The Best Fit for Each of the Top Remaining 2014 NHL Free Agents
Three weeks after the NHL's 2014 free-agency window opened, the flow of signings has slowed to a trickle.
After handing out long-term deals with big dollar values to the most coveted prospects, teams are now bargain shopping with shorter terms and smaller cap hits.
Last weekend, the New York Rangers scored good value when they signed dependable winger Lee Stempniak to a one-year, $900,000 deal. The Toronto Maple Leafs followed up on Tuesday with the announcement that they'd signed left winger David Booth to a one-year deal, reportedly worth $1.1 million, per NHL.com.
At this point, there are plenty of aging veterans on the market who wouldn't mind one last kick at the can. Even if teams limit their searches to players who are 35 and under, useful players are still available, likely at reasonable prices.
Prudent NHL teams have a chance to plug holes in their roster through free agency with limited risk. Hitting a home run at this stage of the game can be a real reputation-booster for a general manager.
Here's a look at six unsigned players who could be difference-makers next year if they're lucky enough to find the right fit for their situation.
Ville Leino: Left Wing
2013-14 Stats: 58 GP, 0 G, 15 A
Contract Status: Received a compliance buyout from Buffalo Sabres with three years remaining on a contract with a cap hit of $4.5 million per season.
Where Does He Fit? Winnipeg Jets
Ville Leino was the Philadelphia Flyers' offensive hero with 21 points in the 2010 playoffs. He followed that up with 53 points in the 2010-11 regular season but couldn't keep it going after being signed to a $27 million free-agent contract with the Buffalo Sabres three seasons ago.
As time went on, Leino's stint in Buffalo went from bad to worse. He didn't score a goal last season.
Still just 30 years old, Leino is a versatile forward with good hands who can play any position up front. Like David Booth in Toronto, Leino should be open to signing a one-year "show me" deal.
The Jets' only personnel addition so far this summer has been center Mathieu Perreault. More upgrades are needed if Winnipeg hopes to challenge for a playoff spot in 2014-15.
Devin Setoguchi: Right Wing
2013-14 Stats: 75 GP, 11 G, 16 A
Contract Status: Became an unrestricted free agent after completing a three-year contract with a $3 million cap hit with the Winnipeg Jets.
Where Does He Fit? Arizona Coyotes
Last season, the Coyotes' leading scorer was defenseman Keith Yandle. This summer, they've lost their top-scoring right wing, Radim Vrbata. Devin Setoguchi could fill Vrbata's skates on a scoring line with newly acquired Sam Gagner at center.
In Setoguchi's best year, he scored 31 goals with the San Jose Sharks in 2008-09. He had a tough time in Winnipeg after being dealt to the Jets last summer and will be looking for a chance to redeem himself.
Setoguchi's speed and nose for the net could provide some much-needed excitement on a Coyotes team that's often known for its grinding style.
Dustin Penner: Right Wing
2013-14 Stats: 67 GP, 14 G, 21 A
Contract Status: Became an unrestricted free agent after completing a one-year contract with a $2 million cap hit with the Anaheim Ducks and Washington Capitals.
Where Does He Fit? Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers are currently over the salary cap, but new general manager Ron Hextall has a little bit of room to maneuver. He could sign a player such as big-bodied Dustin Penner and still come in under the ceiling once Chris Pronger's nearly $5 million cap hit is moved to the long-term injured reserve list in October.
Hextall and Penner know each other well. They won a Stanley Cup together in Los Angeles in 2012—Penner's second trophy. The 6'4", 247-pound winger may not always take full advantage of his size, but he had a bounce-back season in Anaheim in 2013-14 before being traded to Washington at the March deadline.
CSN Philly's Sarah Baicker gives Penner a thumbs-up:
I like the idea of Penner in a Flyers uniform, playing on a line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. I mean, why not? He didn't fare so well during his brief time in Washington, but he had found success on the top line in Anaheim, registering 32 points with a plus-22 rating. He's got size, he's solid in front of the net, he can clear space for his linemates and he's affordable.
Michael Del Zotto: Defense
2013-14 Stats: 67 GP, 3 G 13 A
Contract Status: Became an unrestricted free agent after he didn't receive a qualifying offer from the Nashville Predators. Cap hit over last two years was $2.55 million.
Where Does He Fit? Detroit Red Wings
The only Detroit defenseman with more than one power-play goal in 2013-14 was Niklas Kronwall, who scored five. Michael Del Zotto is an offensive defenseman who relishes the thought of power-play time, while the Red Wings were 18th in the NHL with the man advantage last season.
Much has been made about the Red Wings' failure to land one of the high-profile right-shooting defensemen who became available as free agents on July 1. Signing Del Zotto could help quiet the cries about Detroit no longer being a desired destination. At 24, he's also young enough to benefit from Detroit's lauded development system.
Henrik Tallinder: Defense
2013-14 Stats: 64 GP, 2 G, 6 A
Contract Status: Became an unrestricted free agent after completing a four-year contract with a cap hit of $3.375 million with the Buffalo Sabres.
Where Does He Fit? Edmonton Oilers
The retooling Oilers are working hard to strengthen their woeful defense in 2014-15. They've re-signed Jeff Petry to a one-year deal and added size with the acquisitions of Nikita Nikitin and Mark Fayne.
In the Western Conference arms race, big bodies on the blue line have become a necessity. At 6'4" and 209 pounds, Henrik Tallinder would be a nice addition for Edmonton.
Tallinder is in the twilight of his career but is known for his leadership. He'd provide a stabilizing influence on the ice for the often-rudderless Oilers.
Tomas Vokoun: Goal
2012-13 Stats: 20 GP, 13-4-0, 2.45 GAA, .919 SV%
- Did not play in 2013-14 due to health issues.
Contract Status: Became an unrestricted free agent after completing a two-year contract with a $2 million cap hit with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Where Does He Fit? Toronto Maple Leafs
As James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail points out, goaltender James Reimer is no longer seen as a key part of the Toronto Maple Leafs' future. As the two sides head to salary arbitration, "The tough part is that Reimer believes he can and should be a starter, and the team has made it quite clear he won't accomplish that in Toronto."
If Reimer can't be traded or signed, and he happens to win his arbitration case, the Leafs might have no choice but to walk away from the contract. That would leave them in the market for a backup to Jonathan Bernier.
Tomas Vokoun would be the perfect choice. He's a steady veteran who played very well in a fiery environment with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2012-13. He's been sidelined for nearly a full year after undergoing surgery to dissolve a blood clot in his groin last September but has declared himself in good health and ready to play.
Vokoun would be comfortable in a backup role—ready to let Bernier carry the bulk of the work but delivering steady performances when needed, like he provided in Pittsburgh.