Every single year, loads of NHL players enter the season on the final year of their contracts. There is really only a couple of ways it can go for a player. If you play well, you will be rewarded with a nice new contract in the offseason. If you play poorly, you are probably looking at a substantial pay cut. While there have been many players who have stepped up their game in their contract year this season, there have been just as many who have struggled.
Players who were hoping to get big money this offseason, are now looking at getting their salaries reduced. Some of the players on this list might only get interest from a few teams if they are lucky. For the most part, these players are only going to get one-year deals and will have to use the next season to prove that they still belong in the league. It's the NHL teams that are the real winners in this situation, as there are certain to be a few players on this list that will turn out to be great bargain free agent signings.
Here are 15 struggling NHL players who will be unrestricted free agents this July and where they might sign.
15 Darcy Kuemper: Boston Bruins
The one-time WHL Goaltender of the Year, Darcy Kuemper has managed to have a decent NHL career after being a late round draft pick of Minnesota. Prior to joining the Wild in a backup role, Kuemper spent a few seasons in the minors where his numbers were excellent.
Kuemper has spent the past four seasons as the Wild's primary backup goalie. For the most part, he has performed well. However, this season hasn't been too fun for Kuemper. While his teammate Devan Dubnyk has been one of the best goalies in the league, Kuemper has been one of the worst backups as he currently sports a terrible 3.22 GAA.
Prediction: Despite this season's performance, Kuemper has enough of proven track record that there will be a few teams interested in his services. The Boston Bruins could use a new backup goalie.
14 Brian Campbell: Bufalo Sabres
Brian Campbell has been around the NHL for a long time, having made his debut during the 1999-00 season. While there was a time where Campbell was considered one of the top offensive defensemen in the league, he has lost a few steps in recent years. He was once a perennial fifty point player, but the now at the age of 37, even thirty points seems like a bit of a stretch.
This past offseason, Campbell signed with the Chicago Blackhawks, the same team he won a Stanley Cup with in 2010. Despite still playing top four minutes with the Blackhawks, Campbell is on pace for just 20 points this season. Even without his old offensive flare, Campbell can still skate and could be a great leader for a young team.
Prediction: A return to the Buffalo Sabres where it all started for him would be a great way to cap off his career.
13 Ondrej Pavelec: Tampa Bay Lightning
Ondrej Pavelec's time as a Winnipeg Jet has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. When the team is winning, the Jets fans seem to love him. When the team is losing, the fans are quick to blame Pavelec. This year the netminder actually started out playing for the Jets AHL affiliate. Winnipeg was looking for a spark that would save their season, so they called up Pavelec in January.
While the Jets have won games with Pavelec back in net, it's not like he has been lighting up the league. He currently sports a 3.55 GAA, with a .888 save percentage, not the most flattering numbers, that's for sure. Even if Pavelec managed to save the Jets season, it looks like the days are numbered for his time in Winnipeg.
Prediction: He should get one more crack next season at being a dependable goalie in NHL. If he fails it wouldn't be surprising to see him head back home to play. The Tampa Bay Lightning might be a good fit for Pavelec.
12 Dmitry Kulikov: New York Rangers
Dmitry Kulikov proved that he had some offensive talent while playing in junior. During his last season in the QMJHL with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, the defenseman recorded an impressive 62 points. So far in his NHL career, his offensive game has been lacking for the most part.
After spending seven seasons with the Florida Panthers, Kulikov was traded the Buffalo Sabres this past offseason. The Sabres were hoping that Kulikov would start living up to his potential with a fresh start, but so far it has been the complete opposite. He has been a defensive liability with the team while producing only two points.
Prediction: Kulikov is still only 26 years old, and there should be a few teams that will try and see if they can get more out of him. The New York Rangers could use a big defenseman like Kulikov.
11 Michal Neuvirth: Philadelphia Flyers
Michal Neuvirth broke into the NHL with the Washington Capitals in 2009-10. Just one year later he became the team's starting goalie, playing in career-high 48 games. Although he performed well as a starter for the Capitals, Neuvirth has been stuck in a backup position at the NHL level ever since.
