The great hockey flea market opens at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
With not a whole lot of high end talent available, we expect that desperate teams are going to overpay for the likes of Kevin Shattenkirk and Alexander Radulov.
There are lots of very familiar names who were big time free agents 10 years ago, like Joe Thornton, Ryan Miller, Patrick Marleau and Jarome Iginla.
We spoke about non-playoff team’s needs come the trading bell early Saturday morning and with little to choose from in the premium category, we turn our gaze to the bargain bin.
Frugal teams and those looking to fill bottom six forward, third pair defence and back-up goaltending will find some really good deals.
Here are 15 good UFA’s who were all paid $1 million or less in 2016-17, have good value and won’t command big bucks to sign.
15. Lauri Korpikoski, LW – Columbus Blue Jackets
Teams looking for veteran help down the left side should inquire about Finnish winger Korpikoski. He was playing very well with a bad Dallas team (20 points in 60 games, +5), when the Blue Jackets traded for him at the deadline. He didn’t fit in well with John Tortorella’s system in nine games, as his ice time dipped from an average of 13:02 with Big D to just over eight minutes with the Jackets. A former first round pick of the New York Rangers, 19th overall in 2004, also didn’t make an appearance in the playoffs for Columbus. The “Korpedo” is an adept two-way forward who has averaged about a point every three games in his career (201 points in 609 games) and would be a low-cost, low-risk addition to a team looking for defensive-minded depth.
14. Paul Postma, D – Winnipeg Jets
With eight defencemen already signed and five of them younger than Paul Postma (28), the writing is on the wall for the Red Deer, ALTA, native. Not that the former seventh round pick of the Atlanta Thrashers isn’t worthy of a new deal, it’s just a numbers game. He made $925,000 last season on the last year of a two-year deal and would be a worthy addition to any team needing a solid third-pair guy with some offensive upside. Postma had a career year, playing in 65 games and registering a goal and 13 assists along with a +3 rating. His totals are more impressive when considering the fact all his points came even strength and he played a career low 10:51 per game. Postma is also a coveted right shot and would be a nice, steady pick-up.
13. Brian Flynn, C/RW – Montreal Canadiens
The numbers game in Montreal says Brian Flynn, along with trade deadline acquisition Dwight King, won’t be back in the fold for the 2017-18 season. Also acquired via the deadline in 2015, Flynn played 116 games with the Habs, scoring 10 goals and 10 assists in a checking role. He was -1, averaged 11:40 in ice time and won 284 of 524 face-offs (54.2 percent). Undrafted out of the University of Maine, Flynn established himself as a checking forward with Buffalo and has 61 points in 275 total games. He also contributed a goal and two assists in seven playoff games for the Canadiens. Flynn made a cap friendly $950,000 a year on a two-year pact with Montreal and at 28 still has some game left.
12. Brad Hunt, D – Nashville Predators
A little on the small side at 5’9″, defenceman Brad Hunt is nonetheless a puck-moving defenceman who would fit in well as depth defender and be able to contribute on a second powerplay unit. In the minor leagues, he averaged 0.73 points per game in 278 AHL contests (209 total) and was very productive in nine games with St. Louis last season. He had five points in nine games before the Predators scooped him up on waivers. He plays a robust style for a shorter player and has nine points in 33 career NHL games. The 28-year-old native of Maple Ridge, B.C. is another undrafted NCAA player (four years at Bemidji State University) who made $600,000 last season.
11. Dennis Rasmussen, C – Chicago Blackhawks
Vasteras, Sweden native Rasmussen is a late bloomer who caught on with the Chicago Blackhawks after six years playing in Sweden’s tier 2 and elite league with Vasteras IK and Vaxjo HC. The Hawks signed him in 2014 and he put in yeoman’s work with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs learning the North American game, scoring 43 points and posting a +8 in 98 games. He was called up midway through the 2015-16 season and scored four goals, five assists and registered a +9 in 44 games, mostly in a fourth-line center role. He stuck for good in 2016-17, inking a reasonable one-year, $575,000 contract. He wasn’t as productive, with eight points and slipped to -4 despite an increase in ice time from 9:10 to 11:50. He won 45.6 percent of his draws in 112 games and a team needing a defensively aware fourth-line pivot could get him for league minimum.
10. Curtis McElhinney, G – Toronto Maple Leafs
The market for veteran back-up goalies in this year’s free agent class is thin but some teams could do worse than sign McElhinney as a second, or even third netminder. What sets him apart is his relative low cost ($800,000) and his overall experience (168 games). He won’t be confused with Jacques Plante, but the 34-year-old NCAA product and sixth round pick in 2002 (176th overall to Calgary) is a solid choice as a thrifty back-up. He got in 14 games with Toronto after being claimed on waivers last season, posting a 6-7 record with a .914 save percentage, 2.85 goals against average and a shutout. Expect the Leafs to make an offer, among other clubs.
9. Nikita Nesterov, D – Montreal Canadiens
Montreal will probably put their free agent defence money on UFA Andrei Markov, as they haven’t tendered Nesterov, who came to the Habs in a trade midway through the 2016-17 campaign. The Chelyabinsk, Russia born defenceman was drafted in the fifth round by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011 (148th overall) and spent the next two seasons with his hometown Traktor of the KHL before coming to North America. An apprenticeship with the Syracuse Crunch for 86 games went well and he earned a call-up during the 2014-15 season. A puck-mover who also played on the Lightning’s powerplay scored 28 points (eight with the man advantage) in 119 games before going to Montreal. In 13 games with the Canadiens, he scored a goal and four assists and was +3. At $725,000 on his last contract, Nesterov, 24, was a bargain and can be again.
