Bargain Bin Shopping: Defencemen Left on the Market

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 

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 

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. 

Andrej Meszaros 

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? 

Anton Volchenkov 

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. 

David Schlemko 

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. 

Jan Hejda


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. 

Marek Zidlicky 

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. 

  • ubermiguel

    Thought experiment: would this collection of 7 bargain bin defencemen be better or worse than the Oilers’ defence of the last 2-3 years? I think it’s too close to call.

        • MGD

          While I really like what Edmonton has in the pipeline, the only guy I’d be worried about them signing from this list is Ehrhoff b/c he got his noggin rattled and hasn’t played since. Sounds like damaged goods.
          The other guys at least know the game, and you know exactly what you’re going to get.
          I REALLY hope they Oilers D is better this year than last, but on paper it doesn’t look that way to me.

      • ubermiguel

        End of last year: 100% agree.

        Even if we pick and choose the best defencemen that have come and gone in the last few years (add Smid, Petry, N. Schultz, Fistric) it’s close.

        And as I typed “best defencemen” and “Smid, Petry, N. Schultz, Fistric” in the same sentence I got sad; no wonder we bleed goals. We need a Nurse, stat!

  • Our D was terrible last year. We have 3 top pairing D in Fayne, Sekera and Klefbom. They are not incredible but middle of the pack. We do not have a 4th – its not Schultz (maybe one day but not today). The easiest goal is the one that isn’t scored. Sign Franson and bring Reinhart and Nurse along slowly.

  • Semenko27

    I’d be happy to see either Visnovski or Hedja here on a tryout come fall but I wouldn’t offer either of them a deal today. I’m hoping to see a more definite solution to the hole on defence here before the season starts.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    Zidlicky might be an option….I didn’t even know he was available.

    He is no world beater, but he has a decent outlet pass and can produce on the PP.

    I don’t really love any of the Dmen on the list. Franson would be the best option in Etown, but I’m guessing what he is asking for is not something we want to be saddled with.

    I really do not like the make up of our blueline. I haven’t for years, and it has annually been our demise. The top 6 forwards can only do so much!!

  • Randaman

    One more year folks. That is unfortunately what we are looking at unless PC can pull a rabbit out of the hat in terms of a Nikitin trade of some sort.

    The remnants of the MacT blunders are not going away until next year. That is the reality we face and no amount of whining is going to fix it.

    We can’t fall into the trap of rushing Darnell and Griff just because we want the play-offs.

    Next year. Our offence on the other hand should be able to compensate on say 3 nights out of 10?

  • Randaman

    I would sign Marek Zidlicky 3m is reasonable. He would improve our depth.

    Also cutting Schultz’s ice time further.

    Sekera
    Fayne
    Klefbom
    Schultz
    Zidlicky
    Nikitin
    Gryba
    Ferrence

    Not a playoff team. But Zidlicky and Nikitin could be flipped at the deadline for picks, or pucks. Allowing Nurse and Reinhart to spend half the season in the minors.

    • Randaman

      My feelings exactly regarding how the year plays out – Niki, Ference and an old UFA if we go that way are all just seat-fillers. I say dump Schultz too if you can get something for him.

      I still like Franson the most though, on a 2 or 3 year deal, and even if that deal is an overpay. Anybody that can push Schultz out of the top 4 is worth signing.

      Hell, Lubo was good here once, maybe he could be again. And he’d be injured enough that we’d have ample opportunity to call up the kids and ease them in.

    • Harry2

      People are so worried about Nurse or Reinhart playing in the NHL next year and I dont get it. We have a compitent vet coach dont forget.

      Neither one of these guys is an 18 year old. Both have been seasoned and both are over 20. Reinhart has played a full AHL season too.

      Sekera-Fayne, Klef-Shultz, Reinhart-Gryba…..Ference

      Nikitin has no buisness on the opening night roster when youve got guys like Nurse and Reinhart

      And for the love of God stop refering to Edmonton as “not a playoff team”. Its getting really old.

  • Harry2

    Oilers have no room to sign anyone. They are already capped out. Only space is needed to cover McDavid’s ELC bonuses. Nikitin, Purcell and Ferrance need to come off books.

    • Harry2

      I see your poibt but to label this group a nonplayoff team when there was such a hige amount of changover, especially off the ice, is annoying and pesimistic.

      Lowe and Macs reign of terror is over. Anything can happen. I can see edm pushing for a spot THIS season

  • Cheap Shot Charlie

    After reading this article, all I can think is we need help through a trade. None of these guys are worth picking up. I’d rather tank with the Core we’ve got than hope that someone else will improve us when they won’t.

  • Cheap Shot Charlie

    After reading this article, all I can think is we need help through a trade. None of these guys are worth picking up. I’d rather tank with the Core we’ve got than hope that someone else will improve us when they won’t.

  • Himynameistaylor

    I really don’t see why Franson is so high on himself. I’d pay no more than 4m a year for 3 years and even then that’s pushing it for me. He’s not going to get anything more than that from a team with a lot of cap space to spare such as Arizona.

    He’s been on several “show me” contracts for a reason and if he wants to play with a team long term, he needs to be a player worth employing long term.