The National Hockey League will have a new season beginning soon, with training camp and the preseason schedule opening up in September and the regular season kicking off in October. With 31 teams – including the new expansion franchise in the Vegas Golden Knights – there are still plenty of experience skaters who are still looking for teams to play for during the 2017-18 season.
In the past few months, a number of players have been signed quickly by teams as restricted and unrestricted free agents. Others saw that there was little to no interest, resulting in retirement from the NHL – i.e. Mike Fisher after 1,088 games with the Nashville Predators and the Ottawa Senators.
Then there are veterans who are still waiting for a new NHL contract. The list includes future Hall of Fame inductees like Jaromir Jagr, Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla, as well as veterans who are dependable and consistent. But they also find themselves amongst the list of players some who have been in free agency long enough that they could be compared to the convenient store bargain bin for movies – low risk in terms of price, but could have the potential to be a pleasant surprise.
There are teams who could save money while bringing in a savvy veteran or a player on discount, all in an effort to build depth towards next year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. But much like the parity of a regular season and playoff tournament, this is merely speculation of where these 15 remaining NHL free agents could sign for the 2017-18 season.
15 Daniel Winnik – New York Rangers
Daniel Winnik is one of the few players in Hockey Reference to be listed under multiple positions – having NHL experience at both spots on the front line. Winnik doesn’t have the most impressive offensive scoring numbers when it comes to forwards, but he’s got a lot of experience that makes him a valuable, but affordable option for a third or fourth line. Overall, he’s played in 717 career games with 76 goals and 152 assists.
Winnik was actually productive last season with the Washington Capitals with 25 points in 72 games. He also finished with a plus-15 rating on the season. One team that has an opening for depth at center is the New York Rangers and there are some fans and bloggers who would like to see someone like Winnik step into the role. Overall, it would be a decent fit for the veteran forward.
14 P.A. Parenteau – Ottawa Senators
P.A. Parenteau is an example of an NHL journeyman. Since first entering the league for five games with Chicago (2006-07), he’s moved to both New York teams, Colorado, Montreal, the Islanders again (but dropped before the season started last year) and then traded from New Jersey to Nashville last season. He’s starting to sound like he’s in a Choice Hotels commercial – because he’s been everywhere, man!
In the 67 games he played in total last season, he scored 28 points as a winger. He hasn't really had a standout season in a while, as he’s now 34 years old. But he’s viewed by some to be a low-risk option that could have the potential to be a high scoring reward. One team that had issues with scoring was Ottawa, so why not add some depth that won’t cost a lot of money against the salary cap?
13 Jay McClement – Vancouver Canucks
Jay McClement is another player who will likely come out of the bargain bin, with nothing more than a very small, minimal deal with no guarantees. There are some benefits to bringing in a player like McClement, who is considered a stronger skater on penalty kills. That’s probably the main sticking point for a center who has more than 900 career NHL games and only 244 offensive points to show for it.
With that in mind, there are some who have the opinion that McClement could be signed to a team that could use the help with playing short-handed. The Vancouver Canucks struggled in this penalty killing with a kill percentage of 76.7 – ranking them 28th out of the 30 NHL teams last season. Any depth in the PK department would be beneficial to the Canucks.
12 Dwight King – Overseas
Despite not having yet hit the age of 30 and with about 365 career games of NHL experience, it’s not looking good for left winger Dwight King. The Canadian-born skater has spent about 90 percent of his NHL career in the Los Angeles Kings organization, which includes being part of two Stanley Cup winning teams. But the former King was traded to Montreal in the middle of last season, where he only scored one goal in 17 appearances for the Canadiens.
Since Montreal didn’t need King as they look to build on winning the Atlantic Division last season, King has not received a lot of interest from teams in North America. Reports are now stating that it is more likely than ever that King will play overseas for the first time in his career – specifically the KHL in Europe.
