NHL Free Agent Frenzy: The Best Kept Secrets
The NHL’s free agency period gets back to its usual date of July 1st this year and there are, as always, a multitude of names for teams to target. In this series, we’ll take a look at some of those players and what they could offer to teams in terms of both impact and salary. In part one, we examined the goalies, in part two we had a look at the top defensemen and in our most recent installment, we checked out the top forwards available.
As easy as it is to get blinded by all those big names in the previous articles, it’s often the unheralded signings that can have the biggest impact on their new teams. Not the flashiest players, but the meat and potatoes, depth guys that provide great value and are intrinsic to a team’s success. Any hockey fan worth his salt likely recognizes most of the names on this list, yet the impact these players could have might catch some people by surprise. Here’s our take on the best kept secrets available in free agency this year.
NHL Free Agent Frenzy: The Best Kept Secrets
1) Mike Santorelli – C Vancouver Canucks
2013-14 Stats: 49 GP, 10 G, 18 A, 28 PTS, 6 PIMs, +9, 18:33
2013-14 Salary: $550,000
Speaking of bang-for-your-buck, few, if any, players provided more for less than Santorelli this season for Vancouver. Early in the year, the 28-year-old was looking like the absolute steal of the 2013 free agent class before a shoulder injury and surgery put him on the shelf for the rest of the season. Even so, Santorelli finished 7th on the Canucks in scoring, ahead of players like Jannik Hansen and Alex Burrows (he outscored Burrows by 5 goals and 15 points, despite playing the same amount of games, yet made $5.45 million less than Burrows. Now that is good value). Assuming his shoulder is healed, it’s not a stretch to suggest that two-time 20 goal scorer Santorelli could get back to that same level of production as a top three center, while at a very, very low cost. His injury combined with a few underwhelming seasons may have dropped him off of many team’s radar, but his renaissance in Vancouver coinciding with his entry into his prime years could make him another steal again this year.
2) Mason Raymond – LW Toronto Maple Leafs
2013-14 Stats: 82 GP, 19 G, 26 A, 45 PTS, 22 PIMs, -6, 17:20 TOI
2013-14 Salary: $1 million
Some of the players on this list come with question marks, and none more so than Raymond. Early in his career with Vancouver, he looked well on his way to becoming a productive top-six winger when he netted 25 goals and 53 points in 2009-10. Then came a brutal back injury during the 2011 Stanley Cup final, and the 28-year-old just wasn’t the same after. He struggled for the rest of his tenure with the Canucks and left when Toronto took a chance on him in free agency last season, at a very low cost to them. The gamble paid off, and Raymond was one of the best forwards for the Leafs. Long known as one of the fastest players in the game and a solid penalty killer, it now appears that Raymond has the ability to get back to that 25-25 offensive form. More importantly, he played a full 82 games for the first time in four years. Raymond may not get all the headlines on free agency day, but will prove a very valuable offensive addition at a cheaper price than the big-name guys for any team targeting him.
3) Thomas Greiss – G Phoenix Coyotes
2013-14 Stats: 25 GP, 10-8-5, 2.29 GAA, .920 Save %, 2 SO
2013-14 Salary: $750,000
In this writer’s opinion, there is no back-up goaltender available in free agency that should be more coveted around the NHL than Greiss. The 28-year-old German has served a long apprenticeship to get to this point in his career, but seems to be finally rounding into form as a solid, if not spectacular, secondary option in net. He outplayed Mike Smith this year in Phoenix, and was rewarded with the most starts in a single season of his NHL career. Though his lifetime numbers (2.43 GAA, .915 Save %) seem somewhat pedestrian, they are actually quite good for a goaltender expected to provide some relief, and he’s gotten to the point where he can spell his starter for a while without too much worry on the part of his coaches and teammates. In an era where a one-two punch in goal is more crucial than ever for regular season success, Greiss could find himself an invaluable member of any team he joins. Additionally, by nature of the back-up position, Greiss can be had for a relatively minuscule salary.
4) Dominic Moore – C New York Rangers
2013-14 Stats: 73 GP, 6 G, 12 A, 18 PTS, 18 PIMs, +0, 11:42
2013-14 Salary: $1 million
Unlike the other forwards on this list that can provide some offensive pop, Moore produces very little in terms of scoring. The 33-year-old has produced double digits in goals only three times in his career, and more than 30 points only twice. Moore has also been a bit of a journeyman, being the property of ten different NHL teams before heading back to where his career started in New York last season. All of this usually points to a player that teams would want to stay clear of, but for Moore the exact opposite is true because he might be one of the best defensive forward specialists in the league. He’s unquestionably one of the best faceoff men in the game (he finished at 54.6% this season) and plays tons of minutes shorthanded. He was a huge part of the Rangers run to the Stanley Cup final as well. With depth more important than ever before in the NHL, Moore is the prototypical bottom-six center who can play an absolutely critical role in his team’s success, and his contract will always be a bargain.
5) Mike Weaver – D Montreal Canadiens
2013-14 Stats: 72 GP, 1 G, 12 A, 13 PTS, 31 PIMs, +0, 18:28
2013-14 Salary: $1.1 million
Of all the players in the NHL, few will dazzle you less than the 36-year-old Weaver. He’s not particularly fast, he doesn’t put up offensive numbers (which seems obvious considering he only got 9 shots on goal this season), nor does he play on the power play. What he does do, better than many in the NHL, is block shots like a machine (5.77 of them per 60 minutes) and hit guys all over the ice (he had 121 hits). In short, he’s probably one of the ultimate defensive defensemen available in free agency this year. He’s also the perfect third pairing blueliner and, I can’t hammer this point home hard enough, the stability and depth needed in the NHL makes Weaver very valuable. Though getting a bit long in the tooth, he can still play a highly responsible, shut-down, penalty-killing role as evidenced by his performance with the Canadiens this past post-season. His contract will be dirt cheap too. Look for teams needing that defensive presence to be very happy from what they get out of Weaver.
Brian Boyle – C New York Rangers (29 years old, $1.7 million), Manny Malhotra – C Carolina Hurricanes (34 years old, $600,000), Benoit Pouliot – LW New York Rangers (27 years old, $1.3 million), Anton Stralman – D New York Rangers (27 years old, $1.7 million), Justin Peters – G Carolina Hurricanes (27 years old, $537,000)
Don’t forget to check out our friends at Sports Injury Alert for the latest in NHL injuries.