While most of the big names available in NHL free agency have already been snapped up, there are still some intriguing players on the market who could potentially make an impact during the upcoming season.
No player is going to break the bank at this point, so anyone who is unsigned will likely come at a bargain price. Any team can sign top players if it throws enough money at them, but finding gems at this point in free agency takes great evaluation skills.
Here is the latest buzz surrounding some of the top players remaining in free agency along with a look at which teams could potentially bring them in.
With three Stanley Cups and four Vezina Trophies to his credit, there is no question that Martin Brodeur is one of the greatest goalies in NHL history. He has spent his entire 21-year NHL career with the New Jersey Devils, and it has always felt as though Brodeur would retire as part of the organization. If Brodeur wants to play in 2014-15, however, he will likely have to go elsewhere.
Which remaining free agent will make the biggest NHL impact in 2014-15?
According to Rich Chere of NJ.com, Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello was fairly matter of fact when asked about the possibility of bringing in another veteran backup to starter Cory Schneider: "At this point I don’t think so."
As great as Brodeur has been over the years, he is a shell of his former self at 42 years of age. He hasn't posted a save percentage better than .908 since 2009-10, so it can be argued that Brodeur isn't even a viable backup at this juncture.
With that said, he is a great teammate who knows how to create a winning environment. That could be a major positive for some teams across the NHL. Also, Brodeur is a future Hall of Famer, which means that fans would love a chance to see him one last time.
One possible fit is with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but TSN's Darren Dreger reported in late June that the Leafs weren't exactly desperate to bring in Brodeur:
Leafs will talk to Brodeur, but my sense is the interest is mild.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) June 30, 2014
Even if Brodeur is ultimately forced to step away from the game due to a lack of interest in his services, he is prepared for and excited about whatever happens next, as per Sean Leahy of Yahoo:
I'm still looking for the right fit and the right fit might not come this summer, it might come later on in the fall. I'm pretty open-minded. Regardless of what happens, if I play or don't play, I'm ready for anything. I'm looking forward to a new challenge, regardless if it's outside of hockey or still in hockey with a different organization.
Retiring may be the best option for Brodeur, but it is his prerogative to continue his pursuit of playing in 2014-15. For the sake of hockey fans who desire a true opportunity to say goodbye to one of the all-time greats, hopefully he is able to catch on somewhere.
Michael Del Zotto
It wasn't long ago that Michael Del Zotto was considered one of the most promising offensive defensemen in hockey. He racked up 41 points with the New York Rangers in 2011-12 and seemed well on his way to becoming a stalwart on the Blueshirts blueline. Things changed quickly, though, and Del Zotto now finds himself without a job.
Del Zotto fell out of favor in New York last season, which resulted in him being dealt to the Nashville Predators. He had just five points in 25 games with the Preds, and Nashville decided against giving him a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent. That made the 24-year-old rearguard an unrestricted free agent available to the entire league.
Even so, no organization has signed Del Zotto yet. While one might consider the Predators a long shot to bring him in, considering the fact that they didn't qualify him, Josh Cooper of The Tennessean wouldn't be surprised if they brought him back on a low-risk, two-way deal.
Perhaps the one thing that has prevented Del Zotto from being signed thus far is a monetary difference of opinion between the defenseman's camp and the league as a whole, as per Jesse Spector of Sporting News:
That is entirely possible since it has to be difficult for Del Zotto to accept that he is in this position. He was a highly coveted player just a couple years ago, but he simply cannot live off that reputation anymore.
His talent is still quite apparent, but he has lost his way. It is pretty much a given that some team will give him a chance eventually. However, Del Zotto will have to work his way up from the bottom of the totem pole and prove that he is still a quality NHL player.
One of the biggest X-factors remaining on the market is center Peter Mueller. The 26-year-old American spent the 2013-14 season in Switzerland, but he is ready to make the jump back to the NHL. Mueller has always been a supremely talented player; however, injuries have prevented him from reaching his full potential.
Mueller never completed a full slate of games in parts of five seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes, the Colorado Avalanche and the Florida Panthers. In three of those seasons, he missed at least 10 games due to various ailments, and he sat out the entire 2010-11 season.
With that said, Mueller missed only five games with the Panthers two seasons ago and was largely healthy with Kloten of the Swiss National League A in 2013-14.
According to Andy Strickland of CBS Sports Radio, Mueller is starting to gain some traction on the open market after having such a strong campaign in Switzerland:
The Swiss league actually has a lot of talent, so leading the league in goals is no small feat. Add in the fact that Mueller is still quite young, and it is no wonder why he is picking up steam.
Mueller racked up 54 points as a rookie in 2007-08 for the Coyotes. That was seven years ago, but it proves that the ability to produce at the NHL level is there. One team that apparently won't be bringing him in is the Boston Bruins, as per Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com:
Caught up w/B's source & not much interest in Peter Mueller as free agent RW option: "much better chance of trade than FA route at this pt"— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) July 10, 2014
There isn't much risk involved with signing Mueller, since his cap number is going to be low. Essentially, any team in the NHL could give him a one-year, prove-it deal. If Mueller stays healthy and productive, then he will be in line for something more substantial.
Mueller is big, skilled and currently healthy. He is the furthest thing from a sure bet, but there are far worse players than him to take a chance on.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.