2011 NHL Free Agency: 7 Best Players Still Available and Who They'd Help
Brad Richards is a Ranger. James Wisniewski is a Blue Jacket. Christian Ehrhoff is a Sabre. Tomas Vokoun is a Capital.
As the list goes on, one may get the impression that all of the top players have already been snapped up since free agency struck nearly a week ago. And that impression would be the correct one.
The game breakers are gone. Which shouldn't be surprising, since this particular class of free agents was thin on those dynamic types of players. But that doesn't mean there isn't some help to be had from some of the players who are still waiting for offers, or weighing their options.
Depth at forward and defense goes a long way toward winning a Stanley Cup, and while this handful of players may not be a huge help to a rebuilding team, they still can fill particular roles for teams looking for just one or two more bodies to round out their squads.
With that in mind, here are the five best players still available via free agency and where they could be of use. This list doesn't take into consideration the throng of big name RFAs such as Steven Stamkos.
Bryan McCabe has more money in the bank than he knows what to do with, I would assume, after finishing out a pretty lucrative deal that saw him make near Nicklas Lidstrom money through his tenure with several different squads.
Obviously McCabe will need to take a hefty pay cut to work his way back into the fold of an NHL team. But a one or two million dollar deal from a team that is looking to shore up the bottom of their defensive depth could do worse than a veteran such as McCabe.
While he could very well be contemplating retirement, McCabe still probably has a year or two left in the tank since he's only 36. He was a 40 point blueliner in 2009-2010, and is proficient at moving the puck. He'd do fine in role on a third pairing, with the capability to jump up to the second from time to time.
A team like Columbus or New York (Islanders) could be a destination if McCabe thinks he still has what it takes to be a bit more of a minute muncher. But in all likelihood, he'll find himself in a depth role on a contending hockey team that needs the depth.
And there are much worse lots in life than that.
I'm not quite positive what the hangup is on a contract for Anton Stralman. With how quickly offensive minded blueliners flew of the shelf on July 1st, it's very surprising to me to see a 24 year old, 30 point guy like Stralman is still sitting by his cell phone.
I understand he regressed a bit during his second season in Columbus. I do.
But he's only 24, already has a 30 point season under his belt, and knows how to make that first outlet pass. He isn't going to come on and be a top-three guy, but adding a player like this for the 4th or 5th slot could be a great move for a team with a little bit of cap space to play with.
A team like the Panthers come to mind.
Maybe this is a case of a young player overvaluing himself. If that's the case, pay the kid for a year to come in and show his stuff, build a report with a guy who knows what it's like to be traded twice in one offseason, and you could have yourself a pretty good defensemen.
I haven't seen him play on a nightly basis so I don't know what kind of defensive zone presence he has, but with defensemen that break into the League this young it's generally one way or the other. He already has 200 games under his belt at the NHL level and has shown decent offensive upside.
I'd be very surprised if Stralman goes too much longer without a deal from somebody. Even a return to Columbus shouldn't be counted out as they continue to make moves towards being a contender.
For teams out there that have their puck movers, but are looking for more of a shut-down type of defender, they should go ahead and give Scott Hannan a call. While he won't be making nearly the money he was last season—4.5 million—this is a rock solid blueliner that could be had for maybe 1.5 or 2 million.
He's a guy that has spent a lot of his career playing against the oppositions best, and he's about as steady a defender as you can find in the "left over" free agents right now.
Hannan is a dependable defensmen, and brings a lot of leadership and personality to a locker room as well. He's only 32, so a long-term relationship with the player shouldn't be totally out of the question. He probably still has two or three years left before an obvious decline begins to take hold.
He's not a player that will blow you out of the water offensively, but he's good enough to put up 20 or 25 points in a season, as he did when he was with San Jose a few years ago. Put him with solid skaters, and Hannan is a guy that can make responsible outlet passes and be a steadying influence on the backend.
With nearly 900 NHL games played, it's hard to fathom that Sergei Samsonov is only 32 years old. He broke into the League as a baby with the Boston Bruins, and has been a steady point producer ever since.
When I think of mercenary-type hockey players, Samsonov is one of the first guys that comes to my mind. And I don't mean that in a disrespectful way. It's just that this is a player that will sign anything, anywhere, just to go play some more hockey.