After stints with the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders, Neuvirth joined the Philadelphia Flyers in 2015. While he performed exceptionally well in his first season as a Flyer, this season has not been the greatest for him. While his 2.79 GAA isn't terrible, his .893 save percentage is. At this point in his career, it looks like Neuvirth is just going to have to settle for being in a backup role. A team who is looking for a backup netminder who can take on a heavy workload if needed should take a long look at signing Michal Neuvirth.
Prediction: The Philidelphia Flyers will be looking for a stop-gap goalie for the next couple of seasons, and they might already have their man in Neuvirth.
10 Michael Stone: Vancouver Canucks
It may have taken a while, but Michael Stone has developed into a solid all-around defenseman. While he was known for being a very good offensive defenseman in junior, his offense in the NHL has been taken down a notch in favor of being more defensively responsible. That isn't to say he isn't a threat on offense, he used his excellent slap shot from the point to score a career-high eight goals in 2013-14.
Stone had a career year with the Arizona Coyotes in 2015-16, scoring a career-high 36 points. He was rewarded with a one-year contract worth $4 million. However, this season Stone hasn't exactly earned that money. He has only managed to score one goal in 39 games. To be fair, his production might not be as high due to the fact that is coming off of a major knee injury.
Prediction: While Stone might have to settle for another one-year contract, he would be a great fit for a team looking to add more skill to their powerplay. A team with a weak power play like the Vancouver Canucks could use the skill set of a player like Stone.
9 Jarome Iginla: Calgary Flames
Jarome Iginla is one of the greatest goal scorers we have got the pleasure to see in the past two decades. After scoring 21 goals in his rookie season, he only got better. After having a couple of 50-plus goal seasons, Iginla currently sits at over 600 goals for his NHL career.
While Iginla is nowhere near the same goal scoring threat as he was in his prime, he's still only a couple years removed from his last thirty goal season. However, this season you can tell that Father Time has finally caught up to him. He is currently on pace to score a career-low eight goals this season. While the future Hall of Famer may be thinking about retirement, teams will consider signing him for his leadership qualities alone.
Prediction: Iginla ending his career where it all started back in a Calgary Flames jersey would be a perfect fit for the player and the team.
8 Dennis Wideman: Florida Panthers
Dennis Wideman is a veteran defenseman of over 800 NHL games, having started his NHL career back in 2006. He has shown at times he can be one of the better offensive defensemen in the league. He has had two seasons in his career where he scored his over fifty points. The most productive year of his career occurred just a few seasons ago in 2014-15 when he recorded 56 points.
While Wideman has shown he can be a great offensive defenseman, he has also shown that he is very inconsistent. It seems like for every good season he has, he has one bad one. This season is in the latter category, as he on pace for just 25 points. While Wideman isn't getting any younger at thirty-three years old, he should still have a few decent seasons left in him.
Prediction: A young team like the Florida Panthers could use a veteran defenseman like Wideman to anchor their second powerplay unit.
7 Shane Doan: Arizona Coyotes
Shane Doan has had an NHL career that has spanned over two decades, and it has all been with the Arizona Coyotes franchise. He has accomplished a ton with the franchise and holds many of the team's records. However, the one thing he hasn't achieved is winning the Stanley Cup. While Coyotes came close, losing in the Conference finals in 2012, they are currently deep in a rebuilding process.
While Shane Doan is forty years old, he didn't look like it last season. Doan led the Coyotes in 2015-16 with a more than respectable 28 goals. However, this season has been a totally different story. Doan is on pace to score just eight goals, which would be his lowest since the 1998-99 season.
Prediction: If Doan doesn't leave the Coyotes at this year's trade deadline, he's never going to leave. Doan will either go one more season with the Arizona Coyotes or call it quits at the end of this year.
6 Michael Del Zotto: Edmonton Oilers
Michael Del Zotto has had a roller coaster of an NHL career. The defenseman came out strong in first few seasons with the New York Rangers, scoring a career-high 41 points in 2011-12. However, after that season he struggled, so much so that he was barely hanging on to a spot in the NHL.
Del Zotto signed with the Philadephia Flyers in 2014 and rejuvenated his career. He earned himself a two-year contract extension with the Flyers, but he has struggled ever since he signed that contract. He's only produced ten points this season and has a terrible minus ten rating.
Prediction: Del Zotto is still young enough that teams will be willing to give him another chance to rebound. A team like the Edmonton Oilers could use an offensive minded defenseman like him.
