Assessing the bottom of the barrel: Which remaining unrestricted free agents are worth a look?

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With September training camps just a few weeks away, the game of musical chairs is almost over for the remaining unrestricted free agents out there. Granted, there might be future opportunities during the 2011-12 season itself, but that’s probably not a very appetizing possibility for the guys who are hoping to pull in another NHL contract.

To be fair, there aren’t a lot of no-brainers left. Some might argue that there are none. That being said, if NHL general managers are willing to keep their expectations in order, there are still a few players out there who could help their teams or might at least be worth a shot.

With that in mind, here are a few of the more interesting free agents looking for work. This list is wholly subjective, so if you want a full view of everyone available, click here. If you notice a glaring omission, then it might come down to your own personal taste about a given hockey player. It’s probably worth noting that there are only a couple players whose lack of employment surprises me, though.

Let’s start with the guys who might not make a huge splash, but can do dirty work.

John Madden – This guy might be the most deserving of an NHL job. Sure, he’s getting up there in years at 38, but he shouldn’t come at a high cost and has three Stanley Cup victories (two with New Jersey, one with Chicago) on his resume.

More important than the Cups – to me, at least – is his versatility. He won’t knock your socks off with his offensive output (25 points in 2010-11; 23 in both 09-10 and 08-09), but he can be a moderate threat on the PK and plays a lot of the tough minutes that can open doors for your star players. I wondered if he really dropped off the map that badly in Minnesota, but he was their top forward when it came to shorthanded time per game (2:27 minutes) and only missed six games last season.

source: APAny number of contenders could use a player like Madden if he’s OK with signing a cheapish deal. Mike Grier brings some similar strengths to the table, but I’d take Madden over Grier at this point.

Paul Mara – He’s a limited player no doubt, but there are certain defensemen I like to refer to as “inning eaters.” Mara might not be sublimely talented – and worse yet, he’s injury prone – but teams with thinner defense corps would benefit from his size and experience. And while it might feel like it happened ages ago, Mara does have two 40+ point seasons to his name.

Cory Stillman – It’s a slight bit surprising that the familiarity-centric Carolina Hurricanes didn’t bring Stillman back after he scored a solid 16 points in 21 games after the team reacquired him last season.

J.P. Dumont – Sure, he’s on the decline, but why not give the six-time 20+ goal scorer a chance if he’s willing to sign a  cheap deal?

More talented players with more troubling flaws

Bryan McCabe – Anything bad someone could say about McCabe has already been covered with extra buckets of vitriol by Toronto Maple Leafs writers and fans. Still, he can run a power play well and isn’t afraid to get physical when he’s not committing terrible turnovers.

Sergei Samsonov – Offensively talented, but not enough to camouflage his issues in other areas on the ice. That being said, he seems to do well when he knows it’s time to prove himself; he scored a solid 14 points in the 20 games he spent with the Florida Panthers after being traded.

Chris Campoli – A lot like a younger Bryan McCabe, only if you replaced the hits with superior skating ability. I’m not a huge fan of Campoli, but it seems like someone should give him a shot, right? Maybe?

Fascinating gambles

Pascal Leclaire – Almost certainly a flash in the pan at this point, but seems worthy of at least a two-way contract if Brian Elliott can earn one of his own.

Steve Bernier – Remember when people referred to Jonathan Bernier as Steve’s younger brother? Chances are good that Steve will be a footnote in Jonathan’s career when it’s all over instead.

Other noteworthy names: Marty Turco, Kyle Wellwood, Mike Modano and more.

Feel free to mention any UFAs who might be worth a small gamble for prospective NHL teams.

Sens avoid arbitration with Dzingel

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The Ottawa Senators have narrowly avoided arbitration with Ryan Dzingel.

Per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Dzingel has signed a two-year deal with a cap hit of $1.8 million.

Dzingel’s hearing was scheduled for today. Last season, the 25-year-old forward had 14 goals and 18 assists in 81 games.

Earlier this week, the Sens also avoided arbitration with Jean-Gabriel Pageau, though that case didn’t go down to the wire like Dzingel’s did.

Pageau and Dzingel were the only Sens with arbitration hearings scheduled.

Related: Sens want to avoid arbitration with Dzingel

 

Palat feels ‘pretty good’ about the Lightning’s chances of bouncing back next season

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Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman accomplished quite a bit this offseason.

Not only did he acquire Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin, but he also managed to lose Jason Garrison‘s contract before re-signing Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. They also signed Chris Kunitz and Dan Girardi in free agency.

Even though fitting everyone under the cap couldn’t have been easy, Yzerman managed to get it done, and it has at least some of his players excited about the prospect of next season.

