NHL Free Agency 2016: Rumors and Predictions Based on Offseason Buzz

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistJuly 20, 2016

James Wisniewski played just one game in 2015-16 after injuring his knee.
James Wisniewski played just one game in 2015-16 after injuring his knee.Christine Cotter/Associated Press

The NHL's big-name free agents made their splashes July 1, but there are still players who have chances to sign contracts prior to the start of the season and get off to fresh starts with new teams.

Players like James Wisniewski, Brandon Pirri and Sam Gagnerย have the abilities and talents to fill roles with new teams, and they are not likely to cost their new teams prohibitive amounts of cash. However, it may not be until the start of training camp that prospective deals get finalized.

Wisniewski may be the most interesting option and perhaps the most challenging decision for any general manager to make.

Wisniewski, 32, had just one shift last year before he injured his knee and missed the rest of the 2015-16 season. However, the 5'11", 203-pound right-shot defenseman has been known for his ability to fire the puck from the point and cause problems for opponents.

The Toronto Maple Leafs showed interest in Wisniewski early in the free-agent process, according to Sportsnet hockey insider Chris Johnston. However, a veteran defenseman who can carry the puck out of his own zone and generate a heavy shot is marketable. In addition to taking on a bottom-four role, he could also play on a team's second power-play unit.

Prediction: Look for teams like the Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils to join the Maple Leafs in their pursuit of Wisniewski. When all is said and done, it appears the Oilers would have the most to gain by bringing in a veteran defenseman who scored eight goals and added 26 assists while playing 69 games in 2014-15. Wisniewski will sign with the Oilers.

Brandon Pirri is not the kind of well-rounded player who will make contributions in all three zones and set an example with his ability to play defense or pay keen attention in the neutral zone. But Pirri is a player who has some legitimate NHL value, because he has talent in the offensive zone.

Pirri should be moving into his prime years, as he is 25 and he has 166 NHL games to his credit. Heย is a player who can score when given the opportunity, and goal scoring is in short supply around the NHL. As a result, Pirri will sign and have a chance to make a regular contribution in the 2016-17 season.

While he's listed as a center, his defensive shortcomings probably mean he will spend most of his time playing on the wing. He scored 22 goals playing for the Florida Panthers in 2014-15, and he followed that up with 14 goals last year as he split his time with Florida and the Anaheim Ducks.

Prediction: There are a number of teams that Pirri could help, including the Philadelphia Flyers, Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres. When it comes down to it, Pirri's defensive holes might end up causing problems for a playoff team like the Flyers. However, he would fit right in with the Coyotes, and we expect him to skate with Arizona in the 2016-17 season.

Sam Gagner struggled with Philadelphia in 2015-16.
Sam Gagner struggled with Philadelphia in 2015-16.Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Sam Gagner has never been a star in the NHL, but he has been a solid contributor who has scored 40 points or more in six of his nine NHL seasons.

While he struggled with the Flyers last year as he totaled eight goals and eight assists, there is no reason to believe that Gagner doesn't have plenty of productivity left in his game.

Gagner will turn 27 on Aug. 10, and he has the offensive skills to take advantage of his opportunities and put the puck in the net. Gagner spent seven years in Edmonton before playing with the Coyotes and Flyers the last two seasons. He scored a career-high 47 points in 2011-12 (18 goals and 29 assists).

Prediction: Gagner appears most comfortable playing in the Western Conference, and the Vancouver Canucks could be a good fit for him since they need players with his level of talent and experience. Look for Gagner to sign with the Canucks near the start of training camp, if not sooner.


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