11 Jiri Hudler – Detroit Red Wings
It wasn’t that long ago when center Jiri Hudler had the best season of his career. In the 2014-15 season with Calgary, Hudler scored 31 goals to finish with 76 points on the season. His numbers took a small dip in 2015-16 when he scored 46 points in 72 games between the Flames and the Florida Panthers. But last season was disastrous for Hudler after an illness limited him to just 32 games with the Dallas Stars.
His 11-point stat line has led to him becoming the kind of player that will be signed on a bargain. At the same time, that could be a great thing for the team that decides to take a chance on him. It will likely be a team that is looking for depth that will offer him a small tryout offer at the start of training camp. For this one, a team like Detroit could use someone that won’t take up too much space.
10 Brian Gionta – New Jersey Devils
Career consistency is what made Brian Gionta a captain for the Buffalo Sabres the past few seasons. In fact, he averaged more than 30 points in each of his last three seasons in Buffalo. The 37-year-old right winger has some respectable numbers with 588 career points in 1,006 games in the NHL. While he would like to return to Buffalo – since he grew up in Rochester, N.Y. – the team has other plans with the acquisition of former Minnesota winger Jason Pominville.
One likely option for the veteran would be to the team that first brought him into the NHL – the New Jersey Devils. If there was ever a team likely to need veteran depth, the Devils certainly need to find something to spark their offense that finished 28th in the NHL for goals scored. Just don’t expect Gionta to help them rise very much in the Metropolitan Division.
9 Matt Cullen – Pittsburgh Penguins
Unlike a majority of the players on this list, center Matt Cullen is either most likely to return to the team he last played for, or he will simply retire. Cullen, 40, played on a one-year contract last season to return for a successful defense of the Stanley Cup. His numbers might not have been flashy, but he was consistent as a third-line option with 13 goals and 18 assists. And the door for Cullen is open as far as the Penguins are concerned.
There’s a good chance Cullen could choose retirement. If he doesn’t, it’s unlikely he will get a lot of interest on the open market. And if he does choose to play in 2017-18, wouldn’t he want to have a chance of winning the Stanley Cup three consecutive seasons? The Penguins have some cap space to offer him something similar, to the $1 million deal he had last year.
8 Francois Beauchemin – New Jersey Devils
Maybe the 37-year-old defenseman didn’t have his best season with the Colorado Avalanche last year. Then again, the whole team was terrible. While it’s hard to put the blame on one single player, having your contract bought out by the Avalanche doesn’t help your free agency stock. His numbers last year included five goals and 13 assists with a minus-14 rating; averaging more than 21 minutes per game.
Beacuchemin joins a list of defenders that might not have many options in the NHL for the 2017-18 season. If there was a team who would be willing to bring him in, it would be the New Jersey Devils. Beauchemin may be looked at as as an undesirable option – but it makes sense. The defense is the weakness of a Devils franchise playing in a very competitive Metropolitan Division.
7 Cody Franson – Chicago Blackhawks
By the time training camps open in the NHL, Cody Franson will be 30 years old. He likely has some good years left in him, but he can also be brought into a team’s roster on a discount. That’s not to say his play earned him that discount. He does have 205 career points in 527 career games in the NHL. But last season was not his best with the Buffalo Sabres – three goals and 16 assists. But his experience will get him an invitation.
TSN reported last month that the Chicago Blackhawks were likely going to offer a tryout contract if he couldn’t find a deal in time. This would be a good fit for both teams, especially for Chicago. The team had to part ways with veteran defenders that include the retirement of Brian Campbell. The Blackhawks could use the depth on a discount.
6 Roman Polak – Colorado Avalanche
Roman Polak was have a somewhat productive season for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. In 75 games, Polak had a plus-10 rating and averaged closer to 18 minutes of ice time per game. However, there are concerns about his health after he suffered a severe leg injury late last season. A hard hit led to a break in his lower right leg and he was in a cast after the playoffs stating he would be healthy for the 2017-18 season.
