The NHL's Bargain Bin All-Free-Agent Team

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistJuly 15, 2016

The NHL's Bargain Bin All-Free-Agent Team

0 of 10

    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    It has now been two weeks since the start of the NHL’s free-agent period, and the league’s 30 teams have all had a chance to grab the players who appealed to them the most.

    That’s the period of free agency that gets the most attention, when big, multiyear contracts are handed out to the best players on the market. It’s when teams find important pieces, but it’s also when teams can make costly mistakes.

    This second phase of free agency can be just as important for a patient general manager. As the number of jobs and the amount of money available shrinks, the cost to sign the remaining players tends to drop. A cost-conscious GM can often add one or two useful veterans at a fraction of their value.

    Take Lee Stempniak as an example. A year ago, he was passed over during free agency and eventually had to accept a professional tryout with the New Jersey Devils before finally signing a one-year, $850,000 deal with the Devils in October. He put up 50 points, and the Devils got second- and fourth-round draft picks for his rights at the trade deadline.

    Stempniak signed early this summer on the strength of that performance, but that isn’t the point. The point is useful veterans like him can slip through the cracks and become available for far less than they’re worth.

    The following slideshow is dedicated to these free agents. We’ve put together a full roster (and a couple of spares) based entirely on players still looking for NHL contracts. Read on to see the best of the players still available in free agency.

1st Line

1 of 10

    John Locher/Associated Press

    Left Wing: Jiri Hudler. It isn’t often that such a skilled player is still available two weeks into free agency. Hudler is an electric scorer, ranking 20th in five-on-five points/hour since 2012 (min. 1,000 minutes) and 40th by total points/game (min. 100 games) over that same span. He’s a selective shooter with exceptional finishing ability and also a quality playmaker. Despite mediocre possession numbers, he’s so talented offensively that most teams should be able to find a use for him.

    Centre: Sam Gagner. Centre is one of those positions where it tends to be difficult to find bargains, so we’ve cheated a little bit in including Gagner, who played the position for many years but spent most of last season at right wing. He’s a reclamation project after a season in which he had just 16 points and saw time in the AHL, but there’s still hope there. The 26-year-old is one year removed from a 41-point campaign and could definitely help on the man advantage.

    Right Wing: Radim Vrbata. The risk with Vrbata is that, having just turned 35, he’s done as an NHL player. He struggled badly on offence last season with the Vancouver Canucks, falling from 31 goals to 13, and his ugly minus-30 rating will undoubtedly scare some people off. But there’s also a chance last season was an aberration. If it were, some lucky club could land an impact offensive player at a bargain-bin price.

    While Vrbata’s on-ice shooting and save percentages were terrible, for the eighth consecutive season,his team did a better job of outshooting the opposition with him on the ice than it did when he was on the bench. He wasn’t getting cherry offensive minutes, and there’s no history of terrible on-ice percentages. He’s one year removed from a 30-goal campaign and well worth some risk.

2nd Line

2 of 10

    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Left Wing: Brandon Pirri. The best thing about Pirri is perhaps that he just turned 25 years of age, meaning that unlike a lot of players on this list, he could be projected as more than a short-term stopgap solution. He’s averaged 40 points/82 games over his NHL career, putting him in the same range as quality NHLers such as Josh Bailey, Drew Stafford and Justin Abdelkader over the last four seasons.

    Centre: Matt Cullen. With Cullen coming off a 25-point season and about to turn 39, it would have been easy for NHL teams to let him fall out of the league last year. The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t and ended up getting one of the best bargains in all of free agency. Cullen scored 16 goals—none of them on the power play—and won 56 percent of his faceoffs while centering a defensive-zone specialty line. It’s reasonable to expect some drop-off next year, but he’s a versatile, experienced forward who has shown he’s still capable of adding some offensive pop to a lineup.

    Right Wing: Kris Versteeg. Versteeg is coming off a 15-goal, 38-point campaign, and with the exception of the 2012-13 lockout campaign, he has hit double digits in goals every year since he entered the league in 2008-09. He isn’t overly big, terribly physical or uber-reliable in the defensive zone, but he can score, and last season he managed a 56 percent Fenwick rating.

3rd Line

3 of 10

    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Left Wing: Alex Tanguay. Tanguay is a hard player to predict because he plays such a unique style of hockey. He’s insanely selective with his shots, picking his spots like no other player in the game, and as a result, he also tends to have one of the highest shooting percentages in the league most years, with last season (11.3 percent) either an aberration or age catching up to him.

