Good morning, Boston!
NHL Free Agency day has begun, and it's time for all manner of debate, speculation and rumor as we head into one of the most wonderful times of the year.
In amongst all the discussion about marquee free agents, it's easy to forget that there are a whole lot of players looking for contracts who aren't the "glamorous" FA's looking for a big day, but players who've been discarded by their previous clubs either through cap necessity or simply because their GMs have decided they're not worth the investment. These are the players who've been bought out of their contracts, or RFAs not extended qualifying offers.
In Boston, these are names like Dennis Seidenberg, Brett Connolly...and certainly nobody would argue that either of them will be massively missed by the B's...however, they may well be found by another team as they bounce around on the NHL equivalent of the Island of Lost Toys and welcomed to a new, more productive home.
This group of players is the one that can pay the most dividends come draft day. Whether it be needing a change of scenery, a change of system, released for cap issues, or simply being a victim of a down year, there are many reasons why players bought out or released can be a fertile hunting ground-not least because they're often looking to get back on the horse for relatively little money and will not be asking anywhere near the level of salary they might command in an "open" market. Here are some of the players Boston should be considering.
The defensive RFA/buyout market is a little quiet...names like Matt Carle, Barret Jackman, Fedor Tyutin, James Wisniewski and Andy Greene don't exactly set the pulse racing. In terms of prospects/depth the unqualified pool is a little deeper...names like Stuart Percy from Toronto are intriguing as players who.had high potential but were considered not to have met it with their original teams and thus have been allowed to walk...they're low-risk, high-reward signings. Tyutin is an interesting one - he's spent a long time as a top 4 NHL defenseman and would likely be looking for far less than the amount he's currently on ($5 million) while still being more than serviceable at 32. Wisniewski, too, is a steady defensive D who is coming back from injury and has very little negotiating leverage, so will likely be a cheap low-risk buy, as will Jackman, similar to JM Liles only a lot cheaper.
The most intriguing name in this group, though, isn't actually a free agent. Leafs' Jared Cowen is 25, acquired by the Leafs as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade but was always a dead man walking in Toronto from day 1, with the Leafs openly saying they would release him at the end of the season to clear cap space. However, they haven't actually been able to buy him out yet and may not be able to due to questions over whether the buyout was actually legally permissible under NHL rules.
Now, Cowen is a dead asset, finished in TO but with the Leafs not sure if they'll be lumbered with him next season anyway.
In short, he's an asset with no value to the Leafs, but at 25 he's nowhere near his prime and with a cap hit of $3,1 million for a top 4 D at one year he's potentially a big asset to anyone willing to take a gamble and pick up the phone. He's big and strong...exactly the sort of player that could be a key defenseman given a chance of scenery who can be had for almost nothing.
One has to wonder...why would you not at least consider offering the Leafs a token fee in trade to obtain Cowen on a one-year deal and see what happens? Certainly, with the FA D market it is, there's not a huge amount to lose and potentially a huge amount to gain for very little investment indeed, without the need to negotiate or face competition with other teams.
That's the kind of move that could make a GM's career if it comes off - but will anyone be brave enough to try it?
This class is equally as interesting as the defensive one...but it has one shining star who teams should be all over. Thomas Vanek is one of the best scorers in the NHL when on his game, and he's likely available for a knockdown price after being bought out by the Wild. We've already said he's a player the Bruins should be pursuing come FA, and that opinion hasn't changed. Get on the phone, Don.
Other names that should be interesting a number of other teams are Calgary's Mason Raymond and Josh Jooris, Edmonton's Lauri Korpikoski and Vancouver's Chris Higgins. Higgins in particular is a player who looks like a textbook example of someone only needing a change of scenery. Like Vanek, he has a point to prove after being shabbily treated in Vancouver.
Korpikoski, meanwhile, scored 10 goals last season and 21 points as a gritty winger with EDM last season. At 29 he's got a whole lot of mileage left in him and could be a very, very good cheap depth pickup indeed for the Bruins or any other team.
Jooris and Raymond are both useful contributors who were part of the Brian Burke offseason purge in Calgary along with Joe Colbourne. Jooris probably has the higher upside, but both should at least be considered.
The final players allowed to walk by his team who Bruins should be looking at closely forward wise, at least outside the "glamour" FA spot, are Marcus Johansson in Washington and Jamie McGinn in Anaheim. In a season split between Buffalo and Anaheim McGinn scored 22 goals and 39 points...he's a heck of a depth player who at 27 probably still has the potential to get better still given a chance. Johansson, meanwhile, has scored 46 and 47 points the past two seasons and is likely to be available for around the same amount as McGinn...these are two skilled, useful forwards who could become key contributors on a new-look Bruins.
Free agency is not just about the big names - it's about sifting through the many options and getting the most value for money. In the nether regions of the FA lists and down on the NHL's reject pile there are often diamonds waiting to be discovered just looking for a change of scenery. These are just some of the most intriguing names out there - names just looking for a chance.