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Top 5 Remaining Budget NHL UFAs

With the NHL off-season hitting a lull over the past few weeks, here are five useful players without a contract that teams could bring in at a budget price.
Tyler Bozak

The dog days of the offseason are a wonderful time on the hockey calendar, allowing NHL general managers to unplug, take some time off, and really take advantage of sorely-needed downtime. 

What it also offers is the perfect opportunity for clarity, too.  

See, after the chaos brought on by the first few weeks of free agency, teams now get to let the dust settle, step back, and gain a clear picture of what tweaks are needed to fill their remaining roster holes. 

Enter: the free-agent bargain bin. 

There are still a few intriguing names left on the open market with the season fast approaching. Here are five who could give teams the jolt they may need:

Alex Galchenyuk, F, 27
Given all the hoopla that surrounded the Alex Galchenyuk Reclamation Project™ last season, it's somewhat surprising to find the talented winger still without a contract this late into August. 

Galchenyuk projects as a useful middle-six contributor at this point, someone versatile enough to drive play on a third line while also capable of supporting more skilled teammates higher in the lineup if needed. His underlying numbers have been quite favorable over the years despite bouncing between five teams over the past three seasons, and after racking up 12 points, all at even-strength, in 26 games last season, Glachenyuk appears to be one of the more attractive bargain candidates still out there. 

For a team looking for scoring depth and playmaking ability at a reasonable price, Galchenyuk might be the best option left.

Nikita Gusev, LW, 29
Listen, no one has thrived in New Jersey for the past two years. Certainly not Gusev, that's for sure, but it's not like he's the only disappointment to come the Devils' way in that time.  

Gusev did flash glimpses of the skill that made him such a coveted KHL free agent years ago after fleeing the Jersey Shore for Sunrise, Florida midseason, racking up 5 points in 11 games with the Panthers that ultimately matched his total with the Devils in half the time. 

If Gusev does intend on sticking it out in the NHL rather than heading back to the KHL, which is likely a viable option for him, there's value to be had. For one, Gusev is a possession monster, driving play to the tune of a 57.9% CF/60 at 5v5 last season which included a whopping 62.3% as a Panther. 11 games is a small sample size, but those possession numbers are impressive nonetheless, especially when factoring in how Gusev started just 44.9% of his shifts in the offensive zone in Florida.

Given sheltered minutes and a role on a second power-play unit, Gusev has the ability to out-perform his assuredly small cap hit. 

Ryan Donato, C, 25
Look, we're not working with blue-chip free agents here. This is the bottom of the barrel. But that doesn't mean you can't dig up some value somewhere.

Enter: Ryan Donato. 

Now, the biggest thing going for Donato at this point is his age. The former second-round pick is still just 25, only now his prime that, if aging curves are to be believed, should mean his best days are still ahead. And they better be, frankly. 

Donato has had a rough time since putting up 16 points in the 22 games he played for the Wild after getting dealt to Minnesota in 2019, watching both his point totals and usage drop dramatically in each year since. 

But there is a good player hiding somewhere in there. Donato managed to put up 20 points in 50 games for the moribund Sharks in 2021, driving play at a surprisingly decent clip despite his most common linemates being the ghost of Patrick Marleau and someone named Dylan Gambrell. 

On a contender's fourth line with some decent running mates, Donato can be a useful piece. 

Tyler Bozak, C, 35
Bozak's best days are behind him. That's for sure. But the 35-year-old still has some gas left in the tank for any team that takes a chance on him. 

For one, Bozak produced at a better point-per-sixty-minutes rate than he did the year before despite seeing his average ice time drop by roughly one minute. He won't put the puck in the net, mustering just 5 goals in 31 games last season, but Bozak can still get the puck to his teammates with decent efficiency while serving as one of the league's best in the faceoff dot. 

Bozak won 56.8% of his draws in 2021. And on a cheap deal alongside some functional linemates, he's an intriguing piece for any contender's fourth line. 

Jason Demers, D, 33
You're not getting goals if you're signing Demers. The guy hasn't scored one in two seasons. But what you will get is a still-effective, right-shot defender capable of logging 17-18 useful minutes whose ability to tread water in a defense-only role could really spruce up a team's third pair. 

Given how absurd the defenseman market has become this summer, particularly when it comes to those who happen to shoot in the direction Demers does, it's somewhat surprising that he's still available. The 33-year-old was a serviceable soldier for a terrible Coyotes team last season, logging some of the most difficult minutes on the team while still managing to drive play at a clip above the team average. 

On a cheap deal with minimal term, there are a number of teams who could benefit from adding Demers before training camps open in the coming weeks. 


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