    He’ll turn 37 early next season and might be done, but if he bounces back, he could still be an effective offensive player. His experience, consisting of a Cup win and more than 1,000 regular-season games, could potentially be an asset in the right situation.

    Centre: Brad Richards. Richards’ career arc is a serious concern. He’s 36 years old, and over the last three seasons, he has gone from 51 points to 37 to 28. That’s a problem for a player whose primary calling card is offensive production. He may still be able to help on the power play, he’s okay in the faceoff circle and his Corsi number the last few years has been decent (with some help from how his coach has deployed him), but he needs to pick up some points to stay in the league.

    Right Wing: Brad Boyes. Even in an off year, Boyes managed to put up 24 points in just 60 games while averaging under 12 minutes per night in total ice time. At 34, he’s a long way from his 40-goal days, but he’s only a single season removed from a 38-point campaign.

    He’s a highly efficient scorer, with a five-on-five points/hour total over the last four seasons equal to that of players such as Wayne Simmonds and David Perron. He may lack a complete game, but for a team looking for cheap scoring punch, there aren’t many better options out there.  

4th Line

4 of 10

    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Left Wing: Tomas Fleischmann. For the third consecutive season, Fleischmann failed to hit the 30-point plateau, and it’s hard to imagine the 32-year-old re-establishing himself as a scoring-line player. He’s found a way to contribute in other areas, though, including the penalty kill. He’s been a pretty average possession player over the last few seasons and is probably best suited to a bottom-six role.  

    Centre: Mike Santorelli. Superficially, Santorelli had a lousy offensive season, falling from 33 points to just 18. A lot of that decline is the result of usage, though. At five-on-five, Santorelli went from scoring a respectable 1.5 points/hour in 2014-15 to a still-respectable 1.4 points/hour in 2015-16. Those numbers are about what one would expect from an average third-liner. He’s smart, versatile, reasonably fast but, at 6'0", a little bit undersized.

    Right Wing: Justin Fontaine. Fontaine isn’t a huge scorer, though he’s capable enough offensively. He’s coming off a tough year in that department but had 31 points in 2014-15, which isn’t bad at all for a bottom-six forward. He’s not known for physical play, but he does help drive puck possession, even in defensive minutes, and he played a regular shift on the penalty kill with the Minnesota Wild.

Reserve Forwards

5 of 10

    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Left Wing: Jiri Tlusty. Tlusty belly-flopped in New Jersey last year; he just couldn’t score, and neither could his linemates. His team fared well in almost every underlying metric—shots for, shots against, save percentage—when Tlusty was on the ice, but nobody on his line could put the puck in the net. He’s still deserving of another shot, though.

    Aside from his excellent metrics in other areas, Tlusty scored 80 goals over a four-year span prior to last season and is only 28 years old. If he can rebound, the team that picks him up would be getting a speedy forward with good size, a well-rounded game and the potential to pot 15-plus goals.  

    Centre: Nick Spaling. Spaling had a lousy season. After scoring between nine and 13 goals every year for four consecutive seasons, he fell to just three goals last season. His assist generation fell by basically 50 percent. His relative Corsi rating went from just a hair below average in 2014-15 to brutal in 2015-16. He does kill penalties, and he’s pretty good in the faceoff circle, but the most important thing is he’s only 27 and may be able to get back to his previous level of ability.

    Right Wing: David Jones. A few years back, Jones looked like he might end up being a pretty significant player. The 6’3”, 210-pound winger scored 47 goals over the span of two seasons, but he crashed and burned during the shortened 2012-13 season and has never bounced back.

    Having said that, he does have 25 goals over the last two years. He’s a big guy who doesn’t mind hitting, and he’s been trusted with defensive-zone assignments the last few seasons, so the ability to score the odd goal isn’t the only thing keeping him in the league.

1st Pairing

6 of 10

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Left Defence: Kris Russell. There isn’t any question as to the biggest defensive name still out there in free agency, but Russell remains a controversial player. Supporters can point to how NHL coaches have treated Russell, who has averaged more than 23 minutes per game over the last three seasons—as well as recording a 34-point campaign in 2014-15. Critics point to lousy possession metrics.

    That he’s a major league player is not in doubt, but whether he should be on the first pairing or the third certainly is. 

    Right Defence: James Wisniewski. The problem with Wisniewski is obvious: He is a 32-year-old defenceman coming off a season in which injury limited him to a single game. In a market with limited right-shot options, though, he’s the one guy who might be able to come in and make a difference for an NHL team.

