Remember when teams were happy to hand out massive contracts like Halloween candy during the NHL’s free agency period? That certainly hasn’t been the case this summer. In fact, this has been a terrible summer for free agents, as the lower-than-expected cap ceiling has resulted in teams being more conservative ever with their offseason roster improvements. As a result, we’re getting towards the end of August and a handful of notable players are still floating around on the market looking for new contracts.
While this is awful for the players, it’s great for general managers. There’s a massive supply of quality, veteran players on the market, but there isn’t much demand from teams. As a result, the players are more than likely going to have to settle for a much smaller chunk of cash than they expected if they want to play in the NHL next season.
Yesterday I looked at some of the interesting defencemen still on the market, so today I’m going to break down which forwards could be signed at a cheap price.
To be honest, I’m not sure exactly why the Florida Panthers decided to buy out the final year of Brad Boyes’ contract. By doing so, the Panthers open up a roster spot and save $1.7 million cap space — Boyes was set to be paid $2.6 million this year — which seems somewhat unnecessary. I mean, he scored 14 goals and 24 assists in 78 games, so it’s not like he was some kind of anchor offensively. I’m not going to sit here and try and figure out why the Panthers decided to make this move, because it’s the Panthers, but I am going to wonder why nobody’s bothered to sign Boyes as a free agent yet. For whatever reason, Florida decided they didn’t want him next year, but everything suggests that he made their team better last season and he’s been doing so for a while now. Even though his production isn’t quite at the same level as it was back in 2007-08 when he scored 43 goals with the St. Louis Blues, Boyes is just outside the top 50 in goals created, goals scored, shots, and points per game among forwards over the past five seasons combined. There’s no doubt that Boyes, who’s still only 33 years old, can be a nice depth scoring option for another few seasons.
Sean Bergenheim was sent to the Minnesota Wild last season after requesting a trade from the Florida Panthers, and it’s safe to say that the move didn’t exactly work out for him. He appeared in 17 games for the Wild managing just one goal in a limited roll that saw him average 10:45 minutes of ice time per game. That poor production was disappointing for the Wild, considering he was used largely in offensive situations — 54.4 per cent even strength zone starts — against some of the weakest competition in the NHL. That being said, Bergenheim is still an interesting option despite the fact he had a poor showing on the Wild. Before he was dealt, he had eight goals and 10 assists in 39 games with the Panthers, which had him on pace to break his career highs in both goals and assists. He also managed a 55.1 Corsi For percentage at even strength in Florida in a less favourable role than the one he played in Minnesota. Between 2008-2014, he’s scored at least 10 goals every season and he’s managed to have a positive Corsi For percentage is relation to his teammates. At 31 years of age, there’s no reason to assume he can’t keep that level of production up, making him a solid, cheap option as a depth scorer on a contending team.
It doesn’t seem like very long ago that there was a big debate as to whether or not the Flames should sign veteran forward Curtis Glencross to a contract extension or let him move on. The Flames decided he wasn’t a part of their future plans, and they shipped him to the Washington Capitals. After 18 games with the Caps in which he managed four goals and three assists, Glencross is sitting on the free agent market looking for a job. The biggest red flag attached to Glencross is obviously his injury history. He hasn’t put together a full season since 2010-11 due to a wide array of different injuries, which would certainly make any team skeptical of handing him anything more than a one year contract. Glencross may be a risk, but there’s really no doubt that he’s a serviceable middle-six forward at this stage in his career. In a relatively healthy season last year, Glencross managed 13 goals and 22 points over 71 games, averaging 15:39 minutes of ice time per game. He was also largely used in defensive zone situations at even strength, and he was in the top quarter in the league among forwards in terms of opponents Corsi For percentage. I doubt he’ll be offered anything more than a one year contract at around the $2.55 million he was paid last year, but it would shock me if Curtis Glencross wasn’t on an NHL roster next season.
Martin Erat will forever be remembered as the player who was traded for Filip Forsberg, largely because he was a complete flop in Washington, while Forsberg is already one of the best young forwards in the game. Erat had been a good, consistent forward with the Predators for the better part of a decade before being traded to the Capitals. He was basically a lock for 15 goals and 50 points between 2003-2012, but when he joined the Caps, his production fell completely off a cliff. In 62 games with the Caps over parts of two seasons, Erat managed just two goals, which was awful on its own merit, but was even worse because of who Washington gave up to get him. In the past season and change with the Coyotes, Erat hasn’t produced much offensively, but his underlying numbers would suggest that he makes the team better when he’s on the ice. In 79 games last season, Erat scored just nine goals and 23 assists, but he had the best Corsi For percentage of his career since the 2009-10 season. This was also done on the Arizona Coyotes, a team who had some of the worst possession numbers in the league last season. His nine goals certainly aren’t impressive, but he also had a shooting percentage of just 9.9, well below his career average of 12.0, so it’s reasonable to assume that production wasn’t indicative of his quality of play last season. I’m not sure why the Coyotes didn’t bring him back for another season. I imagine it was largely because they figured, “Geez, this guy made our team better when he was on the ice last season, so he isn’t somebody who’s going to help us lose games.” So for a team looking to win games, he makes a nice, versatile depth option.
