Ranking the NHL’s top 10 UFA forwards


Chicago Blackhawks center Antoine Vermette (80) pushes past Carolina Hurricanes right wing Alexander Semin (28) during the second period of an NHL hockey game on Monday, March 2, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)

The field is not what we’d call stellar, and the cap has risen by only about the price of a rookie dinner in Manhattan. But don’t think that will inhibit NHL general managers from overspending on July 1.

Put it this way: Does your wife continue to buy shoes, even though the closet door will barely close? Exactly. There are players here who will still make teams better — just not as much as Jonathan Toews or Anze Kopitar would if they were UFAs this summer.

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Here’s our look at the top UFA forwards available on July 1. Good, not great, but they’ll still go fast because that’s the nature of free agency.

1. Matt Beleskey
Age on July 1: 27
2014-15 Team: Anaheim Ducks
2014-15 cap hit: $1,350,000
2014-15 Numbers: 22-10-32 in 65 games; 39 PIMs; plus-13; CF60 – 58.7

His market: Anyone looking for support scoring off the wing should be interested in Beleskey. He moved up and down the Ducks lineup this season, posting a career-high 22 goals. His previous high was 11 goals in 2009-10, so the question becomes: Is Beleskey a true 20-goal scorer? Or did he have one good contract season, and now will fall back to sub-15 goals again? He’s a second-line winger who can help, but Beleskey is the poster boy for this free agent class. He’ll help a team, but he’s not “The Answer.”

Best fits: Pittsburgh, Boston, Toronto

2. Michael Frolik
Age on July 1: 27
2014-15 Team: Winnipeg Jets
2014-15 cap hit: $3,300,000
2014-15 Numbers: 19-23-42 in 82 games; 18 PIMs; plus-4; CF60 – 58.0

His market: Frolik has some pedigree after having played and won a Stanley Cup in Chicago. He showed in Winnipeg that he had more to give than fourth-line duty for the Blackhawks. He’s still a mid-line right winger though, and might be most valuable as a third-liner on a good team. UFA salary demands might set him up as a top-six guy, however, and with 42 points last season — plus the right centreman — we’re not saying Frolik isn’t up to the task.

Best fits: Florida, Calgary, Nashville, New Jersey

3. Antoine Vermette
Age on July 1: 32
2014-15 Team: Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks
2014-15 cap hit: $3,750,000
2014-15 Numbers: 13-25-38 in 81 games; 40 PIMs; minus-25; CF60 – 53.3

His market: Vermette will be 33 on the NHL’s opening night, and after winning his only Cup as a rental for Chicago, the only red flag might be a guy who could be looking for one last fat contract to ride into the sunset. He’s a respected character player, however, and is ranked 13th among regular centremen with a 55.3% on the face-off dot last year. He’s a guy you want among young players, and is still a strong third-line forward for teams that are weak down the middle.

Best fits: Arizona, Toronto, Montreal

4. Chris Stewart
Age on July 1: 27
2014-15 Team: Buffalo Sabres, Minnesota Wild
2014-15 cap hit: $4,150,000
2014-15 Numbers: 14-22-36 in 81 games; 88 PIMs; minus-26; CF60 – 42.6

His market: Stewart has that big body that makes GMs salivate, but his defensive commitment has always been spotty. There have to be other reasons a 6-foot-2, 230-pound right winger is about to land on his fifth NHL team before his 28th birthday. The gamble is that a new coach can solve the problems that all those old coaches could not. Good luck.

Best fits: Calgary, NY Islanders, Anaheim

5. Justin Williams
Age on July 1: 33
2014-15 Team: Los Angeles Kings
2014-15 cap hit: $3,650,000
2014-15 Numbers: 18-23-41 in 81 games; 29 PIMs; plus-8; CF60 – 61.2

His market: Williams (a.k.a. Mr Game 7) earned the reputation as “The Closer” with his Game 7 heroics through a productive playoff career. He has three Stanley Cup rings, making him a valuable addition to any team that thinks it’s close. His possession game is still excellent, as displayed by his CF60 (61.2). Williams will be 34 on opening night of the season, but there isn’t a team in the NHL who wouldn’t be helped by his experience and get-the-job-done demeanour.

Best fits: Tampa, Washington, Ottawa, Colorado

6. Joel Ward
Age on July 1: 34
2014-15 Team: Washington Capitals
2014-15 cap hit: $3,000,000
2014-15 Numbers: 19-15-34 in 682 games; 30 PIMs; minus-4; CF60 – 53.2

His market: Ward’s in the market for his last contract, and word is he wants a four-year deal. That should scare any GM. Ward is a valuable two-way guy, but the minute he slows down a quarter-step, that could be all she wrote. To his credit, Ward played 82 games in each of the last two seasons, competes hard and is responsible. But the aging forward turns 35 in December. Yikes!

Best fits: Nashville, Chicago.

7. Martin St. Louis
Age on July 1: 40
2014-15 Team: New York Rangers
2014-15 cap hit: $5,625,000

2014-15 Numbers: 21-31-52 in 74 games; 20 PIMs; plus-12; CF60 – 53.0

His market: St. Louis will take a pay cut this summer, and will likely wait into the second week of July — or longer — before signing. He has shown to be picky about where he plays, but a 40-year-old can’t be too choosy. The warning signs on St. Louis came out in the playoffs, where St. Louis had seven points in 19 games and became less effective as the speed of play ramped up. Sadly, Marty is just this side of done.

Best fits: Florida, Arizona, Washington, New Jersey

8. Curtis Glencross
Age on July 1: 32
2014-15 Team: Calgary Flames, Washington Capitals
2014-15 cap hit: $2,550,000
2014-15 Numbers: 13-22-35 in 71 games; 45 PIMs; plus-2; CF60 – 48.8

His market: Glencross was one of the many Trade Deadline pickups who did not quite deliver as anticipated — he was made a healthy scratch for Washington in the playoffs. He still brings grit and some speed off the wing, but his 25-goal days are a distant memory. He’s a 15-goal man now who can kill penalties and bang on the forecheck. Glencross is a fit on a younger team that needs some leadership, though the fact Calgary dealt him away is surely a red flag.

Best fits: Toronto, Arizona, Nashville, Florida, Dallas

9. Shawn Horcoff
Age on July 1: 36
2014-15 Team: Dallas Stars
2014-15 cap hit: $5,500,000
2014-15 Numbers: 11-18-29 in 76 games; 27 PIMs; plus-9; CF60 – 58.7

His market: Nobody ever said a bad word about Shawn Horcoff — other than he was paid too highly in Edmonton. He’s a fitness freak, a solid, character veteran, and still wins more than 50% of his draws. Horcoff is a fourth-line centre now, and will have to be paid like one. But he has much to teach young players in a rebuild.

Best fits: Toronto, Florida, New Jersey, Buffalo

10. Shawn Matthias
Age on July 1: 27
2014-15 Team: Vancouver Canucks
2014-15 cap hit: $1,790,000
2014-15 Numbers: 18-9-27 in 78 games; 16 PIMs; minus-3; CF60 – 50.5

His market: Matthias keeps getting looks because of his excellent size, but a smaller player with these numbers might be getting phased out of the league by now. He’s never had more than 14 assists in a season, which tells us he’s likely better suited on the wing than at centre. But he doesn’t play as physically as his 6-foot-4, 223-pound frame suggests he should, averaging 23 PIMs per NHL season. Matthias needs to figure out what kind of player he’s going to be. Right now he’s just … there.

Best fits: Toronto, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Carolina.

(Corsi For 60 stats courtesy of puckalytics.com.)

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