Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Around the League: Top 10 Remaining UFA

This off-season has been anything but boring thus far. With tons and tons of UFAs changing teams on July 1st and thereafter, plus several significant blockbuster trades, there has been plenty to keep hockey fans entertained.

And yet, there could still be quite a bit more movement before the puck drops in October. For whatever reason, a number of still-productive NHL caliber players have yet to find employment for the coming season. This has led some - like former Canadien Brent Sopel - to seek deals overseas, but many more should still be expected to join at NHL team for the 2011-12 campaign.

Today we look at 10 guys still available that could provide valuable services somewhere. We intentionally left Teemu Selanne off the list, as his options have been stated as Anaheim or retirement.

10) Kyle Wellwood, C

Wellwood's commitment, intensity, and conditioning are often called into question, but his scoring touch is not. After two years with the Vancouver Canucks (scoring 18 and 14 goals respectively), Wellwood started last year in the KHL, before signing with the St. Louis Blues at mid-season, then being plucked off waivers by the San Jose Sharks. In San Jose, he managed 13 points in 35 games, which would project to 30 points over a full season (which would have been his highest total since 2006-07). So long as he doesn't have to play big minutes 5-on-5, Wellwood could certainly help out a team's powerplay and kick in a bit of secondary scoring on a cheap contract.

9) John Madden, C

A feared shutdown defensive center during his time with the New Jersey Devils, at age 38, Madden is nearing the end of his NHL career. Still, he has topped the 10 goal mark each of the last 2 seasons while playing third line minutes (an average of 15:20 of ice time in 76 games last year). On a cheap contract, Madden would be nice depth for a contender's fourth line, able to kill penalties and with the experience of three Stanley Cups (including most recently in 2010 with the Chicago Blackhawks) under his belt.

8) Brad Winchester, RW

A 6'5", 215 lbs former second round pick, Winchester certainly never lived up to his billing as a potential stud power forward. He became a bit of a journeyman after the Edmonton Oilers lost patience with him, but he has established himself as a solid enough fourth liner, able to use his size to his advantage and drop the gloves occasionally if needed. His nose for the net is still there, with the potential to chip in 10 or so goals for whoever ends up signing him. He seems like he would be a good fit for the Habs, but Pierre Gauthier may decide he has sufficient depth and want to leave a spot for a younger body.

7) Nikolai Zherdev, RW

Thought to be a bluechip future star when drafted 4th overall in the incredibly strong 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Zherdev's career took a tailspin after his inconsistencies saw him moves out of Columbus. After a very respectable 58 point season with the New York Rangers in 2008-09, the club didn't want to pony up the needed cash to retain his services after he was held pointless in 7 playoff games. Thus, he spent 2009-10 in the KHL, before re-emerging with the Philadelphia Flyers this past year. He proved little more than what was already known of him, managing 16 goals in just 56 games, but falling so out of favour with his club that he was waived late in the season and saw time in the press box as a healthy scratch. His agent has stated that his first choice is to have another shot at the NHL (rather than return to Russia), so perhaps he will find a fit elsewhere on a club looking for offense and willing to overlook his defensive and soft play weak points.

6) Chris Campoli, D

Campoli had a falling out with the Chicago Blackhawks which led to his becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer. An offensively gifted average-sized blueliner, Campoli still managed 19 minutes of ice a night last year and is a solid #5 (at worst) defenseman on a good team. His defensive zone coverage may not be the best and he is on the soft side, but paired with a physical partner he could be a great value signing at this point. A warning, however, that while he could still improve having just turned 27, he shouldn't be counted on as a true powerplay quarterback, since he has shown inconsistencies in his productivity.

5) Chris Drury, C

Handed a ridiculously inflated contract by the New York Rangers (along with Scott Gomez), Drury was just bought out of the final season of his deal. His contract became a disaster when his offense trailed off after his first two seasons in New York. At this point in his career (he'll be 35 when the season begins), he should slot in as a third or fourth line center. He's a reliable vet who can play at both ends of the rink, and in the right situation may have a bit of a revival offensively if given the chance. The fact that he's a right-handed center alone - a valuable commodity - should earn him a job somewhere.

4) Colin White, D

The newest player on the UFA market as a salary cap casualty in New Jersey, White is coming off likely the worst season in his career. As a purely defensive defenseman, it isn't his 6 points in 69 games that were concerning, but rather the dip in his play is best exemplified in a drop from over 20 minutes of ice time a night in 2009-10 to under 19 minutes in 2010-11. At 6'4" and 215 lbs, White uses his body effectively and can bring a physical component to any club on a cheap short-term contract. Despite his poor play on an inconsistent Devils club, he still led the team in shorthanded time on ice per game last season by a whole 25 seconds over his closest teammate. For my money, he'd be a great pick-up to round out the Canadiens defense.

3) Cory Stillman, LW

At age 37, Stillman is also nearing the end of a long and successful career, most of which was spent as a highly underrated and under-appreciated journeyman winger. To his credit, wherever Stillman has played, he has been productive, though he was limited to 39 points last season (BUT he spent most of it on a poor Florida Panthers team, putting up 16 points in the final 21 games after being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes). A bit on the soft side, his offensive instinct and playmaking ability is undeniable, and he is likely just waiting for the "right" offer before deciding where to continue his career. He will bring his new team a wealth of experience, having won Stanley Cups in back to back seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Hurricanes, notching 26 points in 25 playoff games in 05-06 with the Canes.

2) Bryan McCabe, D

After numerous teams were interested in his services at the trade deadline, it is a bit of a mystery that Bryan McCabe remains unsigned. Perhaps his salary expectations were too high after a disappointing 6 points and -1 in 19 contests after joining the New York Rangers last season. What he lacks defensively he makes up for with a booming pointshot, and so if Sheldon Souray can find an NHL spot, there is no reason McCabe can't as well. He's a good vet who averaged over 19 minutes last year and would be best playing with a mobile defensive d-man at even strength, plus on a top powerplay.

1) Scott Hannan, D

Hannan is a very similar player to Colin White, slightly less physical and smaller but more mobile as a result. Like White, he has seen better days at the NHL level, never developing into the player the San Jose Sharks had initially hoped for after leaving for Colorado. He still did play close to 20 minutes a night last year, including 2:40 per game shorthanded, and at age 32 should still have some mileage left in the tank. Another alternative for a player I'd love to see Montreal pick-up with their remaining cap and roster space to play on a bottom pairing with a youngster (where he'd be a better fit than the weaker defensively Jaroslav Spacek).

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