Even though the 2013 NHL free agent class leaves something to be desired, there could potentially be some great value available to teams that are willing to roll the dice. That is especially true when it comes to veteran players who have struggled with injury or inconsistent play in recent years.
Some names that immediately come to mind are former Philadelphia Flyers forward Daniel Briere and former Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. Both men were once considered to be among the premier players at their respective positions. That is no longer the case, but they boast long track records of success and could be useful in the right situations.
Here is the latest buzz surrounding Briere, Thomas and more intriguing free agents that will be worth watching when the frenzy begins on Friday.
Forward Daniel Briere is known as one of the NHL's best playoff performers, but he'll have to display his postseason heroics somewhere other than Philadelphia next season. The Flyers used one of their two compliance buyouts on Briere as the 35-year-old center had two years at a $6.5 million cap hit remaining on his contract. Even though the Flyers seemingly kicked Briere to the curb, he is currently coveted by half of the league's teams, according to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun.
While LeBrun didn't elaborate on which teams might be interested, one can infer that the list of 15 is littered with perennial playoff contenders and teams that are looking to reach that level. There is no guarantee that the team that signs him will be getting the Briere of old, though. This past season was Briere's worst as a Flyer, as he accrued just 16 points in 34 games. Injuries once again plagued him, as they did for much of his tenure in Philly.
Briere had 72 points in 68 career playoff games for the Flyers, though, so he knows a thing or two about rising to the occasion. Had the Flyers beaten the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2009-10 Stanley Cup Final, Briere almost certainly would have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP, with 30 points in 23 games. Briere probably isn't a first-line player anymore, but he can be great in a supporting role and will be a major asset come playoff time.
It can easily be argued that goalie Tim Thomas is the most intriguing player on the free-agent market this offseason. Thomas decided not to play during the lockout-shortened season, which resulted in the Boston Bruins trading his rights to the New York Islanders. Unless something unforeseen happens, Thomas will become an unrestricted free agent on Friday. While Thomas is still undecided about returning, according to Mike Cole of NESN, the prevailing thought seems to be that he will play next season.
If Thomas does return, then there figures to be a nice market for him. He won't be viewed as a long-term option since he is 39 years of age, but there are some contending teams that could use some help in the goaltending department. Thomas had a solid 2.36 goals against average and .920 save percentage for the Bruins two seasons ago, so there is nothing to suggest that he can't still play. One particular team that may be interested in him is the Flyers, according to Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly.
The Flyers missed the playoffs last season, but they always seem to believe that they are in contention. Steve Mason is the only viable option on the roster right now at goalie as Philadelphia also bought out Ilya Bryzgalov. Thomas has all the accolades that teams look for in a goalie, as he is a four-time All-Star, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, a Conn Smythe Trophy winner and a Stanley Cup winner. Philly has been missing a goalie of his ilk for quite some time, so he is a definite option.
Washington Capitals center Mike Ribeiro isn't as long in the tooth as the likes of Briere and Thomas, but, at 33 years of age, he is certainly approaching the twilight of his career. Ribeiro may not agree with that assessment, though, as he put up 49 points in 48 games for the Caps this past season and is in line for a very nice payday. According to Renaud Lavoie of RDS, Ribeiro has every intention of testing the market as well.
It's tough to blame Ribeiro, as he figures to land a fairly long-term deal for good money, but he was very productive during his only season in Washington. The Capitals can't be ruled out in terms of pursuing Ribeiro, but players don't often go back to their previous team once they hit free agency. Ribeiro is probably a low-end first-liner at best, but he could be a huge acquisition for a team that needs scoring depth.
Ribeiro was excellent in a second-line center role for the Caps behind Nicklas Backstrom, and he could certainly play a similar role elsewhere. He is among the better playmakers in the league, as he has put up 45 or more assists in a season five times and he was well on pace to do so last season as well. There aren't many top-flight centers available in free agency this year, so look for plenty of teams to be in on Ribeiro.
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