The NHL’s free-agent market in 2014 is weak compared to recent summers.
There’s no franchise cornerstone player available, which means that most teams hoping to add first-line or top-pairing players probably will have to explore the trade market.
With that said, it shouldn’t be too difficult for general managers to add depth to their bottom two lines and 5th/6th defensemen spots through free agency.
Let’s take a look at the best players available at each position.
1) Paul Stastny
Stastny is the only No. 1 center in the prime of his career available in this year’s UFA class. He’s coming off a strong bounce-back season in which he tallied 60 points (25 goals, 35 assists) in 71 games (including 10 points in seven playoff games). He’s a quality goal scorer, an excellent playmaker and a force on the power play. He also adds size, strength and experience to the lineup.
The best option for Stastny is to remain in Colorado, where he can play alongside some of the best young forwards in the league, a group that includes Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and Calder Trophy winner Nathan MacKinnon.
Best Fits: Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Colorado
2) Mikhail Grabovski
Grabovski is a hard-working two-way center who excels on faceoffs, plays well defensively and can provide about 50 points of offense. He’s not a legitimate No. 1 center, but the 30-year-old veteran would be a fantastic addition to a contending team in need of a second- or third-line center. Grabovski also is a quality puck-possession player.
Best Fits: Washington, Chicago, Nashville, St. Louis, Carolina
3) Dave Bolland
Injuries derailed Bolland’s first season in Toronto, as he missed 59 games. When healthy, the veteran center is a good faceoff man, a solid defensive player and someone who brings fantastic playoff experience and leadership as a two-time Stanley Cup champion. He could also provide around 30-40 points in a full season.
Best Fits: Toronto, Nashville, St. Louis, Anaheim, Detroit, Tampa Bay
4) Brad Richards
Richards was bought out by the New York Rangers after two underwhelming seasons on Broadway. With that said, Richards still is a quality offensive player capable of tallying around 50 points in a full season and providing excellent leadership as a former captain. He’s also a former Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup winner, which makes him a great target for a team on the cusp of contending for a championship.
Best Fits: St. Louis, Tampa Bay, New York Islanders, Nashville, Dallas
5) Brian Boyle
A few other free-agent centers are more offensively gifted than Boyle (including Olli Jokinen and David Legwand), but the Hingham, Mass., native plays an important role as a penalty killing forward who blocks shots and brings size/physicality to all three zones. Boyle also has tons of playoff experience and is capable of filling a third or fourth line role. His quality performance in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs with the New York Rangers should help him land a multi-year deal.
Best Fits: Nashville, Edmonton, Detroit, Buffalo, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal
1) Thomas Vanek
Vanek has never scored fewer than 20 goals in his nine-year career and he’s an excellent skater, power-play performer and playmaker. He also brings great speed to the ice. The concern about Vanek is his lackluster performances in the playoffs, specifically in 2013-14 when he was awful for the Montreal Canadiens in their Eastern Conference final series against the New York Rangers.
But as the best offensive winger on the market, Vanek is going to receive a gigantic contract anyway.
Best Fits: Minnesota, New York Islanders, Detroit, Montreal, New Jersey, Ottawa, Anaheim, Nashville
2) Mike Cammalleri
Cammalleri tallied 45 points (26 goals, 19 assists) in just 63 games last season, and is capable of fulfilling a second or third-line role on a contending team seeking scoring depth and playoff experience. His injury history is a concern, but the 33-year-old veteran still has several productive years left. He’s also a fine leader and a high-character player.
Best Fits: Boston, Los Angeles, Calgary, Minnesota, Pittsburgh
3) Matt Moulson
Moulson is a sniper, and guys with his goal-scoring credentials (four 20-plus goal seasons in the last five years) are not easy to find and very valuable. In addition to his goal scoring ability, Moulson is a quality playmaker and a threat on the power play. He’s also a high-character player and isn’t a liability defensively.
Best Fits: Minnesota, Boston, Los Angeles, Nashville, Arizona, Florida, Philadelphia, Dallas
4) Jussi Jokinen
Jokinen proved to be a valuable depth player for Pittsburgh and offers valuable versatility with his ability to provide scoring production on the wing or at center. He’s also a top-tier shootout scorer, a role that is becoming more valuable each season.
Best Fits: Pittsburgh, New York Islanders, Minnesota, Anaheim, Nashville, Montreal, Toronto
5) Milan Michalek
At the moment, it appears that Michalek will explore the free-agent market. He’s a quality goal scorer when healthy and brings a high hockey IQ and above-average speed to each shift.
Door isn't closed on an extension for Milan Michalek with #sens, but the winger is now looking elsewhere with interview window open.—
Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) June 25, 2014
Best Fits: Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis, Ottawa, Nashville, Minnesota
1) Jarome Iginla
Iginla has posted 12 straight non-lockout seasons of 30-plus goals and is still an elite power forward capable of excelling in a first-line role. He also provides power-play production, exceptional leadership and a wealth of playoff experience.
He was a great fit in Boston last season alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic. The Bruins want Iginla back, but the team’s salary cap situation has not made reaching an extension easy. With that said, the two other teams that give Iginla the best chance to win his first Stanley Cup, Los Angeles and Chicago, also have limited cap space.
