The Best Remaining 2014 NHL Free Agents at Every Position
When NHL free agency opened on July 1, it was only a matter of hours before most of the top players from this year's class inked their new deals.
In the days that have followed, the trend has been for teams to hand out smaller-money, shorter-term contracts to players who carry a degree of risk—whether due to their age, injury history or other baggage accumulated through their career.
CapGeek.com's list of unrestricted free agents is a handy tool for keeping track of the UFAs that are still on the open market.
Pickings are getting slim, but for teams still looking to plug some roster holes, here's a look at the best free agents available at each position.
Center: Mike Ribeiro
2013-14 Stats: 80 GP, 16 G, 31 A, 47 PTS
What Can He Bring: Veteran center Ribeiro has been a steady contributor throughout his NHL career. His best years were in Dallas, where he peaked at 27 goals, 83 points and a plus-21 back in 2007-08.
More recently, Ribeiro was a point-per-game player for the Washington Capitals during the lockout year. He's a useful contributor on special teams who can add offensive punch to a team looking for more scoring down the middle.
Why He's Available: Just one season after signing a four-year, $22 million contract with the then-Phoenix Coyotes, the team bought out Ribeiro's contract.
"Mike had some real behavior issues last year with us I felt we could not tolerate going forward," general manager Don Maloney told reporters. "To his credit, he has been getting help this offseason and obviously would hope he continues."
Ribeiro will receive close to $12 million over the next six seasons under the terms of his buyout. If he's ready to play, he'll be looking for a chance at redemption rather than a big payday.
Left Wing: Dustin Penner
2013-14 Stats: 67 GP, 14 G, 21 A, 35 PTS
What Can He Bring: Penner's a big-bodied winger and two-time Stanley Cup champion. After a couple of up-and-down seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, Penner was rejuvenated by a good situation with the Anaheim Ducks in 2013-14. He scored some goals, contributed on the power play and provided a physical presence.
Penner's also a good-humored player who's been known to dish out some gold on Twitter.
Why He's Available: Penner's 30-goal days are likely behind him, and he was a bust as a 2014 trade-deadline acquisition for the Washington Capitals. Penner contributed just three points in 18 games down the stretch, as the Capitals failed to make the playoffs.
Earlier in the season, Penner was a good fit with Anaheim. If he can find the right situation again, he could be an effective contributor for reasonable money.
Right Wing: Lee Stempniak
2013-14 Stats: 73 GP, 12 G, 22 A, 34 PTS
What Can He Bring: Stempniak's a useful utility winger who can play either side. He's not flashy, but can contribute on special teams. He's known for crashing the crease and has a decent nose for the net.
Why He's Available: Stempniak didn't show well in the playoffs with the Pittsburgh Penguins after being acquired at the 2014 trade deadline. His regular-season contribution with Pittsburgh was fine—11 points in the last 21 games of the season—but Stempniak had a rough time both offensively and defensively in the postseason.
Stempniak's never made more than $2.5 million a year in his NHL career. Considering some of the other contracts that have been handed out in this free-agency period, he'll bring good value in a support role if his new deal is similar.
Defense: Michael Del Zotto
2013-14 Stats: 67 GP, 3 G, 13 A, 16 PTS
What Can He Bring: Just 24 years old, Del Zotto is a terrific skater with great offensive instincts. A former first-round draft pick of the New York Rangers, he can dazzle with his skill. At his young age, Del Zotto has plenty of upside.
Why He's Available: Del Zotto failed to click with Barry Trotz's system when he was moved from the Rangers to the Nashville Predators midway through the 2013-14 season. He didn't ignite the power play as hoped and struggled defensively, leading to time in the press box as a healthy scratch toward the end of the season.
It's not unusual to see a player with Del Zotto's offensive talent struggle to tighten up his play, but two teams have now run out of patience with the young defenseman. Don't expect him to sign a long-term deal with summer, but he should get a chance at a fresh start before the new season begins.
Defense: Raphael Diaz
2013-14 Stats: 63 GP, 2 G, 13 A, 15 PTS
What Can He Bring: Diaz is a right-shooting defenseman with good puck-moving abilities and a nice power-play point shot. A star in the National League A (Switzerland's top tier) before coming to North America in 2011, he plays a safe game and has plenty of offensive upside.
Why He's Available: At 5'11" and 197 pounds, Diaz is undersized for an NHL defenseman and can be weak on the puck in forechecking situations. Though he was part of the Rangers team that reached the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, he appeared in just four games—failing to provide the much-needed spark to New York's dismal postseason power play.
Diaz made $1.225 million last season. With right-shooting defensemen at a premium around the league, he should catch on as a specialty/depth player.
Goalie: Ilya Bryzgalov
2013-14 Stats: 32 GP, 12-9-8, 2.68 GAA, .909 SV%
What Can He Bring: Big-time saves. After being exiled from the Philadelphia Flyers in 2013, Bryzgalov patiently worked his way back into the NHL. A clever trade-deadline acquisition by Minnesota, Bryz's relief appearance in Game 7 of the Wild's first-round series against the Colorado Avalanche advanced the Wild to the conference semifinals for the first time in more than a decade.
Why He's Available: Consistency remains an issue in Bryzgalov's game. He's also stuck with his reputation as one of the most eccentric personalities in hockey. After playing his way back into the league last season on a reasonably humble $2.27 million cap hit, Bryz may once again be looking for more money and a longer contract term.
He'll never match the $51 million deal he signed in Philadelphia in 2011, but Bryzgalov could very well find himself back in a bona fide No. 1 role in 2014-15.