The hockey world has taken a collective breather for about a week since the Washington Capitals won that long awaited Stanley Cup.
Good thing, because the next couple of weeks will be hectic.
The draft, which may or may not boost the fortunes of the also-rans — and maybe even the contenders — goes this Friday (round 1) and Saturday (rounds 2-7) at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Once the kids are picked, NHL free agency starts in earnest on July 1.
Some free agents may find themselves part of draft day trades and the man on everyone’s mind right now is John Tavares, the biggest name out there.
With the financial (and on-ice) success of the Vegas Golden Knights, the salary cap is projected to rise to $80 million. That will give a fair number of teams enough juice to try and entice a bigger name their way. However, many more teams are cap-crunched and will have to bargain shop to stay competitive.
And there are plenty of players under 30 (or just over it), some with NHL experience, who can be had on the cheap on or before July 1. Here are 20, in no particular order, with their last team listed.
20. Matthew Peca, C – Tampa Bay Lightning
He’s not the biggest guy, or anywhere near the biggest name, but Matthew Peca is a playmaker who has drawn comparison to Vegas’ Jonathan Marchessault. The 5’8″ pivot has scored at every level, from NCAA Quinnipiac (143 points in 157 games) to the AHL Syracuse Crunch (134 points in 204 games) to the Bolts (seven points in 20 games). It would appear, then, that like Marchessault, all Peca needs is a fresh start and some ice time to get going. Marchessault, also height challenged, had 19 points in his first 49 NHL games before getting it going the last two years. Peca, who just turned 25 recently, made the minimum this past season at $650,000 and parlayed a 10-game call-up into scoring two goals and adding three helpers. He was solid in six AHL playoff games, logging nine points. He’d be a great fourth-line — maybe even a third — addition who will contribute offensively.
19. Scott Wedgewood, G – Los Angeles Kings
It really hurt Scott Wedgewood’s value playing with the deplorable Coyotes this past season, before getting dealt to the Los Angeles Kings at the deadline. While it did afford the 25-year-old veteran his longest stint (20 games) in the NHL, the fact he had a defensively inept squad in front of him did nothing for his game. The ‘Yotes gave up an average 32.2 shots against per game and the six different netminders they utilized in 2017-18 paid the price. Wedgewood posted a 5-9-4 record in those 20 games with Arizona, logging a .893 save percentage, a shutout and 3.45 goals against average. He, like the other five goalies, was hung out to dry on too many occasions. For instance, in a 3-2 OT loss to eventual champion Washington last November, Wedgewood stopped 37 of 40 shots. He repeated that performance against finalist Vegas in December, allowing just three goals on 45 shots in another 3-2 overtime defeat. He made the $650,000 minimum and would provide a good second/third-string option on a lot of teams.
18. Brian Gibbons, LW – New Jersey Devils
While we are still on the topic of undersized, under-utilized players with potential, we might as well include 30-year-old winger Brian Gibbons. A 5’8″ dynamo at Boston College, Gibbons scored 164 points in 160 NCAA games, but went undrafted. Pittsburgh picked him up as a free agent and after parts of three seasons with Wilkes-Barre he tallied 17 points in 41 games with the Penguins in 2013-14 and another three points in eight playoff games. Gibbons bounced around after that season, finding himself in the AHL for most of the next three seasons. Last summer he signed a PTO with the Devils that paid him $650,00 and he rewarded New Jersey with 26 points (12 goals) and a +10 in 59 games. He chipped in two goals in 10 games during the playoffs, too. There has to be a team needing a third-fourth line winger with scoring touch.
17. Christopher Gibson, G – New York Islanders
Finnish netminder Gibson must have been near shell-shocked in his eight-game sojourn with Islanders this past season. The former second round pick of the Los Angeles Kings was baptized by fire in just his second stint in the NHL, facing an average 35.5 shots per game. The first match of his late season eight-game call-up was a doozy, as Gibson faced a 50-shot barrage from the Pittsburgh Penguins on Mar. 3. He allowed just three goals in a 3-2 overtime defeat. Eight days later he stopped a thunderous 50 of 52 to backstop the Isles to a 5-2 victory over Calgary. He was the first Islanders’ rookie since Billy Smith to stop 50 or more shots in a game (Smith made 55 in 1972). Gibson finished the stint with a 2-3-2 record, .908 save percentage and 3.65 goals against average. He also made league minimum in 2017-18.
