NHL Free Agency: 3 Best Under-the-Radar Signings so Far

Taylor GiffinCorrespondent IIJuly 17, 2012

NHL Free Agency: 3 Best Under-the-Radar Signings so Far

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    NHL free agency always starts off the same, the big-name players dominate every headline around. In the end however, it is the smaller signings that sometimes end up making the biggest contributions.

    The 2012 year was no different. Any talk involving who signs where always involved Zach Parise or Ryan Suter. That was expected. It is an exciting time of the year for fans of all teams and everyone wants their team to pick up a star.

    However, there have been many more signings so far than just Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, and some of these lesser-known signings have just as much excitement attached to them. These are the deals that can really show the savvy that your teams GM has when it comes to picking up players.

    So without any more wait, here are the three best smaller signings that have happened so far in the 2012 NHL free agency period.

Wojtek Wolski

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    For a cap hit of only $600,000 dollars, why would the Washington Capitals not take a chance on a player that, three years ago, was able to register 65 points?

    Wojtek Wolski was once a first-round draft pick and thought very highly of in the Colorado Avalanche system coming out of junior. He was able to put up respectable numbers in his first few years, but it has been his last two seasons that have made teams wary of signing him.

    You have to give credit to Capitals GM George McPhee for taking the risk. There is nothing wrong with this signing. You get a player that has great offensive instincts playing on a team which always brings explosiveness to their front end, and you are barely paying the guy.

    Wolski knows he will have to use this year to earn a contract more fitting of his skill level for next season, as he told Stephen Whyno of The Washington Times:

    “I think this upcoming year is a great time for me to bounce back, to show that I’m still a great player and I still have a lot of life left in me,” Wolski said. “Definitely, I’m at a point in my career where I’m at a crossroads, and I’ve got to make it work. I think I’m ready and able and it’s going to be a great year.”

    With the Capitals planning on using Wolski on their second line, there is no reason to suggest that he shouldn't return to his point production of his early years. He will get the opportunity to play alongside either Mike Ribeiro or Nicklas Backstrom.

    Wolski knows what a great opportunity he has in front of him to turn around his staggering career, and seems ready to accept the challenge. He also told Whyno of The Washington Times:

    “I definitely think I can help on the offensive side,” he said. “I’m definitely highly motivated, very excited and very hungry at this point in time, and I look forward to the opportunity to be able to play with great players. I think it’s going to be a very positive year.”

Jonas Gustavsson

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    The Detroit Red Wings took a chance that 'The Monster' can bounce back to the form that once saw him be one of the most coveted goalies playing outside the NHL.

    When the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to pick up the young Swede three seasons ago, they knew he had talent but the question was, would he able to transition that talent into the NHL level?

    He had his ups and downs, and the Red Wings have now taken another shot at the goaltender, signing him to a two-year deal worth $1.5 million a season.

    For a goalie that has some really good upside, this is a good gamble by Detroit. By no means is Gustavsson a goalie that is done, he just needs a new beginning. He has incredible athleticism and needs a place where that can be seen. He has a huge 6'3" frame and with his butterfly style covers a large portion of the net.

    By no means are they expecting him to battle for the top spot against Jimmy Howard, but they do expect him to excel as a backup, something he may easily be able to do.

    He will be away from the center of the hockey world, and the pressure that came with that will be scaled down as well. He can concentrate on playing hockey.

    Going back to his connection with the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL.com made a point worth noting:

    "It will be interesting if Gustavsson for some reason gets the start in the 2012 NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium. The Red Wings' opponent is the Maple Leafs."

    Knowing that he is the guaranteed backup might also play to Gustavsson's advantage. He will only be expected to play 20 games if he is lucky. That extra time off should mean he can put together consistent performances every time he steps between the pipes.

Peter Mueller

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    There are big questions surrounding Peter Mueller, but he seems pretty adamant that the one-year $1.725 million contract he was given by the Florida Panthers is well worth the money.

    He told George Richards of the Miami Herald where his game is at at the moment, after sustaining multiple concussions during his time in the NHL:

    “There are no red flags," Mueller said. “Everything is a go. I’m just looking forward to a fresh start. There’s no secret about my past. As I spoke to Dale, he told me what he’s expecting out of me, and I’m expecting a lot out of myself. I’m coming in with a great attitude. I’m ready to rock and roll this coming season."

    If what Mueller is saying is true then this signing by the Florida Panthers could be one of the best, at really no risk as well. It is nothing more than just a low money, one-year deal.

    If, however, Mueller can play like he did in the 2007/08 season, where he put up 54 points, then Dale Tallon will look like a genius. 

    Tallon told Richards of the Miami Herald where he sees Mueller fitting in on the team and what he may be able to bring to the ice:

    “I hope to get him the way he was his rookie year," Tallon said. “He seems to be revitalized. We did our due diligence. He understands this is a great opportunity. He’s a top six forward with size and skill. He’s still young. This is well worth the risk for us to sign him to a one-year deal and hopefully get back to where he was before he was injured."

    There have been talks that Mueller, if proven to be as healthy as he says he is, will be playing on a line that consists of himself, Scottie Upshall and Jonathon Huberdeau. If that happens, then there is no doubt the American winger will be able to revive his point production.