NHL Free Agency: Top 10 Players Still Available

With the activity around the League dying down from July 1st’s explosive opening to NHL free agency, there are still various names on the market for teams to take a chance on heading into the middle of the summer. Last season, guys like Matt Cullen (August 6th) and Tomas Fleischmann (October were signed a considerable amount of time after the 1st, with the latter scoring 14 goals for the Canadiens and Blackhawks. The former, as many know, played an integral part in the Stanley Cup Championship run by the Penguins bringing experience and timely goal scoring (16 goals, most since ’08-09) to the table.

Others to sign late included defenseman David Schlemko (Sept. 10th), who had a career offensive season scoring six goals and 19 points, winger Mike Santorelli (Aug. 17th), who was added to Anaheim’s deep forward pool scoring nine goals as a dependable bottom six forward, and Scottie Upshall (October 5th), whom ended up playing a big role on St. Louis’s fourth line in the midst of their injuries over the year.

Here are some signees that could make an impact the same way in 2016-17.

NHL Free Agency: Top 10 Players Still Available

1. Jiri Hudler, Winger, Florida Panthers
Age: 32
Ht/Wt: 5’10”, 183 lbs
Previous Contract: Four years, $16 million (AAV: $4 million)

Last Season: 16 goals, 46 points in 72 games played

Following a career year in Calgary playing with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan (31 goals, 76 points), Hudler took a pretty big step back along with the entire team this past season with a 30-point drop in offensive totals. The nine-year vet moved to Florida for the 19-game stretch run after the trade deadline and played three minutes less per night than with the Flames (13:18 AVG TOI), performing admirably well in a top-nine role scoring six goals and 11 points. The 2008 Stanley Cup Champion did not rise to the occasion come playoff time however, tallying a lone assist in a six-game series loss to the Islanders. In his career, the Grand Rapids Griffins graduate has logged nearly 700 NHL contests, posted six 15+ goal seasons and has been one to make some type of impact come playoff time, logging 82 contests and posting 42 points. In the right system, Hudler could thrive as an experienced forward that can drive possession. In Detroit, he was at a 57% CF% clip in the midst of the Lidstrom era. In Calgary, he was a part of a team that has finished in the bottom 20 in team possession CF% in Hudler’s tenure (46.5%) and was above the team average over the four seasons (48.4%).

2. James Wisniewski, Defense, Carolina Hurricanes
Age: 32
Ht/Wt: 5’11”, 203 lbs
Previous Contract: Six Years, $33 million (AAV: $5.5 million)
Last Season: zero goals, zero points in 47 seconds

Traded for the sixth time since first stepping onto the ice with the Blackhawks in 2005, Wisniewski was looking forward to being a part of a blueline that was anchored by one of the more underrated defenders in the game, Justin Faulk. All those dreams were shattered on his first shift of the season when he suffered a torn ACL, the second of his career. With that, he was bought out of the last year of his deal and is looking for another new beginning. In his career, he’s only played 70+ games twice, but has shown a knack for being a reliable offensive producer that could make a big impact on the power play. In 2014-15, he tallied 34 points scoring seven of his eight goals on the power play. The year before, he was a dynamo, tying his career high for points at 51 and tied for third in the entire League in power play points with 28. The drop in points is concerning, but he has shown to be a solid possession defenseman in his career (51.3%) in helping get the puck up the ice. With a right-handed bomb of a shot, he could be a reliable producer on the back end for a reasonable price. At this point in his career, he’d probably love to go to a contender, as he has played in just 24 Stanley Cup Playoff contests, none with Anaheim as he was scratched for their run in 2015.