Best Fits: Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago
2) Radim Vrbata
Vrbata is one of the more consistent goal scorers in the league, but he’s rarely talked about because he plays in a horrible hockey market in Phoenix. The 33-year-old veteran has posted four straight non-lockout seasons of 19-plus goals, including a career high of 35 in 2011-12. He also hit the 30 assist mark for the first time in his career last year.
Vrbata is the perfect winger for a contending team that needs scoring depth, specifically in a third-line role. He’s also capable of making a positive impact on the power play.
Best Fits: Boston, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Minnesota
3) Ales Hemsky
Hemsky usually tallies between 30-50 points and provides excellent speed. He’s a gifted playmaker who would upgrade a team’s power play and excel in a second or third-line role.
Best Fits: Ottawa, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Boston, Los Angeles, Nashville
4) Brian Gionta
Gionta still is capable of playing a second-line role, but at this stage of his career and taking into consideration his recent injury issues, a third-line spot on a contending team is the best fit for him. The veteran forward provides great leadership as a captain and could still post 40-60 points in a full season.
Best Fits: Montreal, Ottawa, New Jersey, Nashville, San Jose, Dallas
5) Daniel Alfredsson
Alfredsson proved he’s still a productive scorer by tallying 49 points in 68 games last year, but injuries late in the regular season and playoffs are a concern for a player who’s 41 years old. According to reports, he will play for Detroit next season or retire.
Best Fit: Detroit
1) Christian Ehrhoff
Ehrhoff is the newest addition to the UFA market after being bought out by the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. He led his team in ice time and tallied 33 points in 79 games last season. Ehrhoff is a top-two pairing D-man capable of quarterbacking a power play, upgrading a team’s transition game and providing consistent scoring production from the back end. He also has a wealth of playoff experience.
Ehrhoff likely will be the most sought after defenseman on the market given his two-way skill set and the fact that he’s in the prime of his career.
Best Fits: Boston, Pittsburgh, New York Islanders, San Jose, Washington, Detroit, Philadelphia
2) Anton Stralman
Stralman was one of the Rangers’ best players in their run to the Cup Final, which significantly boosted his free-agent stock. He’s a quality playmaker, a power-play threat and capable of logging 20-plus minutes against elite competition. Stralman also emerged as a really good defensive player last season, proving that he’s willing to block shots, kill penalties and excel in a shutdown role.
Best Fits: New York Rangers, San Jose, Carolina, Washington, Calgary, Edmonton, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia
3) Matt Niskanen
Niskanen is a second-pairing offensive defenseman who tallied 46 points in the regular season and added nine more in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. He’s a quality puck mover, a reliable point man on the power play and skates really well. He’s not a dominant defensive player and won’t impact games physically, but he’s not a liability against opposing teams’ top-six forwards.
At 27 years of age, much of Niskanen’s prime lies ahead. He should easily earn $5 million or more per season in his next contract.
Best Fits: New York Islanders, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Vancouver, Detroit, Dallas
4) Willie Mitchell
Injuries are a concern for any team interested in signing Mitchell, but he does provide several valuable skills. That list includes impressive defense, leadership, reliable penalty killing, physicality and Stanley Cup-winning experience. He’s the perfect defensive D-man for a team ready to make the jump to Cup-contender status.
Best Fits: San Jose, Florida, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Columbus, Washington, Carolina
5) Dan Boyle
Boyle isn’t a No. 1 defenseman anymore, but he’s still capable of quarterbacking a power play, providing valuable puck-moving skills and tallying between 35-50 points. His ability to log more than 20 minutes per game against quality competition also makes him valauble.
The issue with signing Boyle is not his skills, it’s the term likely needed to acquire him. At 35 years old, giving a long-term deal to Boyle is a risky move for any team, especially one with limited cap space.
Best Fits: New York Islanders, Dallas, Philadelphia, Detroit
1) Ryan Miller
Miller was expected to be the final piece in St. Louis’ championship puzzle when the team acquired him at last year’s trade deadline, but he performed poorly in the playoffs and will test the free-agent market for the first time. Even at 33 years old, Miller still is an upper-echelon goalie with lots of playoff experience, a good glove hand and 20-plus wins in every full season of his career. The 2010 Vezina Trophy winner is the type of netminder capable of transforming a good team into a contending team.
Best Fits: Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Minnesota
2) Jonas Hiller
Hiller won 29 games and posted five shutouts last season, and also has a .932 career postseason save percentage. His free-agent stock took a hit toward the end of last season when rookie John Gibson started over him in important games against division rivals. Hiller also wasn’t able to hold on to his job in the playoffs.
With that said, he’d still be an upgrade to at least 10 teams seeking goaltending depth.
Best Fits: Edmonton, Calgary, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Vancouver
3) Martin Brodeur
Brodeur is no longer a reliable starting goaltender, but the soon-to-be Hall of Famer would be a great backup on a contending team, especially one that has a young starter who lacks playoff experience.
Best Fits: Pittsburgh, Toronto, Minnesota, Montreal, Dallas