In no particular order, here is a list of UFAs that intrigue me. I think these guys can help good teams in various or specific ways, aren’t being given enough attention, and because of that will come at a bargain most likely.
Craig Adams- Although the Penguins penalty kill struggled this year, Craig Adams led all Pittsburgh forwards in shorthanded ice time per game the two previous seasons, and in those years the Penguins were ranked first and third overall. He’s won two cups and is 36 so he’s getting long in the tooth, but he’s a player who knows his role, can help a team create a solid fourth line that can play defense, and he’s a guy the Pens trusted to close out games for them. The Harvard grad is a smart, physical player that can help a lot of teams looking for depth and penalty killing.
Good Fit: San Jose Sharks- The Sharks use a lot of their best players to kill penalties like Pavelski, Marleau and Couture, so instead it would be nice if they used the roster spots on their bottom two lines to fill them with role players who can play some tough minutes and alleviate their best players of a little defensive pressure. San Jose is a very good team and they're deep, but Adams gives them a solid defensive player who would fit in their physical and fast system.
Danius Zubrus- Zubrus hurt his wrist this season and only played 22 games; despite scoring nine points in those 22 games, he’s going to fly under the radar. He just turned 35 this year so he’s getting old, but he did have a 44 point season last year so he has some gas left in the tank. At 6’5 Zubrus is one of the biggest forwards in the league and although he’s primarily a winger, he can play some center. The best bottom six forward groups are full of versatile players and that’s what Zubrus is- he can play a little penalty killing, score a little, bring size to the line-up, and cycle the heck out of teams down low. He doesn’t have the mean streak most teams seem to look for, but his size is noticeable out there and he’s capable of dominating shifts in the offensive zone because of it. He would be a good compliment to almost any bottom six in the league.
Good Fit: Edmonton Oilers- The Oilers are looking for guys who can play hockey to put in their bottom six, and Zubrus can do a bit of everything. His versatility will be welcome there, as to will his contributions on the PK and his ability to cycle the puck well in the oppositions end. Zubrus is still an effective forward and he'd give Edmonton solid and safe minutes.
Boyd Gordon- Turning 30 this year, only now has Gordon begun to really standout as a defensive monster. He’s one of the best faceoff men in the league –won over 57% of his draw this year—and due to that the Coyotes trusted him with a lot of defensive zone draws and checking duties. He’s only 6’0 so he’s not a big guy, but he’s fast and aggressive and that allows him to play a strong in your face defensive style. At this point in his career he’s a high-end defensive forward and there are few teams who don’t need more defensive forwards- ironically Phoenix is probably one of them. When Vancouver was at their best in the last few years, a huge part of that was Malhotra’s ability to alleviate the skilled forwards of defensive duties and take them on himself, and Gordon could be the new guy to do that for some team.
Good Fit: Toronto Maple Leafs- Last year Mikhail Grabovski assumed most of the Leafs defensive responsibilities and he clearly wasn't happy in that role, nor did he thrive in it. Gordon could relieve him of some of those responsibilities and be another good veteran checker add to this team the same way McClement was last year.
Vinny Prospal- Prospal is another old guy, but unlike most of the veterans listed here he can score. Since the lockout he has played 559 games and scored 417 points, including leading Columbus in scoring last year with 30 points in 48 games. Teams always seem to look for scoring at the deadline, but here is a veteran who can still score that can be had for free, so I’m curious to see who picks him up. NOTE: He did have some sort of agreement with Columbus to stay with the team and then move into a management role with the old regime, I’m not sure if that’s still true with this management. Frankly, I think Columbus is the best fit for him anyways.
Good Fit: Columbus Blue Jackets- Prospal is a great fit in Columbus, which is why he should stay. The Jackets are deep with two way players, but struggle to score so he'll always get power play time and be appreciated as long as he continues to score. Columbus is a team on the rise, and Prospal is a good veteran place holder for them until the young kids are ready to score consistently.
Mason Raymond- Raymond has always been a second-third line tweener, but he’s fast, he can score and he’s only 27. He’s not very physical, he’s not a go-to penalty killer and he doesn’t bring much of what a typical bottom six player brings so where ever he goes it has to be the right situation or else he’s going to be bad. He also hasn’t been quite the same since his vertebrae injury, so whoever signs him will be hoping to put him in a favourable situation and hoping he rebounds.
