There's several ways for an NHL General Manager to go about improving his team. Trading high draft picks and prospects might net a prominent top-six forward or top-four defenseman, but then you're mortgaging your team's future for a short-term fix. Sure, sometimes you can get the better of another GM in one-for-one trades, but those are few and far between these days. Signing free agents in the off-season is often viewed as a quick fix, but, depending on the market, you can vastly overpay for mid-tier talent.
The cheapest, most efficient way to improve your team mid-season however is by grabbing a player for free on the waiver wire. Sure, most players claimed ultimately do no more than become role players for their organization, but there has surprisingly been some extraordinary waiver pickups in the past 15 years. In the 2016-17 season alone there has been some quality claims. The Pittsburgh Penguins, for example, claimed goaltender Mike Condon from the Montreal Canadiens at the start of the season, played him until Matt Murray returned and flipped him to Ottawa for a fifth-round pick. In summary, the Pens added a free fifth-round pick. That's smart business.
Sometimes all a player truly needs is a change of scenery, and that was especially true for the 15 players on this list.
15 P.A. Parenteau
Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau signed a one-year contract with the New York Islanders on July 2nd, the second day of free agency. Yet, by the time training camp rolled around, the team appeared to sour on the 33-year-old veteran, placing him on waivers.
He was claimed by the New Jersey Devils as he fit in with their modus operandi of putting together a forward group with no plan whatsoever. Regardless, it has been quite the positive move for the Devils as Parenteau leads the team in goals with 12 in 44 games. He's seventh on the team in total points with 19 points and clearly still has some game left. He's on pace to score 20 goals for a second consecutive season after failing to do so in the previous four seasons. The Devils are a division rival of the Islanders, so this one has to sting.
14 Sean Avery
Say what you will about Sean Avery the person (he's a douchebag, a self-centered moron with no class, those types of things), but he was an effective NHLer for a number of years. He played out his final three seasons with the New York Rangers because of a comment made about players dating his ex-girlfriends. Prior to Avery's Dallas Stars playing the Toronto Maple Leafs, Avery pondered why many players in the league enjoy his "sloppy seconds," particularly Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who was dating Avery's ex, Elisha Cuthbert.
He was suspended six games for the comments and was later claimed off re-entry waivers by the New York Rangers, the team who opted to not re-sign him and allow him to go to Dallas. In essence, the Rangers got 57 productive games out of Avery in 2007-08 before he signed a four-year, $15 million contract with the Stars. Because he was claimed on re-entry waivers, the Stars were still on the hook for half of his salary, meaning the Rangers got him at a discounted price. He wasn't necessarily a star with the Rangers, but gave the team some grit and pissed off Marty Brodeur.
13 David Schlemko
Sometimes it takes a player two or three teams to find his home and reach his full potential. That was the case with David Schlemko, who lived on the waiver wire in 2014-15 before becoming an established NHL defenseman. The Edmonton native and longtime Phoenix Coyote played just 20 games for the NHL team that year before being sent down to the AHL's Portland Pirates, where he played two games. He was later claimed on waivers by the Dallas Stars, who gave him just five games before deciding he wasn't part of their future.
Schlemko again found himself on waivers but was picked up by the Calgary Flames, who were looking for depth defensemen aid a potential playoff run. He ended up playing 19 regular season games and 11 playoff games with the team, earning himself a one-year deal with the New Jersey Devils, where he recorded a career-high 19 points. He signed with the San Jose Sharks this past off-season.
12 Evgeni Nabokov
Given his status as an above average netminder with the San Jose Sharks for the first decade of the 2000s, it was strange to see Evgeni Nabokov on waivers in 2011. But it was a special circumstance. Nabokov left San Jose the year prior to play in the KHL, but signed with the Detroit Red Wings midway through the 2010-11 season. He signed a team-friendly $570,000 contract, but was forced to go through waivers because of a rule in the CBA preventing teams from loading up mid-season.
