Christmas quickly came and went and all of the best shopping deals were apparently available on Boxing Day only. But now’s the time that NHL general managers need to be making a shopping list for the upcoming free agency sweepstakes on July 1st. Many teams have already mailed it in for this season and are looking forward to June's draft and July's free agency period. Some teams need a complete overhaul while others need just a little fine tuning. Of course, whoever wins the Stanley Cup this spring may feel they don’t need to make any changes at all. But realistically, general managers are always in the lookout for a great bargain and this is why so many of them choose to improve or rebuild their teams with good free agent signings every year.
Some clubs have been quite successful at it and others have been dreadful. It’s not always the general manager’s fault though as some players simply refuse to play in certain markets no matter how much money they’re offered. Some free agents prefer to play in their hometowns or close by while others will only sign with legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Of course, we also have some free agents who’ll simply sign with the highest bidder. Free agency is also usually when GMs make their biggest mistakes, handcuffing their team with bad contracts.
The 2015 free agency period will be here before we know it, but unfortunately this year’s crop of players isn’t exactly filled with superstars. That’s basically because the NHL’s top players are now being locked up with long-term multimillion dollar contracts these days. Stanley Cup winners aren’t built on stars alone though as teams need a good supporting cast. Looking at the list of potential unrestricted free agents in 2015, there are several dependable players available with these being the 10 best. Don't forget, the fact that these players are impending free agents may also make them trade bait for March's trade deadline, particularly if their team is out of the playoff race by then.
11 Martin St. Louis
Right-winger Marty St. Louis will be 40 years old when the free agency season opens, but the veteran still knows how to play the game and hasn’t lost much of his speed. The New York Rangers have told St. Louis they won't be bringing him back next season, despite what they gave up when they dealt for him from Tampa Bay last season. St. Louis is a surefire future Hall of Famer who helped the Rangers reach the Stanley Cup Final last season St. Louis really tailed off towards the end of this season, having a very pedestrian playoff, recording just one goal and seven points in 19 games. He’s still been one of the most consistent scorers the NHL has ever seen.
10 Antoine Vermette
Antoine Vermette's stock was plummeting in Chicago, up until about midway through the Western Conference Finals. After the Hawks gave up a first round pick to aqcuire the 32-year-old out of Arizona, Vermette regularly found himself as a healthy scratch in Joel Quenneville's lineup come playoff time.
Vermette's overtime goal against Anaheim, and his two game-winners in the Stanley Cup Final have resurfaced the fuzzy feelings GMs were having about him at the deadline and what they will get again on July 1st.
8 Cody Franson
Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Cody Franson has been signing annual contracts with the club in hopes that he’ll land a long-term big money deal in the future. Well, Franson’s future will be this July when his year-long deal runs out and he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency. The right-handed shot is a bit of an enigma as he racks up the points and is one of his team’s hit leaders, but also seems to be a bit vulnerable in his own end. The former Nashville Predator is 27 years old and stands at 6-foot-5 and should be entering the prime of his career. He had 160 points in his first 365 regular season league games including 34 goals. He’s got a quick release from the blue line and doesn’t take many penalties. Franson had six goals and 21 assists at the halfway point of the season and was a minus-2 on a weak Leafs team.
7 Mike Ribeiro
Centre Mike Ribeiro of the Nashville Predators was dropped by the Arizona Coyotes last year after they accused him off some odd off-ice behavior. However, the 34-year-old has rebounded quite nicely in Tennessee and the Predators have competed for the top spot in the Western Conference all season long. Ribeiro appears to have straightened out his act and had nine goals and 29 assists for 38 points after his first 42 games. He was also a plus-15 and had just 12 minutes in penalties. He’s the top scoring potential free agent so far in the 2014-15 campaign and is closing in on the 700-point mark. So why is he only no.8? Well, it's because he seems to have a short shelf life with teams. He's on his fourth team in as many seasons, with his off-ice antics constantly called into question.
6 Jiri Tlusty
It’s hard to tell just how good 26-year-old Czech Republic winger Jiri Tlusty is since he’s played his entire NHL career on some pretty bad teams in Toronto and now with Carolina. He was chosen 13th overall in the 2006 NHL Draft and has racked up 159 points in his first 380 regular season games with 84 goals and 75 assists. His best year came in the 48-game 2012-13 shortened season when he banged in 23 goals and 15 assists. He’s also had seasons of 17 and 16 goals in Carolina and had 11 to his name after 36 games this season. He could be a consistent 20-goal scorer on a decent team and is young enough for teams to take a chance on him.
5 Carl Soderberg
Centre Carl Soderberg of the Boston Bruins has played just 123 career NHL games even though he’s 29 years old and was drafted with the 49th overall pick back in 2004. Soderberg has played the majority of his career in his native Sweden where he was a consistent point-a-game player. He had 79 points for the Bruins in his first 123 contests including 25 goals and 54 assists, with nine goals and 20 assists in the first half of this season. He’s got good size at 6-foot-3 and could help a lot of teams who are weak down the middle.
4 Justin Williams
There’s no doubt that right-winger Justin Williams of the Los Angeles Kings saves his best hockey for the playoffs. Williams has helped the Kings to a pair of Stanley Cups in the past three years and if he doesn’t re-sign there should be numerous teams after him. The 33-year-old had 13 goals and 12 assists at the halfway point of the season, which meant he had 566 points in 880 career regular-season contests. He also has 78 points in 115 postseason games, including 25 in 26 games with the Kings in 2013-14. That performance saw him take home the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. Since Williams is so effective when the Stanley Cup’s on the line, it’s likely that he’d only want to sign with a contender if he becomes a free agent.
3 Mike Green
Mike Green of the Washington Capitals has been one of the NHL’s top scoring defencemen over the past decade with seasons of 56, 73, and 76 points under his belt. His name isn’t found on the score sheet as often these days, but he still has 23 points after 35 games this season and has racked up 338 career points in 538 regular season contests. Green is still just 29 years old and has a good half dozen puck-moving years or so left in him. He’s not a defensive liability either as he’s a plus-49 for his career, which has been spent entirely with the Capitals.
2 Johnny Oduya
Johnny Oduya of the Chicago Blackhawks is a stay-at-home defenceman who typically plays against the opponent's top players. The Blackhawks may not re-sign him as they need to stay under the salary cap Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews's new contracts kick in next season. The 33-year-old Oduya of Sweden has over 600 games of NHL experience and played a lot of tough minutes for Chicago in the postseason. The former New Jersey Devil and Atlanta Thrasher is depended on in his own end though and any points he puts up on the scoreboard are a bonus. However, he did manage a career-high 29 points in the 2008-09 campaign with New Jersey on seven goals and 22 assists. He’s also a plus-50 so far in his career. The Blackhawks chose to keep him over Nick Leddy, which gives you an idea just how much they value him.
1 Devan Dubnyk
The negotiations between Devan Dubnyk and the Minnesota Wild will hinge on whether the Wild believe they're getting the Dubnyk we saw this past season, or if they should be looking at the Dubnyk who was a journeyman goaltender prior to his trade to Minnesota.
Dubnyk is a Vezina finalist and picked the perfect year to record a 1.78 GAA and .936 SV%. Those will be the numbers his agent will throw to teams interested, but Minnesota will be hoping teams will shy away from him, as his numbers dipped in the playoffs and the fact remains 2014-15 was his only good NHL season at 29 years old.
Still, many teams continuously search for an answer in goal, and if it's not the Wild, somebody will give Dubnyk a fat contract.