The playoffs haven't even began, but fans are always looking forward to July 1, especially after their teams have been eliminated from playoff contention. For some teams, July 1 is the best day of the calendar year, especially for fans.
Sadly for fans this season, the pool is pretty shallow. By my estimation, there are only about five free agents who can really stir the pot for a new organization. Aside from the top spot, this class is lacking the Hossa, Kovalchuk and Gaborik of the past several summers.
2011, blunty, is a pretty shallow free agent pool. It is lacking the star power of previous years big time. But there is one big fish in that small barrel, and his name is Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars. He'll be just 31 come July 1 and is still one of the best pivots in the league today. He has two 90-plus point seasons under his belt, including last season when he notched 67 assists. On top of that, he has a Stanley Cup ring as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.
Obvious statement, but look for a team with a sniper who lacks a top-line center. He's been linked to the New York Rangers already, but anything can happen. His stock decreased a bit due to a concussion he suffered several months ago, but he is still the top dog on the free agent lot.
Tim Connolly may not be a star in the NHL, but he sure is one for the Buffalo Sabres. Since the 2008-09 season, Connolly has nearly been a point-per-game player for the Sabres, who since losing Chris Drury and Danny Briere in 2007, has lacked star-power (aside from Ryan Miller). Connolly has turned into one of the leaders for the Sabres, who continue to shock the hockey world as they move closer and closer to securing a playoff spot.
Connolly could be a key addition for a team looking for secondary scoring. He currently makes $4.5 million per year, and could be seeking a salary in the $5 million neighborhood. A team with some spare coin should take a chance on him. Don't be surprised if Buffalo ups his salary to keep him on board either.
Anyone on the Washington Capitals without Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom or Green can often get mixed up in the shuffle and be forgotten. One of those players is Brooks Laich, a solid centerman who has a lot of offensive potential. The cynic would argue that his stats may be bloated due to the team he is on, but I disagree.
At just 27 years old, Laich is a three-time 20-goal scorer and usually has a high plus-minus rating, meaning he isn't a liability on the defensive side of the puck. He's isn't a player you build a team around, but he could be a strong addition for a team looking for some scoring, especially for those in on the Richards bids who fall short.
In the "new" NHL, age and experience are not the commodities they once were. Teams now prefer youth and speed over the aforementioned qualities. That doesn't mean there still isn't a place for them, and there is still a place for Jason Arnott, just not at $4.5 million per year.
Arnott is still one of the best power-play specialists in the game today, something any team in the NHL can certainly use. His contract, given to him by the New Jersey Devils, is clearly too much, but for say $2.5 million for two years, he can clearly help a team that is soft down the center and poor on the power play.
Aside from looking like a Slovakian Carrot Top, Michal Handzus has put together a solid career in the NHL. At 34, his best years are clearly behind him, but he can still bring some scoring to a depleted squad. He's a solid second-line player who can give you maybe 30-to-35 points when paired with the right group of players.
As stated earlier, this is a very poor free agent class, and a team looking for some scoring will look to a player like Handzus. Lucky for him, they may over-pay. He's already making $4 million and could be a steal for $3 million to $3.5 million.