With training camps nearing, it’s not surprising that you won’t find a ton of great NHL-ready options in free agency as of Sept. 3.
That’s especially true once you start crossing certain names off of the list with the help of context. Jake Gardiner’s either dealing with back issues, or waiting for a team (possibly the Maple Leafs) to sort out cap issues before signing a deal. Justin Williams just announced that he’s taking some time off, at best. Patrick Marleau’s potential options seem cloudy. Joe Thornton appears primed to sign with the Sharks, eventually (maybe).
When you knock those four names off of the list at a place like Cap Friendly, things start to look pretty stark.
Nonetheless, it’s worthwhile to bat around a few names, even if there might only be one or two players who end up being worth anything more than a tryout. Let’s consider some that stand out; feel free to bring up other UFAs who might be worth a mention in the comments.
Jason Pominville: One of the few on this list that I’d consider signing to an actual one-year contract, rather than merely a PTO, if it came down to it. Sportsnet’s Eric Engels reports that the Montreal Canadiens are considering Pominville, but also reports that nothing is “imminent,” so you’d assume another bidder could roll in.
On one hand, yes, Pominville is 36. There’s some risk that his already marginal potential would boil down to zero considering all of his mileage.
Yet, you’ll note that Pominville managed a respectable 31 points despite minimal ice time, and while much of that offense came alongside Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel, Pominville was one of the best fits with those two. Teams probably won’t ask Pominville to play on a top line very often, but he could be a cheap option to plug into different scenarios.
Pominville comes off reasonably well by a number of metrics, and his RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey looks positive enough:
If it wasn’t already clear, we’re so deep in the discount aisle, we’re actually looking at the stuff that’s in some sad bin outside the store. By those standards, Pominville is reasonably intriguing.
Brian Boyle: At 34, Boyle is no longer the type of center you’d ask to play a “shutdown” role, and he struggled once he was traded to the Predators last season, but this assessment from after that move away from New Jersey still captures Boyle’s value:
If your team’s coach is barking incessantly about adding a big body, you could do worse than Boyle, especially if a team could use someone to screen goalies on the power play. Boyle is a very large human, after all.
Troy Brouwer is another gritty option who could be decent filler.
Thomas Vanek: While Boyle’s largest utility is defense (and being large) at this point, Vanek is all-offense, to the point that he’d likely torment many coaches, particularly since that offense isn’t flowing like it once was.
Still, one could see an argument for Vanek being a power play specialist on a team that lacks a trigger. Is he enough of a net positive to really be worth considering? Debatable.
Tobias Rieder: He was never good enough for an Oilers executive to give him the scapegoat treatment, and it’s undoubtedly been a rough couple of years, but he’s a speedy winger, so there’s at least some appeal there.
Ben Hutton: OK, look … Hutton was abysmal last season. There’s a reason the defense-starved Canucks passed on bringing him back.
Still, Hutton stands out from a pack mostly consisting of way-past-their-prime veterans (Dion Phaneuf, Dan Girardi) in that he’s merely 26 years old. Could Hutton be a serviceable bottom-pairing option after being played well out of his depth with 22:21 ATOI last season? Maybe 2017-18 is a better guide. While Hutton provided marginal offense (six assists in 61 games), his possession numbers were somewhat OK, at least relative to his (bad) teammates, while Hutton averaged a more reasonable 18:25 per night.
There aren’t many signs pointing to Hutton being a “good” defenseman, but could he be an upgrade over a team’s sixth or even seventh option? It’s not out of the question, as the bar is pretty low for bottom pairing defensemen.
Ideally, your team already has better options than the names mentioned above. Still, there could be some use for players like Pominville, particularly for squads lacking depth.
Now, if your team is looking for a goalie? Well, you could always cross your fingers …