Speaking of guys who were involved in really bad trades, once upon a time the Leafs sent Carlo Colaiacovo and Alex Steen to the Blues for Lee Stempniak. Stempniak isn’t a bad player or anything, but he only played parts of two seasons with the Leafs, while Steen has cemented himself as one of St. Louis’ core forwards. Anyways, Stempniak has been a productive forward for about a decade now, putting up at least 10 goals every year since he entered the league in 2005. Last year, he split time between the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets, managing 15 goals and 13 assists in just 12:43 minutes of ice time per game. When he was on the Rangers, he was used largely in a checking role, starting 54.8 per cent of his shifts in the defensive zone. In his 18 games with Winnipeg, his role was shifted and he was used in more an offensive role, making 53.7 per cent of his starts in the offensive zone. As a result, he managed to be quite a bit more productive with the Jets than he was with the Rangers, scoring six goals in 18 games, in comparison to the nine goals in 53 games he scored in New York. He’s still only 32 years old, and if he’s given the same one year, $0.900 million contract he was given last summer, he’ll easily be worth the price tag, especially if he’s given favourable offensive zone starts.
Jiri Tlusty essentially had the opposite situation in Winnipeg that Stempniak had. Tlusty was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes, where he was largely used in an offensive zone role, but in his 20 games with the Jets, he made a career high 53.3 per cent of his starts in the defensive zone. I’m not sure if these two things are correlated or not, but Tlusty had an abysmal 3.8 shooting percentage in those 20 games, resulting in him scoring just one goal with the Jets. Although he didn’t score many goals, Tlusty was still pretty effective in his time in Winnipeg. Tlusty managed a 51.2 Corsi For percentage in limited minutes, difficult zone starts, and against tough competition, which suggests that he helped make the Jets a better team when he was on the ice even though he didn’t score at the same clip he did in Carolina. If Tlusty is used in the right situation, meaning he’s given quality offensive minutes and favourable offensive zone starts, he should be able to produce at the level he had historically throughout his career.
There really isn’t a nice way to put it: Stephen Weiss was horrible in his two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. In fact, he hasn’t really been very good since the 2011-12 contract, but because of his previous accomplishments, he’s worth a gamble on a one year contract. In his last season with the Panthers before leaving for Detroit via free agency, Weiss played in just 17 games, managing a paltry one goal and three assists and a -12.0 Corsi For percentage in relation to his teammates — far and away the worst possession numbers of his career. Despite that horrible season, Weiss was given a five year deal with a $4.9 million cap hit by the Red Wings in the summer of 2013. As we know, he only played two seasons with the Wings before being bought out, and he still hasn’t found a new job. His first season was dismantled due to injuries and poor play, as he managed just two goals and four points in 26 games. Last season appeared to be a reasonable step in the right direction, as he managed nine goals and 16 assists a 52.4 Corsi For percentage — a 10 point improvement over the previous season — in 52 games. Regardless, he hasn’t had a completely healthy season since 2011-12, which makes him a pretty big risk for anybody looking at him as anything more than a one year reclamation project.
It appeared that a nice stint with the Edmonton Oilers would have been enough to save Derek Roy’s career. Apparently that wasn’t the case, as the 32 year old forward is still looking for a new contract. Roy has played for five different teams in the past three seasons, and outside of a pretty nice 46 game stretch in Edmonton, he hasn’t been anywhere close to the player he was when he played in Buffalo. In his last season with the Sabres in 2011-12, Roy scored 17 goals. Since then, he’s scored seven, nine, and 11 respectively. Despite the limited production, he’s still managed to drive possession nicely in all four of his stops throughout his Western Conference tour. In his 46 games with the Oilers last season, Roy managed a 48.2 Corsi For percentage, which was impressive, because he was playing on the Oilers and his most common line mate was Nail Yakupov, who was completely lost in the first half of the season. Like I said, his peripheral stats have been pretty good the past few seasons, so even though his production and goal scoring haven’t been great, it’s still reasonable to say he can help make a team better when he’s on the ice. Maybe a return to the Eastern Conference would be best for Roy at this stage in his career.
Back in 2006, Erik Cole suffered one of the most terrifying injuries in recent memory. For those who don’t remember, Cole was carrying the puck into the Penguins’ zone and was hammered from behind into the boards by defenceman Brooks Orpik. The injury kept him out of the lineup for three months, but he managed to return just in time for his Hurricanes to defeat the Oilers in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals. Last season, Cole was traded to the Red Wings, but only managed to play 11 games before suffering an injury that was related to the one he suffered way back in 2006. The injury he suffered last season is probably the biggest reason he’s still a free agent, because Cole has been a pretty productive player over the past few seasons. Last year, he scored 21 goals and 18 assists in 68 games between Dallas and Detroit, which was a nice improvement on the 16 goals and 13 assists he had the year before. If he’s healthy, there’s no doubt that Cole can still be a solid scoring option in the NHL, even at the tender age of 36. But of course, that is a massive if and he’s likely going to have to sign a Professional Tryout Contract, because it’s difficult to imagine anybody taking a risk on a player with such a serious injury concern.
All the rest of the free agents can be found here.
STATS COURTESY OF HOCKEY REFERENCE AND WAR ON ICE.