NHL Free Agents: 13 Best Forwards Still Available and Where They'll Sign
National Hockey League free agents are a lot like summer blockbusters. By the time August hits, there’s not a lot of quality left.
Sure, every once in a while you’re hit with a Dark Knight Rises, but by and large, you’ll be lucky to get an Expendables sequel—a B movie if there ever was one, dressed up with past-their-prime stars and a lot of ass-kicking.
Fittingly, one general common thread tying the remaining NHL free agents together is the veteran leadership each can bring, albeit in a limited capacity.
Think Sylvester Stallone. Alone at his age, he or any one of his cast mates should have trouble putting on their pants. Together, though, not only can they lend each other a helping if not totally inappropriate hand, but also in the end come up with a presumably decent film. Admittedly one rife with violence, but, if that doesn’t spell hockey, I don’t know what does.
Here are the 13 best forwards still available and where they’ll sign.
Shane Doan is the prized free agent left remaining in this year’s pool. He is also the one who’s most likely to remain with his current team.
His July 27 deadline for the Coyotes to get their I’s dotted and T’s crossed came and went, leaving little doubt Doan will eventually return to the only franchise he has ever called home. If he really wanted to sign elsewhere, he would have by now. God knows, he has received enough offers.
Almost every team can use a guy like Doan. He brings grit, leadership and some scoring. No, he’s not a top-line player—he really only was for a span of two years—but his one career hat-trick, scored just this past year, proves he’s got at least a little something in the tank and can provide solid second-line numbers.
Of course, he’s most definitely not worth the four-year $30-million contract he’s currently seeking, but he’ll get it from one owner looking to cut off his nose to spite his face. Conveniently, the Coyotes need excess salary, just under $10 million from the cap floor.
Let’s face it: Doan and the Coyotes are made for each other and who would want to get in the middle of those two lovebirds?
Where he’ll sign: Phoenix Coyotes
At this point, Jochen Hecht can hide behind the Buffalo Sabres’ offensive depth no longer. His eight points in 22 games last year were a disappointment to say the least, and it’s relatively clear he won’t be returning to the Sabres, for whom he has played since 2002.
Once capable of scoring upwards of 40 points in one season, accomplishing the modest feat as recently as two years ago, the 35-year-old German with the cool name is nearing the end of a far-from-storied career.
However, his versatility as a player who can play center or the wing makes him relatively valuable, as does his decent defensive prowess. Any team looking for tertiary scoring can make use of Hecht.
Where he’ll sign: If not overseas, the Columbus Blue Jackets, who need leadership, scoring, a good general manager, etc.
It’s hard to call Kristian Huselius a disappointment from a Columbus Blue Jackets perspective. He actually came just as advertised: an injury-prone forward capable of injecting some skill into a lineup in desperate need of it.
He may have only played two games last year, but he also had seasons of 56 and 63 points on teams with about as much scoring punch as a bowl spiked with actual fruit juice at a prom. And those points came playing the same position as Rick Nash, by the way.
Perhaps the most skilled player still available, Huselius is just 33 (going on 34) and can be a legitimate top-six guy. Not only that, but his injury concerns may just enable one lucky team to secure his services for bargain-basement prices.
Just slap the word “crazy” in front of his agent’s name and he becomes a used car, just like that. And who wouldn’t want a fine, Swedish automobile?
Where he’ll sign: Vancouver Canucks, with the recent news that Ryan Kesler will be out for an extended period of time
While Petr Sykora was a pleasant surprise for the New Jersey Devils last regular season, his postseason play left something to be desired. Unfortunately, that something, Anze Kopitar, played for the other team, and him wearing red and black wasn’t really in the cards at the time.
Sykora delivered a solid 21 goals and 23 assists for New Jersey last season before falling flat in the playoffs. Now, going on 36, Sykora’s clearly not long for the NHL, but he still may have one or two good years left in him as a decent supporting cast member.
Where he’ll sign: another one of his old teams, the Anaheim Ducks
Andrei "The Original Syn" Kostitsyn didn’t exactly make a good impression during his stay in Nashville. Truth be told, his first impression with the Montreal Canadiens wasn’t worth writing home to Belarus about either.
Kostitsyn’s skill level is relatively off the charts, so much so that the Habs felt justified taking him 10th overall in the 2003 NHL entry draft, ahead of Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Burns, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, and Corey Perry (and that’s just the first round).
Suffice it to say, it wasn’t one of Montreal’s scouting staff’s finer moments.
That’s because, despite his undeniable shot and overall skill, Kostitsyn’s desire to perform is reminiscent of that of a bear forced into captivity and then to ride a tricycle as a member of a traveling circus. Sure, he’s got all the tools to go on a rampage, but does he? No, instead he just goes through the motions again, and again…and again.
And few teams want a tricycle-riding bear. Well, maybe the New York Rangers. You know, for the team that has everything.
Where he’ll sign: probably some Kontinental Hockey Team for more money than Parise is now making on a per-year basis
Unfortunately, not counting his essentially lost 2010-2011 campaign, Daymond Langkow’s offensive production has gone down in each of his past four seasons, dating back to a career-high 77 points scored in 2006-2007.
The 30 he scored last year were nonetheless a positive sign that he can still contribute, even in a secondary role, and he may just find his niche as an above-average fourth-liner. That is, if his neck problems really are behind him.