Nabokov was claimed by the lowly Islanders, who needed stability between the pipes. He didn't report that season, allowing the team to suspend him and keep his rights for another season. That gave the Russian goalie a change of heart in 2011-12 as he reported and eventually played three seasons with the team, including six playoff games in 2012-13.
11 Sergei Samsonov
Re-entry waivers no longer exist under the new CBA, which makes understanding waiver rules a hell of a lot more easy, but it was fun to see teams put aging veterans on re-entry waivers in hopes that a team might at least take on half of the player's salary. Before they were a dominant force, the Chicago Blackhawks were hoping to get offense from players like Samsonov, whom they signed to a $3.5 million contract in 2007. He had just four assists through 23 games when they placed him on re-entry waivers.
The Hurricanes, needing a spark, picked him up and Samsonov took off, recording 32 points in 38 games. His play earned himself a three-year, $7.6 million contract. Samsonov racked up 69 points in the next three years.
10 Michael Grabner
The Florida Panthers are likely still kicking themselves for deciding Michael Grabner wasn't going to be part of the team's future. In one of the more puzzling waiver wire moves, the Panthers, who had just acquired then-22-year-old Grabner from the Canucks, sent him down to the AHL, exposing him to the league's other 29 teams. It made little sense given that Grabner was a proven scorer at the AHL level and had 11 points in his first 20 NHL games with the Canucks. The Islanders claimed him two days later on his birthday and were rewarded big time.
Grabner scored 34 goals and finished third in Calder Memorial Trophy voting for the league's top rookie. He was never able to replicate that first-year production, but he remains a solid NHLer in his eighth season.
9 Andrej Nestrasil
The Hurricanes received a solid bottom-six contributor from the Detroit Red Wings in Andrej Nestrasil when they claimed the Czech winger on waivers in 2014. Nestrasil had played just 13 games with the Wings, recording two assists. He found some scoring touch with the Hurricanes, posting seven goals and 11 assists in 41 games, while having a +2 rating.
He finished eighth on the Hurricanes in scoring in 2015-16 with 23 points in 55 games and by all accounts was a prominent checker among the team's bottom-six forward group. Sure enough, Carolina placed Nestrasil on waivers after just 18 games this season and he's currently playing for the team's AHL affiliate in Charlotte. Perhaps another team can get a couple years out of him as the Hurricanes did.
8 Dominic Moore
John Ferguson Jr. made some terrible decisions as General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He famously traded the team's top prospect Tuukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft, and, well, you know how that worked out. But give the guy some credit (not much, but a tad) for scooping up center Dominic Moore on waivers from the Minnesota Wild.
Being placed on waivers is generally a sign that your career is on its last leg, but that was far from true with Moore, who revitalized his with the Maple Leafs. He produced a solid 14 points in 38 games with the Leafs, but had a career year the following year in 2008-09, posting a career-high 45 points in 81 games. Moore, who is still in the league as a member of the Boston Bruins, now has 258 career points and is a veteran of 812 NHL games.
7 Todd Marchant
After nine impressive seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, Todd Marchant signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2003. It seemed to be going well for the Buffalo native - he had 34 points in his first season and nine in 18 games the next year - but the Jackets were intent on including him in a deal for Sergei Fedorov. That didn't happen as Marchant had a no-trade clause and refused to waive it.
But it didn't matter. The Ducks and Jackets made the Fedorov trade without Marchant, but then placed him on waivers to free up cap space. Who was he claimed by? You guessed it, the Anaheim Ducks. He ended up playing six seasons for the Ducks, providing veteran leadership and even winning a Stanley Cup in 2007.
6 Rich Peverley
Rich Peverley was an unproven, undrafted 26-year-old when the Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets) picked him up off waivers from the Nashville Predators in January of 2009. It wasn't considered a big transaction at the time, but Peverley quickly proved he belonged in the NHL, posting 35 points in 39 games for the Thrashers, despite totaling just 20 in his previous 73 games with the Predators.
He proved it wasn't the fluke the following season as he finished third on the Thrashers in scoring with 55 points. Peverley was a solid NHLer up until 2014 when he was forced to retire after he collapsed on the bench during a game while playing for the Dallas Stars. He accumulated 241 points in 442 career games.
