Ranking the Biggest Potential Bargains in 2015 NHL Free Agency

Adrian Dater@@adaterNHL National ColumnistJune 21, 2015

Ranking the Biggest Potential Bargains in 2015 NHL Free Agency

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    There have been more free-agent busts than bargains in NHL recent history. On and on we could go listing some of the truly horrendous signings, but let's name a few: Bobby Holik with the New York Rangers, Doug Gilmour and Theo Fleury with the Chicago Blackhawks, Sean Avery with the Dallas Stars, Martin Lapointe with the Boston Bruins, Theo Fleury with the Rangers...OK, let's stop.

    There have been plenty of shrewd signings over the years too. In 2011, the Phoenix Coyotes lost goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to Philadelphia (who bungled horribly in giving him an eight-year, $51 million deal) and replaced him with Mike Smith on a two-year, $4 million free-agent deal. Smith has been a much better goalie than Bryzgalov since.

    In 2005, Anaheim took a chance on Teemu Selanne on a one-year, $1 million deal. He scored 40 goals for the Ducks in 2005-06 and 48 the following season for a championship team. Not bad.

    It's doubtful anyone from this year's free-agent class will match the bargain buy of Selanne or Smith. This is considered a weak free-agent market for top-shelf talent, nevermind the lower tiers. Still, no doubt there will be some smart pickups when more history is written.

    The following slide show lists our top eight picks for the best potential bargains should they still be available July 1, when the market opens. 

    The criteria for selection: Maybe they are someone like Selanne in 2005, who was considered damaged goods but have more left in the tank? Maybe they weren't given enough ice time by their former teams, and will flourish elsewhere with more? Maybe they're just late bloomers?

    Those rationale will be explored further in the list. Click on please...

8. Mike Santorelli, Nashville Predators

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    John Russell/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Position: Center

    2014-15 Statistics (Toronto and Nashville combined): 79 games, 12 goals, 21 assists, 33 points

    Last salary: $1.5 million

    Why he might be a good buy: The Predators gave up a first-round pick and two other players to get Santorelli and Cody Franson from Toronto at the trade deadline. He was supposed to add quality depth for a long playoff run, but Nashville was knocked out in the first round, and Santorelli didn't do much to prevent that.

    He had only four points in 22 regular-season games and one point in four playoff contests for the Preds. So his market value might take a hit because of that. So that's why he could be a a nice bargain. He's fast and still reasonably young. He'll probably command at least what he last made, and probably get into the $2 million per year on the open market, maybe more. 

    A team shouldn't overpay, as he's never shown to be much more than a bottom-six kind of forward. But he'd be a nice third-line center on many teams, maybe a second-liner in the right situation.

7. Blake Comeau, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Position: Right wing

    Last salary: $700,000

    2014-15 statistics: 61 games, 16 goals, 15 assists, 31 points

    Why he might be a good buy: While he has bounced around the league in his career (five teams), Comeau figures to draw strong interest from several teams. He has scored 16 or more goals three times in his career, with a high of 24 for the New York Islanders in 2010-11. 

    He was eighth on the Penguins in even-strength shot attempts (goals, shots, missed shots and opposition blocked shots while on the ice) at plus-91. He's a relatively big body (6'1", 202 lbs) who has paid some dues. Some team might overpay for him, but if he can be had at something like an average of $1.5 million per year, he'd be worth the offer.

6. Eric Fehr, Washington Capitals

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    Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 29

    Position: Center

    Last salary: $1.6 million

    2014-15 statistics: 75 games, 19 goals, 14 assists, 33 points

    Why he might be a good buy: He was injured in the playoffs, which took away one of Washington's best utility forwards. He underwent elbow surgery in early June but is expected to be ready for training camp.

    At 6'4", Fehr is a big centerman who knows how to play the game in the tough areas. As the Washington Post's Alex Prewitt summed things up after this, his "contract season":

    Plagued by injuries throughout his career, Fehr logged 75 games in 2014-15...He averaged a career-best 14 minutes, 51 seconds, became a shutdown penalty-killer, won 52 percent of his draws (36th in the league) and, perhaps most pertinent to the building narrative, continued to reinvent himself into a legitimate checking-line center.

    So there is a risk here for teams regarding Fehr's health. The way he plays the game, you can expect him to be banged up now and then. When healthy, though, Fehr plays a strong two-way game. If a team can nab him with, say, a three-year, $6 million or $7 million deal, they would do well.

