This was a bad summer to become a free agent. The cap ceiling didn’t rise as much as many teams expected, and as a result, teams were more hesitant than ever to hand out massive contracts to the players available on the free agent market. We’re getting towards the end of summer and there are still a handful of solid free agents looking for employment. If these guys want to play in the NHL next season, they’re probably going to have to do so at a reduced amount of cash or length of term than they originally expected heading into the offseason. At this point, you can call it bargain bin hunting because the teams hold most of the negotiation power. There aren’t many teams left looking to add via free agency, so the options for these guys to sign look fairly slim, especially if they’re interested in playing on a contender.
After the jump, I’ll take a look at some of the interesting free agent defencemen still available in free agency, and who might be interested in their services for the upcoming season.
Christian Ehrhoff’s career has taken somewhat of a nosedive since leaving the Vancouver Canucks to sign a 10 year, $40 million contract with the Sabres in the summer of 2011. He played three years in Buffalo, coming nowhere near the player he was when he had back-to-back 14 goal seasons in Vancouver. As a result, he was bought out after playing through just 30 per cent of his massive contract. Last summer, the Penguins gave him a “save your career” one year, $4 million contract. Due to a collection of injuries, including a concussion suffered in January, Ehrhoff’s time with the Penguins was limited to just 49 games. He also wasn’t able to suit up for Pittsburgh’s first round playoff series against the Rangers.
When he was playing, he was a decent depth defenceman who could bring some offence to the table and help out on the power play. He started 51.3 per cent of his shifts in the offensive zone and mustered a 51.6 Corsi For percentage at even strength, which was poor in related to his teammates. His three goals and 11 assists in just over half a season of work fits right along his career average since joining the Sabres, but like I said, comes nowhere near touching his production from when he was with the Canucks. The biggest thing keeping teams away from Ehrhoff is most certainly his injury history. I imagine that he doesn’t want another one year contract, but since he hasn’t played since suffering that concussion so teams will be skeptical to invest more than one year for his services.
I really doubt that any teams are going to be willing to hand him a multi-year contract, but I’m sure that a handful of teams would be happy to give him another one year deal, even if it is at a higher price than he’ll be worth. Depending on what happens in L.A. with Slava Voynov, he could be a nice fit on the Kings’ blue line for a year. Same goes for the Islanders, who don’t appear to be interested in bringing back the aging and injured Lubomir Visnovsky for another season.
Cody Franson is still a free agent. This is the biggest surprise of the summer for me. The 28 year old right handed defenceman was supposed to be one of the most coveted free agents of the summer, but it seems nobody is interested in giving him the money or the term he believes he’s worth. Apparently he’s been in talks with a few teams all summer, most notably, the Boston Bruins, yet here we are, in the middle of August, and Franson is still looking for employment. I’m not sure exactly what he’s asking for, but if Michael Del Zotto inked a $.3.875 million deal with the Flyers, Justin Schultz got $3.9 million from the Oilers, Franson has to be worth at least $4 million, if not more, right?
Last year, it appeared Franson was having the best season of his career with the Leafs. Before being traded to the Predators, Franson score six goals and 26 assists in 55 games, which put him just four points shy of his career high. He had also taken on a bigger role with the Leafs, averaging 21:23 minutes of ice time per game, the most of his career. After being traded to the Predators, his ice time and production took a massive hit. In 23 games in Nashville, he managed just one goal and three assists while averaging 15:25 minutes of ice time per game. In Toronto, he started 51.5 per cent of his shifts in the offensive zone, but in Nashville, his role was shifted and he started just 43.9 per cent of his shifts in the offensive zone. Despite the change in role, he managed a 57.7 Corsi For percentage, which was very strong in relation to his teammates. Even though his production wasn’t very impressive, it appears that Franson was solid in a defensive role with the Predators. And of course, he’s shown in the past that he can produce offensively at a solid level.
Apparently Franson has been talking to five or six different teams, but nothing has come into fruition yet. Franson suggested that a reason for this could be the fact a lot of the teams around the league, including some of the ones interested in signing him, are struggling with cap issues. I’m guessing a big reason as to why Franson remains unsigned is the fact he wants to play for a contender, in a prominent role, for the money and term he believes he’s worth. Franson is going to have to choose either a shorter term, cheaper deal if he wants to play with a contender. If he wants a big chunk of cash and financial security for the foreseeable future, playing for a contending team probably isn’t an option. If Franson does ultimately choose to take a cut to play for a contender, he could be a great bargain signing for a team looking for another offensive weapon on the blue line.
