The comeback bid of our No. 1 available free agent, Daniel Alfredsson (see below), has hit a significant snag. According to the Detroit Free Press, Alfredsson will definitely not attend the Detroit Red Wings’ training camp.
With so many of the league’s significant free agents scooped up on July 1, and the bulk of the second tier gradually finding jobs over the summer, unattached impact players are now few and far between. Still, a few useful talents are out there as training camps get set to open. The following players could fill important roles on teams with salary cap space willing to take a flier.
Keep it here for a regularly updated look at the latest buzz surrounding the best free agents available.
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10. Raphael Diaz
2013-14 team: New York Rangers
2013-14 cap hit: $1.225 million
Why he’s worth a shot: When it comes to UFAs under 30, only Jamie McBain saw more ice-time Swiss blue-liner, who averaged nearly 18 minutes in his 63 games played last season. While he’s had a rough time finding an NHL home since leaving the Montreal Canadiens, Diaz could fill in ably on a weaker club’s second power-play unit. He also brings some high-level experience gained from the Rangers’ playoff run last spring (granted, he was used sparingly) and from his role on Switzerland’s Olympic team.
Latest dirt: Diaz has accepted a tryout with the rebuilding Calgary Flames, as first reported by Switzerland’s Silvan Schweizer.
9. Derek Morris
2013-14 team: Arizona Coyotes
2013-14 cap hit: $2.75 million
Why he’s worth a shot: A member of the NHL All-Rookie Team in 1998, Morris brings 1,107 games of NHL blue-line experience. His production in the desert in 2013-14 (17 points) was actually his highest in four seasons. Of the remaining UFAs, only one (Jamie McBain) averaged more time on ice last year than Morris’s 19:45. He can still fill in on a team’s third defensive pairing and is a positive possession player (50.2% Corsi).
Latest dirt: As the Coyotes dedicate themselves to a youth movement, Morris found himself the odd/old man out on a strong defensive core. Morris’s name has been brought up in speculation with the Colorado Avalanche and the Edmonton Oilers, a team forever with an eye on upgrading its defence.
8. Ray Whitney
2013-14 team: Dallas Stars
Position: Left wing
2013-14 cap hit: $4.5 million
Why he’s worth a shot: Yes, Whitney’s old. Older-than-Alfie old. There’s no denying that. But “The Wizard” could bring leadership and secondary scoring. He has averaged more than 0.9 points per game in seven seasons throughout his long career, a mark he still hit at age 39 and again at age 40. Although he saw his ice time decline to under 14 minutes per game on a young Dallas squad, Whitney still managed 32 points in 69 games last season.
Latest dirt: Whitney is contemplating retirement, as 42-year-old hockey players do. “I’m not sure yet, and I’m not really tipping my hand one way or the other,” Whitney told ESPN on Sept. 5. “I’m in shape, I’m skating, but I’m not too worried. There’s obviously limitations to where I would go, but I’m not out there searching for anything, either.
“I won’t continue to skate for much longer,” he said. “My interest in playing drops with each week that I don’t get something, so I won’t be pressing too much.”
7. Jamie McBain
2013-14 team: Buffalo Sabres
2013-14 cap hit: $1.8 million
Why he’s worth a shot: Heavily used by Buffalo, McBain leads all UFA defencemen in average ice time (20:17) and ranks second (with 69) only to Sami Salo in games played, so he can handle the workload. He co-leads all available D-men in goals (six) and points (17), while registering a minus-13 rating for a minus-91 team. Five Sabres blue-liners fared worse than McBain in that category.
Latest dirt: Any player who failed to stick with the basement-dwelling Sabres at the conclusion of last season (add Henrik Tallinder and Ville Leino to that list) has had a rough time landing a new gig. The Minnesota native, who failed to get a qualifying offer from the Sabres, has signed a PTO with the Arizona Coyotes, as have Matt Kassian and Matt Samby.
6. Sami Salo
2013-14 team: Tampa Bay Lightning
2013-14 cap hit: $3.75 million
Why he’s worth a shot: Of the defencemen left on the board, the veteran Salo led them all in games played (71), and plus/minus (+11); he’s also tied for tops in assists (13) and points (17).
Latest dirt: A casualty of a Tampa Bay blue line that needed an upgrade (hello, Anton Stralman and Jason Garrison), Salo battled injury the last couple seasons but is not yet ready to call it a career. He’ll be 40 by the time the season starts, but could come cheap on a one-year offer.
5. Andrei Loktionov
2013-14 team: Carolina Hurricanes
2013-14 cap hit: $725,000
Why he’s worth a shot: Loktionov put up 22 points in 68 games with the Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils in 2013-14 despite seeing less than 13 minutes of ice time per game. The centre lit it up as an OHL star for the 2008-09 Windsor Spitfires (66 points in 51 games) and is still on the fun side of 25, but his 155 NHL games have been spread among three teams and have only yielded 22 goals total. Perhaps he just needs to find the right linemates and a couple extra shifts per game to develop into a more reliable NHLer.
Latest dirt: Loktionov could be a low-cost gamble for a team like the Edmonton Oilers in search to fill a hole a centre. As with so many Russian players, the option of signing to a KHL club remains. Yaroslav Lokomotiv, for whom Loktionov played seven games in 2007-08, would reportedly welcome him back. R-Sport reported that two or three NHL teams are interested in giving the forward a chance.
