5 Bargain-bin Free Agents Who Can Help NHL Teams in 2022-23

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured Columnist IIIJuly 15, 2022

5 Bargain-bin Free Agents Who Can Help NHL Teams in 2022-23

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    Pittsburgh Penguins' Phil Kessel (81) steals the puck from Carolina Hurricanes' Nino Niederreiter (21) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, March 19, 2019, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
    AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker

    The cash is flying fast and furious.

    More than 150 deals worth nearly a billion dollars were done on a chaotic first day of NHL free agency, with Johnny Gaudreau and Mikhail Sergachev leading the way thanks to signings worth $68.25 million and $68 million from Columbus and Tampa Bay, respectively.

    Still, even after a day approaching 10 figures in revenue, the party wasn't over.

    Another handful of high-profile players cashed in on Thursday, but more moves are left to be made with guys who may not command the salary of a Gaudreau or Sergachev, but could provide the sort of on-ice presence that'll help a team nudge the competitive needle.

    The B/R hockey team scanned the landscape to identify a handful of those players who remained available as of Thursday evening and may ultimately sign for a bargain number well below the headline-makers.

    Scroll through to see what we came up with and drop a thought of two of your own in the comments.

Nino Niederreiter, RW

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    Carolina Hurricanes' Nino Niederreiter (21) waits for a face-off against the New York Rangers during the second period of Game 5 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, May 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
    AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker

    It's OK, you're forgiven if you're not so familiar with Nino Niederreiter's work.

    The 29-year-old winger has flown largely under the radar since his fifth overall selection by the New York Islanders in the 2010 draft, but he's reached double-digit goals nine times with a high watermark at 25 with the Minnesota Wild in 2016-17.

    He flirted with that number before falling just short with 24 goals last season for the Carolina Hurricanes, his third NHL team, while finishing off the five-year, $26.25 million deal he signed with Minnesota in 2017 before a trade to Carolina in 2019.

    His 44 points with the Hurricanes in 2021-22 were third-best in his career and came along with a plus-29 that was his best figure in 10 full-time seasons.

    He provides strong possession numbers and would be a valuable winger on any team with a middle-six need.

Phil Kessel, RW

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    Arizona Coyotes right wing Phil Kessel skates with the puck against the St. Louis Blues during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, April 23, 2022, in Glendale, Ariz. The Blues won 5-4 in overtime. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
    AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

    Meanwhile, on the flip side of Niederreiter, there's Phil Kessel.

    A veteran of more than 1,200 games who's had his name etched twice into the Stanley Cup, the now-34-year-old has a resume any hockey fan of this generation would recognize.

    He's reached double-digit goals in 15 seasons, including two seasons of 37 and four more at 30 or better. But Kessel has become more recognized for his playmaking prowess in recent years, reaching at least 40 assists in four of the last six seasons.

    His 52-point output with the Arizona Coyotes in 2021-22 came in the final season of an eight-year, $64 million deal he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013.

    At 6'0", 223 pounds, Kessel still has enough size and skill to get things accomplished in a specific role, and the two title runs with the Pittsburgh Penguins provide a level of experience and big-game locker-room presence that few players can match.

Paul Stastny, C

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    Winnipeg Jets center Paul Stastny (25) celebrates his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
    AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

    Like Kessel before him, Paul Stastny is another guy who may be in the final throes of an NHL career but can still provide production and value in the right situation.

    Now 36, the second-round pick from 2005 woke up the echoes in 2021-22 and had his most prolific goal-scoring season in eight years—netting 21 in 71 games with the Winnipeg Jets.

    He'd signed a one-year deal with the Jets last summer after arriving there in a 2020 trade with the Vegas Golden Knights.

    It was his second stint in Winnipeg after a 19-game stint at the tail end of the 2017-18 season, which led to a postseason run to the Western Conference Finals. He's also spent time in Colorado and St. Louis.

    Stastny's skating isn't quite as strong as it was in his early days, and he could just as easily be slotted on the wing with certain teams, but his skill and smarts certainly warrant a middle-six role somewhere and he'd provide excellent leadership mojo as well.

Sonny Milano, LW

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    Anaheim Ducks' Sonny Milano skates during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Vegas Golden Knights Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
    AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

    Sonny Milano was part of a highlight-making machine alongside Trevor Zegras in Anaheim, and, at just 26 years old, seems to have significant upside when it comes to offense.

    A first-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2014, Milano topped out at 14 goals in 55 games in his first full NHL season but never stayed in the lineup consistently and was dealt to the Ducks during the 2019-20 season.

    He spent most of two seasons in the minors with his new organization before another full-time opportunity in 2021-22 resulted in 14 goals and 34 points in 66 games, including five goals on the power play.

    His 6'0", 194-pound frame isn't small by any means, but Milano became expendable in Anaheim as new general manager Pat Verbeek looked for bigger players with more physicality.

    He wasn't given a qualifying contract offer and became an unrestricted free agent after making $1.7 million in each of the last two seasons. A middle-six role with possession-responsible linemates could be ideal for a player whose strengths are certainly more offensive than defensive.

Evan Rodrigues, C

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    Pittsburgh Penguins' Evan Rodrigues (9) plays against the Nashville Predators during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, April 10, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
    AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

    For Evan Rodrigues, it was all about location, location, location.

    The undrafted free agent was signed by the Buffalo Sabres in 2015 after four years at Boston University alongside heralded teammate Jack Eichel. He shared a locker room with Eichel in Buffalo as well, but never shined with a struggling team and was dealt to Pittsburgh in 2020.

    A brief stint in Toronto preceded another stay with the Penguins, and Rodrigues was far more successful the second time around in the Steel City, scoring 19 goals and 43 points for an injury-ravaged Pittsburgh team in 2021-22 on a one-year deal worth $1 million.

    The production validated his standing as no worse than a third-line NHLer who has the skill to produce in the top six in the right spot. He's not particularly large at 5'11", 184 pounds, but sees the ice well and makes plays by finding teammates in good places and can score, too.