Matching the Top Remaining NHL Free Agents with the Ideal Teams
Over a month into the 2017 NHL unrestricted free-agent market, the pickings are slim for teams seeking additional roster depth. Most of the best remaining players are aging stars such as forwards Jaromir Jagr, Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan.
Many of them are past their prime. However, several players could still be worthwhile additions for general managers willing to take affordable risks.
Jagr, Iginla and Doan remain respected for their experience and leadership. Those traits could prove invaluable for Stanley Cup contenders or teams seeking to address specific roster needs.
In this slideshow, we'll match the top remaining UFAs with the ideal teams. You can express your views on this subject in the comments section below.
Francois Beauchemin to the New Jersey Devils
Defenseman Francois Beauchemin, 37, is in the twilight of his NHL career. For a club lacking experienced blue-line depth, such as the New Jersey Devils, he could be worth considering as an affordable short-term option.
Despite his age, Beauchemin was a steady presence on the Colorado Avalanche defense corps in 2016-17. He led them in blocked shots (156) and finished third in time on ice per game, with 21 minutes and 31 seconds.
Beauchemin could be a worthwhile shutdown addition to the Devils' third-defense pairing. He could also become a good mentor to their younger blueliners.
Matt Cullen to the Pittsburgh Penguins
Matt Cullen spent the past two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 40-year-old center played a crucial role in their consecutive Stanley Cup championships. He could be enticed to return for another season.
A veteran of 19 NHL seasons, Cullen is a superb checking-line forward. He's a strong penalty-killer and led all Penguins centers in faceoff win percentage (51.2 percent) last season. He also netted a respectable 13 goals and 31 points in 2016-17.
On July 30, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Jason Mackey reported Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said Cullen hasn't decided whether he'll play another season. Pittsburgh has over $3 million in salary-cap room to bring back Cullen, though that could shrink considerably if Rutherford acquires a third-line center.
Drew Stafford to the Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins acquired right wing Drew Stafford at last season's NHL trade deadline. While the 31-year-old became an unrestricted free agent, he and the Bruins haven't fully cut ties. During a mailbag segment on Sunday, CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty reported the two sides were maintaining communication.
Stafford put up decent numbers with the Bruins, with eight points in 18 regular-season games and two goals in six postseason contests. The 6'2", 214-pounder can skate on either wing and has four 20-goal, 40-point seasons on his resume. His experience and versatility could provide the Bruins with experienced third-line depth on their wings.
Haggerty suggested Stafford could be a good insurance policy in case the Bruins' promising young wingers fail to crack the roster. However, he felt it should be on a professional tryout basis. With over $10 million in cap space, the Bruins have sufficient room to sign Stafford to a cost-effective, short-term contract.
Cody Franson to the Chicago Blackhawks
Defenseman Cody Franson, 30, is the youngest player on this list. The 6'5", 224-pounder could be an affordable gamble for the Chicago Blackhawks, who are in need of experienced blue-line depth for 2017-18.
Franson had a decent performance last season with the struggling Buffalo Sabres, posting 19 points in 68 games. A puck-moving rearguard with a right-handed shot, he could skate on the second or third pairing. With a stay-at-home defense partner, Franson's offensive skills could help the Blackhawks on the scoresheet.
On July 15, Jay Zawaski of Chicago's 670 The Score reported hearing the Blackhawks could invite Franson to training camp on a tryout basis if he's still available. They are sitting just over the $75 million salary-cap ceiling. Placing sidelined winger Marian Hossa ($5.275 million) on long-term injury reserve would provide sufficient space to sign Franson if he makes the cut.
Shane Doan to the St. Louis Blues
The Arizona Coyotes parted ways with Doan, their longtime captain, in June. During an Aug. 4 live chat with his readers, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggested the 40-year-old right wing could be a good fit with the St. Louis Blues.
While Doan scored only six goals and 27 points in 74 games last season, he netted 28 goals and 47 points in 2015-16. Skating with better linemates could bolster his production. He's a gritty, well-respected veteran leader. While no longer a top-six winger, he could be effective in a checking-line role.
The Blues could use depth at right wing on their third and fourth lines. Rutherford believes their younger players could benefit from Doan's leadership and experience. The Blues have just over $2.4 million in salary-cap room. Given Doan's age, however, they could sign him to an economical, bonus-laden one-year contract.
Jarome Iginla to the Edmonton Oilers
Now 40, the time and the grind of 20 NHL seasons have caught up with Iginla. For a young contending team, such as the Edmonton Oilers, he could still provide a good measure of leadership and experienced depth on right wing.
Iginla managed only 14 goals and 27 points in 80 games last season split between the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings. However, his production improved following his trade to the Kings, with whom he put up six goals and nine points in 19 games. That suggests his offense could benefit from playing on a deeper roster.
When Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli was GM of the Boston Bruins, he signed Iginla to a one-year contract in 2013. Perhaps he would consider giving the veteran right wing another shot at pursuing a Stanley Cup. With over $16 million in salary-cap space, Chiarelli has the room to sign Iginla to a modest one-year deal with bonuses.
Thomas Vanek to Detroit Red Wings
Left wing Thomas Vanek played well during his brief tenure with the Detroit Red Wings last season before getting traded to the Florida Panthers. He made a positive impression with the Wings. On July 22, Craig Custance of The Athletic reported talks were ongoing between the two sides.
In 48 games with Detroit in 2016-17, the 33-year-old Vanek netted 38 points. Though no longer a top-line player, he's still an effective point producer. Considering how well he fit in with the retooling Wings, it's unsurprising they could be considering bringing him back for another season.
The Wings are sitting above the $75 million salary cap ceiling by over $3.9 million. They must also re-sign restricted free agent Andreas Athanasiou. If they can free up sufficient room to address those issues and leave enough to add another player, perhaps Vanek could be donning a Wings jersey once again.
Jaromir Jagr to the San Jose Sharks
The Florida Panthers opted not to re-sign Jagr, despite his netting 46 points in 82 games last season. He could be a decent fit with the San Jose Sharks. Replying to a reader's question on Aug. 4, NBCS Bay Area's Kevin Kurz said he felt the 45-year-old right wing could be a good fit on their top line and power-play unit.
Giving the aging Jagr first-line minutes on a full-time basis could be wishful thinking. He averaged only 16 minutes and 59 seconds of time on ice per game with the Panthers last season. Still, he could be a useful depth addition for the Sharks on the right side. He could also help a San Jose power play that ranked 25th in 2016-17.
Since returning to the NHL in 2011-12, Jagr has signed a series of one-year, bonus-laden contracts. Assuming the Sharks are interested, they could get him for similar terms. Kurz suggests he would be worth something between $2 million and $3 million. Jagr could be willing to accept that in order to continue his NHL career.