High-Risk, High-Reward NHL Free Agents Available in 2014 Offseason

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistMay 24, 2014

High-Risk, High-Reward NHL Free Agents Available in 2014 Offseason

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    When the NHL's unrestricted free-agent period opens July 1, general managers will browse the market in search of players to bolster their lineups. Of the stars eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer, several can be classified as “high risk, high reward.” 

    Some are aging stars whose best seasons could be behind them. A few have injury histories that could adversely affect their performances. Others are still within their playing prime but have consistency issues.

    Despite these risks, they also come with the promise of high reward. With the right teammates, a streaky scorer could gain consistency. An oft-injured player could still provide worthwhile depth for a playoff contender. A player struggling in a starring role on a weaker team could thrive in a supporting role elsewhere.

    In today's salary-cap world, general managers must carefully weigh the risks and rewards of signing these players to lucrative contracts. 

    The following is a ranking of this summer's top 10 high-risk, high-reward NHL free agents, along with their potential destinations. Age, performance, injury history and previous salary factored into the compilation of this list. 

    Note: All player statistics via NHL.com. Salary information via CapGeek.com.

10. Brooks Orpik

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    Risk: After earning $3.75 million annually on a six-year deal, Brooks Orpik could seek a long-term deal worth over $5 million per season. The rugged blueliner turns 34 in September, and his physical style could be taking its toll on him. Orpik's not a fast skater and is prone to ill-timed penalties. He's strictly a defensive blueliner with limited offensive capability

    Reward: Orpik remains a respected shutdown defenseman with leadership and big-game experience. Those attributes will be invaluable for teams in need of blue-line grit. 

    Potential destinations: The Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs all need an experienced stay-at-home defender. If Orpik doesn't re-sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins, those clubs could be in touch. 

9. Matt Moulson

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    Risk: Matt Moulson is completing a three-year, $9.4 million deal and could seek $5 million annually. The 30-year-old winger is not a physical player, nor is he a strong skater. Though he posted solid numbers this season, he struggled in the playoffs with the Minnesota Wild, managing only three points in 10 games. 

    Reward: Moulson is a consistent scorer. He had three consecutive 30-plus-goal seasons from 2009-10 to 2011-12 and tallied 44 points in 47 games last season. Despite playing for three teams this season, he still managed to score 23 goals and 51 points. He would be a worthwhile second-line scorer for the right price.

    Potential destinations: The Vancouver Province's Jim Jamieson listed Moulson among the players he believes the Vancouver Canucks should look into in free agency. The Nashville Predators, Philadelphia Flyers and Phoenix Coyotes could also contact him. 

8. Milan Michalek

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    Risk: The 29-year-old Milan Michalek is finishing a six-year, $26 million contract. He could seek a long-term deal worth over $5 million annually. He has a history of injuries and this season marked the first time he played a full 82 games in his nine-year NHL career. Michalek also tends to be a streaky scorer. Two years ago, he tallied a career-high 35 goals. This season, he managed only 17 goals and 39 points

    Reward: Michalek has good size (6'2", 227 pounds) and plays an effective two-way game. Despite his offensive inconsistency and injuries, he's scored 22 or more goals five times and 55 or more points four times. He could be an effective secondary scorer on a deep club. 

    Potential destinations: Teams in need of secondary scoring depth, like the Flyers or Coyotes, could take a chance on Michalek.

7. Ales Hemsky

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    Risk: Ales Hemsky is finishing out a two-year, $10 million deal. He could seek a longer term at $5 million per season. Injuries have hampered his effectiveness throughout his career. This season was the first time he played more than 70 games in a season since 2008-09

    Reward: The 30-year-old winger remains a skilled, creative playmaker. With the right linemates he can be a terrific addition. After being dealt to the Ottawa Senators at the March trade deadline, Hemsky had 17 points in 20 games playing alongside Jason Spezza. 

    Potential destinations: The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson recently reported that the Coyotes had interest in Hemsky before the trade deadline. They could try to sign him this summer. The Panthers could also pursue him.

6. Dave Bolland

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    Risk: Dave Bolland, 27, is completing a five-year, $16.875 million contract. In February, Sportsnet's Luke Fox cited analyst Nick Kypreos in reporting that Bolland is seeking a seven- or eight-year deal from the Leafs worth $40 million. He's been hampered by injuries for most of his seven NHL seasons, missing 59 games this season to a left ankle injury. Bolland struggled when placed in a second-line center role during his years with the Chicago Blackhawks. 

    Reward: When healthy Bolland is a hardworking two-way center. He has plenty of playoff experience, which includes two Stanley Cup championships with the Blackhawks. He could play a leadership role with a young roster. 

