The Stanley Cup Final was entertaining and the 2014 NHL draft built genuine excitement surrounding the offseason, but the landscape of the league shifted after this year’s crop of top free agents chose their final destinations.
While many of the bigger names have already signed with their new teams, there are still several difference-makers on the open market who could help turn a playoff contender into a championship favorite.
Here are the top free agents still available and some analysis of the most underrated player on the market.
|Top 2014 NHL Free Agents|
|Rank||Player||Position||Predicted Landing Spot|
|2||Michael Del Zotto||D||Carolina Hurricanes|
|3||Steve Ott||C||Buffalo Sabres|
|4||Dustin Penner||LW||Philadelphia Flyers|
|5||Martin Brodeur||G||Toronto Maple Leafs|
|6||Lee Stempniak||RW||Pittsburgh Penguins|
|7||Dany Heatley||LW||New York Rangers|
|8||David Booth||LW||Buffalo Sabres|
|9||Brenden Morrow||LW||Dallas Stars|
|10||Devin Setoguchi||RW||Winnipeg Jets|
|Predictions and rankings via Donald Wood.|
Most Underrated Free Agent: Dany Heatley, LW
The most underrated free agent on the open market right now is former Minnesota Wild left wing Dany Heatley. At 33 years old, Heatley may have lost a step, but he still possesses the offensive skill to add depth to a team on the cusp of contending for a title.
While he was only able to add 12 goals and 16 assists last season, he was constricted by Minnesota’s defensive game plan and forced to play predominantly on the third line in order to infuse energy into the game.
According to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com, taking an educated risk on a free agent like Heatley would be a smart investment for a franchise:
The Wild may have limited his success, but the veteran never became a distraction and filled the role to the best of his ability. That maturity will be a great selling point for teams interested in signing him.
Darren Dreger of TSN talked about Heatley’s willingness to sign a short-term deal:
Heatley is a bona fide goal scorer, though. During his 12 years in the NHL, he has racked up 50 goals in a season twice and registered at least 25 goals per year eight times over the course of his career.
Add in eight seasons of at least 30 assists per season—he registered over 100 points in back-to-back seasons with Ottawa in 2005-06 and 2006-07—and there is no doubt that he still possesses the offensive fortitude to contribute in a high-powered offense once again.
When asked about Heatley, Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher told Chad Graff of the Pioneer Press about another team landing him and the glowing review he received during the postseason:
I really believe he can help a team, and I believe he will get another opportunity. He's got such high character, he's such a tremendous human being, I hope for him he gets an opportunity and it works out great.
I talked to (Colorado Avalanche coach) Patrick Roy, and he thought one of the key things in that (first-round) series was in Game 3 (with the Wild down 2-0), Heatley went back in the lineup and our bottom six started contributing a lot more. He thought that was a big turning point in that series. He expressly mentioned Dany Heatley.
Heatley’s once devastating speed is no longer his biggest strength. The key now will be finding a team that will utilize him around the net as a power forward who can finish consistently.
One viable option would be the New York Rangers.
After losing in the Stanley Cup Final, New York will be looking to bolster the roster as the team once again begins a run at the championship. Heatley would be a great addition as a second-line winger and could add the offensive depth the team needs.
If Heatley finds a rhythm in the Big Apple, there is no doubt that he still has the accuracy with his shot and the ice vision to make his teammates better. This is an educated risk the Rangers should take.
Predicted Landing Spot: New York Rangers
Stats via NHL.com.