Final Touches and Stopgaps: The Remaining 2009 NHL Free Agent Class

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Final Touches and Stopgaps: The Remaining 2009 NHL Free Agent Class
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

It happens every year: After the flurry of signings to start off free agency subsides, a handful of players are left out in the cold without a new deal for a variety of reasons.

Some have too high an opinion of themselves (or in other cases, their agent has the opinion) and what a longer term or more money, while some are at a point in their careers where they only want to play for a certain organization or in a certain area.

Other are just terribly indecisive.

Within the ranks of players who can't find homes, there are always those that surprise us with the fact they're still alone, while others fans turn their attention to the gems that slipped through the cracks, trying to project role players.

So while some (or most) of these guys may not be the best talent left out on the market (unless you're the KHL...then you take what you can get), they each have the abilities to fill a role for a team and be a successful contributor on the ice.

 

Alex Tanguay—LW: Tanguay undoubtedly has the tools needed to compete at the top-level of NHL competition and is the most skilled forward left on the market. Despite dwindling production over the past two seasons, Tanguay can still find that point-per-game level depending on where he signs.

He'd be a great addition alongside a young hard-nosed centre and a right winger with a big shot, which would let him boost those assist totals back up into the 40s and 50s like we've seen in the past. This deep in the offseason it'll be interesting to see how much less he'll have to settle for because it's doubtful he'll see the $5.3 million he made last year.

Dominic Moore—C: I originally considered doing these to famous quotes. Moore's would have been "They like me, they really really like me!", meaning he shouldn't have forced his way out of Toronto. After all, they were willing to sign him.

All of a sudden that reported $500k difference doesn't seem so bad, does it Dom?

Moore's production (and inflated salary had he signed right away) doesn't seem to be fooling anyone. Although the 29-year-old is full of jam, it doesn't appear that many have faith in him replicating his 45-point year from 2008/09, especially with how he finished in Buffalo (four points in 18 games). Although he's no go-to scoring option, Moore would still be a great third liner, with the proven ability to jump up to the second line in a pinch.

Mike Comrie—C/LW: In his second go-round with the Ottawa Senators last season, Comrie didn't do nearly as much to endear himself to the team with just seven points in 22 games. It'd be best for Comrie to play with players who know what to do when they get their hands on the puck, because Comrie can certainly get it to them.

His 2007/08 season proved that the 28-year-old can still get the job done, despite some setbacks this past season and some questions about character.

Dan Fritsche—C/RW: Remember how I said that these may not be the best players available? Well Dan Fritsche certainly falls into that category. The Parma, OH native was touted as a future two-way great when he came into the league, but lofty expectations in Columbus and a midseason trade from the New York Rangers have made it hard for Fritsche to find his niche in the NHL.

He still has all the tools but the fact that he's injury-prone and has yet to set the world on fire offensively at the big-league level is a big deterrent. If I'm a team looking for a third or fourth liner that may still have some upside (remember, he's just 24), then a one-year incentive-laden contract (even a two-way deal) is the way to go.

Blair Betts—C: Betts is, strangely enough, an example of what Fritsche could yet turn in to. Dubbed one of "the best penalty killers in the game" last year, Betts is finding it hard to find a job this year. This isn't just because the last time he scored more than 15 points was in the AHL, but possibly because of the broken orbital bone he suffered late in April last year.

As Betts is starting to find out, even Michael Peca had to score a few points in his hey-day.

Sidenote: This seems about as good a time as any to say this, but there seems to be this knock on players that can't score. Honestly, unless your one talent is to fight, it seems that anything fewer than 25 points is unacceptable. If Betts is one of the premier penalty killers in the league, I sign him, put him on the penalty kill, and let him flourish in the role he's comfortable with.

Big deal. I have three other lines that can score.

Mike Grier—RW: Grier brings great size to any prospective employer and the ability to muck around in the corners. Because he's 34, Grier is going to be susceptible to more injuries, just as we saw last year when he missed a bunch of games before the playoffs due to a bum knee. Grier can still get hot offensively, but his value would be in creating space for youngsters and the experience he brings to the table.

Vaclav Prospal—LW: Prospal was bought out by the Lightning in hopes that they could open up more cap room and alleviate themselves of one of the many forwards they signed last year (remember he was acquired in a draft-day trade and then signed).

The market for inconsistent 34 year olds is slim, but Prospal has a history of up, then down years, which he just had. The chance that Prospal bounces back to score 25-30 this season is worth the risk of a one-year deal.

Nikolai Zherdev—RW: Zherdev is an unbelievable talent. The unfortunate thing is that he's also got an unbelievable attitude.

Known as one of the biggest non-injury related underachievers in the NHL today, Zherdev has all of the tools needed to be a great player and the face of a franchise. However, his inability to play the two-way game and his attitude towards the game overall has hurt himself in the eyes of a lot of NHL management and coaches. Many think that a hard-nose, defensive coach would solve Zherdev's problems, but I'm not so sure.

If the over/under on him going to the KHL is 3 1/2 seasons, I take the under.

Steve Eminger—D: Eminger is a bit of a strange case. Having bounced between three teams last year, he had an up-and-down year, but with that much change it'd be hard to expect a consistent push from a payer. Despite uninspiring stints in Philadelphia to start the year and Florida to finish it off, Eminger found his groove in Tampa Bay, posting a career-high 23 points in 50 games.

Although the chances of him signing a contract right now are slim, Eminger could surprise if given an invitation to training camp and the opportunity to move the puck.

Martin Skoula—D: Skoula seems to be one of those defensemen who have been around forever, but you might be surprised to learn he's only 29 (He'll be 30 once October finishes).

Although Skoula had a fairly promising start to his two-way career, he began to flounder in Minnesota following a trade from Dallas post-lockout. In the past two years he's a -28 in a defense-first system and his 27 points are the second fewest in a two-year span during his NHL career (The fewest would be his first and second full seasons in Minnesota).

Moving back to an offensive system could help get Skoula's skates moving once again, and hopefully keep his hockey senses sharp.

Mathieu Schneider/Darryl Sydor—D: Both Sydor and Schneider play an offensive game, and both would be great as mentors to young defensemen. They each have cup rings, and Schneider's late-season play with Montreal last year proves that his offensive game is still going strong. If Sydor could fall into a late-pairing with a young offensive defenseman, then he'd be a great role model.

 

There are many other free agents out there that could interest teams, and many of the names bandied about are ones the average hockey fan is familiar with. However, as time goes on the chances become less and less likely we'll see some players again. Who might those be? Well...

Maxim Afinogenov—F: 74 games missed since February 2007 due to injury is not a good sign. Neither is 48 points in two years for a scoring winger.

Dean McAmmond—F: A 36-year-old with a history of head injuries? Pickings are going to be slim.

Mark Parrish—F: How do you spell Elitserien?

Patrice Brisebois—D: Canadiens fans thought he was done when he was brought back in 2007.

Chris Chelios—D: I'm pretty sure Julio Franco and Ricky Henderson wanted to play until they were 50, and even Franco was a year away from being successful.

 

Add your picks and free agent sleepers in the comment section!

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile or you can email him at bryanthiel74@hotmail.com. You can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.

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