“I feel pretty good about the team,” Palat, who signed a five-year, $26.5 million contract extension last week, told the Tampa Bay Times. “I like all the new guys. They’re in the league for a while. Great veteran guys, experienced guys. That’s what you need to have on your team if you want to win a Cup.”

Going into last season, many people pegged Tampa Bay as one of the teams that would compete for the East Division crown. Not only did they not win the East, they didn’t even qualify for the playoffs. A lot of that had to do with injuries, but there’s no denying that the 2016-17 season was disappointing for the Bolts.

Despite not playing hockey in the spring last season, there seems to be a good amount of optimism surrounding the team’s chances of making a run this year (a healthy Steven Stamkos would help in a big way).

Sure, keeping guys on the ice and off medical tables would increase the odds of the team having a bounce back season, but there’s more to it than that. Outside of a handful of players (mainly Nikita Kucherov), the Lightning didn’t get consistent efforts from a lot of their key players that were healthy.

“It was an experience for us last year because we came from two good (playoff) runs and we thought we were going to make the playoffs just like that, and it didn’t happen,” added Palat. “In the NHL we have to play good from the beginning of the season, and we have to be good all season long.”

PHT Morning Skate: 3 coaches that are on the hot seat going into 2017-18

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–The Hockey News continues their “2020 Vision” series with the Boston Bruins. Thanks to a number of good drafts over the last few years, Boston’s future looks pretty good. They have a number of quality defensemen in their system, which should help get them back into the postseason sooner than later. (The Hockey News)

–It was five years ago this week that Shea Weber signed that huge offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Puck Daddy Blog looks at the fallout from that signing five years later. If Nashville doesn’t match the offer, there’s probably no P.K. Subban in Smashville, maybe Peter Laviolette keeps his job in Philadelphia, and maybe the Flyers don’t miss the playoffs as often. (Puck Daddy)

–TSN’s Scott Cullen breaks down NHL goalies in his latest “Statistically Speaking” article. The way he ranks them is by finding out what their expected goals against will be minus the goals they actually give up. No surprise, Carey Price finds himself at the top of the list (minimum 50 games played). Matt Murray, Philipp Grubauer and Andrew Hammond also find themselves in Cullen’s top 10. (TSN.ca)

–Every year, there’s at least a few coaches who get fired during the season. Last season, names like Jack Capuano, Gerard Gallant and Michel Therrien found themselves on the unemployment line. It’ll be interesting to see who gets their walking papers in 2017-18. The Score believes that Winnipeg’s Paul Marice is one of three coaches that will go into next season on the hot seat. (The Score)

–Ryan Poehling was Montreal’s first round pick in the 2017 draft, and he couldn’t have been more excited to land there. The St. Cloud State product was in awe as soon as he stepped foot in Montreal for the first time. The fact that he’s playing in such a passionate hockey city isn’t bad either. “(The fans) all just go crazy and I haven’t even played here, so it’s special. I just got drafted by them and they’re just crazy about me, so I think that’s pretty cool, how I haven’t even proven anything and they still love me.” (NHL.com)

Dominic Moore hosted the sixth annual Smashfest, which is a ping-pong tournament where fans and NHLers come together for all the bragging rights. For the third time in the tournament’s existence, Ducks forward Patrick Eaves came away the winner:

Columnist warns Blackhawks fans: DeBrincat may not make the jump

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It’s easy to see why Chicago Blackhawks fans are excited about Alex DeBrincat.

The undersized forward already seemed like a potential steal when the Blackhawks drafted him in the second round (39th overall) back in 2016, as he was coming off consecutive 100-point seasons in the OHL. DeBrincat topped that in 2016-17, scoring more than a goal per game (65 in 63) and finishing with a ridiculous 127 points.

Honestly, that last paragraph might leave some Blackhawks fans twitching with excitement.

MORE: DeBrincat was the one to watch at prospects camp

CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers relays an important message on Thursday, though: tap the brakes.

Beyond the questions of the 19-year-old being ready for the NHL, Myers reasonably wonders if Chicago can fit him into its salary structure.

Looking at the Blackhawks’ listing at Cap Friendly, it’s clear that Myers has a point. There are 14 forwards under contract, and as Myers notes, only Nick Schmaltz can be sent to the AHL without needing to clear waivers.

The Athletic’s Scott Powers notes that few 19-year-olds have made much of a dent on recent Blackhawks rosters beyond Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Nick Leddy. As great as Joel Quenneville can be at integrating younger players into Chicago’s mix, history states that DeBrincat indeed faces an uphill climb.

Then again, for a smaller forward whose numbers sometimes get disregarded or downplayed because of his stature, DeBrincat’s probably used to overcoming odds. If nothing else, the Blackhawks seem willing to go the extra mile if it gives them a better chance to compete.

Even so, Blackhawks fans would probably be wise not to pencil him into the 2017-18 lineup just yet.