3. Kris Versteeg, Right Wing, Los Angeles Kings
Age: 30
Ht/Wt: 5’11”, 176 lbs
Previous Contract: Four Years, $17.6 million (AAV: $4.4 million)
Last Season: 15 goals, 38 points in 77 games

The former 5th round pick has carved out a pretty solid 550-game NHL career thus far. A four-time 20-goal scorer, Versteeg has shown that he can produce in the top six early in his career. However, he has not reached the 20-marker plateau since 2011-12 and has been more of a top-nine forward that can hit 15+ goals and hover around 40 points in his stops since. A two-time Stanley Cup Champion with the Blackhawks, he found a niche in Carolina this past season after the Hawks could not keep him due to the cap crunch. In 63 games there he played himself into trade bait, potting 11 goals and 33 points in 63 contests with the 27th ranked offense in the game. Though they are thin on impact talent right now, head coach Bill Peters has created a tremendous possession system there, one that ranked 11th in the League (51.46% CF%) with Versteeg being one of the premier pillars (57.1%). He was then dealt to LA, a team that has led the League in CF% for four straight seasons averaging a 56.2% mark. Versteeg benefitted in this system that was accompanied by talent, scoring four goals in the final 14 games. He could be another that finds a home on a shorter-term deal, and on a contender, he could be a great depth piece to a run.

4. Sam Gagner, Center, Philadelphia Flyers
Age: 26
Ht/Wt: 5’11”, 202 lbs
Previous Contract: Three Years, $14.4 million (AAV: 92$4.8 million)
Last Season: Eight goals, 16 points in 53 games played

Moved to the wing this season along with having injury troubles at times in Philly, Gagner may just be looking for a chance to play in his natural position. A former 6th overall pick of Edmonton, although not as flashy as many top ten picks, he has been a pretty consistent scorer over his nine-year career posting five 15+ goal seasons and six 40+ point campaigns. He’s nothing special in the face-off circle (45.2%) but has shown the ability to drive possession the past two seasons (52% CF% on teams that finished in bottom 15 CF%). He was never used on the penalty kill and played on the second power play unit, but can chip in here and there on the man advantage. Still at the ripe age of 26, the former London Knight has already logged over 600 games and will bring a consistent game to a team’s top nine. It will be interesting to see if he can get an opportunity on a short-term deal. He could be a good steal.

5. Brandon Pirri, Center, Anaheim Ducks
Age: 25
Ht/Wt: 6’0″, 183 lbs
Previous Contract: Two Years, $1.9 million (AAV: $925,000)
Last Season: 14 goals, 29 points in 61 games played

A second round pick of the Blackhawks in 2009, Pirri is an interesting case this free agency. He’s never played 82 games in his career and set a career high in points with 29 in 61 games last year with the Panthers and Ducks. This season came after an unusual 22-goal, two assist campaign in 2014-15, and he played in just 49 games. The former Rockford IceHog has sustained four injuries since the start of the 2014-15 season, the latest an upper-body setback that kept him from playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this past spring on a Ducks team that could’ve used his scoring ability. On the power play he’s shown the ability to be a solid contributor, tallying seven goals last season and adding 11 points this year on the man advantage. Another top-nine option on this list, Pirri could be a good risk/reward type move given his injury history and whether it will affect him on his new club. He’s got plenty of growth to experience as well, but health will be his biggest key.

6. Alex Tanguay, Left Wing, Arizona Coyotes
Age: 36
Ht/Wt: 6’1″, 194 lbs
Previous Contract: Five years, $17.5 million (AAV: $3.5 million)
Last Season: eight goals, 35 points in 70 games played

Logging over 1000 games, Tanguay has spent 16 seasons in the League, nine with Colorado, the club that drafted him 12th overall in 1998. Over his career his’s put up a pretty solid resume, posting six 20+ goal and nine 50+ point seasons leaving him in striking distance of 300 goals and 900 points. This past season was a struggle for the veteran however playing with Colorado and Arizona after being traded in the Mikkel Boedker deal, as he failed to score at least ten goals for the first time in his career playing at least 40 games and was the worst year of his career not derailed by an injury (’13-14). He’s not a big power play producer and will likely be taking a paycut and shorter term deal to play a top nine role. On a contender, he could be a good depth scorer that’s had postseason success winning a Cup in 2001 with the Avs. In 98 games, he’s scored 19 goals and 59 points and would love to get back to the good life, as he hasn’t been a part of Lord Stanley’s Tournament since 2009 with Montreal.

