what it would have been had he not taken a year off – some team needing a stop-gap No. 1 or wanting to create a tandem pair could get him on the cheap. There’s no telling how he will bounce back from a season away, or what kind of off-ice distraction would be created, but if the price is reasonably low you’re still adding a former Vezina winner who hasn’t yet shown much regression in play.
8. Nik Antropov
A frustrating player to watch, Antropov made some contributions to Winnipeg’s penalty kill. He was way overpaid at $4 million against the cap on his last deal, which should be brought back in line this time. A big body who has been around the block, Antropov isn’t the best depth line option out there and will be somebody’s consolation prize, but he could turn out as a nice bargain for what he brings.
7. Jose Theodore
Should no longer be a No. 1 and is coming off a poor, injury riddled season – but it was only a year ago Theodore led the Florida Panthers to their first playoff appearance in more than a decade. He’s coming off a deal that paid him $1.5 million and it’s hard to imagine him signing for more than that now. So, at that price, he would be an excellent backup option – especially for a team with a younger starting goalie.
6. Mason Raymond
Inconsistency left the Canucks unwilling to invest more of their preciously little cap space in him, but at a moderate price, Raymond could pay off. In 2009-10 Raymond had his best year, scoring 25 goals and 53 points, but hasn’t come close to it since and will likely keep his price down. He has incredible speed, which is so important in today’s NHL, so if there is a suitor out there – and if he can be had for something close to the $2.275 million he was earning on a short or moderate term contract - it’ll be worth the risk.
5. Toni Lydman
Turning 36 in September, Lydman would be a good support addition for a contender or team needing to fill out its blueline. He averaged roughly 19-and-a-half minutes and was a minus-1 in 35 games – the first time he had been a minus player since 2002-03. Steady and reliable, Lydman is coming off a $3 million per year contract and, with other vets such as Rob Scuderi and Andrew Ference available, likely won’t fetch an exorbitant deal.
4. Matt Hendricks
Shootouts can’t be ignored because those single points throughout the season can end up being the difference between playoffs and non-playoff, home-ice advantage or not. Over the past three years, Hendricks is a surprising 8-for-13 in the skills competition. Won’t play a ton of minutes, but can also be used on the PK. Coming off a deal that paid him $825,000 against the cap, a moderate raise would be a worthwhile investment.
3. Manny Malhotra
A veteran checker, savvy penalty killer and faceoff artist, Malhotra was shut down by the Canucks this past season and is hungry to prove he still has something to give. Coming off a $2.5 million cap hit, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take a pay cut – but heck, even holding steady at that price is a good deal for Malhotra. And if he would sign for less to go to a contender, all the better.
2. Ray Emery
Another goalie wild card, Emery went 17-1 this past season with a .922 save percentage behind Corey Crawford. An excellent backup or tandem option, Emery’s expired deal came with a $1.15 million cap hit, which he should get a raise from. Still, it’s not likely to be a huge raise, making him an intriguing, affordable addition. Of course, if the Flyers get involved…
1. Boyd Gordon
Great character guy and one of the better, lesser-known defensive forwards in the game. Gordon could be this year’s McClement. He averaged 15:00 of ice with the Coyotes and led the team’s forwards with a 2:51 average of penalty kill time. Gordon is coming off a deal that paid him $1.325 million against the cap, which is a steal for what he brings.