NHL Free Agents 2014: Ranking Top Available Players at Every Position
With the NHL's 2014 draft fading into history, the focus shifts toward unrestricted free agency, which begins on July 1.
Though this year's market lacks superstars, there's sufficient depth at each position to attract the interest of general managers seeking help for their rosters. Be it an experienced goaltender, puck-moving shutdown defenseman or offensive two-way forward, there's something here for everyone.
The following is a list of the top 10 players at each position who could be available when the free-agent market opens later this week. Age, skill level, recent performance and potential destinations factored into the rankings. Feel free to offer up your take in the comments section.
Free-Agent Goaltenders: 10 Through 2
10. Devan Dubnyk: Will be motivated to rebound after washing out with Edmonton and Nashville this past season. Only 28 and possessing a big frame (6'6", 210 pounds), Dubnyk could be an affordable backup.
9. Thomas Greiss: Hopes to land with a club willing to give him a shot as a starter. Posted decent numbers (10-8-5, 2.29 goals-against average, .920 save percentage) as a backup with the Coyotes.
8. Al Montoya: He had solid statistics (13-8-3, 2.30 goals-against average, .920 save percentage) with the Jets. Montoya is an experienced veteran backup who can bail out a struggling starter.
7. Evgeni Nabokov: The 38-year-old Nabokov is no longer a reliable starter. He could, however, prove a worthwhile backup and mentor for a club with a young starter.
6. Ray Emery: Hip surgery several years ago has limited his effectiveness as a starter. However, Emery has proven to be a capable backup.
5. Tim Thomas: Age is catching up to the former Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner. The 40-year-old Thomas could be a mentor for a young starter.
4. Chad Johnson: Put up good numbers (17-4-3, 2.10 GAA, .925 save percentage) backing up Tuukka Rask in Boston. Has the potential to challenge an established starter.
3. Martin Brodeur: The future Hall of Famer is no longer capable of full-time starting duties. The 42-year-old Brodeur could, however, prove an effective backup on a contending club.
2. Jonas Hiller: He posted solid career numbers as a starter in Anaheim. The 32-year-old Hiller could prove an affordable option for clubs in need of an experienced starter.
Top Free-Agent Goaltender: Ryan Miller
Previous contract: Five years, $31.25 million.
2013-14 stats: 59 games, 25-30-4, 2.64 goals-against average. .918 save percentage, one shutout.
Why he's the top goaltender: Despite concerns over his age (he turns 34 in July) and declining play, Miller is the best available goalie this summer. He's a former Vezina Trophy winner (2010), and for nearly a decade was ranked among the league's elite goalies.
If he's willing to accept a lesser deal (perhaps a two- or three-year contract at $5 million annually), it could bolster his market value. Reputation alone could be enough to convince a general manager seeking an experienced starting goalie to pursue him.
Potential destinations: Vancouver sports news radio station News 1130 reports the Canucks reached out to Miller's agent. Sources claim Miller wouldn't have any issues playing for the Canucks. After clearing cap space by trading away Ryan Kesler and Jason Garrison, per NHL.com, they have room to pursue an experienced starter like Miller.
Free-Agent Defensemen: 10 Through 2
10. Kyle Quincey: Struggled to play up to expectations with the Red Wings. Only 28, Quincey could be of interest to clubs seeking a third-pairing blueliner.
9. Mike Weaver: An effective shot-blocking blueliner. Weaver's age (36) could limit him to a one-year deal.
8. Willie Mitchell: Age (37) and his recent injury history could hurt his value. Mitchell's leadership and playoff experience could still be attractive to playoff contenders.
7. Mark Fayne: Only 27, Fayne has good size (6'3”, 210 pounds), mobility and puck-handling skills. He could become this year's free-agent steal.
6. Tom Gilbert: Resurrected his career with a solid performance for the Florida Panthers. Could interest clubs seeking an affordable blueliner with a right-handed shot.
5. Andrej Meszaros: The 28-year-old Meszaros has a big frame (6'2”, 220 pounds) and good puck-moving skills. His inconsistency this season could dampen his free-agent value.
4. Brooks Orpik: A rugged, experienced shutdown defenseman, Orpik will draw interest from clubs seeking a gritty blue-line leader.
3. Anton Stralman: His performance with the Rangers this season, particularly in the playoffs, boosted Stalman's stock. The 27-year-old Stralman could cash in big this summer.
2. Dan Boyle: Teams will be leery of investing more than two years in the 37-year-old Boyle. Still, there will be clubs willing to gamble that he has a couple of good years left in the tank.
Top Free-Agent Defenseman: Matt Niskanen
Previous contract: Two years, $4.6 million.
2013-14 stats: 81 games, 10 goals, 36 assists, 46 points. Plus/minus of plus-33.
Why he's the top defenseman: Only 27, Niskanen is entering his playing prime. He had a career-best performance this past season, heightened by filling in admirably for a sidelined Kris Letang.
Niskanen's youth, his performance and the absence of superstar defensemen in this summer's market make him the best available blueliner. He could receive long-term offers worth around $6 million annually.
Potential destinations: MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports the Detroit Red Wings have interest in Niskanen, a right-handed shot the Wings lack on their blue line. The Minneapolis Star Tribune's Michael Russo reports the Minnesota Wild could also pursue Niskanen, who's a Minnesota native.
Free-Agent Centers: 10 Through 2
10. Dominic Moore: Earned the 2014 Masterton Trophy for perseverance. Moore's skills as a versatile checking-line forward should make him an affordable free-agent target.
9. Vernon Fiddler: An experienced defensive center who gets under his opponent's skin. Fiddler's faceoff skills could help his free-agent value.