Playing for the Buffalo Sabres is a great way to let your value take a beating. Just ask Andrej Meszaros. Last summer, he signed a one year, $4.125 million contract with the Sabres and now he’s back on the market looking for another job. His season with the Sabres was pretty forgettable. Well, everything about the Sabres last season was forgettable. He played 60 games due to a combination of minor injuries and being healthy scratched from the lineup (it’s never a good thing when you’re being healthy scratched from the 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres’ lineup). In those 60 games, he managed seven goals and seven assists while averaging 17:54 minutes of ice time per game, which is the lowest total he’s averaged in any season throughout his career.
It’s safe to assume that Meszaros, after a pretty unimpressive season in Buffalo, is going to be looking at another one year contract that’ll more than likely pay him less than he made last year. Obviously it isn’t a ringing endorsement that the Sabres weren’t interested in bringing him back, but Meszaros is certainly worth a risk, especially on a one year deal. It’s not really fair to look at a player’s season on the tanking Buffalo Sabres and say “well, he’s done.” I mean, he still managed to put up a positive Corsi For percentage in relation to his teammates despite starting 56 per cent of his shifts in the defensive zone. That has to be worth something, right?
Speaking of guys who have been in the league forever, Anton Volchenkov is still floating around on the free agent market. Last year, he signed a one year, $1 million deal with the Predators to bring a stable, veteran presence to their blue line. He filled that role nicely for them, averaging 13:11 minutes of ice time per game while starting 55 per cent of his shifts at even strength in the defensive zone. The Predators didn’t pursue Volchenkov’s services for another season because they have a wealth of internal options to fill his role, but he can certainly bring what he brought to Nashville to another team next season. He obviously doesn’t provide much, if anything, if he’s being used in a top four role, but as a No. 6 or 7, you can do worse, especially if it’s on the same $1 million, one year deal he was on last year. If he isn’t signed, I imagine he’ll be given a Professional Tryout, like the one Sergei Gonchar was given in Pittsburgh.
Another guy who can slide into a bottom pairing, defensive role nicely is David Schlemko, who split time with Arizona, Dallas, and Calgary last season. At no point in his career has Schlemko been anywhere close to a producer offensively, but he’s very solid in a defensive role. I know it’s a small sample size, but in 19 games with the Flames last year, Schlemko managed a positive 12.8 relative Corsi For percentage to his teammates despite starting 55.3 per cent of his shifts in the defensive zone. He had no points and just 34 shot attempts in those 19 games, but when he was on the ice, the team seemed to drive possession much better than they did when he wasn’t, even though he had difficult zone starts. He’s coming off a contract that paid him $1.1875 million per season for two years, so if somebody gives him around that on a one year deal, I’m sure they won’t be disappointed.
Hejda is coming off a four year deal with the Colorado Avalanche that paid him $3.25 million annually. He just turned 37 in June, but it’s fair to say he can still play at the NHL level for at least another year. Last season, he averaged just over 20:00 minutes in ice time per game on an Avalanche squad thin on defence. His peripheral stats weren’t very good, in fact, he had one of the lowest Corsi For percentages at even strength of any defenceman who played 500 minutes or more. That being said, the 43.7 Corsi For percentage wasn’t bad in relation to his teammates, and he did face difficult competition while making 53.7 per cent of his starts in the defensive zone. If his minutes were reduced from the 20:39 he averaged per game last year, I’m sure that Hejda could be a really solid option as a depth defenceman on a contending team.
Did you know that Marek Zidlicky led the NHL in games played last season? Thanks to a deal that sent him to the Red Wings at last year’s Trade Deadline, he was able to suit up in 84 games. In those 84 games, he managed seven goals and 27 assists, but six of the goals and 14 of the assists came on the power play. It’s fair to say that Zidlicky, who’s been in the league since 2003, is still a solid depth option for a team looking for a power play weapon. He’ll obviously come at a much cheaper cost than somebody like Cody Franson or Christian Ehrhoff, which makes him a nice option for a contending team. Last summer, he inked a one year, $3 million deal with the Devils, but if he wants to play on a contender again this year, he’s going to have to settle for less than that. If a team can sign him for one year at somewhere around $2 million, they’ll be getting their dollars worth.
All the rest of the free agents can be found here.
STATS COURTESY OF HOCKEY REFERENCE AND WAR ON ICE.