Polak is not someone who is going to generate a lot of points. But he is dependable on the defensive end of the ice. It is likely that Polak will be signed closer to the start of preseason on a minimum deal, maybe with a few performance incentives. A likely destination would be Colorado. The team were the worst team in the league with allowing the most goals among all NHL teams.
5 Drew Stafford – Florida Panthers
Right winger Drew Stafford was essentially a quick rental by the Boston Bruins for the latter part of the 2016-17 season. With only four goals in 40 games with the Winnipeg Jets, Stafford had a better production line with four goals in 18 games with the Bruins. The team has reportedly maintained contact with his agents, leaving the door open for him to possibly sign something that works for the team’s best salary cap interests.
One team that expressed interest earlier was the Minnesota Wild. But that was last month. There are some fans who believe that the Florida Panthers would be a positive fit. In a lot of ways, it does make sense. The Panthers would add a right wing skater to replace the departing Jaromir Jagr. Sure, Stafford can never truly replace the Ageless Wonder. But he can provide depth at a better price for Florida.
4 Thomas Vanek – Detroit Red Wings
Thomas Vanek was a good addition to the Detroit Red Wings last season before he was traded to the Florida Panthers. In 48 games of the 2016-17 season, Vanek was able to produce well with 17 goals and 31 assists. He has a few good seasons under his belt during his time with numerous clubs since debuting in 2005. The Red Wings could be going into a rebuilding period, and it would be good to have a veteran like Vanek who has established chemistry with the team.
In a story by the Detroit Free Press last month, the team kept in touch with Vanek despite some hurdles involving the team’s low salary cap space. Considering the time that has passed since, Detroit could bring Vanek in on a deal that is within the Red Wings’ abilities. Vanek also has said nothing but great things about the Detroit organization when he was traded; leaving the window of possibility open.
3 Jarome Iginla – Boston Bruins
At age 40, right winger Jarome Iginla is not likely going to settle for playing on a team not ready to win a championship. However, even he admitted to reporters that with the parity that is in the NHL, that limits the field to only about half the league. And while his production in ice time and scoring are not what they used to be, sometimes a serviceable veteran is better than putting out someone who might not be ready for the jump from the AHL.
Iginla spent last season with the Colorado Avalanche before being traded to the Los Angeles Kings. His overall numbers featured just 27 points in 80 games, along with an average of about 15:08 per game on the ice. There has been some speculation about him being signed to the Boston Bruins, especially since he moved there for his son that will play for a prep school in the area. Iginla would provide reasonable depth on a bottom six line.
2 Shane Doan – Anaheim Ducks
Similar to the Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan is another 40-year-old skater who is likely looking for a one-year deal. And like Iginla, he doesn’t want to waste time with a club that isn’t going to help him lift the Stanley Cup for the first time. Overall, Doan has played in the league since 1995 and has a total of 972 points in 1,540 games. But just like who know who, Doan’s production dropped considerably last season – 27 points (six goals, 21 assists) and an average of 15:03 ice time per game.
However, his plus-minus rating last season (-3) with the Arizona Coyotes wasn’t as bad as Iginla’s (-30). It’s a big reason why fans were not happy that the Coyotes let Doan go after 20 seasons. There are a few teams that Doan could fit with, with Anaheim being the best. They are an arguable Stanley Cup contender who attract the veteran to sign for a cheaper contract in order to be one of the league’s top teams.
1 Jaromir Jagr – Edmonton Oilers
There is a reasonable expectation for teams to be hesitant in signing a 45-year-old skater. Then again, this is Jaromir Jagr. The Ageless Wonder might not have the same skills and production as when he was the star for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1990s, but he can still be a serviceable veteran to a number of clubs in the NHL. Last season, Jagr played in all 82 games, averaging 17 minutes of ice time and scored 46 points.
With some issues regarding his status with the Florida Panthers, Jagr might seem like a good fit for the Edmonton Oilers. The Hockey Writers noted that it would be a great deal for the Oilers to offer a one-year contract for about $3.5 million, weighted with performance bonuses that would be considered a team-friendly contract.
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