5. Curtis Glencross, Washington Capitals

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Age: 32

    Position: Left wing

    Last salary: $2.5 million

    2014-15 statistics (Calgary and Washington combined): 71 games, 13 goals, 22 assists, 35 points

    Why he might be a good buy: He wasn't very good in the playoffs (10 goals, one goal, minus-five), and was a healthy scratch four times in the postseason by coach Barry Trotz. So maybe that will hurt his market value just enough for him to prove to be a bargain in the end. Washington gave Calgary second- and third-round draft picks at the deadline to get him and now probably will lose him for nothing.

    Caps general manager Brian MacLellan told Washington Post reporter Alex Prewitt: 

    He came in, scored some goals for us early, then some things went on that he kind of lost his game a little bit and I don’t think we had time to wait around for him to find it again. There’s a good player in there. We saw a little bit of it. I make the point to the coaches, if we win that game 1-0 when he scored that goal, it’s a great trade. That’s the fine line.

    But he's been a double-figure goal scorer each of the last seven seasons, including two with 20 or more. He probably expects to be paid at least what he was getting on his last contract, but his age and bad playoff showing could keep him around the $2 million range. But let's say he gets another $2.5 million or a little more on an unrestricted-free-agent deal, it could prove a nice buy for the right team.

4. Shawn Matthias, Vancouver Canucks

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    Position: Center

    Last salary: $1.8 million

    2014-15 statistics: 78 games, 18 goals, nine assists, 27 points.

    Why he might be a good buy: He posted a career-high number of goals for the Canucks, having come over from Florida in the Roberto Luongo trade. He seemed to fit in well with the playoff-earning Canucks, but at only a little more than $3 million, per Hockeybuzz.com, Vancouver doesn't have enough cap space to sign him.

    Matthias in April told the Vancouver Sun's Elliott Pap: "I would love to be back. But, in the business side of things, you never know what could happen. It’s a salary-cap world. I mean, if I go to July 1st, I’m going to do what’s best for myself. So we’ll see what happens.”

    While listed as a center, Matthias often plays on the wing. That versatility adds value.

3. Matt Irwin, San Jose Sharks

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Position: Defense

    Last salary: $1.1 million

    2014-15 statistics: 53 games, eight goals, 11 assists, 19 points, plus-three

    Why he might be a good buy: At 6'2", 210 pounds, he brings size and a good slap shot to any team's power play. It appears he will definitely test the open market, and younger defensemen with any kind of proven track record usually get gobbled up fast on July 1.

    Irwin's plus-50 SAT was third-best among Sharks defensemen. He might get a new deal in the $2.5 million-per-year range. Anything more than that would be overpaying. It's possible, therefore, Irwin could end up on a future "most overpaid players" list, but until then, he is testing the market at the right time and should be a good pickup for whichever team gets him.

2. Jarret Stoll, Los Angeles Kings

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Age: 32

    Position: Center

    Last salary: $3.25 million

    2014-15 statistics: 73 games, six goals, 11 assists, 17 points

    Why he might be a good buy: Not to diminish their seriousness, but if Stoll can clear his present legal troubles (arrested in Las Vegas shortly after the season on drug possession charges), he might come cheap to a team willing to give him a second chance. He played regularly for two championship teams with the Kings as a strong utility center.

    Some guys get labeled as damaged goods for a while, but history has shown those are the kinds of guys who can sometimes help you win later on. Other athletes have come back from worse (Michael Vick, Steve Howe, Josh Hamilton, etc.).

    The charges against Stoll are serious, but, well, assuming he has a good lawyer, there seems to be more than a reasonable expectation he'll either get off or plea down to a lower charge and still continue his hockey career. 

    He would still come in handy to many teams.

1. Carl Soderberg, Boston Bruins

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 29

    Position: Center

    Last salary: $1 million

    2014-15 statistics: 82 games, 13 goals, 31 assists, 44 points

    Why he might be a good buy: He's not going to be some "hidden gem" signee. Soderberg is one of the more attractive players on the market, and he might not come cheap. He's a big (6'3", 216 lbs) lefty centerman who skates well and has some offensive creativity.

    But this is not a player who will ever be a marquee scorer. Thirty to 40 points a year is probably his limit. While it might happen, a crazy offer for him ($4 million per year would start to get crazy) would likely be considered a cap albatross at some point. He was in negative territory (minus-0.4) in relative SAT and isn't all that physical a player (76 hits in 82 games).

    Anything in the $2 million to $3.5 million per range would be a great bargain. He's a strong third-line center, maybe a No. 2 on the right team. He'd be a great player to add at the right price. Will teams be able to restrain themselves? We'll see.

    Stats courtesy of NHL.com.