Good Fit: Dallas Stars- Dallas has five established forwards: Benn, Whitney, Cole, Eriksson, and Fiddler. One is a grinder, two are old veterans that are still productive, while Benn is a young star and Eriksson is in his prime. The rest of their team is basically young kids. Raymond is a good tweener who is established in this league, can give Dallas some depth and speed, and be a reasonably reliable scorer. When you look at the Stars' roster right now they need NHLers, and Raymond is an above average NHLer.
Damien Brunner- Brunner finally made his NHL debut this year and he didn’t look out of place. He started the year playing with lockout line mate Henrik Zetterberg and getting power play time on the point with the first unit, and he produced 10 goals in his first 19 games. But his offense dried up after that and he had 2 goals in his last 25 games and he found himself moved down the depth chart due to that. The bottom line is that he’s a skilled player who can add offense and talent to any roster, and he’s only 27 so teams will be interested. Odds are that he stays with Detroit, but if he does hit the market teams will be curious to sign him up and put him on a line with some of their own talented players.
Good Fit: New Jersey Devils- The Devils are pretty deep down the middle, but have almost no talent on the wing. They struggled to score all year despite dominating most of their games, and anyone with talent is basically welcome on their team. Brunner will probably resign in Detroit which is a great call, but if he does hit the open market New Jersey is a great option for him because they are a good team that will rely on him to score and give him plenty of opportunities to do so.
Michael Ryder- Ryder has a lot of warts to his game as he isn’t overly strong defensively or physical, but there’s one thing he can do and that’s score. He turned 33 this year and although he’s been riding high shooting percentages the last few years, he’s always been a bit of a one-shot scorer and at the very least should be good for 20 goals. Ryder was great for Boston in his second line-third line tweener role, and there were a lot of good teams this year in the playoffs that were struggling to score. A veteran with a Cup ring, Ryder could help a lot of teams.
Good Fit: Ottawa Senators- Whether Alfredsson returns or not this team needs scoring help and Ryder is a one shot scorer. The UFA market is pretty limited when it comes to scoring options and Ryder will hopefully come relatively cheap for the production he brings. Ottawa is a young team and a veteran scorer would be welcomed with open arms to their team.
Clarke MacArthur- MacArthur is a pretty underrated player which is surprising considering he plays for the Leafs, but here we are. He has a great shot, is a legitimate 20 goal scorer at this point, has some speed and isn't completely terrible defensively. He’s 28 and he’s pretty established as a solid scorer, which is as good as it gets in the second tier of free agency nowadays. If a team gives him some responsibilities and puts him in as a legitimate top six forward for the full year, I think there will be more payoff than regret in the long run.
Good Fit: Nashville Predators- After Hornqvist and Kostitsyn, Nashville has almost no skill along the wings, and a 20 goal scorer like MacArthur would add a great infusion of skill. Nashville basically needs any offense it can get at this point, and he's also young enough to grow with the team as they seem to be getting younger right now and going through a pretty quick on the fly rebuild.
Derek Roy- If Roy was a UFA two seasons ago he would be as sought after as anyone on the market right now. That year he had 35 points in 35 games before getting hurt. The following season Roy returned to put up 44 points in 80 games as it clearly took him time to recover from his injury. This season he got traded to Dallas and put up 22 points in 30 games, a 60 point pace, before getting traded to the mess in Vancouver. Roy is only 30 and while he hasn’t been as aggressive or speedy as he once was, he still has game, he can still create offense, he still has a great shot and he can QB a power play from the point. There are a lot of teams that need help down the middle, and Roy is still a good center capable of producing. If expectations are reasonable, he’ll produce.
Good Fit: Phoenix Coyotes- Phoenix has an excellent shutdown center in Hanzal, and a solid two-way center in Vermette, so adding an offensive minded guy like Roy to round out that trio just seems extremely obvious. Signing Roy would finally allow a guy like Vrbata or Boedker to play with an offense-first center with a ton of talent.
