This is the time of year when you want to stay on top of important free agent moves. I am here to help with a review of the key player news in the past week along with related commentary. In addition, I will highlight some names who are still available.
Magnus Paajarvi, St Louis – With the departure of T.J. Oshie from the Blues, they are going to give Paajarvi a chance to prove that he belongs among their top six forwards. He will be stiff competition for a role and would still be positioned to be on a third scoring unit with all of the skilled depth on the roster. His pre-season status is one of a good sleeper pick.
Gustav Nyquist, Detroit – Nyqvist was a restricted free agent heading into this summer and even though he has clearly proven himself to be a gifted goal-scorer there was no real doubt that he would remain a Red Wing. He is a lock to play among the top two lines here and should be a high-end fantasy draft pick who projects to be a 30-goal, 60-point player next season.
Brian McGrattan, Anaheim/John Scott, Arizona – If there is one heavyweight grouping left in the NHL, it is clearly out west in the Pacific Division. Each team boasts an honest-to-goodness NHL pugilist. So if fighting majors and other penalties count in your pool, McGrattan and Scott will be a consideration. However, it should be noted that fighting was down significantly last season and these guys are part of a dying breed.
Chris Stewart, Anaheim – This burly right winger has been projected as a prototypical power forward for his seven years in the NHL and does boast a pair of 28-goal seasons on his resume. He was traded from Buffalo at last year’s deadline and enjoyed a fine second half with Minnesota that seemed to reignite his hockey passion. The Ducks are hoping that he brings that level of play into a top-six forward role. This has the potential to be one of the best pickups of the offseason.
Johnny Oduya, Dallas – Following the trade that sent Patrick Sharp to Dallas for a package that included Trevor Daley, it seemed clear that Oduya would have to be moved out of the Hawks' lineup since they are still facing salary cap issues. The Stars took advantage of Chicago’s dilemma by inking Oduya to a two-year, $7.5 million deal that will give the veteran blue liner a key role as a team leader.
Michael Del Zotto, Philadelphia – Del Zotto rediscovered his form as an offensive defenseman in his debut with the Flyers last year (10 goals and 22 assists in 64 games). He figures to be the power-play quarterback on what should remain one of the more potent special teams in the NHL. If he can find a way to stay healthy, this 25-year-old should be approaching his prime years and dwarf last year’s totals.
Mikhail Grigorenko, Colorado – The Avs counted the acquisition of restricted free agent Grigorenko as a key part of the compensation in the Ryan O’Reilly deal. At 21 years of age, the Russian native was a mid-first round draft choice in 2012. He has the compelling combination of size and skill of a top line center prospect who should thrive among the high-end skill on the top end of the roster.
REMAINING FREE AGENTS OF NOTE (last year’s cap hit included)
Alexander Semin ($7 million) – This underachieving sniper has all the tools to duplicate the high scoring (seasons of 40, 38 and 34 goals on his resume) totals among seven 20+ goal campaigns in a nine-year career. The down side, and a big reason while he remains unsigned, is that he has fallen out of favor for his lack of a work ethic in his last three seasons with Carolina. You would think he would like to re-establish his credentials, but the reality may be that he just doesn’t want it enough after making a boatload of money already.
Mike Richards ($5.75 million) – Some off-ice issues have raised a cloud of uncertainty around a player who was once viewed as a great team leader during his first six seasons with Philadelphia. His career has been in a steady decline over the last four years in Los Angeles. He’s still only 30 years old, and in bad need of a fresh start. If he cleans up his off-ice troubles and rededicates himself, the right team may reap large rewards. Those are two big "if"s.
Andrej Meszaros ($4.125 million) – This veteran blue liner is the kind of depth defenseman and talent that contending teams look for at the trade deadline. He all but disappeared while playing for a Sabres team that was spiraling to the bottom of league standings last year. He is only 29 years old, and his NHL career stats show an ability to create on offense and to be effective in his own end. He may emerge as a surprise contributor if he gets plugged into a decent team, as opposed to a bottom dweller.
Christian Ehrhoff ($4 million) – Ehrhoff had established himself as a solid scoring blue liner in the earlier stages of his career, but things went awry in his two years with Buffalo. He hoped to redefine himself by signing a one-year deal with Pittsburgh, but he missed 33 games to injury last season. He is looking for a second chance to show that, at 33 years old, there is still lots of good hockey in him.
Cody Franson ($3.3 million) – This guy has all the tools to be a top four defender on most NHL clubs. He played pretty steady hockey for an underwhelming Maple Leafs team during much of the last four seasons, which led many observers to think he might be headed for a big payday during the offseason. That speculation increased when he was traded to the Predators at the trade deadline. Instead of thriving on the playoff stage, he did not play well and undoubtedly hurt his value on the open market. I have to believe that some team is going to take a flier on a very mobile 6-foot-5, 213-pound player who has a good skill set.
Derek Stepan ($3.075 million) – With the Rangers having two open roster spots and over $7 million in cap space, I have a hard time wondering why these parties haven’t come together on a long-term deal. Stepan has been one of the Rangers' key players ever since he turned pro five years ago. Maybe another team will come in with an offer sheet to create some intrigue here. Otherwise, the delay in signing him back on Broadway could leave some negative vibes.
While there are clearly some talented players who remain unsigned at this time, the other wildcard is the fact that no fewer than five clubs (Chicago, St Louis, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and San Jose) still face a tight fit to get under the salary cap and may have to deal away assets to comply. That combination should lead to more interesting player movement before teams head to training camp in early September.