Looks like the end of the NHL road for these unsigned free agents
Every summer, a handful of players close out their NHL careers to great fanfare.
Many more just quietly slip away.
So while the tributes pour in for Kimmo Timonen and Martin St. Louis, take a moment to consider those who may be leaving the game on less ideal terms. The door remains open for all of these players but with rosters skewing younger, faster and cheaper, it’s a good bet that we’ve seen the last of these guys in this league:
• RAY EMERY: With only the Bruins clearly in need of a backup, one of the NHL’s great battlers might fall victim to the numbers game. At 32, Emery is coming off an inconsistent, injury-marred season and has a surgically repaired hip that has to be of some concern. He accepted a $650,000 pay cut to suit up for the Flyers last season, but Philly’s recent signings of Michal Neuvirth and Jason LaBarbera certainly make him expendable. Other veteran goaltenders who are possibly on the way out: Viktor Fasth, Jonas Gustavsson, Josh Harding, and Petr Budaj. The inimitable Ilya Bryzgalov, who parted ways with the Ducks last February, has yet to officially retire but it’s merely a matter of time.
• BRENDAN MORROW: The 15-year veteran winger suggested he’d like to “give it one more go” after the Lightning fell short of winning the Stanley Cup this spring, but the signing of UFA Erik Condra ended any chance Morrow may have had to return to Tampa Bay. For a player whose legs were essentially gone during his final years in Dallas, it’s impressive that he managed to squeeze a couple more seasons out of his smarts and leadership skills. If this is the end, he’ll retire without an NHL title, but he’ll always have the gold medal he won as part of Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics.
• SERGEI GONCHAR: The 41-year-old defenseman looked the part of a player with more than 1,400 NHL games on his odometer last season. He dressed in just 48 games for the Stars and Habs and spent plenty of nights in the press box as a healthy scratch, including the entirety of Montreal’s brief playoff run. The smarts are still there, but the body doesn’t have much left to give. There’s a chance he could hitch one more ride as a power play specialist, possibly in Pittsburgh, but if the ride ends here he’ll have an impressive career to look back on. He won the Cup with the Pens in 2009, finished in the top-10 in Norris Trophy voting nine times and earned a pair of Olympic medals with Russia. He’s a borderline Hall of Fame contender.
• LUBOMIR VISNOVSKY: Injuries have limited the 38-year-old blueliner to just 77 games during the past two seasons, and this last one ended with a concussion he suffered in the playoffs. Visnovsky says he wants to play another year and that he’s entered into preliminary negotiations with the Islanders, but he’s 50/50 at best to return. New York already has six blueliners on one-way deals and several prospects banging on the door. It’s likely the team will wait until things shake out in camp before making the call on Visnovsky.
• OLLI JOKINEN: Jokinen tallied just four goals and 10 points during a frustrating season with Nashville, Toronto and St. Louis. Though there’s always a team looking for a big center, it’s unlikely he’ll get the call this time around. Jokinen, the third pick in the 1997 draft, scored 750 points in 1,231 NHL games. He never managed to win the big one, but he’d retire with 12 international medals to his game, including gold at the 1998 World Juniors and a silver and two bronzes from the Olympics.
• DANIEL BRIERE: The 18-year vet is reportedly ready to hang ’em up to spend more time with his family. “I would play,” he’s said. “I still love the game. I have a passion for hockey, but there is something else in life. I must think of [my three sons]. I was a bit selfish the past two years to pursue my dream.” Briere scored 307 career goals, including eight this past season in Colorado, and won gold with Canada at the 1997 World Juniors and 2004 World Championship.
• BRYCE SALVADOR: Injuries have limited the 39-year-old captain of the Devils to just 94 games during the past three seasons. Nerve damage in his back sidelined him for 67 in 2014-15. Tough to come back from a stretch like that, but Salvador is reportedly skating and trying to stay in shape in the hope that New Jersey has room for his experience on the back end.
• MATT CULLEN: The 38-year-old forward has made it known that he’d like to play next season, but has also said that he’d like to be close to his family in Minnesota. Even with his production in steep decline (just seven goals this past season with Nashville) there’s a chance he could land a spot with a team that’s desperate for experience down the middle, but his options are limited.
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