16. Tyler Wotherspoon, D – Calgary Flames
Former second round pick Tyler Wotherspoon’s nickname must be “yo-yo.” Since being drafted 57th overall by the Flames in 2011 and making his pro debut in 2013, he has bounced up and down between the AHL and the NHL just about every season. Between 2013-14 and 2016-17 the two-way rearguard played in 218 AHL games with Calgary’s AHL affiliate, while also seeing action in 30 NHL contests, recording five assists. This past season, the former member of Canada’s entry at the 2013 World Junior Championships stayed permanently with the Stockton Heat and had his finest pro season yet. The 6’2″, 201 lb. defenceman tallied career highs in goals (7) and assists (30), while also registering a +19 in 67 games. Wotherspoon, 25, was on a two-way contract at $650,000 in 2017-18.
15. Derek Grant, C – Anaheim Ducks
It took him eight seasons and five NHL clubs — along with three AHL teams — but Derek Grant finally put it all together. Drafted 119th overall by Ottawa in 2008, the 28-year-old center spent much of his first six seasons in the minors, occupying mostly taxi squad positions with Ottawa, Calgary, Buffalo and Nashville, recording seven assists in 86 games. During last year’s free agency period, the Ducks took a gamble on Grant, signing him to a one-way, one-year, $650,000 contract. He rewarded them handsomely as a fourth-liner, scoring 12 goals and 12 assists in 66 games, with a +3. Put into better perspective, Grant scored those dozen markers on just 65 shots, while playing just over 11 minutes average per game. He was also technically proficient on the face-off dot, winning 317 of 597 draws (53.1 percent).
14. Justin Falk, D – Buffalo Sabres
Veteran defenceman Justin Falk is a gamer, just ask former Buffalo Sabres’ teammate Evander Kane. During yet another dismal Sabres’ campaign, the latter was verbally dressed down by Falk during a mid-season practice. Falk, none too pleased with Kane’s selfish ways prior to a trade to San Jose, gave the star forward an earful. Like a good vet, though, he downplayed it with the media afterward. The former fourth round pick of the Minnesota Wild and native of Snowflake, Manitoba is a stay-at-home type with good size at 6’5″, 223 lbs. He has 33 points in 269 career games and is the prototypical, non-flashy stay-at-home defender who might do better in different surroundings. With a mediocre Sabres team Falk had a goal and an assist in 46 games and was -16 while playing just over 16 minutes per contest. He was on the second of two one-year deals that paid him $650,000.
13. Alex Chiasson, RW – Washington Capitals
With more high profile free agents like John Carlson and Michal Kempny to re-sign, a serviceable NHLer like Alex Chiasson will probably be an afterthought on July 1. The now defending champions Washington Capitals will have to open the vault just to keep Carlson, never mind the surprising Kempny, so big right winger Chiasson may find himself with his fourth different team in four seasons — and fifth overall since debuting with Dallas in 2013. The Montreal native and former Boston University star played to his ability in 2017-18, scoring 18 points (9 goals) in 61 games and logging a +1. He chipped in a goal and an assist in 16 games during the playoffs too. While he will get a Stanley Cup ring, he was a healthy scratch during the final series with Vegas. Overall, the 27-year-old veteran has played in 381 games, recording 124 points. He’d be a fairly solid addition to someone’s bottom six.
12. Austin Czarnik, C – Boston Bruins
So many free agents, so little money. The Boston Bruins have 17 restricted and unrestricted free agents to consider re-signing, but have projected cap space of just under $9 million. Which means an up-and-coming, if smallish guy like Czarnik might probably be employed elsewhere in 2018-19. A free agent out of Miami University (Ohio), Detroit native Czarnik has been a big scorer in the AHL, registering 155 points in 157 games with Providence since 2014. He’s made small strides during two different promotions to the big club, scoring five goals and 12 assists in 59 games. Czarnik had his best season as a pro in Providence this season, scoring 69 points in 64 games, while adding another four assists in 10 NHL contests. He capped off an overall decent year with six points in four AHL playoff games. We think he could use a change of address, which might jump start his fledgling career.
