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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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