Where he’ll sign: the Tampa Bay Lighting, the team that drafted him in 1995, because, aside from the usual suspects up front, Tampa’s in dire need of forwards of any kind
Jason Arnott has reportedly been in talks with the Vancouver Canucks, likely in the hopes that he can become the team’s third-line center. This means he wouldn’t be signed to replace Ryan Kesler, just Manny Malholtra or Maxim Lapierre, the third-line centers they already have? Huh?
Truth be told, making sense of the Vancouver Canucks’ depth chart is a task meant more for astrophysicists, especially now with the black hole left by Kesler’s prolonged absence from the team.
Who knows who’ll be playing with the two Sedins on any given night? Who knows what to make of Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen, Mason Raymond, and any of the other pseudo second-liners the Canucks have got on their roster?
All I know is Vancouver makes it work, somehow. Good on them. Now, you had better pencil in Arnott at the end of that list, because he’s way past his prime yet was able to contribute admirably in a bottom-six role last year for the St. Louis Blues.
I’d say he’s just what Vancouver needs, but, aside from a long-lost Sedin triplet who can play the other wing, I’m not too sure. I don’t think Vancouver does either except for a decent return for Roberto Luongo.
Where he’ll sign: the Vancouver Canucks
It’s a legitimate surprise that Tomas Holmstrom hasn’t signed with a team for next season yet. It’s of course not that he’s incapable of finding a new home, but that he doesn’t want to. So much so in fact that he’s proclaimed he’s either going to remain a Detroit Red Wing or retire.
It's very admirable and a great way to leave the game, just months after friend Nicklas Lidstrom did the same.
Of course, the signing of Jordin Tootoo makes it seem as though Detroit is readying for life without him (despite the fact both play radically different games). In any case, it seems as though both sides have made up their respective minds, and the mere formality of Holmstrom announcing his retirement will come any day now.
Where he’ll sign: as Holmstrom has gone on record as saying, either the Detroit Red Wings or nowhere
The high point of Gilbert Brule’s past seven years as an NHL player didn’t come on the ice, but picking up a hitchhiking Bono. That pretty much sums up his career up to this point.
The bad news? No, neither of the albums Boy or Achtung Baby were named for the short-in-stature Brule in return (unless someone owns a time machine). The good? It can only go up from here, and U2 is working on a new album set for release in 2013. *Fingers crossed* Diminutive, Underachieving Hockey Player, perhaps?
Joking aside, his 37 points in 65 games in 2009-2010 with the Edmonton Oilers were a sign that he can contribute regularly in the league, were it not for recurring health issues. Once a sixth-overall draft pick, Brule does have talent. It’s only a matter of staying healthy long enough to show it (and getting the opportunity on top of that).
Where he’ll sign: the San Jose Sharks, to help replace the loss of Torrey Mitchell and give them two reclamation projects (James Sheppard) from which to choose on any given night
Perhaps a bit of a surprise entry on this list, Bobby Butler was recently bought out by the Ottawa Senators, making him a free agent. His 16 points in 56 games last year may not make him all that attractive to potential suitors, but his 21, including 10 goals, in 36 games the previous season are a different story.
Now, it’s just a matter of finding him a home so some variation of “The Butler Did It” can inevitably be used in a future piece. It’s going to happen. Mark my words.
Butler’s reportedly dead set on earning a one-way contract and only with a team with an open spot on one of their top three lines. Consider them huge demands for a player, who, again, was bought out by the Ottawa Senators of all teams.
In any case, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and Butler is far from a lost cause, although the fact that the Sens opted for the services of one Guillaume Latendresse over his are not a positive sign.
Where he’ll sign: the Boston Bruins for a hometown discount, or the Tampa Bay Lightning
Okay, so Eric Fehr didn’t exactly light it up last year as a member of the reborn Winnipeg Jets. When he wasn’t on air-traffic-control duty from up in the press box, sidelined due to a right-shoulder injury, he was more often than not guilty of one too many flybys.
In 35 games, he had two goals. That’s a far cry from the 21 he had as a Washington Capital just two seasons ago. Of course, he notched that many during Alexander Ovechkin’s last truly great season, when opposing teams were concentrating on containing him rather than most anybody else on the team, so that total may be skewed a tad.
Still, Fehr is a former first-round pick, one who can likely thrive in the right environment. It goes without saying, but Winnipeg is not the right environment. Barely an environment at all, actually. Just kidding, but it is really cold during the winter up there.
Where he’ll sign: a team looking for secondary scoring, like the Phoenix Coyotes
To say Dominic Moore has been around the NHL is a bit of an understatement. Much like a doorknob: Since he debuted in 2003-2004, nine different teams have gotten a turn.
Looking on the bright side, he can make the argument that his services are just that much in demand. Of course, his being available right now, at the beginning of August, kind of dismisses that bit of wishful thinking on his part. Still, Moore makes a decent depth signing for a low price.
A one-time 45 point scorer and generally good for around 30 points, Moore is kind of like fire, at least what it was to the first ones who discovered it. You don’t know you need it until you have it. That and he probably wouldn’t mix too well with gasoline. But that’s true of anybody.
Where he’ll sign: a team short on bottom-six forwards, like the Edmonton Oilers
Brendan Morrison didn’t have a good year last year. Time split between the Calgary Flames and the Chicago Blackhawks yielded a paltry 11 points in 39 games.
However, the year before was a different story, when he almost single-handedly solved the Flames’ woes at center with an age-defying 43-point performance in 66 games.
Now 37, Morrison is just 66 games short of 1,000 for his career, and the end is undeniably nigh. A return to the Canucks would definitely make for a nice swan song, but does he enough left to reach that significant milestone?
Where he’ll sign: hopefully the Vancouver Canucks
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