National Hockey League general managers will need to dig deeper, and jobless players may need to lower their asking prices, but there are still a few gems — or at least some worthy gambles and depth additions — to be unearthed from 2018’s UFAs.
It’s August already. Pickings are slim, youth is scarce, and the most proven free agent out there isn’t even sure if he wants to keep playing pro hockey. Some of the names out there may have to settle for PTOs or retirement.
Nevertheless, we examine the latest buzz surrounding the top UFAs still unclaimed.
1. Rick Nash*
Position: Right wing
2017-18 salary cap hit: $7.8 million
*Uncertain if he wishes to continue his lucrative and successful NHL career due to health and family concerns, Nash told interested teams — at least five, including the Columbus Blue Jackets — that he would be sitting out July 1’s frenzy as he contemplated his future.
An emotional Nash departed New York as part of the Rangers’ dramatic February fire sale and put up five points as a complementary piece of the Bruins’ two-round post-season run.
Nash is already the 16th-highest-paid NHLer and enjoyed a whopping $8.2-million base salary last season. Unlike most on this list, he’ll be in for a pay cut if he plays.
The power forward, who has never hit unrestricted free agency, failed to wow in Boston, partly due to his head injury.
“It was disappointing with having a concussion, and having some effects during it, and only playing a certain amount of games, and then coming back for the playoffs,” Nash told reporters after playing what was potentially his last NHL game.
If Nash gets the itch to return, however, he should have no shortage of suitors.
2. Luca Sbisa
2017-18 cap hit: $4 million
Andre Rufener, Sbisa’s agent, told The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun that Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee never made his client an offer. McPhee refuted that claim to reporters Sunday, saying he did offer the defenceman an extension but that Sbisa has decided to move on.
Regardless, here we are: Sbisa is one of the best youngish D-men on the open market. A Stanley Cup finalist, Sbisa logged an average of 19:31 in the 30 games he played and posted 14 points with a plus-8 rating.
3. Tobias Enstrom
2017-18 cap hit: $5.75 million
A solid, stay-at-home contributor to the Winnipeg blue line when healthy, Enstrom won’t wow you with his offence but keeps mistakes to a minimum. Wear and tear is a concern. He only squeezed into 43 games last season, but skated more than 17 minutes a night when available. The former Jet wishes to keep his NHL career alive but will have options overseas if nothing pans out in North America. It’s worth noting that Enstrom changed agents in late June and is now represented by Dan Milstein and Keith McKittrick.
4. Mark Letestu
Position: Centre / Right wing
2017-18 cap hit: $1.8 million
The Alberta native is a useful, experienced 3C or 4C option who should be available for a reasonable contract, both in dollars and term. He fit well with the Oilers but was flipped at the trade deadline for futures. Although less productive in his second stint with Columbus, Letestu could still produce 30-plus points given the opportunity. The Flyers and Predators are a couple speculated fits.
5. Mike Cammalleri
Position: Left wing / Centre
2017-18 cap hit: $1 million
Despite playing just 65 games last season, the veteran Cammalleri is still the second-most-productive skater still looking for a job. The Toronto native’s 29 points put him behind only Nash on this list. The legs aren’t where they used to be, but Cammalleri is a smart, versatile forward. After getting bought out by New Jersey, his hopeful return to Los Angeles fizzled fast and he ended the season in Edmonton. Still has some hands.
According to a report out of Russia, new Avangard Omsk coach Bob Hartley has expressed interest in bringing Cammalleri to the KHL. The two worked together in Calgary.
6. Alexei Emelin
2017-18 cap hit: $4.4 million
Somewhat lost on a deep Predators blue line, the left-shot defender will have to drop his $4.4-million price to hang on in the NHL but would have no trouble cracking plenty of teams’ top six and can log 17 to 19 minutes a night. As with all Russians, there are reportedly KHL options if he chooses not to battle for an NHL spot.
Agent Don Meehan told TVA Sports that Emelin is in talks with multiple teams but declined comment on a potential return to Montreal, as Dan Hamhuis essentially replaces Emelin on the Preds’ third pairing.
7. Kari Lehtonen
2017-18 cap hit: $5.9 million
Lehtonen’s struggles down the stretch for Dallas after starter Ben Bishop was injured underlined the fact he can no longer handle a starter’s load. Still, he’s the most qualified backup lingering on the market, and most of the hate thrown his way had to do with his too-large cap hit. The veteran’s record in 2018-19 was actually respectable: 15-14-3, with a shutout and a .912 save percentage to match his career average. For the right price, he’d be a fine No. 2.
8. Nick Shore
2017-18 cap hit: $925,000
The best centreman under the age of 30 still on the market, Shore could serve as a nice fourth-line pivot for several teams (The Pittsburgh Penguins instead opted to pick up UFA Derek Grant last week). Averaging 14:45 in ice time over 65 games last season, Shore chipped in 17 points and has always posted encouraging underlying numbers and a positive Corsi. He’s a career 50.3 per cent in the face-off circle. That Shore bounced from the Kings to the Senators to the Flames within a single season raises concern. Why couldn’t he stick?
9. Scott Hartnell
Position: Left wing
2017-18 cap hit: $1 million
Despite being on the back nine of his career, Hartnell still produces when he gets into the lineup. Over 61 games for Nashville in 2017-18, the curly-haired veteran banged out 13 goals and 23 points despite averaging less than 12 minutes per night. Now a fourth-line energy guy, a healthy Hartnell was used in just four of the Predators’ playoff games. But for the right price, he’d be a fine addition to almost any room.
On July 20, Hartnell spoke on-air with ESPN 102.5 The Game and conceded that he may be headed to retirement.
“Life is good right now, I have no complaints,” Hartnell said. “I’ve had a great career if last season was my last year.”
10. Benoit Pouliot
Position: Left wing
2017-18 cap hit: $1.15 million
Pouliot’s rate of production has fallen by about half over the past two seasons, one in Edmonton and his most recent in Buffalo. Yet of the forwards still available, he put up the second-most goals (13) and third-most points in 2017-18 (19) while averaging nearly 14 minutes a night for one of the NHL’s worst teams. The cap-strapped Oilers bought him out, and the Sabres didn’t see enough proof in his one-year prove-it deal to re-sign the depth winger. The fourth-overall pick in 2005 brings 625 games of expereince, plus a couple deep playoff runs.
More notable UFAs: Kevin Bieksa, Kris Versteeg, Dominic Moore, Daniel Winnik, Jakub Jerabek, Antoine Vermette, Steve Mason, Tommy Wingels, Scottie Upshall, Alex Chiasson, Jussi Jokinen, Chris Stewart, Jason Garrison, Drew Stafford, Josh Gorges, Joel Ward, Paul Martin, Troy Brouwer