The 2019 NHL UFA market is a hot one, especially at forward. Just check out Matt Larkin’s list of the top 30 unrestricted free agents heading to market and you’ll see it’s packed with top-line talent. There’s soon-to-be former Blue Jackets (Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene), there’s captains (Joe Pavleski, Anders Lee), there’s a raft of scoring wingers (Mats Zuccarello, Gustav Nyquist, Micheal Ferland, Marcus Johansson) and lots more. In short, there’s a lot of money about to be paid out.
But there’s also a tier of lower-profile forwards who can be had for a reasonable price. They might not score 30 goals, but there’s a decent chance they hit 20. And rather than paying them $5 million or more, you can probably get these guys for $3 million or less. In some cases, a lot less.
Here are 10 UFA forwards who look good to cover their costs:
Ryan Dzingel, C, 27 ($2.1 million): While NHL GMs raid the Blue Jackets for UFA top-flighters Panarin, Duchene and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, Dzingel is coming off his second consecutive 20-goal season and he bumped his personal-best point total up to 56. He can slot in up and down the lineup and contribute on the power play. He'll likely end up costing more than $3 million per season, but he still looks like a good value.
Brett Connolly, RW, 27 ($1.5 million): His 427 games of NHL experience have been split between Tampa Bay, Boston and Washington – three pretty good organizations with which to become a full-fledged big-leaguer. He’s 6-foot-3 and physical, and his first-round draft status (the Lightning picked him sixth overall in 2010) speaks to his pedigree. While he’s not the first-liner he was projected to become when he was a teenager, he just posted his first 20-goal season and nearly doubled his career-best point total.
Thomas Vanek, LW, 35 ($3 million): He’s not getting older, he’s getting better. Well, OK, truth be told, he is getting older and he’s not getting better. But he’s still savvy, he still knows what to do in the offensive zone and he still has 20-goal talent. If you’re looking for depth scoring, you could a lot worse than Vanek. Plus, you can get him on a one- or two-year deal.
Brandon Tanev, LW, 27 ($1.15 million): You don’t want him in the top-six and you definitely don’t want him on the power play. But Tanev does just about everything else. He’s energetic, he hits, he kills penalties, he chips in on offense. He’s a battler, a team player through and through. He looks like one of those guys that Stanley Cup contenders always seem to have on their third and fourth line. Five goals in 22 career playoff games from a depth player? Yes, please.
Colin Wilson, C, 29 ($4 million): A 6-foot-1, 220-pound center who was drafted seventh overall by Nashville back in 2008, Wilson always seems to leave you wanting more. Just when you think he’s going to break out, he takes a step back, or gets hurt, or both. In 10 NHL seasons, he has scored 20 goals once and cracked the 40-point plateau once. So, set your expectations at 15 goals and 30-plus points and hope he stays healthy. Wilson makes this list because he has shown a flair for playing his best hockey in the post-season, overachieving multiple times in the spring. That includes the 2019 post-season, when he posted four goals and eight points in 12 games for Colorado.
Noel Acciari, RW, 27 ($750,000): You watched the playoffs, right? So you know that Acciari is a Boston-proven entity who can bring it from the fourth line. Offense isn’t his strong point, but just about everything else is.
Tyler Ennis, LW, 29 ($650,000): Signed a one-year “prove it” deal with Toronto, and then the 5-foot-9, 160-pound dynamo went out and showed he still has big-league chops. You sign him for depth duty, but you can plug him in on the top-six when needed, and trot him out on the power play, too.
Joonas Donskoi, RW, 27 ($1.9 million): The Sharks have bigger fish to fry at forward as they try to re-sign the likes of Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Timo Meier. With Donskoi likely to get squeezed out in the equation, that means there’s a third-liner with upside up for grabs. He doesn’t score a ton, but he has a penchant for coming through in the clutch – four of his nine playoff goals have been game-winners, including an overtime tally.
Jamie McGinn, RW, 30 ($3.5 million): Coming off back surgery, McGinn missed most of the 2018-19 season, returning in February and scoring four goals and seven points in 19 games with Florida. Assuming he’s fully healthy, McGinn brings physicality to your bottom-six while adding enough offensive pop that he sees time on the power play. He’s a risk, but – at the right price – one that’s worth taking.
Brandon Pirri, LW, 28 ($650,000): Seventy-two goals in 259 career NHL games. That’s pretty good, except that those 259 games have been spread across nine seasons. Pirri has appeared in 50-plus games in a season only twice, but he scored 22 times in 49 games with Florida in 2014-15 and 12 goals in 31 games with Vegas this past season. Maybe he only has one trick – putting the puck in the net – but it’s a good one. Somebody give this guy a chance.
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