5 Drew Stafford: Anaheim Ducks
Drew Stafford was kind of a forgotten man in the trade that sent Evander Kane to the Buffalo Sabres. While the Winnipeg Jets were happy to receive a player like Tyler Myers, Stafford was also a great addition to the team. Stafford has been a consistent scorer ever since he entered the league, and he continued to be that player in his first full season with the Jets. He finished third the team with a solid 21 goals.
The 2016-17 season has been an off year for Stafford. He has battled through injuries, and when he has been in the lineup he hasn't been very productive. He is currently on pace for one of the lowest point totals of his career.
Prediction: At this point in his career, Stafford is more suited to a third line role. He would be a great depth player for a team like the Anaheim Ducks.
4 Alexandre Burrows: Vancouver Canucks
The only jersey that Alexandre Burrows has worn during his 12 season NHL career is that of the Vancouver Canucks. After working his way up through Vancouver's minor league system, Burrows became a full-time member of the Canucks in the 2005-06 season. After being mostly a fourth line grinder, Burrows hard work paid off as he was given a chance to play with the Sedin twins. Burrows responded by becoming on the team's top goal scorers, scoring a career high 35 goals during the 2009-10 season.
While in recent years Burrows has seen his production slowly decline, the past couple of seasons have been particularly poor for him. Last season Burrows managed to score just nine goals and twenty-two points. This season hasn't been too much better for the veteran, as he's on pace for another poor season production wise.
Prediction: While Burrows isn't the same player as he was during his prime, he still has a role in the NHL as a great agitator and leader. At this point in his career, it's hard picturing Burrows playing for a team that's not the Vancouver Canucks.
3 David Desharnais: New Jersey Devils
After never being drafted, David Desharnais tore up the minor leagues. The Quebec native got his shot wth the Montreal Canadiens in 2010-11, and he has been a regular in the lineup ever since. Although the Canadiens have used Desharnais up and down the lineup, he has remained productive no matter what line he's playing on. His best season as a Canadien came in 2011-12 when he scored a career-high 60 points.
Prior to this season, Desharnais has averaged 0.59 points per game with Montreal. However this season he is only averaging 0.34 points per game. Desharnais has had a nice run with the Canadiens, but it might be best for the player and the team to go their separate ways.
Prediction: David Desharnais has kind of flown under the radar in Montreal. Minus this season, he has been a very consistent offensive player in his NHL career. He could turn out to be one of the best free agents signings of this offseason. A team that is starving for offense like the New Jersey Devils would be a perfect fit for Desharnais.
2 Steve Mason: Calgary Flames
After an impressive rookie season with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2008-09, it looked like Steve Mason was destined to become one of the NHL's best goalies. As the years have past Mason has earned the reputation of being the league's most inconsistent goalie.
After struggling for a couple of seasons in Columbus, Mason revived his career when he joined the Philadelphia Flyers in 2013. While he's had a couple of great seasons in Philly, he's also had some poor ones. This season falls in the latter category, as his goals against average is hovering around three, while his save percentage sitting right at the .900 mark.
Prediction: The Flyers probably just want a stop-gap goalie for the next couple of seasons, while Mason is going to want a long-term contract. The Calgary Flames might be a team looking for a new starting goalie for next season.
1 1. Patrick Sharp: Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Sharp began his NHL career as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. During his time with the Flyers, Sharp found himself bouncing up and down from the minors. It wasn't until he was dealt to Chicago in 2005, that his NHL career started to take off. He would go on to play ten seasons with Blackhawks, scoring more than 30 goals on four different occasions.
With the team being right up against the salary cap, Chicago had little choice other than to trade Sharp in 2015 to the Dallas Stars. Sharp continued to be a solid player in his first season in Dallas, finishing with 20 goals and 55 points. This season has been a struggle, to say the least for Sharp. He's on pace to score just 23 points, which would be the worst statistical season of his career.
Prediction: While the Chicago Blackhawks had to get rid of Sharp a couple of seasons ago due to money issues, they would certainly welcome him back this offseason at a much-reduced price. Sharp would be happy to return to Chicago too, as it's probably his best chance at resurrecting his career.
Leave A Comment
Looking for an AD FREE EXPERIENCE on TheSportster?Get Your Free Access Now!