We’re two days into September, inching ever-closer to training camp, and Rick Nash remains undecided about his future.
The 34-year-old announced ahead of signing season that, while there were teams interested in his services, he wants to take some time to think about his future. And despite coming off of campaigns in which he has battled injury and inconsistency, Nash’s decision comes as a surprise. After all, while there’s no knowing how he would have performed this coming campaign, he’s fresh off of consecutive 20-goal campaign, only three years removed from a 40-goal season and remained one of the most sought after trade chips around the trade deadline.
Because of Nash’s decision to take some time to decide his future and the possibility that he decides that he’s done with life in the NHL, you won’t be finding the one-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner on this All-Unrestricted Free Agent team. Nash isn’t alone in his absence, however, as a few other players who are technically still without contracts won’t be appearing below. Thus, players on PTOs such as Jason Garrison and Scottie Upshall didn’t make the cut.
So, using only free agents in their truest form — which is to say those who don’t even have a PTO in hand — here is the NHL’s All-UFA Team:
ANTOINE VERMETTE, C
The decline has been natural and steady for Vermette, 36, from his previous standing as a 40-point player. He managed just eight goals and 16 points last season with the Anaheim Ducks, and once a top-six pivot, he was utilized solely as a fourth-liner last campaign. But that doesn’t mean a team seeking some offensive depth shouldn’t come calling. Vermette has post-season experience and can chip in here or there, but his best asset is his faceoff acumen. No player has a better winning percentage on the dot than Vermette over the past two seasons, who has won 61.2 percent of his draws. That could make him a serviceable penalty kill specialist.
MIKE CAMMALLERI, LW
Cammalleri was once one of the league’s sneakiest sharpshooters, a consistent 25-goal threat who made his living with his shot and speed. Now months past his 36th birthday, though, Cammalleri has to use a bit more veteran savvy than he once did. And while the goal scoring pace seems to have slowed significantly — he has only four more in his past three seasons than he scored in 68 games during the 2014-15 season — he can still find the scoresheet. He put up seven goals and 29 points in 66 games last season while playing a bottom-six role. Give him some power play time and a spot with some young talent and Cammalleri might surprise.
LEE STEMPNIAK, RW
Few players in league history have had a harder time finding a consistent home. Stempniak has bounced around, and the Carolina Hurricanes, with whom he spent the past two seasons, were his 10th NHL club. The 35-year-old had to battle injury last season and had a tough time hitting his stride once he got back into action, but his two seasons prior were 16-goal, 40-point and 19-goal, 51-point campaigns. And in the advanced stats era, Stempniak is somewhat of a low-level darling. He drives play well and is solid at both ends of the ice. As veteran bottom-six forwards go, Stempniak should be considered among the more valuable.
LUCA SBISA, D
There are reports circling regarding Sbisa suggesting that the 28-year-old could either land a PTO or a solid, one-year offer in the coming days. Until that happens, though, he remains untethered. And while he spent much of the season as a seventh defenseman on an upstart Vegas Golden Knights team, Sbisa’s two goals and 14 points in 30 games is evidence of the offensive upside he can bring to a bottom pairing. He can also be physical and is willing to block shots. There’s a spot for Sbisa in the NHL, and it sounds as though he’ll find it before the season begins.
CODY FRANSON, D
This is one that will please the stats crowd and do nothing but annoy those who believe firmly in the eye test. Franson, 31, has been divisive in that way throughout his career. His underlying numbers scream for someone to give him a chance, but his foot-speed has been an issue that some aren’t willing to overlook. He earned a deal last season out of training camp with the Blackhawks, but Chicago utilized him for less than half the campaign. There’s some offensive upside — and one heck of a shot — to be had with Franson, but teams wanting to bring him aboard may decide to pass given his so-so skating.
STEVE MASON, G
Among the most puzzling free agents left on the market. Yes, Mason struggled mightily and fought injury last season in Winnipeg, but the Jets signing him to a two-year, $8.2-million contract last summer wasn’t all that misguided. Mason’s even-strength save percentage numbers have been impressive over the past several seasons and he seems the perfect option for a team looking to run a platoon between the pipes. If he goes into camp without a deal, chances are he’s the first to get a call when some team’s starter or talented second-stringer inevitably falls injured. He’s the best netminder left without work, and that’s hardly even up for debate.
Second Team: Daniel Winnik, C; Scott Hartnell, LW; Chris Stewart, RW; Alexei Emelin, D; Justin Falk, D; Kari Lehtonen, G.
Third Team: Nick Shore, C; Benoit Pouliot, LW; Alex Chiasson, RW; Kevin Bieksa, D; Frank Corrado, D; Ondrej Pavelec, G.
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