Since an eight year run to start his career in Boston, Samsonov has played in Edmonton, Montreal, Chicago, Carolina, Moscow (KHL), Rockford (AHL), and Florida. That's a lot of moving for a twenty-barely-thirty-something.
It may be just me, but a 14 point campaign while only playing in 20 games for the Panthers should elicit at least a little interest. For teams looking for depth scoring, there may not be a more perfect fit than Samsonov. He's consistently put up 15 or 20 goals, regardless of where he has played, for the last few seasons and age isn't setting in to the point where that should change any time soon.
With depth being such an important part of the DNA of contenders, Samsonov is another guy that won't spend too much more time awaiting a deal from a team looking to add a few more goals and some pop on their second power play unit.
Winnipeg, Florida, Edmonton... even a return to Boston could make sense for both player and team in this case. This isn't a risky signing. You know exactly what you're getting, and there is certainly value in knowing.
Ray Emery, when all is said and done, will be a player who made a career out of "telling people so." That doesn't figure to change as he still hasn't been signed to a contract this off season after playing well for Anaheim last year.
He is the best goaltender still available, and I'm not sure why he hasn't been signed to a deal considering how many teams are looking for capable, serviceable backups. Emery could be putting a hold on things to see if a starters job opens up somewhere, but I doubt it.
This is a guy that tends to seek out the best opening, and run with it.
He was spectacular in a handful of games for Anaheim last season, but that kind of snapshot performance is hard to quantify. He went 7-2 across nine games for the Ducks, and was a large part in the team making a run to the playoffs (Corey Perry also was scoring something like, nine goals a game at that point as well, which certainly helped matters).
He's been a consistent 2.5 GAA guy, and is always hovering around that magical .920 save percentage number. Could a team like Detroit come knocking on Emery's door? I'd be surprised to learn that at least a few teams hadn't engaged with Emery, looking for his services.
Emery is an outstanding backup, and has shown that he is a player who can fill a pretty big void (at least one Jonas Hiller sized one) should an injury occur. Where ever he ends up, he is a player that can make things interesting both in the locker room, and on the ice with his play.
While all one of the 90 point centers are off the market, there are still some 40 points guys available.
Brendan Morrison had a rebound year in Calgary, and may be looking for a longer term than some teams are comfortable with. Still, he is only 35 years old, and still offers an outstanding option for a team looking for a second or even a third line center.
He doesn't light the lamp often, but he is probably the best center available at this point. Morrison isn't going to come in and play all 82 games for a team, but on the right squad that won't be a big deal. If he's there for depth, then he can cool his jets a bit until the games begin to matter more.
In Calgary he couldn't do that. But there are a number of contenders that could slot a player of this caliber into the middle of their offensive rotation and end up with some solid numbers.
Teams know what they are signing up for when they take Chris Drury on board.
He was the victim of being opportunistic when the Rangers offered him a contract that he couldn't possibly earn with his skill set, and has since been bought out by that same club. Which is a shame because Drury could still be very effective as a third line, checking center.
His skills are solid all around, but what you get with this player is leadership and determination. Those are hard qualities to put a price tag on, but what could Drury do for a team like the Oilers and all their young talent?
Just to have a guy that carries himself as Drury does in the locker room and on the bench, and at the hotels and the team meetings... that's what a team should be paying this guy for. He'll pot you a goal here and there, sure. But he's at that mentor part of his career where he could really be a wonderful teacher on some teams.
Still, he's a guy that can put up 30 or 40 points, but don't sign him for that. A team needs to sign him for his guts, and how contagious his attitude is. Drury will be in the NHL next season, and he'll prove to still be a useful player while providing great leadership depth both on and off the ice.
Not to mention the knack for drama and big goals the guy has. Seriously, youtube the guy. The whole first page is "clutch goal by Drury."
Want More NHL Action and Conversation?
Well that makes two of us.
Feel free to become a fan, comment on anything you'd like (I'm always down for hockey conversation!) and stay up-to-date on my other articles and musings by following me and interacting on Twitter.
Also, feel free to email me with any questions, or even if you're just itching to add another name to your Rolodex.