The National Hockey League season is nearing its end, and teams are beginning to ramp up their pre-off-season work for the year. For the non-playoff teams, the look is at how to make the most of the upcoming off-season, while for the teams still playing, the goal is of course to find a way to be lifting Lord Stanley's Cup when all is said and done. For the teams remaining in the hunt, being in this position stems from hard work in previous seasons scouting for the off-season, then hard work during those off-seasons to identify and acquire the right players.
Of course every team has their fair share of free agent bargains, be it Michael Grabner nearing 30 goals for the New York Rangers, or perhaps Anton Stralman a couple of years back serving as a top pair defenseman for the Tampa Bay Lightning at a reasonable price. Regardless of the player and team, finding hidden gems is key in putting your team ahead of the competition in the league. However, there are also plenty of free agent busts roaming around the NHL. Some are employed by playoff teams, such as Paul Stastny making $7 million per season, or Brooks Orpik making over $5 million per season for the league best Washington Capitals.
Regardless, the upcoming off-season will provide plenty of free agent options, some good, and some not so good. Let's take a look at the 15 pending unrestricted free agents that teams should avoid at all costs.
15 Martin Hanzal
For some unknown reason, the Minnesota Wild decided to trade a bounty of assets including a first round pick for Martin Hanzal of the Arizona Coyotes. Hanzal has never scored 50 points in a season and is at best a second line center, though he much more realistically belongs on the third line. However, if teams were battling hard enough for Hanzal for him to eventually warrant a first round pick from the Minnesota Wild, his price tag will likely be sky high this off-season. Plenty of teams will be in need of a center in the off-season, meaning there could be a bidding war for the upcoming free agent. Expect Hanzal to make far more money than he is worth, a la Paul Stastny.
14 Ben Bishop
Ben Bishop was another strange acquisition at the National Hockey League trade deadline. Bishop was moved from the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he had been supplanted as starter by Andrei Vasilevskiy, to the Los Angeles Kings, where he now backs up Jonathan Quick. It remains possible that Bishop not only misses the playoffs with the Kings, but also fails to win a single game in a Kings uniform. Bishop will be entering his older years rather than his prime when he's a free agent this off-season, and will be coming off some injuries and a year where he served as a shareholder in the net. Bishop would need to regain a starting role where he goes, and will demand a lot of money to do so.
13 Kris Russell
There has been a strange narrative around the National Hockey League that the Edmonton Oilers' transactions this past off-season were successful, and not that Connor McDavid has dominated his way into making the Oilers contenders this season rather than pretenders. The Oilers made a disastrous move in trading lethal scorer Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for defensive defenseman Adam Larsson, then used some of the money saved to sign Kris Russell. Russell's possession numbers are poor once again, and he is not tallying any numbers on the scoreboard either, yet the NHL teams' assessments of him appear to be strong. Russell can parlay this into a multi-year, high salary contract from any one of a number of teams, though teams should be staying away.
12 Jarome Iginla
Jarome Iginla was another trade deadline acquisition made by the Los Angeles Kings, who made exclusively strange moves in looking to make the postseason once again. This time the Kings acquired a forward who wants to win the Stanley Cup immediately, despite their Stanley Cup chances looking like they are slim to none at best. Iginla has scored a few goals for the Kings, but by now he largely looks washed up, likely failing to reach the 40-point plateau this year, with the 30-point mark being a possible miss as well. Yet his name remains Jarome Iginla, and he has the career numbers to boast about. Teams could look at those numbers and sign him for them, which would be a costly mistake.
11 Karl Alzner
Karl Alzner is a similar player to Kris Russell in that he prioritizes blocking shots over stopping the opposing team from getting the puck at all, a style of defense that has been proven to be ineffective. Alzner has played his whole career with the Washington Capitals, but the Capitals have a large number of restricted and unrestricted free agents they must take care of re-signing, making Alzner expendable and a likely loss for the franchise. Once Alzner is available, some team will be signing up to agree to terms with a defenseman that has a ton of miles on his body, a body that will be worn down from blocking shots for the entirety of his career. Alzner is a mistake waiting to happen.
10 Alexander Radulov
Alexander Radulov is a talented player who deserves to be compensated as such, but the issue at hand here is not his talent. Radulov will be on the wrong side of 30 when he reaches free agency, making him an expensive, aging target rather than a reasonably priced young prospect. Radulov has failed to gel with organizations before, so a signing team would have to trust that he can fit in not only in their system, but also in their culture. There's also the notion that Radulov is asking the Montreal Canadiens for an eight-year extension, so the Russian winger clearly wants a long term home at a high price. While he is talented, that's a high cost to pay.
