Matching 14 notable NHL free agents with the teams that would be best for them to sign with.
Peanut butter and jam. Chutes and ladders. Rizzoli and Isles. When two things are right for each other, you just gotta step back and let the magic happen.
Sometimes though the right pairing takes a little bit of cajoling. That’s why we’re here. To point some of the most interesting members of this year’s free agent crop toward the team that's the best fit for them.
Signing season opens on Wednesday, July 1. Here’s how we think it should play out.
Despite a pronounced lack of hype, Frolik might be the most valuable free agent forward available—and that’s not an insult to the market. He scored 19 goals and 42 points this season as the two-way conscience of Winnipeg’s top line, but he has the versatility to move down on the depth chart if needed. He’s the sort of player who quietly wins games. Plus, he’s shown an interest in playing for the Habs. Make it happen, Marc Bergevin!
• Matt Beleskey — Pittsburgh Penguins
Yes, he’s going to be ridiculously overpaid for a player coming off a career-best 22-goal, 32-point season, but don’t worry about that. Just understand that he’ll be a valuable asset on the ice, bringing a physical north/south presence to a team that desperately needs some courage in front of the opposing net. If he can do all that and remember to keep his stick on the ice, he’ll be the perfect fit for Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
• Andrej Sekera — Colorado Avalanche
The Avs are in need of a left-handed shot to skate with Tyson Barrie on the top pair. Sekera doesn’t have the size that Patrick Roy wants on his back end but he’s calm and reliable and moves the puck effectively. Bringing in a veteran also buys time for young Nikita Zadorov, who doesn’t need the pressure of a top-four role at this point of his development.
• Christian Ehrhoff — Los Angeles Kings
If the Kings can’t re-sign Sekera, Ehrhoff might be a nice fit. He’s big, skates well and knows how to move the puck. Yes, his one-year swim through Pittsburgh was a disaster, with 33 games lost to injury, but he’s far from brittle. Ehrhoff missed just three games the previous two seasons combined. He’s made it clear that he'd like to sign with a contender, so the Kings would be an ideal landing spot for him.
• Johnny Oduya — Dallas Stars
GM Jim Nill made told reporters on Monday that the Stars weren’t looking to be active in free agency, but isn’t Oduya exactly the sort of player they need? A reliable veteran who can calm things down in his own end and make a simple play in transition? Dallas has a terrific collection of young defensemen but they’re still figuring out how to play the game. It would be worth overpaying a proven winner like Oduya to be a presence on the ice and in the room, while mentoring their cast of future stars.
• Barret Jackman — Chicago Blackhawks
Jackman looked gassed towards the end in St. Louis, but he'd be a viable No. 6/7 safety valve as the Hawks work in one or more of their young defensemen. He'd have to accept a significant pay cut, but a chance to compete for a Cup as his career winds down would be appealing.
• Mike Green — Edmonton Oilers
Ice time was at a premium in Washington for Green, who ranked fifth among Capitals defenders with an average of 19:05 per game. That wouldn’t be a problem in Edmonton, where the Oilers are starved for veteran defenders who can move the puck in transition. He’d be an ideal partner for young Griffin Reinhart, plus he’d spend the next few years feeding apples to Connor McDavid, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. He might not win every night, but he’d have a lot of fun at the rink. The key for the Oilers is term. They might have to overpay in order to limit him to two or three years.
• Justin Williams — Washington Capitals
The wing-starved Penguins are an option here too, especially given the Carolina history shared by Williams and Pens GM Jim Rutherford. But the Caps are getting to the point where Alex Ovechkin’s prime years are wasting away and they need help up front. Not during the regular season. During the playoffs. That’s where Williams excels. Sure, he only had 41 points this season, but look at what he’s done in the postseason: 30 goals, 78 points in 115 games, along with three Stanley Cup wins. That’s exactly the type of cold-blooded slayer this team needs.
• Antoine Vermette — Arizona Coyotes
Nothing wrong with going home again. The Coyotes need to spend some money and add some veteran leadership, and Vermette returns to the desert where he enjoyed so much success. This just feels right.
• Cody Franson — Toronto Maple Leafs
Speaking of going home, Franson returning to the Leafs makes too much sense. The #fancystats crowd loves Franson’s game (it's not his fault the Predators had a 3% shooting percentage when he was on the ice, they say) and there’s no team that’s more deeply immersed in juggling the numbers than Toronto, a team that could use some veteran help on the back end.
• Karri Ramo — Philadelphia Flyers
Philly is in the market for a backup who is a) reliable and b) cheap. Ramo likely can be had for less than the $2.75 million he earned last season given the sudden paucity of No. 1 jobs and the surplus of goalies on the market (Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth come to mind). Ramo would probably want a short-term deal, no more than two years, to free himself up to pursue a future No. 1 opportunity, but for now this seems like a viable fit.
Since there’s no discernible pattern to Don Sweeney’s “this isn’t a rebuild” master plan, it seems entirely plausible that he’d look to the aging veteran to fill an obvious need for a top-six right wing. There’s not likely to be much demand for the now 40-year-old St. Louis, but an opportunity to extend his career for another year at $1.5 million or so might get it done for both sides.
• Paul Martin — Detroit Red Wings
The veteran blueliner is the exact sort of player the Wings have successfully dragged off the scrap heap in the past. Using his well-honed smarts and possession mind-set to compensate for his declining physical skills, he’d be a comfortable addition in a bottom-four role.
• Chris Stewart — New Jersey Devils
Stewart can’t do much to elevate an offense that ranked 28th in the league this season—he went without a goal in his final 18 games, including all eight playoff contests—but he still might find a home in New Jersey. The Devils need capable, NHL-caliber forwards and Stewart, when on his game, is a serviceable two-way who can chip in 15-20 goals while filling a top-nine role. GM Ray Shero might want to go easy on the term, though.
• Alexander Semin — Any team in the KHL
NHL talent, minor-league heart. He doesn’t belong here.