11. Harri Sateri, G – Florida Panthers
His path the NHL wasn’t gilded, however, when injuries ravaged full-time netminders Roberto Luongo and James Reimer, Finn Harri Sateri filled in admirably. Drafted 106th overall by San Jose in 2008, Sateri would never see the ice with the Sharks, playing four season in the AHL with Worcester and three with Podolsk Vityaz of the KHL before signing a free agent deal with Florida last summer. Pressed into action in January, the 28-year-old goalie lost his first three starts, giving up a collective 14 goals. But, he then won his next four, surrendering just six goals. Overall, in his first nine NHL games (one in relief), Sateri posted a 4-4 record, .911 save percentage and 2.92 goals against average. With Florida’s affiliate in Springfield, the Toijala, Finland native was 14-9-1, with four shutouts and a 2.30 GAA. Both Luongo and Reimer are under contract until at least 2021, so Sateri might do well to sign elsewhere for a shot at a back-up job.
10. Connor Brickley, C – Florida Panthers
It may not be coincidental, but it seems that the Cats give players an opportunity, only to see them shine elsewhere. Two recent examples of that were former forwards Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault, who finished first and second, respectively in playoff scoring for the surprising Vegas Golden Knights. While he doesn’t have as much upside as those former Panthers, Brickley is a dogged forward he contributes in the bottom six in different ways. He had four goals and eight assists in 44 games with Florida this past season, while seeing the ice for just under 12 minutes per game. He wasn’t afraid of the heavy going, either, dishing out 82 hits and engaging in a lively scrap with Dallas Stars’ Brett Ritchie during a game this past season. Overall, the 26-year-old former second round pick is the kind of bottom six meat-and-potatoes guy who some teams would do well to sign short term.
9. Tim Schaller, C – Boston Bruins
As we said above, the Bruins have little money to spend and a slew of free agents to ink to new pacts. One they can ill afford to lose is emerging talent Tim Schaller. Unsigned out of Providence College, Schaller debuted with Buffalo during the 2014-15 season and impressed the Bruins enough later to sign him to a free agent deal. The Merrimack, NH born Schaller had his most complete NHL season in 2017-18, playing all 82 games, mostly on the fourth line. The 6’2″ pivot had career highs in goals (12), including three shorthanded markers, as well as assists (10). Schaller averaged just over 13 minutes of ice time per game, won 45.8 percent of his face-offs and recorded 132 hits. Schaller chipped in two assists in 11 playoff games and was +3 overall. He was part of the one of the most effective fourth lines in hockey this season and will demand a raise from $775,000 that he earned in 2017-18.
8. Greg Pateryn, D – Dallas Stars
Veteran rearguard Greg Pateryn is one tough hombre. Just ask former teammate Andrew Shaw, who had an altercation with Pateryn during a game between the latter in a game this past season. Shaw absolutely leveled the Stars’ Pateryn with a clean hit, but Pateryn, who maybe thought it was a little too high, got up immediately and gave Shaw a couple of shots to the face. It was part and parcel of the former fifth round (128th overall by Toronto in 2008) pick’s best season yet in the NHL. He tallied a career high 13 points in 73 games, his most in a season since debuting in 2013 with Montreal. The rugged stay-at-home defenceman also registered a +6, 155 hits, 148 blocked shots and 50 penalty minutes. He’ll be 28 on June 20 and given his breakout season, there could be a slew of teams looking to add a solid second/third-pair rearguard like Pateryn. He made $850,000 last year and won’t break the bank for inquiring squads.
7. Chris Wideman, D – Ottawa Senators
It was a trying year for emerging two-way defenceman Wideman in 2017-18. He tore a hamstring this past season, which derailed a good start where he had eight points (three goals) in 16 games and was +5. Previous to that the former fourth round (100th overall) draft pick had played 140 games with the Sens over two seasons, scoring 11 goals and adding 19 assists, along with an overall +11. Wideman has meshed fairly seamlessly into the line-up after three seasons in the minors and has done the most with the average 13:43 of ice time he has collectively been allotted per game so far. Wideman needed surgery to repair that torn hamstring and was just very recently cleared medically to resume skating. If the Sens, who have a big decision to make on D Erik Karlsson, don’t re-sign Wideman, he is a very attractive third-pair defender who can contribute offensively.
6. Christian Folin, D – Los Angeles Kings
The L.A. Kings found out this season that former Minnesota Wild defenceman Christian Folin can be invaluable. Undrafted, Folin skated in 118 games with the Wild after they signed him to a free agent prior to the 2013-14 season. The big right-hand shooting native of Gothenburg, Sweden didn’t set the world on fire offensively with 23 points in those games, but he didn’t hurt them either, logging an overall +15. He inked a one-year deal with the Kings prior to the 2017-18 campaign and in 65 games he had 13 points (a career high), along with 30 penalty minutes, 167 hits and 106 blocked shots. The 6’3″, 200 lb. Folin originally cut his teeth on North American hockey, coming over from Sweden as a teenager and eventually becoming a pretty good player with UMass-Lowell of the NCAA. He should get a few offers come July 1.
