The second tier of NHL free agents may not drum up a ton of buzz this offseason, but they could provide value to teams looking for improvements.
Tyler Toffoli and other under-the-radar targets may be X-factors for certain sides in the coming years without maxing out budgets. Toffoli could fall into the category of players that would benefit from remaining with their current teams. The same could be said about defenseman Travis Hamonic of the Calgary Flames.
Other undervalued players, like Buffalo Sabres forward Wayne Simmonds, may be looked at as short-term options who could help bolster depth for Stanley Cup contenders.
Predictions For Under-the-Radar Free Agents
Toffoli made an early impact on the Vancouver Canucks with 10 points in 10 games after being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings.
The uptick in production was a welcome sight for the forward, who had 34 points in 58 contests with the Kings.
Ten games is a small sample size to see how much chemistry Toffoli has built with his new teammates, but it is a positive sign nonetheless as he approaches free agency. If he makes a similar impact when the season resumes, Toffoli could make a case for the Canucks to keep him on a long-term basis.
The 27-year-old is in the final months of his three-year, $13.8 million contract, but his drop-off in goals and assists with the Kings may turn off some teams. Toffoli mustered 34 points in a full 82-game slate last season and struggled once again before Los Angeles shipped him to Vancouver.
If the right wing can prove his dip occurred because of the Kings' struggles, he could be the most coveted second-tier free agent.
Taylor Hall and Evgeni Dadonov should command more money on the open market, but Toffoli could still get a decent deal.
Vancouver is working with $22 million of salary-cap space, but it has to put re-signing goalie Jacob Markstrom as its top priority. If Toffoli is willing to take a similar deal to the one he has now or one with less money, he could be a nice fit for the Canucks.
Prediction: Vancouver finds a way to keep Toffoli.
Hamonic is one of two Calgary defensemen scheduled to hit the free-agent market this summer.
The 29-year-old and T.J. Brodie will not be as sought-after as St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo and other free-agent defensemen because of their lack of offensive contributions.
Hamonic produced 12 points in 50 games and has not eclipsed the 20-point mark since the 2015-16 season with the New York Islanders. He carries value on the defensive side of the ice, and he has averaged over 20 minutes in ice time in each of his 10 seasons in the NHL.
Calgary has $21 million in cap space to work with, a number that should not be affected much if it wants to bring back one or both of its free-agent D-men.
Hamonic is at the back end of the seven-year, $27 million deal he inked with the Islanders in 2013. Because of his offensive limitations, Hamonic should not command top dollar and would be perceived as an alternative to Pietrangelo, Torey Krug and Tyson Barrie on the blue-line market.
The smart move from the team's perspective would be to offer Hamonic a smaller deal than he is on so it can retain his defensive prowess and leave open space to pursue more offensive-minded players.
Prediction: Hamonic returns to Calgary on cheaper deal.
Simmonds could be the perfect candidate for a short-term deal that allows him to revive his offensive form.
The 31-year-old put up 24 points for the New Jersey Devils before he was offloaded to the Buffalo Sabres, for whom he has a single point in seven contests.
Those poor numbers likely will not allow Simmonds to make something similar to the $5 million he is earning this season. Simmonds won't be able to command a multiyear deal or one worth a significant amount of money because he has 55 combined points for four teams over the past two seasons.
He has to be viewed as a secondary forward option, but he could outplay a cheaper deal if he returns to the form he displayed with the Philadelphia Flyers, for whom he produced four straight 50-point campaigns.
Buffalo could take a flier on Simmonds since it has the third-most cap space, but it could have loftier ambitions in free agency to improve its roster.
The best fits for Simmonds could be a young team looking for veteran scoring or a franchise looking for improvements with limited cap space.
The Vegas Golden Knights fit into the latter category, and with three right wingers already locked in for next season, they could ink Simmonds to a cheap deal to bolster their depth.
Prediction: Vegas takes a chance on Simmonds.