8. Brian Boyle: The 6'7”, 244-pound Boyle garnered praise for his playoff performance with the Rangers this spring. The Record's Tom Gulitti reports Boyle's seeking an expanded role as a third-line center.
7. Steve Ott: A physical, versatile forward with leadership skills. Ott will attract interest from clubs seeking skilled checking-line grit.
6. Olli Jokinen: At 35, Jokinen has lost a step or two. His experience, offensive skills and leadership could still prove attractive in the free-agent market.
5. David Legwand: The 33-year-old Legwand struggled after being dealt to Detroit at the trade deadline. The two-way center netted 51 points this past season.
4. Dave Bolland: Missed most of the 2013-14 season due to an ankle injury. Bolland's youth (27), playoff experience and two-way skills should still make him an attractive free agent.
2. Brad Richards: Bought out by the New York Rangers, presumably due to concerns over his declining speed. Richards' experience and playmaking skills will still attract considerable interest.
Top Free-Agent Center: Paul Stastny
Previous contract: Five years, $33 million.
2013-14 stats: 71 games, 25 goals, 35 assists, 60 points.
Why he's the top center: Given the absence of superstars in this summer's market, Stastny could well be the best available player. ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun reports up to 15 teams have spoken with Stastny's agent. The 28-year-old reached or exceeded 53 points in six of his eight NHL seasons.
Stastny's strong playoff performance this spring (10 points in seven games) will also boost his value. He's an excellent playmaker and strong in the faceoff circle (54.1 percent). He can play first-line center but seems best suited for second-line duty.
Potential destinations: LeBrun reported the St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets are among the clubs with interest in Stastny. The Denver Post's Adrian Dater reports Stastny's agent hasn't ruled out “circling back” to the Colorado Avalanche to give them a chance to match the best offer.
Free-Agent Right Wings: 10 Through 2
10. David Moss: A big (6'4”, 210 pounds) two-way winger who can play each forward position. Moss also has some decent offensive skills.
9. Steve Downie: Hard-hitting two-way winger. Downie's injury history, however, could hurt his free-agent value.
8. Lee Stempniak: He's a versatile two-way right wing with a good scoring touch. Stempniak would make a decent addition to a club's checking lines.
7. Nikolai Kulemin: An effective two-way forward who can play either wing. Kulemin's career to date remains overshadowed by his 30-goal performance of 2010-11.
6. Devin Setoguchi: He's a former 30-goal scorer who peaked early in his career. A general manager could see Setoguchi as an affordable short-term gamble.
3. Ales Hemsky: Teams will be interested in Hemsky's playmaking skills. Hemsky's injury history could hurt his market value.
2. Radim Vrbata: Consistent playmaking right wing tallied 51 points this past season. Vrbata's age (33) could affect his market value.
Top Free-Agent Right Wing: Jarome Iginla
Previous contract: One year, $1.8 million base salary, $4.2 million in performance bonuses.
2013-14 stats: 78 games, 30 goals, 31 assists, 61 points.
Why he's the top right wing: Iginla, who turns 37 on July 1, may be an aging star, but he remains among the NHL's most respected players. He reached the 30-goal mark for the 12th time, and the 60-point plateau for the 13th time.
Those numbers and his reputation as a physical leader will ensure Iginla attracts plenty of attention in the free-agent market.
Potential destinations: The Boston Bruins want to re-sign him, but Sportsnet's Chris Johnston reports they lack the cap space to do so. Teams seeking depth on right wing (Carolina, Columbus, Detroit, Florida, Nashville, New Jersey, New York Islanders, Winnipeg) could pursue Iginla, but his preference could be to join a Cup contender.
Free-Agent Left Wings: 10 Through 2
10. Ray Whitney: Age is catching up with the 42-year-old Whitney. He'll be relying on his reputation in hopes of landing a one-year contract.
9. Brenden Morrow: Years of physical two-way play have taken its toll on the 35-year-old Morrow. He could still be effective as a fourth-line winger.
8. Dany Heatley: The 33-year-old Heatley no longer has the speed that made him a superstar scorer several years ago. He's best suited now as a bottom-six winger.
7. Benoit Pouliot: Had a career-best 36 points this season with the New York Rangers. The 27-year-old Pouliot has become an effective checking-line winger.
6. David Booth: Recently bought out by the Canucks. The oft-injured Booth hopes to prove he's still a worthwhile scoring winger.
5. Milan Michalek: Skilled two-way winger with good size (6'2”, 215 pounds) and speed. The 29-year-old Michalek still has several productive years ahead of him.
4. Mike Cammalleri: Skilled though oft-injured veteran winger with a consistent scoring touch. Cammalleri could try to land with a Cup contender.
3. Jussi Jokinen: A versatile two-way forward. Jokinen's probably seeking long-term stability after playing for four teams in nine years.
2. Matt Moulson: A consistent regular-season scorer. Moulson should attract interest from clubs seeking a top-six left wing.
Top Free-Agent Left Wing: Thomas Vanek
Previous contract: Seven years, $50 million.
2013-14 stats: 78 games, 27 goals, 41 assists, 68 points.
Why he's the top left wing: A streaky scorer who disappointed in this year's playoffs with the Montreal Canadiens (10 points in 17 games). Still, Vanek has sufficient offensive assets to entice teams seeking a first-line scorer.
He's tallied 20-plus goals in each of his nine NHL seasons and reached the 60-point mark six times. Those numbers will ensure he gets plenty of attention in this year's free-agent market.
Potential destinations: ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun reports eight to 10 teams have called on Vanek. The Minnesota Wild are among them. The Minneapolis Star Tribune's Michael Russo reports the Wild would probably offer Vanek a one- to three-year deal.
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