Matt Cullen- Cullen’s 37 and his career is winding down, so he’s not the excellent 3C and power play specialist he once was, but he’s still effective. Cullen’s great in the faceoff circle, good in the shootout, still produces offense, and he can play against other teams third lines adequately. He’s not a checking center, but he has a two-way game and if he’s put in favourable match-ups he’ll easily come out ahead. Good Fit: Winnipeg Jets- The Jets have Jokinen, Little, Scheifele and Slater down the middle so Cullen isn't an obvious fit here, but Jokinen is turning out to be a dud, and Slater provides no offense whatsoever, so that would put a lot of pressure on Scheifele in his first year. Cullen is able to score and really if they just buyout Jokinen that's the actual ideal thing to do here. Even if they don't Cullen still helps them and if they still suck, he'll be a guy teams will be interested in at the deadline.
Jeff Halpern- He’s only a fourth liner, but he’s a good one. Halpern can still win faceoffs, he can still kill penalties, he can still grind and give you safe minutes, and he’s right handed. He can play center and the wing, he has some ability if he’s not put in a pure defensive fourth line role and he’s an overall good veteran. When I look around at some of the junk teams deploy on their fourth lines and then see a guy like Jeff Halpern hit free agency, I sincerely hopes he gets signed.
Good Fit: Buffalo Sabres- To say it bluntly: Buffalo has a lot of goofs on their team, and their penalty kill sucks, which is about as bad a combination as there is in hockey. The fact that Halpern can play wing really helps them out because Buffalo is pretty solid down the middle. They're a young team in transition so signing a veteran could be strange, but Halpern will help smooth out some of the rough patches and like Cullen they could probably trade him for a pick if the season goes down the tank.
Grant Clitsome- Clitsome is a relatively young defenseman at 28 years old who has shown he is capable of playing nearly 20 minutes a night. He has 55 points in 149 career games so far, because he thinks the game well and makes a good first pass. Clitsome is small at 5’11, but he does try to play physical and he’s listed at 215 pounds so he’s thick. If teams are looking for a desperate, cheap, potential top 4 option he might be able to fill it. More than likely, he can be a very solid third pairing guy who can play in the top four once and awhile.
Good Fit: Tampa Bay Lightning- The Bolts defense has some pieces now in Carle and Hedman, but they still need work. Clitsome isn't the true top four guy that they need, but he will make their defense better and he's a good compliment to all the skill Tampa has up front. They are right up against the cap so they'd need to clear space to make this move, but he would help them.
Mike Lundin- Lundin has been injured the last few years, but to me he’s the wildcard of this entire free agent class. He’s 28 years old and was once in the young stars game, but injuries have hit him hard the last few years causing him to play only 28 games the last two season. The year before that he was playing for Tampa Bay the year they made the Eastern Conference final and he was third on the team in ice time per game at 20:24 during the regular season. Lundin plays a no-thrills game, but he can outlet the puck out of the zone and he has great defensive awareness. Starting him on your third pairing and seeing if he can find his game again isn’t a terrible idea.
Good Fit: Washington Capitals- Washington is more or less set at defense but Schultz wants out and they have three really good defensemen, and then three okay at best guys. If Lundin can ever stay healthy and regain his form, he'd be a great fit in Washington. The Caps are deep enough on defense that if he doesn't pan out it's not a big deal, but if he does he will help Washington.
Jordie Benn- Benn had his first extended stay in the NHL this year and didn’t look out of place. He’s 6’1, has some skill, can skate, and was able to handle his own against third lines although he was overwhelmed against top six forwards. When you consider that he’s only 25 and he hasn’t even played a full year in the NHL, you have to account for the fact that there’s room for his game to grow. He had 53 points in his last 105 AHL games so he does have some skill. If teams are looking for cheap, young defensemen to fill out their defense –basically every team in the league—then he should be looked at. Good Fit: Dallas Stars- Like Prospal, Benn is in a good spot and should stay there. Besides the fact that his brother is on Dallas, the Stars are a team in transition and welcoming a ton of young guys on the team, particularly at defense, so that means ice time is up for grabs and there will be lots of opportunity. That's the ideal for a still relatively young defenseman breaking into the league.
Toni Lydman- Lydman used to be a full time top four defenseman that would put up over 20 points a year, but now he’s starting to see his ice time hover around 19 minutes a game and he struggles to put up any points whatsoever. Last year the Hawks picked up a solid veteran defenseman who doesn’t play flashy hockey in Michal Rozsival, and he ended up playing huge minutes for the Hawks in their Cup run. Lydman can give a team solid minutes and help make a defense better, yet for some reason that seems to be an under-appreciated thing around the league as teams are always looking for points, or big hits, or whatever.
