NHL Free Agents: The Top 8 Remaining Players and Where They Could Go
As the month of July comes to an end and the calendar begins to flip to August, NHL free agency has all but fizzled out.
However, that being said there is still some significant talent still available in the free-agent market that lies unclaimed by a team for next season.
Whether it's due to contract negotiations, team preferences, mulling over retirement or whatever the reason, the players still left without a contract can certainly bring a lot to the table if a team were willing to give them a deal.
The best news is that players signed this late into free agency can sometimes be getting so desperate for a job that they can be signed for cheap as well.
Additionally, each team still has weaknesses that can afford to be addressed, and one of these late additions could be exactly what they need.
Here is a look at the eight best players still left without a contract and one team that would absolutely love to have each of them.
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8. Brent Sopel
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Brent Sopel has had an up-and-down career in the NHL, struggling to find a home where he truly fits in.
The Montreal Canadiens are the most recent team to let him walk, and today he still sits a free agent who could make a valuable pickup as a depth defenseman in perhaps a bottom-pairing role.
Sopel, 34, has proven himself to be a reliable shot-blocker and decent penalty killer when called upon, making me rather surprised he's still out there with so many teams in need of some depth on the blueline.
If his contract demands are too high right now, teams can probably afford to wait it out a little longer for him and perhaps sign him at a bargain price to give them some solidity in their lower defensive pairings.
Potential Suitor: Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes are a team that is badly in need of some defensive skill beyond that of Tomas Kaberle and Joni Pitkanen and Sopel, a veteran of 10 NHL seasons could really use his experience to mentor some of their young talent like Jamie McBain and Derek Joslin.
He could also fit in well with veteran Tim Gleason to give the Hurricanes a solid third pairing.
7. Nikolay Zherdev
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Nikolay Zherdev, a flashy, Ukrainian-born skater, has shown he has the potential to be a superstar. However, after successful years with both the Blue Jackets and the Rangers, Zherdev didn't pan out in Philadelphia and now sits an unrestricted free agent looking for a job.
This could be one of the best pickups of free agency as Zherdev, now 26, could prove to have a breakout year and burst through the 30-goal barrier.
Pehaps even nicer is last season Zherdev had a cap hit of only $2 million.
If he isn't lured back to the KHL, he could be a phenomenal pickup for a team looking for some depth scoring.
Potential Suitor: Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers are stocked with young talent, but their veteran leadership offensively is a bit lacking beyond newly acquired Eric Belanger. Ryan Smyth is past his prime and Shawn Horcoff hasn't been able to sustain the team that has scraped the bottom of the Western Conference and the entire NHL for two seasons now.
Zherdev could be the speedy, experienced forward the Oilers need to bring some balance to their offensive talent and give them a truly lethal attack to move forward with over the next couple seasons.
6. Bryan McCabe
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A team looking for a grizzled, veteran defenseman with loads of NHL experience under his belt would love to pickup Bryan McCabe. But not only has he been around the block a few times, he's also got the ability to pot the occasional goal.
McCabe finished last season with seven goals, demonstrating a usefulness to the New York Rangers' power play that he could also bring to any team that wants to pick him up.
The only reason I can think that he isn't already signed for next season somewhere is that his last contract had a cap hit of $5.75 million, a cash sum that I'm sure McCabe doesn't want to drop too far below, but not many teams will be willing to pay for a depth defenseman.
Potential Suitor: Minnesota Wild
After losing their premiere defenseman Brent Burns in a trade for offensive superstar Dany Heatley, the Minnesota Wild are left a little short on the back end, led by Marek Zidlicky and Nick Schultz, who I would hardly trust to lead a team defensively.
McCabe would be a good fit as they have around $10 million in cap space to play with, and his addition could give guys like 21-year-olds Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon some time to mature in the minor leagues before being thrown into NHL action prematurely.
5. Chris Drury
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I kind of feel bad for former New York Rangers' captain Chris Drury whose contract was bought out by the New York Rangers this offseason after an injury plagued year.
But with a cap hit of just over $7 million per season, it's easy to see why the Rangers wanted offload his heavy burden when he was pretty much dead weight.
He's not going to make that kind of money again next season but could find a place on a team that's looking for a veteran center with the potential to put up some good numbers, depending of course on if he can find his game again.
Potential Suitor: Dallas Stars
With Dallas losing their superstar Brad Richards to the Rangers in free agency, they'll be looking for a new No. 1 center, a position whose duties will probably fall to Mike Ribero next season.
But if the Stars are looking for some talented veteran depth, taking the risk on Chris Drury might prove to be a good one. If he can stay healthy, the Stars might have found their new key cog to their offense, supporting their top line with some consistent depth scoring.
Don't forget in years past Drury has put up two seasons with 30 or more goals.