9 Mike Fisher
Let us preface this one with the thought that it is extremely unlikely that Mike Fisher reaches unrestricted free agency. The Nashville Predators named him captain to replace their long-term captain Shea Weber before this season, so doing that then allowing him to leave in free agency would be a strange pair of moves for the Predators to make. However, considering the possibility that Fisher does leave as a free agent, his age and decrease in production are a combination that teams should be fearful of. Fisher is a fine two-way player that will help teams, but he will also be seeking the last big contract of his career. What he won't get in production he will make up for in money, and that's a concerning thought.
8 Jonathan Bernier
Jonathan Bernier was persona non grata when he was shipped away by the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Anaheim Ducks. Rejoining his former coach Randy Carlyle helped Bernier re-gain his momentum towards being a legitimate netminder in today's National Hockey League. Still, the Ducks have one of the best defenses in the entire NHL, and one of the best forward groups to boot. Bernier struggled for the majority of this season before picking up his game in the latter stages. NHL teams will be as desperate as ever for goaltending this off-season, however, so that context most likely will be ignored as teams look to find their back-ups for the next season. Bernier barely deserves a job, better yet good money.
7 Roman Polak
As the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to surprise in the National Hockey League, various members of the team will continue to see their respective stocks rise. One of those players is Roman Polak, the big-bodied defenseman that has become a main-stay of the Maple Leafs' third pairing all season. Toronto previously employed Polak, traded him to the San Jose Sharks last trade deadline, then brought him back in the off-season. Mike Babcock clearly enjoys Polak's game, but when push comes to shove the numbers are not there to support Polak being a useful NHL player. He is horrendous in the possession game, he fails to put up any offensive statistics, and all in all he does not stop opposing teams from scoring.
6 Patrick Sharp
Patrick Sharp was supposed to be dealt at this year's National Hockey League trade deadline, but the deal never happened because Sharp was suffering from an injury that the Dallas Stars deemed too serious to feel comfortable trading him to another team, but not serious enough to take him out of their own lineup. Sharp was acquired by the Stars from the Chicago Blackhawks to help them take the next step, and he did so last year. But this year both the Stars and Sharp were messes, leaving it likely for Sharp to leave as an unrestricted free agent. Given his history as a winner and a scorer, Sharp will demand big bucks despite aging rapidly and coming with a variety of concerning injury woes.
5 Mark Streit
Mark Streit comes with the veteran leadership of a Patrick Sharp, but also with the history of being a former captain in the National Hockey League for the New York Islanders. Streit will be a free agent following a few years with the Philadelphia Flyers, though he was moved to the Tampa Bay Lightning and then to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the NHL Trade Deadline. Now Streit will be a free agent, looking to cash in one last time. Given his history playing as a key defender on the power-play and at even strength, teams will think of Streit as someone who can be more than just a veteran piece, which is a misunderstanding given his age (39) and regression in the recent seasons he's played.
4 Patrick Eaves
Patrick Eaves is your stereotypical National Hockey League free agent that had a breakout season at the perfect time. These are the free agents to look out for, the ones that conveniently put up their best numbers at the time they are seeking a payday. Eaves scored more than twenty goals for the Dallas Stars this season before being shipped to the Anaheim Ducks for assets. The Ducks placed Eaves in their top six, and he continued to score thanks to playing with some of the better players in today's NHL. Eaves' speed is certainly an asset, but it's not enough to make him worth the money he will get from a team desperate to add scoring and speed to their lineup next season.
3 Dwight King
Every season there is a player that teams believe to have scoring ability but does not actually have scoring ability. Teams want this player to have scoring ability because they have a big body, therefore they fit into the big-body stereotypical bottom six player that teams are constantly looking out for. Former Los Angeles King Dwight King is one of the most overrated players in this bunch, as he is not a good scorer but has had the luxury of playing with good players, therefore putting some points on the scoreboard. He has a big body to boot, meaning that teams will see that and assume he fills the need that they do not necessarily even have, thus the typical way NHL management works.
2 Ryan Miller
Ryan Miller was once one of the best goaltenders in the entire National Hockey League, stealing the spotlight for the Buffalo Sabres. Though he never reached the Stanley Cup with them, Miller had some tremendous seasons that earned him some nice extensions with Buffalo. However, he was next traded to the St. Louis Blues, then signed a deal with the Vancouver Canucks, a team on the down swing. Now Miller will be a free agent, far removed from his prime, and regressing rather than progressing. In a time-share situation Miller may be able to succeed, but at this point in his career he will likely want a starting job, one that he does not deserve based on the curve of his remaining NHL career.
1 Drew Stafford
Drew Stafford was a shrewd acquisition by the Boston Bruins at this year's National Hockey League trade deadline, being moved from the Winnipeg Jets for a sixth round pick. For a while Stafford was a successful member of the Buffalo Sabres, playing a key top six role. However it has been a long time since Stafford has put up the numbers of a top six player, but teams often fail to keep tabs and see those developments over time. Thus, there will likely be a team that sees Stafford as a top six option and pays him accordingly. Stafford will go down like Matt Beleskey, playing like a bottom six player, but being paid like a top six player for his past accomplishments in the league.
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