Good Fit: Minnesota Wild- The Wild defense simply isn't very good and isn't very experienced, so adding a solid veteran like Lydman will help solidify it. Playing the reliable left-handed Lydman with the up and coming righty Spurgeon is appealing when you consider their top pairing is already set in stone with Brodin and Suter, plus then they'd have Gilbert to anchor their other pairing. The Wild have tried out a ton of unimpressive young guys on defense, so I think it's time they look at adding a good veteran who can get the job done.
Andrew Ference- Ference is 34 years old and when you combine his regular season and playoff games, he’s played 880 games so he has quite a bit of mileage on him. Ference was Boston’s fourth defenseman this year, but to me he’s ideally suited to be a fifth defenseman at this point of his career. He’s not the rock he once was, but he can still give a team good minutes, he’s a good veteran, he plays with an edge, and he’s a good player to pair a young kid with on a third pairing.
Good Fit: Carolina Hurricanes- Carolina desperately needs defense help and while Ference isn't the top four guy they need, he will help stabilize the second half of their defense and as a lefty would be a good option to play with a righty like McBain or Ryan Murphy, or even just Jay Harrison.
Ben Lovejoy- Lovejoy is surprisingly 29 years old, so whoever signs him isn’t banking on potential anymore. At this point he is what he is- a solid defenseman with size at 6’2 that is a smooth skater, not very physical, but can give a team a solid 17 or so minutes a night and maybe play on the second power play unit. He’s also right handed which I consider a huge advantage because there are less right handed D-men then lefties, and he’s a solid player you can trust if his assignments are reasonable. In the playoffs he actually moved into Anaheim’s top four and handled himself very well. To me, Lovejoy is the perfect kind of depth defenseman because he’s old enough that you feel no pressure to play him compared to a prospect, and you can trust him.
Good Fit: Florida Panthers- Their defensemen are either really young or really old and while they do have some young guys that might crack the team soon, they will still have holes to fill because Jovanovski can't stay healthy and Kuba will be gone sooner than later, so Lovejoy can actually get ice time in Florida and give them some solid minutes.
Anton Khudobin- Look, I’m not going to pretend that I understand goaltending because I don’t, but Khudobin has a .933sv% in 21 NHL games, and a .912sv% in 156 AHL games that was .920% in his last 60 games. He’s 27 years old, he’s small but lightning quick, and his numbers are fantastic. These are the type of goalies teams should be taking chances on.
Good Fit: Winnipeg Jets- Pavelec is their guy long-term, but he hasn't had any real competition for the net, whereas Khudobin might be able to steal starts from Pavelec and give Winnipeg better goaltending than they've received.
Jason LaBarbera- In his last four years his save percentages have been: .923%, .912%, .909%, .928%. LaBarbera is 33 and is a true backup, but he’s a solid one. If you have a full-time starter who can give you 60+ starts, this is the kind of guy you want playing the other 20 or so games.
Good Fit: Boston Bruins- If current Bruins UFA backup Khudobin is smart he'll go to a team with a better chance at getting starts, like the one I mentioned above, if that's the case Boston will need a new backup and LaBarbera is a true pro's backup and will be a solid relief guy for Rask.
Jose Theodore- Florida’s entire team sucked this year, but in Theodore’s previous three years he had save percentages of .917%, .916% and .911. I don’t think he’s a pure backup, but he’s a guy who is great insurance for a spotty starter or goalie who gets hurt a lot.
Good Fit: Carolina Hurricanes- Obviously Cam Ward is their guy but he has missed significant time two of the last four years so Carolina needs better insurance and to lessen his workload. Theodore could give Carolina an excellent 30-some odd games so that Ward can stay rested and Carolina wont be screwed if Ward does get hurt again.
Thomas Greiss- Greiss is 6’1 and has a career .912sv% in 44 career NHL games. That’s about league average goaltending, but at 27 he’s reaching the age that many goalies start to take off in their careers. Putting Greiss in a situation where he has the potential, but not guarantee, to get a lot of starts could prove best for everyone involved.
Good Fit: Chicago Blackhawks- The Hawks should lose Emery so they'll need a replacement. Crawford is obviously their guy but they'll need a good backup because he and Emery almost split starts down the middle this year. Greiss still has untapped potential and can give the Hawks more than spot duty good goaltending.