NHL Free Agency: List of Remaining Available Players Dwindling

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NHL Free Agency: List of Remaining Available Players Dwindling
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As training camp grows closer and the heat of the free agency period in the NHL winds down, the list of available players still on the market has begun to dwindle.

With Ilya Kovalchuk finally settled on a contract with New Jersey, there are just 11 forwards and four defenseman on the list of remaining UFAs who scored double-digit points last season, in addition to only two goalies who started more than ten games.

However, many teams around the league still have work to do, as, according to Cap Geek, there are four franchises (Vancouver, Boston, New Jersey, and Calgary) currently above the 2010-2011 NHL salary cap of $59.4 million, and there is also Colorado, who is under the minimum salary cap of $43.4 million.

While trading should solve most of these salary problems over the next 10 days, and there are plenty of names on the market to look at, many teams still have a few holes to fill, and some of them also have some noteworthy RFAs still without a contract.

The biggest names on the RFA list, such as Anaheim's Bobby Ryan, Colorado's Peter Mueller, the Rangers' Marc Staal, Atlanta's Niclas Bergfors, and Nashville's Cody Franson, are actually a better crop than the top UFAs left.

However, there are a few options still available to sign for the teams still looking to fill out their depth chart, although not nearly as many as there were at, say, the start of August.

 

 

Forwards

Several talented forwards came off the board this week as Toronto picked up Clarke MacArthur, Phoenix re-signed Lee Stempniak, the Rangers grabbed Tim Kennedy, Colorado re-signed Chris Stewart, Atlanta grabbed Fredrik Modin, and most notably, New Jersey inked self-inflated Ilya Kovalchuk.

Those signings have reduced the depleted list of UFA forwards severely, as the market's top names are now just solid third-line players.

Eric Belanger: The 32-year-old center set a career-high in points this past season with 41, but scored just seven points in 24 regular season/postseason games with Washington after a trade deadline deal from Minnesota. 

Belanger has only played 80 games in a season twice out of his nine full years, so he's not invincible to injury, but the Canadian should be able to find a place on a playoff-contending team, especially since the cap hit for any offer shouldn't be much above a million.

Bill Guerin: Guerin may be 39, but he's shown he isn't done yet. Guerin leads the list of forwards in points from last season with 45, and he's also won a Cup in the past two seasons (with Pittsburgh in '08). Although he's been practicing informally with the Flyers lately, reports show that they likely aren't going to offer him a contract, so the right winger is still up for grabs. 

Brendan Morrison: Morrison is long removed from his 60-plus point years earlier in the decade, but he recovered greatly from his 31 points in '08-'09 to post a solid 42 points last season from Washington's third line, and also had a plus-23 rating. The Canada native also showed his value in the faceoff circle, finishing third on the Caps, who led the league in faceoff winning percentage, with a 51.7 winning percentage.

Morrison is 35 already and made just $1.5 million last year, so he's not going to blow the bank, but like his teammate Belanger, could be a smart option to add depth at center.

Darcy Tucker: After recording some flashes of greatness in his seven years with Toronto, Tucker's offensive production the past two seasons in Colorado dropped off greatly, as he had 40 points and a minus-16 rating in 134 appearances. Tucker's physicality also dropped off, as he finished just fifth and sixth, respectively, on the Avalanche in hits in both of his years there.

It could be that his age, 35, is beginning to show, but the right winger's recent play is the sole reason he's still available in September. However, a team looking for a gritty veteran to fill out the roster could still be interested in him.

Ruslan Fedotenko: After a promising 39-point, plus-18 regular season in '08-'09, Fedotenko capped off one of the best years of his career with 14 points in the playoffs and a Stanley Cup victory. However, this past season, he pretty much erased his successes of the year before, as he had just 30 points and an ugly minus-17 rating.

 

Fedoenko, 31, is primed for a cap reduction if any offers come his way, but that he's by far the best left winger left is a good sign for him.

