Evaluating the top NHL free agents
It's that time of year again. With the July 1 start of free agency rapidly approaching NHL GMs are pulling out their shopping carts, but they must beware of the turkeys tucked among the elites out there, and the Leinos lurking among the Lamborghinis.
There are some enticing restricted free agents available, including forwards Ryan O'Reilly (Colorado), Patrik Berglund (St. Louis), Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello (N.Y. Rangers), Cory Conacher (Buffalo), Dwight King (L.A.) and Michael Frolik (Winnipeg); defensemen P.K. Subban (Montreal), Torey Krug (Boston), and Erik Gudbranson (Florida); and goalies James Reimer (Toronto) and Darcy Kuemper (Minnesota). But for now, we'll focus on the unrestricted free agents.
Here's a look at the top of the 2014 crop and where some of the biggest names could end up:
Ryan Miller, St. Louis
After years of being trapped in Buffalo, he was the grand prize among the trade-deadline pickups in March. But his Blues blew a 2-0 series lead against the Blackhawks in the opening round of the playoffs. With the signing of backup Brian Elliott to a three-year, $7.5 million deal, Miller is likely gone. His wife is an actress who is reportedly looking to live near Hollywood. The Kings are set in goal with Jonathan Quick, and John Gibson is the future in Anaheim. Would Miller fit in with the Sharks, given Antti Niemi's ordinary showings in the playoffs since his Stanley Cup-winning season with Chicago in 2010?
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey
Can anyone see Martin Brodeur in anything other than a Devils jersey? It doesn't sound as if the NHL's all-time leader in wins and shutouts wants to walk away at age 42, but Cory Schneider is set as New Jersey's starter next season, so it's unlikely that Brodeur will be back. If there is a team on which he could be a starter, would he really want to play there? And would he be happy as a No. 2 netminder anywhere? Yes, probably in only one place, and that would be with his home team in Montreal, where his late father, Denis, was once the club's photographer. Here's the problem, though. With rookie Dustin Tokarski having shown himself to be a capable backup to Carey Price, Brodeur could be relegated to a third spot there. His options are indeed limited.
Jonas Hiller, Anaheim
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau should have given Hiller more time off down the stretch after the Swiss netminder came back from the Sochi Olympics, but he probably played himself out of town with his 6-9-3 close to the regular season and a so-so performance in the postseason. Frederik Andersen and John Gibson will battle for Ducks' the top spot next season, which could lead Hiller to St. Louis, Washington or perhaps Pittsburgh if the Penguins tire of Marc-Andre Fleury or decide they really want some proven insurance, as they had with Tomas Vokoun.
Best of the rest: Ilya Bryzgalov found himself a nice planet in Minnesota, but what exactly will the Wild's goaltending situation look like next season, given Josh Harding's health issues and the up and down play of restricted free agent Darcy Kuemper? Though 28-year-old Chad Johnson had been a career minor-leaguer with just a handful of NHL starts, he put up some fine numbers (17-4-3, .925, 2.10) for the Bruins as a sub for Tuukka Rask last season at a cost of just $600,000 against the salary cap and could be a low-cost prize for a team near the cap. And, if anyone is still interested, Tim Thomas is available.
Paul Stastny, C, Colorado
He could be the gem of the offseason. With three seasons of 70 points or more and a penchant for winning face-offs, Stastny may be just the fit for a team that's looking for a top-six forward. He's still only 28 and he enhanced his resume by putting up 10 points in Colorado's opening-round, seven-game series against Minnesota. After making $6.6 million last season, he is still in talks with the Avs, who are hopeful of keeping him, but the bet is that they will feel they can let him go, with forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly soon to go up in price. The Stars have blown money on worse players. The Predators have $22 million of cap space available. Does Stastny take a downgrade in victories for an upgrade in pay, or a downgrade in pay for an upgrade in victories with, say, Chicago?
Thomas Vanek, LW, Montreal
Which Vanek do you think you'll get, the two-time 40-goal scorer who can change the complexion of a game, or the forward who saw his ice time get cut dramatically after some uneven games in the playoffs? Habs legend Guy Lafleur wasn't impressed with Vanek's effort, saying recently, "He's a free agent. He should have gone through the boards and worked a lot harder than he did." Ouch. After re-signing forward Dale Weise, Montreal still has 10 free agents to take care of. Don't expect Vanek to be one of them.
Best of the rest: Teams looking for a lower-priced option could consider forward Matt Moulson, a three-time 30-goal scorer coming off a more manageable three-year, $9.4 million contract. If he can score 23 goals while playing for the Islanders, Sabres and Wild all within the span of a season, imagine what he could do given some stability and talent around him.
Veteran winger Jarome Iginla is a UFA, but he was a good fit and a 30-goal scorer with the Bruins and will likely come back if he doesn't push the term of his contract too hard.
The Red Wings have a bunch of question marks at forward, including 41-year-old future Hall-of Famer Daniel Alfredsson, but also high-mileage veterans Daniel Cleary and David Legwand. The Wings have already said they won't re-sign Mikael Samuelsson and Todd Bertuzzi.
After reaching the Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers have a lot of loose ends to tidy up this summer. Their first order of business was to buy out the last six seasons of veteran center Brad Richards' contract, which carried a cap hit of $6.67 million per. They haven't been in touch with Anton Stralman's agent since February, and that was before his annual $3 million price tag likely went up. Don't expect the top-four defenseman to return to Broadway. Three other Blueshirt UFAs (Brian Boyle, Dan Carcillo and Benoit Pouliot) are in discussion with the Rangers over new deals. Boyle is a third- or fourth-liner who usually ups his game in the playoffs. His inside-outside move against Drew Doughty led to the goal that gave the Rangers a short-lived lead in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Kings. Pouliot has shown that he can score, but he can also take foolish penalties in the offensive zone. He's a mixed bag. Carcillo hurt his cause by getting suspended during the playoffs, but he has been in deep postseason runs before with Philadelphia and Chicago as a player who see more ice during the regular season. Still, enforcers with a little bit of skill always find a place.