While we wait – and wait and wait – for unrestricted free agent Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) to sign with somebody, it’s easy to forget there are a number of serviceable UFAs still available.
Granted, there’s no one out there with Kovalchuk’s superstar credentials. But NHL GMs know the moves they make in the middle of August can be just as significant as the high-profile players who were signed to big-money deals on July 1.
Here are the 50 best UFAs who are still looking for an NHL home – not including Kovalchuk, who’s playing his own UFA game – featuring the top 30 forwards, top 15 defensemen and top five goalies.
What should we take from the fact that 40-year-old Teemu Selanne(notes), who’s mulling retirement, is the best “available” option at forward (and that if he plays in the NHL next season, it will be in Anaheim or not at all)? Or that the top two defensemen are coming off serious concussions that have compromised their careers? Or that the top goaltender has been trending down, finishing 27th overall in goals-against average last season and 30th in 2008-09?
It’s a reflection of the reality that there aren’t any all-star UFAs left on the market (after Kovalchuk, of course). But there are several players who will be regular NHL contributors next season, including some who could flourish in the right situation.
TOP 30 FORWARDS
1. Teemu Selanne, RW – Scott Niedermayer(notes) retired as a Duck; Saku Koivu(notes) re-signed for two more years. Selanne? Here’s hoping the ‘Finnish Flash’ returns for one more year.
2. Alexander Frolov(notes), LW – A potential 40-goal scorer who had 19 last season. A ton of talent, but too often invisible.
3. Paul Kariya(notes), LW – He turns 36 in October, but could still put up 20 goals and 60 points in the right situation. But does he want to leave St. Louis?
4. Maxim Afinogenov(notes), LW – Enjoyed a career-salvaging season playing with Kovalchuk in Atlanta. Speed and offense if anyone’s looking for a second-line tweener.
5. Lee Stempniak(notes), LW – The ex-Leafs third-liner turned Coyotes’ goal-a-gamer hustles hard and is versatile.
6. Alexei Ponikarovsky(notes), LW – Big body, good hands, decent skater. Teases with his talent, though, and doesn’t deliver as much as coaches would like.
7. Bill Guerin(notes), RW – Aging power forward can still pop a few goals and punch a few noses.
8. Raffi Torres(notes), LW – The fact he ended the 2009-10 playoffs sitting in the press box rather than suiting up for the Sabres shows the pickings are already getting slim up front. Torres plays a hard-hitting game and should be a 20-goal scorer…but he isn’t.
9. Eric Belanger(notes), C – A perfect pivot for the third or fourth line, he’s hard-working and hard to play against.
10. Mike Modano(notes), C – Contemplating a jump to the Wings, among other Western Conference teams, Modano will have to embrace a role change if he’s going to continue to play in the NHL.
11. Slava Kozlov(notes), LW – An underrated playmaker and power-play producer, Kozlov is 37 and his output dropped from 76 points in 82 games (2008-09) to 26 points in 55 games (2009-10).
12. John Madden(notes), C – Checking center added another Stanley Cup ring in his lone season in Chicago.
13. Jere Lehtinen(notes), RW – If Modano signs with Detroit, doesn’t that mean Lehtinen is duty-bound to follow suit?
14. Ruslan Fedotenko(notes), LW – Eleven goals and a minus-17 rating last season are unacceptable for Sidney Crosby’s(notes) sometimes-winger and a guy who scored 12 times in 22 playoff games for the Stanley Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.
15. Kyle Wellwood(notes), C – Not big, not fast, not much of a shot. Sometimes disappears for a week or three. But also silky smooth with the puck and an excellent playmaker – and, when he wants, a capable defensive player, too.
16. Brendan Morrison(notes), C – Rejuvenated his career with a solid 2009-10 season in Washington, he’s an attractive option as a No. 4 center who can step onto a top line and contribute on the power play.
17. Marek Svatos(notes), RW – Scored 32 goals as a rookie in 2005-06 and 26 times in 2007-08, but he’s injury-prone and had just seven goals in 54 games last season.
18. Pavol Demitra(notes), LW – Coming off a year that was riddled with injury and off-ice distractions, don’t forget that Demitra, 35, was a force for Slovakia at the 2010 Olympics.
19. Ryan Johnson(notes), C – Defensive center is a fearless shot-blocker and first-rate penalty-killer. Won’t score much, but will give you all he’s got.