    In 2014-15, his most recent healthy season, Wisniewski scored eight times and put up 34 points in just 69 games. He averaged better than 20 minutes of ice time per game for six straight seasons before getting hurt last year and could contribute meaningfully in all situations.

2nd Pairing

7 of 10

    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

    Left Defence: Christian Ehrhoff. Ehrhoff, a longtime NHL veteran, had a tough campaign last year and even spent five games in the AHL. His offensive totals have cratered the last two seasons, and his possession metrics such as Corsi and Fenwick have fallen off from outstanding to merely average. He is, however, still capable of moving the puck and was averaging better than 20 minutes per game as recently as 2014-15.

    Right Defence: Luke Schenn. Already an eight-year NHL veteran, Schenn is only 26 years old. It would be a mistake to look at his age and his draft number—he was the fifth overall selection in 2008—and assume he’s going to take any great strides forward, but what he could do is provide competent play in the right complementary role.

    His best moments with the Philadelphia Flyers came when he was paired with a primary puck-mover (such as Kimmo Timonen in 2012-13 and Michael Del Zotto in 2014-15). Any team interested in his services should plan to provide him with that kind of partner.

3rd Pairing

8 of 10

    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Left Defence: Kyle Quincey. Context is Quincey’s friend. His on-ice shot metrics were pretty bad last season, but there were some mitigating factors. He played reasonably difficult competition, started a lot of shifts in the defensive zone and mostly played on a lefty-lefty pairing, all of which tend to make excelling more difficult. He’s big (6'2"), reasonably mobile and decent with the puck. 

    Right Defence: Eric Gryba. It’s a bit of an understatement to call Gryba a limited offensive player. His career high in points is 12, set in 2014-15, and he’s coming off a one-goal, six-point season with the Edmonton Oilers. His strengths lie on the defensive side of the puck. He’s big (6'3"), physical and effective on the penalty kill, and he last year formed an effective third pairing with the Oilers’ Brandon Davidson, who handled most of the pair’s outlet passes.

Reserve Defencemen

9 of 10

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Left Defence: Matt Carle. Some players continue to play well into their mid- and even late 30s, while others hit a wall well before that. Right now, it looks like Carle is in the latter category. At age 29, he had a 31-point season and played more than 22 minutes per game. Last year, at the age of 31, he posted nine points and was used for under 17 minutes per game.

    In his prime, Carle was a strong two-way defencemen who could defend and handle the puck, and that varied skill set offers some hope he could find a way to bounce back and contribute to an NHL team.

    Right Defence: Marek Zidlicky. That Zidlicky is still hanging around the league at the age of 39 is a testament both to his ability and to the difficulty NHL teams have in finding puck-moving right-shooting defencemen. He fell from 34 points in 2014-15 to just 16 in 2015-16, but last year he was still capable of filling in on the power play and third pairing.


10 of 10

    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

    Starter: Jhonas Enroth. The only real knock on Enroth is size. Listed at only 5’10”, he’s small for an NHL goaltender. Other than that, there’s a lot in Enroth’s favour. For one thing, he only turned 28 in June, meaning there shouldn’t be any significant decline in his performance next year. More importantly, he has been solid, with his five-on-five save percentage since 2012 comparing favourably to that of more famous players such as Jonathan Quick, Semyon Varlamov and Ryan Miller.  

    Backup: Karri Ramo. Ramo, at 30, is a little older than Enroth, but he’s also much bigger (6’2”), and since returning to the NHL in 2013-14, he has played more minutes than a typical backup usually sees. If we look at the same five-on-five save percentage chart we referenced in Enroth’s case, we find Ramo’s .918 save percentage to be ahead of players such as Ondrej Pavelec, Cam Ward and Al Montoya, making him a good fit for a backup gig somewhere.

    No. 3: Ben Scrivens. It was tempting to go with a less well-known goalie—former Detroit Red Wing Tom McCollum, who has been good over the last three AHL seasons—but in the end, it proved hard to pass on Scrivens. Just two years ago, he was regarded as a potential starter after a great 40-game campaign split between the L.A. Kings and Edmonton Oilers. He had a disastrous run in 2014-15 and then last year struggled early after being demoted before rebounding as a competent backup for the Montreal Canadiens. In the right situation, he might just surprise. 

    Statistics courtesy of and Salary information per General Fanager.