7. Jhonas Enroth, Goaltender, Los Angeles Kings
Age: 28
Ht/Wt: 5’10”, 171 lbs
Previous Contract: One Year, $1.25 million (AAV: $1.25 million)
Last Season: 2.17 GAA, .922 save percentage in 16 games played

Spending the first four and a half seasons with Buffalo, a team that gradually gave up more goals as his tenure went on (30th in 2014-15), Enroth found a home in LA on a contending team for the first time in his young career backing up Jonathan Quick. He played just 16 games, but the sample that he showed out in was pretty impressive seeing what he could do for a contender with a structured defensive system. His even-strength save percentage touched .937 and he had a great starter to learn from in the two-time Stanley Cup Champion himself. Given the goalie market right now, it would be unlikely that Enroth will find a starting spot, but back-up options are available. With Nashville and San Jose losing Carter Hutton and James Reimer respectively, those are two stops that could be destinations outside of LA.

8. Kyle Quincey, Defense, Detroit Red Wings
Age: 31 (in August)
Ht/Wt: 6’2″, 216 lbs
Previous Contract: Two years, $8.5 million (AAV: $4.25 million)
Last Season: Four goals, 11 points in 47 games played

Quincey found a niche in the top four of Detroit being one of the most consistent defensemen on the team throughout his two-year contract. His offensive game is far from his career year of 38 points in ’08-09, evolving into a stay-at-home, physical presence that hasn’t tallied 20 for the past three seasons. Usually a durable defender playing 70+ games five times in his career, Quincey played just 47 games this year due to an ankle injury, the most he’s missed since 2010-11. He usually hovered around 20 minutes playing a key role on Detroit’s penalty kill. He’s nothing to write home about when it comes to possession posting a CF% of 51% in his career, but he’s not a liability. He could get more than two years with his new club and provide a physical presence that a contender or rebuilding team needs.

9. Dan Boyle, Defense, New York Rangers
Age: 40
Ht/Wt: 5’11”, 194 lbs
Previous Contract: Two Years, $9 million (AAV: $4.5 million)
Last Season: Ten goals, 24 points in 74 games played

This could be a reach with reports indicating that Boyle has been leaning towards retirement,  but he’s still on the market and his experience as an offensive defenseman could be a good pickup on a contender looking for one last shot at the Cup. He is well past the days of scoring 50+ points, something he’s done six times in his career, but will put the puck in the net, posting double digit goal scoring totals seven times, including two of the last three seasons. He’s been a driver of possession from the back end posting a 53.2% CF% throughout his nearly 1100-game tenure in the NHL, helping the Rangers generate 4.7 more shots relative to while he was on the ice versus when he wasn’t in the 139 games he spent in the Big Apple. It didn’t end well for him and the team however, as not only were they destroyed by the Penguins in five games, Boyle didn’t play in Game 5 as a healthy scratch, bringing his Rangers tenure to a disappointing end on and off the ice. A two-time all-star, Boyle won a Cup with the Lightning in 2004 and has a pretty incredible playoff pedigree offensively for his position, scoring 17 goals and 81 points in 130 career contests. Again, it depends on if he retires, but as we saw with Cullen this past spring, Boyle may look for one more shot after an ugly end.

10. Luke Schenn, Defense, Los Angeles Kings
Age: 26
Ht/Wt: 6’2″, 229 lbs
Previous Contract: Five Years, $18 million (AAV: $3.6 million)
Last Season: four goals, 16 points in 72 games played

For a 5th overall pick, Schenn has little to offer offensively but makes his money as a shutdown blue liner. He has the body to do so and brings a physical element, one that has seen him throw 200+ hits five times in his career. He seemed to fit well in the Kings’ system after being dealt from Philadelphia, playing 43 games and seeing his individual CF% grow to 53.2% in Darryl Sutter‘s system. He never could find his niche with Toronto or Philly, especially in new head coach Dave Hakstol‘s up tempo game led by Shayne Gostisbehere from the back end. He could thrive as a bottom pairing defenseman that still has some room to grow at 26, and if a team takes a chance on him, any offensive contribution is a bonus with his brand of hockey.

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