Perry, Spezza, and other NHL free agent forwards with uncertain futures

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When Corey Perry told the Dallas Stars website that “I know there’s more hockey left in me,” Perry was discussing being ready for play to resume. But what about next season, and possibly beyond?

Perry falls into a category of upcoming NHL free agents with uncertain futures. The reasoning is simple: they may or may not get to make the call about retirement. A lack of interest might simply force them to hang up their skates.

Let’s take a look at Perry and some of the most interesting cases of borderline players. To be clear, players most likely to decide for themselves (example: Joe Thornton) are fodder for different posts. This list also skates past players with expiring contracts who already essentially retired, such as David Clarkson and Johan Franzen.

When in doubt, I’ve also focused on NHL free agent forwards who are 30 or older.

This list focuses on forwards. Later this week, we’ll also tackle defensemen and goalies.

Perry and other forwards with uncertain free agent futures in the NHL

Corey Perry

The lasting image of Perry’s first (and possibly last) Stars season was his “walk of shame” after getting ejected during the 2020 Winter Classic.

Perry’s season got off to the wrong foot in a literal way, as he broke it before his first game in a Stars uniform. He never really got any traction from there, managing just five goals and 21 points over 57 games.

Perry’s possession stats were mediocre, and they’ve honestly been that way for a while. The difference is that his offense plummeted, with the drop-off being especially sharp these past two seasons. Combine that decline in offense with Perry being a 35+ contract, and there are a lot of hurdles.

But all it really takes is one team to consider him a low-risk option, much like the Stars did in 2019-20. It’s not that outrageous to give Perry a mulligan. If you want a nasty veteran with some scoring touch, you could talk yourself into a cheap, one-year deal for Perry.

While Perry’s production has been putrid lately, he generated 49 points in 2017-18, and 53 in 2016-17. Perry also suffered bad puck luck (6.5 shooting percentage) in 2019-20, so there’s another way teams can talk themselves into signing the 2011 Hart Trophy winner.

Jason Spezza

Once you accept that Spezza is no longer going to push 90 points, it’s pretty easy to embrace investing in the 36-year-old. No, 25 points in 58 games isn’t spectacular, but managing that many with an ice time of just 10:50 TOI per night is impressive.

Check Spezza’s historical isolated impact at Hockey Viz and you’ll notice that, as his offense has declined, Spezza’s become a responsible defensive presence.

Spezza viz, Perry and other NHL free agents
via Hockey Viz/Micah Blake McCurdy

Spezza also mostly took Mike Babcock’s Babcockery in stride, which should count for something. Spezza is a low-risk no-brainer.

Carl Soderberg

Carl Soderberg’s a little older than I realized, as he’ll turn 35 on Oct. 12. Some of his underlying stats are pretty underwhelming, so I wonder if his place in the league may involve ranking lower in the pecking order than he has with Arizona and Colorado in recent seasons?

Ryan Reaves

Honestly, Ryan Reaves seems like the type of player I’d expect to be teetering out of the league at 33. Teams want a menacing presence who can play a bit, though, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him continue to get pretty lucrative deals. And, really, Reaves checks out reasonably well in this RAPM comparison with Spezza at Evolving Hockey, too:

Reaves vs. Spezza, Perry and other NHL free agents
via Evolving Hockey

Other forwards

  • I assume Martin Hanzal will retire, being that he last played in 2018-19, and in just seven games. Then again, he’s merely 33, so maybe he’d give it another shot? Large, defensive-minded centers don’t grow on trees. At least, I have never been to such forest, and would prefer to get that image out of my head now, thank you.
  • Trevor Lewis is one of those supporting cast members from a championship team who garners a somewhat baffling level of loyalty. (See: many, many Detroit Red Wings.) It’s not that Lewis, 33, is terrible. It’s just that I’m not sure how much he moves the needle. His ice time plummeted by more than two minutes (14:01 to 11:54), too, so that’s not a great sign for Lewis.
  • NHL teams sure do love 35-year-old Nate Thompson. The Flyers gave up a fifth-rounder for him during the past trade deadline, and Montreal coughed up two picks for Thompson the year before. All for REASONS! So maybe “Nate Boucher” will remain in some demand?
  • I’m not certain about Patrick Maroon‘s health, but … can the guy catch a break? It would be sad if the 32-year-old spent another offseason twisting in the wind.
  • There’s a subcategory of “I’m surprised that person played so many games in the NHL this season.” Two of the biggest were Troy Brouwer (34, 13 games) and Chris Stewart (32, 16 games, first season in NHL since 2017-18). I’d say that they probably won’t land on teams in 2020-21 but … I’ve already been wrong about NHL free agent forwards before, and likely will be again.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.