20. Glen Metropolit(notes), C – One-time one-way player has developed an all-around, gritty approach and can play on the first line or the fourth.
21. Jason Williams(notes), RW – A 25-goal scorer resides in this oft-injured body.
22. Arron Asham(notes), RW – Energy and toughness on the fourth line.
23. Evgeny Artyukhin(notes), RW – A lot of skill and a behemoth frame, but something’s lost in translation.
24. Richard Park(notes), RW – Shorthanded specialist adds speed and hustle.
25. Jeff Halpern(notes), C – Veteran defensive pivot won’t do much offensively, but he’s a respected leader who was obtained as a hired gun at two of the past three trade deadlines.
26. Robert Lang(notes), C – He’s been with four teams in the past four seasons – and eight teams overall – and turns 40 in December. But his responsible play and offensive abilities keep him relevant.
27. Owen Nolan(notes), RW – Greybeard has played 1,200 hard-rockin’ games, but he might have 20 goals and some bad attitude left in him.
28. Scott Walker(notes), RW – A honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
29. Darcy Tucker(notes), RW – Veteran pest still plays with passion even as his skills erode.
30. Fredrik Modin(notes), LW – Seasons of five, nine and six goals speak to injury propensity and ravages of time.
TOP 15 DEFENSEMEN
1. Willie Mitchell(notes) – The best defenseman remaining on the market, Mitchell has been off the ice since sustaining a concussion in mid-January. He’s expected to start skating soon, but the questions about his health have scared off teams from signing the physical defender.
2. Kim Johnsson(notes) – Currently struggling through career-threatening post-concussion symptoms, Johnsson is a two-way talent…if he’s able to return.
3. Aaron Ward(notes), D – Veteran brings a defensive presence, experience and leadership.
4. Ruslan Salei(notes) – A back injury wiped out most of last season, but Salei could be a find as a depth defenseman.
5. Marc-Andre Bergeron(notes) – He didn’t have a job last season until Montreal lost Andrei Markov(notes) to long-term injury in early October. He’s an offensive blue liner whom the Habs sometimes employed as a winger or as a No. 7 defenseman. Great shot from the point, but has defensive deficiencies.
6. Mike Mottau(notes) – Hobey Baker Award winner was out of the NHL for years before reclaiming his career with the Devils.
7. Andreas Lilja(notes) – Third-pairing D-man for the Wings is a good skater and has an offensive touch.
8. Paul Mara(notes) – A No. 5-6 guy who can handle top-four ice time as a fill-in.
9. Andy Sutton(notes) – Big and physical, but mobility issues.
10. Mike Weaver(notes) – Heady defender is one of the smallest D-men in the NHL (5-foot-9).
11. Lukas Krajicek(notes) – A lot of tools, but has never been able to put it all together.
12. Martin Skoula(notes) – Does a lot of good things, but has been sliding down the depth chart.
13. Brian Pothier(notes) – Missed most of 2007-08 and ’08-09 with concussion and injury problems, but skated in 61 games last season and could be a good gamble.
14. Shaone Morrisonn(notes) – Not a great sign when the Capitals don’t bring you back, but Morrisonn’s size and skating ability should land him a job.
15. Freddy Meyer(notes) – Undersized, but useful in all three zones.
TOP 5 GOALTENDERS
1. Marty Turco(notes) – Sudden slide during the past two seasons aren’t a good trend for a soon-to-be 35-year-old goalie. But he’s a true professional and a hard worker and should have enough left in the tank to push a veteran No. 1 or to mentor a prodigy netminder.
2. Jose Theodore(notes) – Despite being yanked out of the crease and relegated to the bench for the second post-season in a row, Theodore had a solid regular season and is a viable option as a backup or even as a No. 1B.
3. Ray Emery(notes) – Hip woes have reached a career-threatening level, which doesn’t bode well for the bad boy of the goaltending set.
4. Vesa Toskala(notes) – Like Turco, Toskala has endured two forgettable seasons, leading to questions whether he’ll be in the NHL at all next season.
5. Yann Danis(notes) – Martin Brodeur’s(notes) backup last season is probably hoping to play more than 467 minutes in 2010-11. But where? Virtually every team outside of Philadelphia has its crease situation covered.