Free Agency Bargain Bin
The free agency frenzy is in full effect as NHL teams race to sign marquee players and make headline-grabbing splashes in an attempt to improve their rosters and invigorate their fan bases. The two big name buyouts, Vincent Lecavalier and Danny Briere, got the wheels turning early as they made their respective minds up about their new destinations. Montreal finally got the player they long coveted in Briere while Philadelphia replaced him with Lecavalier. Most of the highly-sought after players have already been inked within three hours of the official start of free agency. Top available forwards like Nathan Horton (CBJ), Stephen Weiss (DET), and David Clarkson (TOR) have already been scooped up off the market and a lot of complimentary pieces are quickly getting nabbed.
Every year there are players who fly under the radar once the insanity of free agency begins, but end up being some of the most valuable pick-ups for their respective teams. One example of this type of situation from last year is the Montreal Canadians signing gritty forward Brandon Prust away from the NY Rangers. Prust is never going to light up the score sheet but he is a responsible defensive forward who is very physical and has the willingness to do whatever it takes to help his team win. While Montreal became a much tougher team to play against, the Rangers struggled to find bottom-six forwards who they could trust with any kind of considerable ice time. Another good example of an underrated move is the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks inking Michal Rozsival before last season. Rozsival ended up being an important cog in the top-6 defenseman during the playoffs. He gave them a steadying presence on the bottom pair and was not a liability at all. It’s worth noting Chicago re-upped Rozsival for another year this offseason, ensuring he won’t be such a great bargain for another team.
Here is a list of some of the best bargain bin free agents this year. These players may not be drawing headlines and may not even get signed on the first day of the gold rush, but you can be fairly certain a couple of them will pay huge dividends for their new clubs:
- Mason Raymond – This speedy forward would fit nicely on any team that plays a fast paced system and is looking for forward depth. He is ideally a 3rd line forward and is versatile (can play both wings). He has an underrated shot that and is a capable of being a playmaker as well. Raymond scored 25 goals once in his six year NHL career. That was probably an anomaly but he was on pace to net 20 markers this past season and is only 27 years old. Possible Destinations: Anaheim, Tampa, or Nashville
- Dustin Penner – Power forwards like David Clarkson and Ryan Clowe are commanding the big dollars and early signings. Penner has fallen off the radar as far as his stats have slipped over the last couple of seasons. He has only scored 9 goals over his last 98 games played. Part of the slippage could be because of Los Angeles’ defense-first style of play. Part of it is most likely deteriorating skills. If a team can attract Penner for a short-term reasonable contract they would be adding a big forward and a Stanley Cup Champion that understands what it takes to win. Possible Destinations: Edmonton, New Jersey, Boston or New York Islanders
- Damien Brunner – This skilled young forward had an impressive rookie season with Detroit. He notched 26 points in 44 games playing mostly on the third line. It’s surprising that he is the odd man out but after the Red Wings went out and inked Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss something had to give. He is a good skater with some serious offensive upside. He could be the steal of free agency. Possible Destinations: New Jersey, Boston, or Dallas.
- Jonathon Blum – At age 24, Blum probably wouldn’t be available if he was in any other organization than defense-rich Nashville. He is a nimble puck-moving defenseman who could never crack the Nashville lineup consistently (splitting time between Nashville and the AHL Milwaukee Admirals). This may be another possible steal of free agency down the line. Possible Destinations: Philadelphia, Edmonton, or Toronto
- Simon Gagne – The Flyers brought Gagne back to Philadelphia last season when injuries depleted their forward depth and he ended up playing very well despite lackluster showings in Tampa and Los Angeles. Gagne could be an ideal third line winger for a contending team. He still has speed, can play a good two-way game, and most importantly is known as a clutch sniper. His age and inconsistency will probably make him very affordable. Possible Destinations: Boston, Montreal, or Washington