They're already taking a pretty significant risk on Sheldon Souray next season, so hey, who's to say they shouldn't take this one?
4. Scott Hannan
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Scott Hannan is just another name on the list of skilled veteran defensemen still out there for the taking.
Last season with the Washington Capitals and the Colorado Avalanche, Hannan earned a cap hit of $4.5 million, which he will definitely have to be willing to drop significantly under if he hopes to find a job next year.
He's known for being solid defensively in his own zone, but some people believe his low offensive production will limit his options as to where he will play next season.
Personally, however, I believe there are two types of defensemen out there: offensive defensemen and defensive guys, and the guys who don't get on the scoresheet very much often times can play an even more critical role to their teams than the blueliners who do.
Hannan is that kind of a guy.
Potential Suitor: San Jose Sharks
After losing their veteran defenseman in Ian White to the Detroit Red Wings, the Sharks would be willing to welcome back their former blueliner.
Now more matured, but still young enough to the point where he's easily got at least five years left in him, Hannan could be a great depth addition to a Sharks blueline that gained Brent Burns this offseason, but also saw Kent Huskins depart and Niclas Wallin not offered a new contract.
3. Teemu Selanne
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Anaheim Ducks' TV commentator John Ahlers loves to describe Teemu Selanne by comparing him to a fine wine. He only gets better with age.
Now 41 years old, Selanne posted a remarkable 80 points last season including 31 goals. He was skating circles around kids half his age and making some of the best goalies in the NHL look like fools, including Nashville's Pekka Riinne who Selanne lit up for six goals in six games during the playoffs.
Some even joke that he's old enough to be young defensive hotshot Cam Fowler's father...and it's actually pretty much true.
He's unquestionably bound for the Hockey Hall-of-Fame, so the question is really... what team wouldn't want this guy in their lineup?
Potential Suitor: Anaheim Ducks
Unfortunately for the other 29 teams in the league, Selanne has made it abundantly clear that the only team he'll be returning to, if he returns at all, will be the Anaheim Ducks.
So in this case, the potential suitor is also the only suitor.
While I know fans of the Winnipeg Jets would love to bring Selanne back to the scene of his amazing rookie year in which he set the unbreakable (in my eyes) record of scoring 76 goals, Jets fans would have to be at least slightly crazy to really believe he's leaving his home in Southern California.
2. Ray Emery
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Honestly it shocks me that Ray Emery didn't find a job somewhere on July 1st.
After a year of absence and a surgery that many thought would end his professional hockey career completely, Emery bounced back and saved the Anaheim Ducks by stepping in for an injured Jonas Hiller and winning his first six straight starts, nearly single-handedly carrying the Ducks to the final home-ice advantage spot in the West.
If he needed to prove that he was back and better than ever, he definitely did.
So how is he still an unrestricted free agent after Anaheim GM Bob Murray made clear that he was not going to offer him a new contract?
I don't know, but my only guess would have to be salary demands. If his contract demands are too high or he refuses to sign with a team unless he's their starter, Emery's going to have to wait a while because the game of goaltending musical chairs came to an end pretty much as soon as it started on July 1st.
Potential Suitor: Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets do not have a proven backup goaltender in Mark Dekanich, and with Steve Mason struggling between the pipes at points last year, it's very plausible that Emery could sign on in Columbus as a backup but actually wrestle the starting job away for himself.
Plus, the Blue Jackets have some cap room to play with this summer, still boasting a little over $7 million in free space, meaning they have the room to bring Emery on board.
1. Shea Weber
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Shea Weber's brilliant season in which he guided the Predators to their first ever playoff series victory as well as a phenomenal finish as the fifth-seed in the Western Conference was capped off with the honor of being a finalist for the Norris Trophy.
And now, in a tumultuous summer for the Predators, they face the prospect of losing their captain and star defenseman through a looming arbitration hearing.
Weber, now 25 years old, is a restricted free agent this summer, meaning the Predators currently have the right to match any offer sheet dealt to him by any other team but also that they are in a way bound to offer him a new contract for next season.
That's not the problem, but the problem is Weber and the Preds can't seem to come to a deal, and if the arbitration hearing doesn't go well for the franchise, they risk losing their All-Star captain for absolutely nothing.
Potential Suitor: Nashville Predators
In all honesty, I don't see Weber going anywhere. The Predators have a ton of cap space to worth with (over $23 million) and can swallow just about any pill that Weber throws at them.
So I firmly expect that he'll be back in the blue and gold next season.
But that being said if he does make things too difficult, like it seems like he's already doing, the Predators could be forced to make a deal that they really don't want to do and ruin their long-term cap plan.
If that happens, you have to wonder whether the Preds re-sign him or let him walk and continue on their way.