5 Chris Osgood
Before plucking Evgeni Nabokov off waivers, the New York Islanders had success with goaltenders on waivers, claiming Chris Osgood in the 2001 waiver draft from the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit had just acquired Dominik Hasek, meaning they had little use for Osgood, who had won two Stanley Cups with the team.
The Islanders made good use of the always-underrated netminder. Osgood played 66 games for the team in 2001-02, posting a 32-25-6 record to go along with a 2.50 goals against average and .910 save percentage. He split the next two seasons between New York and St. Louis before returning to Detroit, where he again led the team to a Stanley Cup in 2008. He's never given full credit for his play with the Red Wings as he had All-Star caliber teams in front of him, but he has the resume of a Hall of Famer.
4 Kyle Quincey
Struggling to earn a permanent spot on the Detroit Red Wings through parts of three seasons, Kyle Quincey was exposed to waivers at the start of the 2008-09 season after once again failing to make the big club out of training camp. The smooth-skating defenseman was happily claimed by the Los Angeles Kings, who saw him as a potential power-play quarterback. They were right. Quincey shined with the Kings, leading the team's defensemen in scoring with 38 points in 72 games.
Unfortunately for the Kings, his impressive play made him a hot commodity as a free agent the following season and they were unable to retain him. He signed a two-year, $6.25 million contract with the Colorado Avalanche and continued his solid play in the Mile High City before being traded back to the Detroit Red Wings. Now a member of the New Jersey Devils, Quincey has played in 539 career NHL games and recorded 150 points.
3 Mark Recchi
Believe it or not, future Hall of Famer and three-time Stanley Cup winner Mark Recchi was claimed on waivers by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2007 after being waived by the Pittsburgh Penguins in his second stint with the team. He was 39-years-old at the time and had just eight points in 19 games, it was clear the Penguins were looking to the future with a young Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin ready to lead. But Recchi proved he could still play that season, posting 40 points in 53 games for the Thrashers.
In fact, he still had another three seasons in him. After signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning the following off-season, Recchi was traded at the deadline to the Boston Bruins. He left on a high note two seasons later, closing out his career with a 48-point season and his third Stanley Cup.
2 Chris Kunitz
Chris Kunitz is now a 37-year-old, three-time Stanley Cup champion and is still producing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he was once an NHL afterthought. Undrafted out of college, Kunitz signed on with the Anaheim Ducks in 2003 but had an underwhelming six points in 21 games as a rookie. He spent the next season in the AHL and after failing to make the Ducks for a third straight season in 2005-06, he was placed on waivers and claimed by the Atlanta Thrashers.
Despite the fact they were a terrible franchise for their entire time in Atlanta, the Thrashers only gave Kunitz two games to prove himself before placing him back on waivers. Knowing him well, the Ducks put in a claim, welcoming Kunitz back with open arms. It seemed to be the spark the Regina, Saskatchewan native as he recorded 41 points in 67 games and followed that up with back-to-back 50-plus point seasons. He now has 568 points in 850 NHL games and has been one of the more consistent wingers to player with Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh.
1 Ilya Bryzgalov
Apologies to Anaheim, but nobody can have a perfect waiver wire record. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2007, the team had a decision to make between the pipes, much like the one they had this past off-season with Frederik Andersen and John Gibson. Back then they had a young Jonas Hiller, an in-his-prime Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and a developing Ilya Bryzgalov.
They couldn't keep all three, and unable to find a suitor for the Russian netminder, they exposed Bryzgalov to waivers. He was promptly picked up by the Phoenix Coyotes, who were in desperate need of a netminder. Bryzgalov gave the Coyotes four seasons of stable goaltending before moving to Philadelphia in 2011-12. He has since appeared in games for the Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild before coming full circle to close out his career with the Anaheim Ducks in 2014-15. He owns a career record of 221-162-54 with a 2.58 goals against average and .912 save percentage.