The NHL waiver wire. Traditionally a footnote in sports reports, the waiver wire is usually where NHL careers go to die a slow death, or inconveniences to a NHL squad cap hits take their last breaths above water before being submerged in the anonymity and release from cap issues that is the AHL (we're looking at you, Wade Redden, and more relevantly, you too, Andrew MacDonald).
But this season more than any other, it's the NHL equivalent of an Alaskan mountain stream...sure, it doesn't LOOK particularly special, but get in there and dig, turn over a few lumps of useless rock (say...those named Frazer McLaren, for example) and there's gold in them there waiver wires for the price of a few pebbles and a bit of digging.
Fellow Chowder contributor (and also member of SBN's Tampa site Raw Charge) Ashley (@ashonice) put together a team today that demonstrates this pretty well - the "(Almost) All-Waiver Team"
This is a team built from players that NHL teams have deemed expendable this pre-season, either through waivers or in PTOs not signed.
Mason Raymond-Derek Roy-Sean Bergenheim
Matt Frattin-Max Talbot-Linden Vey
Jon Marchessault-Paul Byron-Mike Angelidis
Cal O'Reilly-Sam Carrick-Jamie Devane
Frank Corrado/TJ Brennan
Ryan Stanton/Andrew MacDonald
Nikita Nikitin/Alex Biega
Ben Scrivens/Dustin Tokarski.
Admittedly, there is nothing there that's going to pull up any scoring trees, at least not among the majority. But look at that top line. There's 300 NHL goals, around 1500 NHL games and a whole lot of serviceability/experience in that trio. Below them are a mix of younger players who "just need a chance" in the right team and...well, Max Talbot, who is the definition of "cagey veteran fourth-liner"...intriguing names like Linden Vey and Paul Byron stick out too.
Defensively, there's...well, much more of a "rich man's scrapheap" feel. Nikita Nikitin and Andrew MacDonald are the very definition of "buyer beware" but for a team with massive cap space and a hole to fill for a little while, they're a possible (if very expensive) redemption project waiting to happen. The rest are depth d-men who, again, are "just looking for a chance".
In net, too, there's possibilities. Both Scrivens and Tokarski are goalies who could fill a more than serviceable backup role (probably far better and for the same money as, I dunno, Jonas Gustavsson, maybe)...Tokarski in particular has "given up on too soon" written all over him when it comes to the Canadiens...remember when he was briefly the next great hope in Montreal?
Then, of course, look at the players not on this list because an NHL team somewhere has already turned them up in the pan and decided to see what they look like after a polish and a little investment. Lee Stempniak. Scottie Upshall. These aren't superstars, but nor are they plugs either.
Then look at players who are getting jobs instead. Bruins fans-are you seriously telling me that these players are better than Tyler Randell, or Zac Rinaldo? Or Jonas Gustavsson?
The NHL has moved towards a far more "use and dispose" approach in recent years when it comes to veterans - players like Derek Roy, who were once stars, find themselves discarded into the bargain basement bin after one or two years dropping off in form. An injury-hit year, one unproductive season, a couple of years playing a "veteran" role on a bargain basement team, or one bad contract and blam. It's the frozen wastes of the waiver wire for you guys.
Teams moving towards youth and trying to develop stars sooner has, admittedly, made the league more exciting. But it's also led to a situation where "veteran talent" is cheaper - and a little digging means you can get far more for your money. Especially when that "veteran talent" is "young gun who never quite panned out beyond early promise but still fits nicely into a role if you have one open".
The average signing salary of players on PTOs this season has been around $700,000. The Bruins are paying Zac Rinaldo $850,000 a year.
If you're not seeing the advantages of having a potential top-six-talent player, motivated to prove he should never have been discarded, like Sean Bergenheim or Derek Roy for less than Zac Rinaldo, then you're not looking hard enough.
The really interesting thing about this group is that simply put, nobody is looking. There's gold lurking under the surface. All it takes is for a GM willing enough to do a little digging.