Slim pickings remain after opening day of NHL free-agent frenzy
Well, that didn't take long.
Like Black Friday shoppers amped up by advance copies of store circulars, NHL general managers armed with cap space and spending money practically emptied the shelves in the opening hours of the NHL's free agent signing period. They lavished over $500 million on 80 players they hope will help their teams compete for hockey's ultimate prize ... or, at least, help them get to the $51 million salary cap floor.
The unprecedented shopping spree, spurred on by the league's new five-day charming period, saw all the in-demand players signed in a matter of hours, leaving a collection of scratch-and-dent type options along with two or three hidden gems.
Here's the best of the lot:
Best goal scorer: Radim Vrbata
The 33-year-old right-shooting winger had 20 goals and a career-high 31 assists for the Coyotes last season, finishing second on the team behind defenseman Keith Yandle with 51 points. You see those numbers and you wonder what he could do with even an above-average set-up man on his line. Reports indicate five teams are in the hunt, led by the Isles and Bruins.
Best playmaking center: Mikhail Grabovski
He's not exactly Adam Oates, but Grabovski proved in Washington that he can be a reliable second-line center. He's weighed down by a little baggage, but he can distribute the puck while being a miserable cuss to play against.
Best fall-back plan: Olli Jokinen
The 36-year-old Jokinen chipped in 18 goals and 25 assists in 82 games with Winnipeg, playing mostly on the second line and second PP unit. He can take faceoffs, he's decent in the defensive zone and he won't be looking for big money or a long-term contract. For a team looking to buy a young prospect some time or fill a hole at a bargain price, he might be the guy.
Best Hall of Famer-in-waiting: Martin Brodeur
At this point he's a much better goaltender in his mind than on the ice, and it's hard to imagine him finding a team that would give him the opportunity to play regularly that he's looking for, especially after 13 clubs looked elsewhere for a back-up option on the first day of free agency. The Maple Leafs may be his last hope.
Best fixer-upper: Mike Ribeiro
When his head's on straight, Ribeiro can be a dynamic playmaker -- and one of the most thrilling shootout artists in the game. But after being jettisoned by the Coyotes over off-ice discipline issues, you have to wonder who would be desperate to take a chance on a player who can't seem to get out of his own way. Other than the Isles, who are still $7 million under the cap floor, it's hard to imagine any non-injury impacted club picking up the phone.
Best pest: Steve Ott
Great leader, great penalty killer, great on the draw and he can curse like a sailor in seven different languages. Who wouldn't want Otter?
Best source of frustration: Devin Setoguchi
He can still fly and the scoring touch he showcased back in his 31-goal season with the Sharks makes the occasional appearance. But Setoguchi is notorious for his inconsistency at both ends of the ice and his work ethic hasn't won him any admirers. If someone simply needs to fill a roster spot for something close to league minimum, he might be the guy.
Best Red Wing-in-waiting: Daniel Alfredsson
The 41-year-old legend is willing to come back for one more season ... but only with Detroit. Don't expect a signing any time soon, though. GM Ken Holland needs to create some cap wiggle room before he can deal with Alfie, so look for news late in the summer.
It's not fair to suggest that Heatley and Legwand, both former second-overall picks, have lost a step. They've probably lost two or three. In fairness, both are probably too slow to perform any more than spot duty, but some team might decide they have value as role models for younger players. Both are consummate professionals.