    Potential destinations: If Bolland doesn't lower his asking price, the Leafs could let him walk. He has ties with Panthers GM Dale Tallon from their days with the Blackhawks. CBC's Elliotte Friedman speculates Tallon could try to sign Bolland this summer. 

5. Paul Stastny

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    Risk: Paul Stastny is completing a five-year, $33 million deal. The lack of quality first-line centers in this summer's free-agent market could drive his asking price to $7 million per season. Stastny seems better suited as a second-line center. Over the past four seasons, he's come nowhere close to the career-high 79 points he reached in 2009-10. He could struggle to meet the lofty expectations that comes with a lucrative new contract. 

    Reward: He's been a consistent scorer, reaching or exceeding 20 goals and 50 points six times in his eight-year NHL career. Stastny a terrific performance with the Avalanche in this year's playoffs, with 10 points in seven games. At 28, he's still in his playing prime. 

    Potential destinations: The Denver Post's Terry Frei reported in March that Stastny is willing to accept a hometown discount to re-sign with the Avalanche. Teams in need of a scoring center (Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals, Maple Leafs, Predators) could pursue him.

4. Mike Cammalleri

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    Risk: Mike Cammalleri is completing a five-year, $30 million deal. He's unlikely to get $6 million per season again but could fetch around $5 million annually from teams desperate for scoring depth. Due to injuries, he hasn't played more than 65 games since 2006-07. He turns 32 in June, and his best years could be behind him. He also has limited playoff experience  

    Reward: When Cammalleri isn't sidelined, he's a reliable scorer. Despite playing only 63 games this season, he still scored 26 goals and 45 points. He's tallied 20-plus goals six times and 40-plus points eight times in his 11-year NHL career. Despite his limited playoff appearances, he still acquitted himself well, averaging a point per game. 

    Potential destinations: Prior to the March trade deadline, NJ.com's Randy Miller reported the New Jersey Devils had interest in Cammalleri. They could revisit their interest this summer. The Los Angeles Kings and Flyers could also pursue him. 

3. Ryan Miller

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    Risk:  Ryan Miller is finishing out a five-year, $31.25 million contract. Since winning the Vezina Trophy as top NHL goalie in 2010, his stats have declined. His goals-against average hasn't been below 2.55, while his save percentage hasn't been higher than .918. Much of that could be blamed on playing for the woeful Buffalo Sabres, but his performance didn't significantly improve after joining the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline. He turns 34 in July, which could also hamper his efforts to land a lucrative long-term deal.  

    Reward: Miller is still an effective starting goaltender with considerable NHL experience. He could prove invaluable as a mentor for a team with a promising young goaltender. This summer's limited market for goalies could make him a more affordable short-term signing. 

    Potential destinations: ESPN.com's Pierre Lebrun reports that the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks are expected to pass on his services. The Penguins, Canucks and Capitals could have interest, depending upon what their new managements decide to do with their respective goaltenders.

2. Thomas Vanek

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    Risk: Thomas Vanek is finishing up a seven-year, $50 million contract and could seek big money again. The 30-year-old winger has a reputation as a streaky scorer. This year's playoffs provides a perfect example of this, as he's all but disappeared for the Canadiens in their conference final against the New York Rangers. His career-best season (43 goals, 84 points) was seven years ago. 

    Reward: When Vanek is on his game, he's a significant offensive threat. He's scored 20 or more goals in each of his nine NHL seasons and reached 60 or more points six times. He might be more effective playing on a deeper team where he wouldn't have to carry the offensive burden. 

    Potential Destinations: The Pioneer Press' Charley Walters believes the Wild will pursue Vanek this summer. The Predators, Flyers and Panthers could also have interest. 

1. Marian Gaborik

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    Risk: The 32-year-old Marian Gaborik is coming off a five-year, $37.5 million contract. While he won't make $7.5 million per season again, he could seek a long-term deal worth over $5 million per. The biggest concern is Gaborik's lengthy injury history. A knee injury and broken collarbone limited him to only 41 games this season. At this point in his career, injuries will take more of a toll. Though he's played well in this year's postseason, there's no guarantee he can follow that up over a long-term deal.

    Reward: He's a three-time 40-goal scorer and has rediscovered his scoring touch playing alongside Kings center Anze Kopitar. He had 16 points in his last 19 regular-season games with the Kings. He's currently this year's playoff goal-scoring leader with nine goals. 

    Potential Destinations: CBCs Elliotte Friedman doubts Gaborik reaches free agency, speculating that the Kings could re-sign him. He could also interest clubs seeking a scoring winger like the Detroit Red Wings.