8. Christian Folin, D – Minnesota Wild
The Wild only have four defencemen under contract for the 2017-18 season and we find it kind of strange they didn’t qualify the inexpensive right shooting defenceman Folin. The undrafted native of Gothenburg, Sweden played 51 games last season Minny and recorded eight points and a +10 in 51 games. Folin logged just under 15 minutes per game and had 69 hits and 59 blocked shots. For his career with the Wild, the graduate of UMass-Lowell of Hockey East has played in 118 games, with 23 points and an overall +15 rating. The Wild have indicated they would still like to re-sign him, but with right shots from the point at a premium, he would do well to dip his toes into the free agent waters. He was paid $725,000 in 2016-17.
7. Chris VandeVelde, C/LW – Philadelphia Flyers
It took him a while, but former University of North Dakota center/left winger Chris VandeVelde finally established himself as an everyday NHLer the last three seasons. After being drafted in the fourth round, 97th overall, by Edmonton in 2005, the 30-year-old Minnesota native spent the majority of his time in the minors (236 games to 46 NHL games) between the latter stage of the 2009-10 season and the beginning of the 2014-15 season with Philadelphia. In 250 games with the Flyers, most coming in the last three campaigns, VandeVelde had 45 points, 398 hits and 172 blocked shots. VandeVelde signed a two-year, $1.425 million contract in 2015 and would be a cheap depth pick-up in a fourth line role.
6. Adam Clendening, D – New York Rangers
The Rangers just extended Brendan Smith and will have to sign Brady Skjei in 2018, making Adam Clendening expendable this year. Again, though, Clendening is a right shot who other teams might covet when the clock ticks past midnight Saturday. The 6’0″ 190 lb. former second round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks enjoyed his longest and most productive stint in the NHL with the Rangers this past season, recording 11 points in 31 games and a +3 rating. A product of the program at Boston University, Clendening isn’t overly physical, however, his possession metrics in just under 16 minutes average ice time were excellent at 56.7 Corsi For and 100.3 PDO. Still just 24, Clendening was paid $600,000 on a one-year contract in 2016-17.
5. Alex Chiasson, RW – Calgary Flames
Chiasson did a lot with very little in 2016-17, scoring 12 goals and 12 assists in 81 games for Calgary, despite playing just 13:23 average minutes per game. Thus, the Calgary Flames leaving him to free agency might be a bit of a mistake, given they have only nine forwards under contract, including aging vets Kris Versteeg (31) and Matt Stajan (33). Reasonable to expect, then, that someone will roll the dice on Chiasson, 26, on a cap-friendly contract come Saturday or a day soon after. The Montreal native plays a robust style and has registered 355 hits in 320 NHL games. In total, the big right winger has 50 goals and 56 assists in those 320 contests. Chiasson made just $800,000 last year and would definitely fit in the fourth-line plans of a lot of teams.
4. Beau Bennett, RW – New Jersey Devils
His career may not have turned out the way he thought it would after being drafted in the first round, 20th overall by Pittsburgh in 2010, however, Beau Bennett is still a capable NHLer. He had his longest foray into the big league since debuting with the Penguins in 2012, playing in 65 games with the Devils. The California born right winger scored eight goals and 11 assists in a bottom six role, as well as delivering 76 body checks. He’s missed a lot of action due to injuries in the past, but Bennett would fit in well as a cheap option for a club needing decent two-way play with an occasional scoring touch. He made $725,000 on a one-year pact with New Jersey in 2016-17.
3. Dominic Moore, C – Boston Bruins
Dominic Moore is this generation’s version of Gary “Suitcase” Smith. Like the former well-traveled goalie (he played with eight different clubs between 1965 and 1977), the surprisingly durable Moore has worn the jerseys of 10 different teams since the 2003-04 season. And, the fact the Bruins have to sign youngsters David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner and Tim Schaller, it’s likely Moore might don the threads of an 11th team. He is a go-to face-off artist who played all 82 games last season, averaging 12:57 in ice time. He scored 11 goals and added 14 assists and was +2 for the Bruins. On the dot, Moore won 54.6 percent of his draws, or 357 of 854. The Thornhill, Ontario born pivot has never made more than $1.5 million per season in his career and worked for $900,000 in 2016-17.
2. Radim Vrbata, RW – Arizona Coyotes
For a cap hit of just $1 million last season, the Coyotes cashed in huge on 36-year-old veteran Radim Vrbata. The slick right winger tallied 20 times and added 35 assists in 81 games. A veteran of 1,015 games, more than half with the ‘Yotes, Vrbata will have his tires kicked aplenty after midnight Saturday. At his age, he could still be a top six forward on some teams, however, we feel he would be better served as a third liner on a contending team, the likes of which he hasn’t played for in his lengthy career. He won’t be getting any awards for robust play (he’s been a multiple Lady Byng candidate) but the shifty Czech can score and make plays. If he can be enticed to a short-term deal at $1 million or a little more, he’ll be a steal.
1. Sam Gagner, C – Columbus Blue Jackets
Needless to say, Sam Gagner was the steal of the 2016 free agent pool, scoring 50 points for Columbus in a renaissance season, all for the low, low price tag of $650,000. It’s hard to believe he’s still just 27, since it seems like forever ago that he was a highly regard first round pick for Edmonton in 2007 (sixth overall). After averaging 42 points per season (his previous high was 49 with Edmonton in 2007-08) until the 2014-15 campaign with Arizona, Gagner fell to 16 points in 53 games with Philadelphia in 2015-16 and looked good as done in the NHL. But, the Blue Jackets took a flyer on him and he responded with his best statistical season, scoring 18 times and adding 32 assists. Now, it remains to be seen what a new team (or maybe the Jackets still) will get from Gagner this year, since he’ll at least double his salary of a year ago.