NHL free agency has been very busy in the early going, but as the dust has settled, a quality number of players remains.
Some of the bigger names were off the market within the first hour of open season on July 5. Those teams that stayed patient could find better deals, as lingering free agents get a little more desperate to find work.
Here is a look at the five best remaining free agents in the NHL.
5. Tim Thomas, G
After taking all of last season off, the former Boston Bruin and 2011 Conn Smythe winner has every intention of returning to NHL form. He was traded to the New York Islanders as a salary cap move for both teams but became an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Islanders decided to re-up with Evgeni Nabokov, leaving Thomas without any suitors. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner believes he still has what it takes, but clubs may not be willing to take a flier on a 39-year-old who hasn’t played in over a calendar year. A training camp invite may be the veteran’s best option.
4. Brenden Morrow, LW
The former captain of the Dallas Stars was shipped to the Pittsburgh Penguins on the April 3 trade deadline. Unfortunately, the Penguins were eliminated by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final. He played well with the Penguins, tallying six goals and 14 points in 15 games. As a free agent, Morrow looks to score a role with a contender, preferably as a top six forward. He’s garnered much attention from the Carolina Hurricanes and GM Jim Rutherford according to Adam Gretz of CBSSports.com. After the Canes missed out on Jaromir Jagr, Morrow could provide grit to a young, fast-paced offense as well as tremendous leadership on and off the ice.
3. Damien Brunner, C/LW
In his first NHL season, Damien Brunner totaled 12 goals and 26 points in 44 contests with the Red Wings. He started on the top line alongside Henrik Zetterberg and started well with 10 goals and 16 points in the first 19 games. He would produce just two goals and 10 points over the remaining 25 games played. He rebounded in the playoffs on the third line totaling five goals and nine points in 14 games. He’s looking to receive $3-$3.5 million annually on a new contract, which is too rich for such a small sample size at the NHL level. He has a remarkable scoring touch, but has shown his lack of size and physicality is an issue. It’s only a matter of time before he’s signed, but the longer it takes, the more attractive a return to Switzerland could be.
2. Ilya Bryzgalov, G
After consecutive seasons backstopping the Phoenix Coyotes to the postseason, Bryzgalov got his monster contract from the Philadelphia Flyers. In his two years in Philly he totaled a record of 52-33-10, was eliminated in the second round of the 2012 playoffs and missed the playoffs last season. The new collective bargaining agreement lowered this year’s salary cap and it resulted in a buyout of Bryz’s contract. Looking for a fresh start, he could be the benefactor of a team needing to reach the salary cap floor. Otherwise, his talents may lie idle for a bit longer. Eventually someone will sign him, there’s just too much talent and experience to be ignored.
1. Mikhail Grabovski, C
The 29-year-old center is still available after a public falling out with Toronto head coach Randy Carlyle. As a UFA, his options should be endless, but it doesn’t appear that way. He has outstanding speed with a natural scoring touch and should be a top-six forward wherever he signs. According to a tweet by Craig Custance of ESPN, there are multiple teams showing interest.
Grabovski has 94 goals and 217 points in 367 career games between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. You can expect Grabovski to take his time in discussion with those teams still interested, but a decision isn’t expected until August.
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