Matt Carle had the worst season of his career in 2015-16. Even he didn’t have high praise of his play with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who bought out the final two seasons of his six-year, $33-million contract.
"I've never had a year like that," Carle told The Tennesean’s Adam Vingan. "If I could describe it in one word, it'd more or less be just 'inconsistent.' My play was probably inconsistent. My ice time was probably inconsistent. I was in and out of the lineup, and it's tough to get into a flow and get comfortable.”
But Carle, who signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Predators Wednesday, has a chance to become a cheap, effective player for Nashville. It’s a smart signing for Carle, too, because he’s likely to get bottom-pairing minutes on a blueline that is seriously talented, and that could work wonders for his game come next off-season. If Carle can recapture the top-four form that saw him average 21-plus minutes for most of his career and notch a consistent 20 points for the better part of his career, then the signing will look absolutely brilliant on Nashville GM David Poile’s part, too.
Carle’s not the only player who could be a smart, effective and cheap free agent signing. Here are five more currently on the market:
James Wisniewski, 32, D
Wisniewski, like Carle, was bought out this off-season. His tenure as a Carolina Hurricane was almost laughably short because of the buyout, too. Wisniewski was coming off of an eight-goal, 34-point season when he was traded to the Hurricanes ahead of the 2015-16 season, but he tore his ACL 47 seconds into his Hurricanes debut and was forced to miss the rest of the season. In July, the Hurricanes decided to send him packing and buyout the final season of his six-year, $33-million deal.
Even as a cheap free agent signing, Wisniewski comes with some injury concerns. He has never played more than 75 games in a season and there’s always been some sort of injury trouble for him. That said, as a third-pairing guy and a power play specialist, teams could do much worse than Wisniewski. He has 27 power play goals in his career and he’s a capable blueliner when healthy. He’s worth a shot.
Tomas Fleischmann, 32, LW
Another off-season and another summer where it looks like Fleischmann is going to have to fight for a contract in training camp. That’s a shame, too, because Fleischmann is actually quite the talented player. He hasn’t shown much in the way of consistent scoring power since his 61-point campaign in 2011-12, but he’s still been efficient at driving play and scoring at 5-on-5.
Of the available free agents, and especially of the ones available to be had for cheap, there might not be another player more capable of having a 30-point season for less. He has floated around the 30-point mark in each of his three seasons. The issue has been getting ice time. But teams looking for a bit of bottom-six scoring punch at a discount price need not look much further than Fleischmann.
Dominic Moore, 35, C
It’s only a matter of time before Moore gets a deal, and whoever signs the versatile two-way veteran will have found themselves about as good a fourth-line center as they could ask for. Moore recently told Sportsnet that he was going to be patient in deciding his destination, and it was rumored that he had a few offers on the table.
Moore played a lot of tough minutes for the New York Rangers over the past three seasons and it was a thankless job. He averaged less than 14 minutes in each of his campaigns as a Blueshirt, but he was a staple of the team’s penalty kill and a tireless forechecker. Almost all of his work started in the defensive zone, but that didn’t preclude Moore from finding the score sheet. Over his three seasons in New York, Moore netted 22 goals and 60 points.
Nick Spaling, 27, C
Spaling definitely isn’t the first free agent who comes to mind when thinking about finding someone to bolster a bottom-six, but he’s got enough of a scoring touch and the proper skill set to be a good player in a limited role. He started the past campaign with the Toronto Maple Leafs before becoming an every-game player during the San Jose Sharks’ Stanley Cup final run, and there will be teams talking with Spaling because of his work in the post-season.
The youngest player on this list, Spaling doesn’t have the offensive upside of a player like Fleischmann, but he does have enough defensive responsibility to make him intriguing. He’s scored 12 goals and 40 points over the past two campaigns and has bounced around the league — from Nashville to Pittsburgh to Toronto to San Jose. Teams see his value, and it’s just a matter of getting a shot to play a consistent role next season.
Jiri Tlusty, 28, LW
A first-round pick of the Maple Leafs in 2006, Tlusty has never been offensive dynamo teams have hoped for. But what he does well, he does extremely well — and that’s drive play. Over the past two seasons, Tlusty has a 52.9 percent shot attempts for percentage. While it may not be consistent, he’s got enough scoring ability to turn his ability to drive play into points.
The trouble is many won’t see Tlusty’s ability after he managed just two goals and four points in 30 games with the New Jersey Devils last season. A wrist injury cost Tlusty the second-half of his season. He could be a good reclamation project for a team this coming campaign. His past four full seasons have seen him score 14, 16, 23 and 17 goals. If he can provide even 10 goals on a cheap one-year deal, he’d make for a good signing.
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