5. Chris Stewart, RW – Calgary Flames
The last few years have been a rollercoaster ride for veteran right winger Chris Stewart. He’s played on and off for four different clubs between 2014-15 and 2017-18, including stops in Buffalo, Minnesota, Anaheim, Minnesota again and then finally Calgary to close out the 17-18 campaign. Through it all, the rugged Toronto native and former first round pick of the Colorado Avalanche (18th overall, 2006), has been able to produce despite being given third and fourth line ice time. In fact, in 47 games with Minnesota this past year, he scored nine goals and added four assists, while logging just under 11 minutes of ice on average. He then had three points in seven games with Calgary, in about the same amount of duty. Overall, the long-time NHLer, who is still just 30, has tallied 321 points, 729 penalty minutes and 784 hits in 652 NHL games. He would be a pretty good depth signing.
4. J.T. Brown, RW – Anaheim Ducks
An energy player with some offensive upside is usually very highly sought after by many a NHL GM. J.T. Brown, who enjoyed 286 games with Tampa Bay after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011 is one of those unsung heroes. A star at Minnesota-Duluth of the NCAA, Brown only played 64 games in the minors before making the Lightning for good in 2013. Over the course of five seasons, the Burnsville, MN born Brown scored 19 goals and added 42 assists along with a -1 rating. The Lightning, however, put him on waivers mid-way through the 2017-18 season and he was scooped up by Anaheim. He wasn’t given too much ice time by the Ducks, chipping in a goal and two assists in 23 games, in under nine minutes average ice time. He won’t cost a ton to sign, guaranteed and his experienced two-way play would be a boon to a few teams.
3. Nick Holden, D – Boston Bruins
Boston has seven of its eight top defencemen under contract for 2018-19, which most certainly means Nick Holden will be employed elsewhere in a couple of weeks. Of those seven, too, four are UFA or RFA next year, including the ageless Zdeno Chara, Adam McQuaid, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. The Bruins brought Holden in to bolster their defence at the trade deadline, but he wasn’t as effective as some thought he would be. After scoring a career high 34 points in 2016-17 and logging a +13, Holden slipped to just 17 points this past season and a -5. He started just two playoff games, registering an assist and a +1. Even though it was a bit of a tumultuous year, Holden has the size (6’4″ 214 lbs.) and the hands to make a difference as a second or third pair man. He made $1.65 million last year and could probably be had for same or a bit more.
2. John Moore, D – New Jersey Devils
Enigmatic doesn’t even begin to define former first round pick Moore. Blessed with size and scoring ability (he had 12 goals in 63 games during the 2016-17 season) Moore has only shown flashes of his talents since debuting with Columbus in 2011. Considered a two-way talent who defers to the defensive side, the 27-year-old has actually been his best on the other side of the ice in the last three campaigns in Jersey. He tallied 59 of his career 99 points in 217 games with the Devils and logged just under 20 minutes of playing time per game. This past season he had 18 points in a career high 81 games, along with a +3 and a willingness to get more involved physically, throwing 135 hits and blocking 105 shots. The Devils have the cap space to bring him back and they only have two rearguards to sign, Moore and Steven Santini. He made $1.67 million last year and may command a decent boost. A few teams will be in play for his services.
1. Jay Beagle, C – Washington Capitals
Ask anyone who might have the best fourth line in hockey and the answer might be Washington. Now, the argument can be made for a few other squads, but the Caps rode the energy of Beagle (two goals and eight points, +7 in 23 playoff games), rookie Chandler Stephenson (two goals, seven points) and Devante Smith-Pelly (seven goals, eight points) all the way to their first Stanley Cup. The engine that drove that dynamic trio, Beagle worked the corners hard and won an astounding 60.1 percent of his face-offs (184 of 306). At 32, he’s not quite over the hill and given his outstanding two way instincts and that fresh Stanley Cup ring, it might behoove the Capitals to re-sign him. However, Washington has to re-sign or think of re-upping younger guys like Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson, John Carlson and Madison Bowey.