4. Dustin Penner
2013-14 team: Washington Capitals
Position: Left wing
2013-14 cap hit: $2 million
Why he’s worth a shot: Penner got off to a great start last season in Anaheim rushing alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. (I know: who wouldn’t succeed on that line?) On this list, only Daniel Alfredsson scored more goals last season than Penner’s 14, and no UFA comes close to Penner’s plus-25 rating (if you place any stock in that stat). The big guy’s only 31 and could chip in some added scoring in a bottom-six role.
Latest dirt: Penner is coming off a 67-game season, something he hadn’t enjoyed since 2009-10 with Edmonton. But having worn three different sweaters since 2013, the versatile forward is finding it tough to land a permanent gig. Penner’s agent told News 1130 on Sept. 3 that his client has offers on the table from NHL clubs as well as those in Europe.
3. Martin Brodeur
2013-14 team: New Jersey Devils
2013-14 cap hit: $4.5 million
Why he’s worth a shot: Despite his decreasing save percentage, Brodeur is the winningest goaltender in NHL history and he is willing to play backup in the right situation. Say your No. 1 goes down in Round 2 of the playoffs, there could be worse options wearing the ballcap, no?
Latest dirt: Brodeur told Sportsnet he has a specific list of teams he’ll play for; he wants to go to a contender. The Maple Leafs, Blackhawks, Bruins, Penguins and Lightning all reportedly kicked tires. The Lightning and Penguins signed other backups on July 1. Lost in the free agency madness, New Jersey scooped up goaltender Scott Clemmensen to back up Cory Schneider, which should squash any ideas of Brodeur appearing in a Devils uniform prior to his jersey retirement. Brodeur’s agent, Pat Brisson, told Fire & Ice on July 13 that the goalie is willing to wait until after the season begins to find the right fit.
“On or around July 1, we explored a few possibilities for Marty that made somewhat sense. That didn’t come to fruition,” Brisson wrote the site via email. “Marty has a lot to offer, but it will be the right fit and this may come later this summer or even early in the season. He is in no rush until the right fit appears.”
In August, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello told NJ.com that if Brodeur wants to work with the franchise, he will give him an off-ice/office job. “You always have to find out if former players want to work,” Lamoriello told the outlet. “They’re used to playing, that’s the bottom line. I know Marty doesn’t want to coach. I don’t know if Marty wants to work.”
On Sept. 4, Brodeur told the Journal de Montreal he would be open to backing up Carey Price on the Montreal Canadiens. But GM Marc Bergevin has not reached out to the goaltender’s camp.
“I would like to play one last season before retiring, and I want to have fun doing it,” Brodeur said (Google translated). “If the Canadiens made me an offer, it goes without saying that I would listen to what they have to offer me.”
2. Tomas Vokoun
2013-14 team: Pittsburgh Penguins
2013-14 cap hit: $2 million
Why he’s worth a shot: Although he missed 2013-14 due to blood clots, Vokoun filled in admirably for the Penguins in the 2013 playoffs when Marc-Andre Fleury struggled and might still have what it takes to be a security blanket. (P.S.: He’s four years younger than Martin Brodeur.)
Latest dirt: Vokoun’s agent, Allan Walsh, tweeted an update on his client’s status Sept. 12. Like Broduer, Vokoun is still hopeful for an NHL return under the right circumstances. The veteran turned down a pair of contract offers and a pair of camp invites over the summer.
1. Daniel Alfredsson
Team: Detroit Red Wings
Position: Right wing
2013-14 cap hit: $3.5 million
Why he’s worth a shot: Even at his advanced age, Alfredsson led all still-available UFAs in goals per game in 2013-14, and his leadership and work ethic were appreciated in Detroit.
Latest dirt: After tweaking his back, Alfredsson hasn’t participated in the Red Wings’ informal skates in more than 11 days, the Detroit Free Press reported on Sept. 15, and now it’s clear Alfredsson will not be attending the team’s training camp.
“The setback is a little bigger than Alfie thought,” general manager Ken Holland told the newspaper. “I know he still wants to give himself every opportunity to see if his body will allow him to play. We’re going to be patient — give him the time to make his decision.”
Although Alfredsson will miss camp and be evaluated by back specialists, Holland said he will give the respected veteran time to recuperate and evaluate.
“I owe him the class and dignity to allow him to get to a point where we sit down and make a decision about his future,” Holland said. “Whether we sign him to a contract or not will be based on feedback from his body. Before we even get there, we have to see if Alfie’s body is going to allow him to play.
“This has been, from his perspective, disappointing that, on the eve of camp, he’s not been able to skate every day. Right now, Alfie doesn’t feel the way he knows he needs to feel.”
Best of the rest
Forwards: Michal Handzus, Todd Bertuzzi, Ville Leino, Scott Gomez, Adam Hall
Defence: Joni Pitkanen, Cory Sarich, Henrik Tallinder, Sheldon Brookbank, Ed Jovanovski, Douglas Murray, Tomas Kaberle
Goaltenders: Tim Thomas, Ilya Bryzgalov