Best of the rest: NHL’s top 10 FAs available

Damien Brunner impressed during his rookie year with the Detroit Red Wings.
September 12, 2013, 3:40 PM

NHL training camps are set to open this week, and yet there is some valuable talent still kicking around the free-agent market.

We take a look at the best players who remain unsigned and the latest buzz (or lack thereof) surrounding them. Here are the best of remaining free agents:

1. Damien Brunner. Carrying over his Swiss-league chemistry with Henrik Zetterberg to the Red Wings, Brunner scored 26 points in 44 games as an NHL rookie. The 27-year-old added another nine points in the Wings’ two-round playoff run. Not bad for a rookie making $1.35 million (prorated). Now he wants a raise and a new sweater. Brunner’s agent, Neil Sheehy, has said his client is willing to wait as long as it takes to find the right NHL deal. Sheehy told a Swiss newspaper that NHL teams are interested, and now that Grabovski is off the market, expect Brunner to find a home before camp opens. It’s been rumoured Brunner is seeking a multi-year deal worth more than $3 million per season.

According to reports from overseas, Brunner may sign a temporary contract with HC Zug, his former pro club in his native Swiss League, but his desire is still to land an NHL deal. Detroit writer Helene St. James linked three teams to the UFA this week:

2. Tim Thomas. I know, he’s kinda nuts, definitely rusty, and has the potential to give a PR staff night terrors. Still, the 39-year-old reeled off 35 wins in each of his last two active seasons and hasn’t had a season with fewer than five shutouts since 2007-08, when he had three. Thomas is a competitor, and if a club has the guts to take a chance on him, he could still be a top-10 starter in the league. With Thomas failing to get an invite to Team USA’s Olympic camp — Sochi dreams being his main impetus for a return — things didn’t look optimistic until Tuesday, when his agent said that Thomas is speaking with multiple teams. Thomas — surprise, surprise — doesn’t want to be a backup, though. He has been offered a tryout with the Florida Panthers.

3. Brenden Morrow. A former Stars captain, and a great rental for the Penguins down the stretch — 19 points in 15 regular-season games is good value — Morrow will add nicely to his new team’s leadership and grit. At one point Detroit expressed interested in Morrow, but that seems to have waned. Morrow’s camp reached out to the Montreal Canadiens, but there is no word yet if the Habs are considering signing the veteran. Morrow has, however, been in talks with the Carolina Hurricanes. And the Philadelphia Flyers are looking to invite some veterans to camp. Could Morrow be one?

4. Ilya Bryzgalov. Were he not such a controversial cosmonaut, the Bryz would top this list rather easily. Lost amongst his on-camera snaps and alleged naps are some solid stats. On a Flyers team that lost so many of its best defenders to injury, Bryzgalov was a workhorse. In 40 games played for a non-playoff team, he earned points in 22 of them. True, his GAA ballooned to 2.79, but he’s only 33. A fresh start behind a more defensively sound squad could be recipe for a resurgence. “He’s a great goaltender,” says Philly netminder Steve Mason. “It’s only a matter of time before he finds a new spot.” Bryzgalov was last seen training in Karlstad, Sweden, with Farjestads BK. There is little buzz of NHL interest.

5. Brad Boyes. The 31-year-old centre enjoyed a comeback season in 2013, leaving stay-at-home St. Louis and flourishing with the New York Islanders. We’re slightly surprised the Isles haven’t made more of an effort to re-sign him, but with middle men in such high demand, Boyes should land somewhere soon. On the right line, he still has 60-point potential.

Although it was reported last week that Boyes could be invited back to the Islanders’ training camp, the forward received a tryout with the Florida Panthers:

6. Ryan Whitney. The UFA crop is weakest at defence. Case in point: A frequent healthy scratch on the blue-liner-deficient Edmonton Oilers tops our rankings. Whitney suffered a bum rap this season, though, and the 30-year-old is deserving of a refresh. Not only can he contribute offensively, but under the right system, we could see him return to the plus-13 player he was in 2010-11.

The St. Louis Blues, who are still working to lock up RFA Alex Pietrangelo, have inked Whitney to a professional tryout offer in advance of training camp this week.

7. Mason Raymond. The former Vancouver Canucks winger has yet to be offered big bucks on the open market. Still, Raymond is a solid two-way forward who was more productive points-per-game-wise in 2012-13 than he was in the previous two seasons. Raymond, who could flourish with the right linemates, has landed a PTO with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

8. Vinny Prospal. Most recently a member of the Blue Jackets, Prospal scored more points (30) in 2012-13 than any remaining UFA, save Boyes (35). The 38-year-old Czech won’t return to his 20-goal pace, but he could be an affordable depth addition. His last deal was a one-year pact for $2.5 million. Expect a pay cut.

9. Hal Gill. He may be 38 years old and recently bought out by the Nashville Predators, but it’s tough to believe Gill, who stands taller than two metres without skates, can’t help out someone’s blue line — especially after he dedicated himself to training this summer, even subjecting his old muscles to keeping up with the kids at BioSteel Camp.

“I find the older I get the more intelligent I get – not off the ice, but on the ice,” Gill told the Globe and Mail. “I feel like if you can read the play, it’s a skill game, it’s a fast game, but it’s still a thinking man’s game. To be honest with you, I feel better than I ever have.”

Gill received an invite to try out for the Philadelphia Flyers, a team in need of defensive help.

10. Simon Gagne. Rebounding from injury, Gagne was reunited with the Philadelphia Flyers last season after winning a Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings. The 33-year-old had 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 27 games for Philly, but Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said this week that the team will look for a younger body to fill his role. Gagne can’t command anything beyond a one-year contract, but could contribute on a third line and/or second-unit power play for relatively cheap. Gagne’s name was linked to the Montreal Canadiens Thursday as a potential tryout candidate.

Honourable mentions

Forwards: Peter Mueller (signed in Switzerland), Steve Sullivan, Kyle Wellwood (signed in Switzerland), Milan Hejduk

Defencemen: Tom Gilbert, Ian White (PTO with Jets), Wade Redden

Goaltenders: Jose Theodore (turned down PTO with Panthers), Johan Hedberg (PTO with Rangers)

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