Richard Park: The NHL's only active South Korean player is being overlooked on the market, but could have a new deal by the start of training camp. Park has had 120 points over the past four years during his time as an assistant captain with the Islanders, and has only missed 12 games during that span, as well. He also finished third on New York in takeaways and led the team with a 51.5 winning percentage in 1,040 faceoffs.

Park is 34 and still only had a $0.75 million cap hit last year, so he's a cheap, consistent solution for the wings.

In addition to those six players, a few other specialists are available. Former Canuck Kyle Wellwood is the youngest on the list at 27, and he had 25 points last year in addition to scoring four times in seven shootout attempts.

Two former star right wingers still exist in Owen Nolan and Miroslav Satan, both of whom could be decent last second fill-in additions, and gritty veterans Jed Ortmeyer and Scotty Walker could also take fourth-line positions somewhere. Some teams might want to take a risk with Patrick O'Sullivan, too, who did have a 53-point, 82-game season in '07-'08.

 

Defensemen

If the list of remaining forwards seems picked over, then the collection of blueliners left is no better than the Latvian Olympic team's group of defenders.

There hasn't been a notable signing of a defenseman since Willie Mitchell was inked by the Kings on August 25, and it's fairly obvious why.

Kim Johnsson: He had become a reasonable second-pairing defenseman just two seasons ago with Minnesota, and had missed only five games in three full seasons, but after starting the '09-'10 campaign off poorly and suffering a season-ending concussion soon after a trade to Chicago, Johnsson's stock has severely slipped.

The 34-year-old would need to accept a major pay cut from his $4.85 million salary last year, and that's only if a team decides to take the risk that he's healthy again.

Marc-Andre Bergeron: The former Canadien had more points last year than many of the remaining forwards with 34, but his defensive shortcomings may cost him a job. Bergeron was a minus-12 in three playoff series alone for Montreal, and despite his reputation as a premier powerplay "D-man," Bergeron is a dicey addition anywhere.

Mike Mottau: He might only have seven career goals, but Mottau has become a reliable defenseman lately. Mottau's low price tag is certainly inviting, and he's younger than his age of 32 might suggest.

As you can see, the supply of NHL-level defenseman has run nearly dry, and unless a team wants to settle for one of these three, they're left with next to nothing. Shane Hnidy and Marek Svatos aren't bad, and Paul Mara and Jay McKee still have some upside, but it's definitely a bad sign if a franchise is still searching for another defenseman at this point.

 

 

Goaltenders

The clear top UFA goaltender, Antti Niemi, and the most discussed RFA netminder, Carey Price, both came off in one day alone this week, and the market of goaltenders is now all but empty. Still, there are three players left who were starters at one point this past season.

Jose Theodore: Theodore had the best record of his career in '08-'09, going 30-7-7, but a lot of that can be credited to Washington's league-best offense. Theodore's .911 save percentage and 2.81 goals against average were decent, but after choking in both of the first two playoff games, Theodore was clearly out of favor in the Capital City.

At 33, he'll have to take a bump from his now-expired contract that had a $4.5 million cap hit with it, but Theodore is a lot better than the goalies usually left on the market by the time most Septembers roll around.

Ray Emery: Emery proved that his signing with the Flyers was as much as a mistake by Philly as many anticipated it to be, taking the Flyers through a rollercoaster ride before an injury suffered in February required surgery that would keep him out for the rest of the year. It would take a daring owner to sign him again.

Vesa Toskala: Toskala asks for too much and may be too good to be a backup, but he cannot stay healthy enough to be a starter. At 33, his career may be done.

 

With the rest of the list looking like it is, Theodore is probably the only considerable goaltender left. There's still Wade Dubielewicz, and Emery and Toskala, of course, but any serious glance at any of the three leaves a lot to be desired.

Since free agency has now been going for over two months, it is expected and obvious that the free agent market would be worn down by now. However, recent signings over the past week have depleted the remaining UFAs even more.

As training camp approaches, anyone who expects much more buzz around new signings will be disappointed, and this week's events just back that up.

 

Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist and community leader for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes . In his two years so far with the site, he has written over 220 articles and received over 190,000 total reads.

Visit his profile to read more, or follow him on Twitter

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