NHL Free Agents: Puck Daddy’s top 20 unrestricted forwards

NHL Free Agents: Puck Daddy’s top 20 unrestricted forwards
NHL Free Agents: Puck Daddy’s top 20 unrestricted forwards

The 2015 unrestricted free agent class is mediocre.   

Just remember in 2012 when Zach Parise and Ryan Suter headlined a group of guys looking for a better deal on the open market? Nobody of that ilk is heading into unrestricted free agency. In fact, it’s not even close.

But there are some guys who can help your team, and over the next several days we here at Puck Daddy aim to inform you all about the best players in the 2015 class. And by best players we’re speaking relatively to their UFA peers this year of course.

(All salaries are via generalfanager.com)

1. Matt Beleskey, LW, Anaheim Ducks

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $1.35 million)

Beleskey posted his best numbers as a pro last season, skating with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry while producing 22 goals – more than his previous three seasons combined. 

One way to react to this is ‘hey, he found his stride at 27 years old and has proven to be a player that can hang in the top six and produce.’ The other way to react, as our own Ryan Lambert did, is that “it's tough to say definitively that Matt Beleskey won't keep scoring like this. But we can say with great confidence that the odds aren't on his side.”

But since the free-agent market is rail thin, someone will pay him.

2. Carl Soderberg, C, Boston Bruins

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $1,008,333 million)

The Bruins would bring back Soderberg if they weren’t in cap hell, but, alas, they are. His offensive number took a dip last season, but he could be a 50-point third liner on a good team. Question is: Will someone see him as more, and pay him accordingly?

3. Justin Williams, RW, Los Angeles Kings

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $3.65 million)

Mr. Game 7 is another victim of a cap crunch, unless he’s willing to take a discount to remain with the Kings. The 33-year-old and the Kings “don’t have much common ground” according to Elliotte Friedman. He should net north of $4 million annually as a UFA – couldn’t you see someone like the St. Louis Blues or Pittsburgh Penguins ante up for this playoff winner?

4. Antoine Vermette, C, Chicago Blackhawks

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $3,750,000 million)

He’s 32 and coming off a Stanley Cup title. A faceoff beast that’ll get you around 40 points, provided his offensive output for the Blackhawks was due to his role on the team. Can he be a second-line option for someone?

5. Drew Stafford, RW, Winnipeg Jets

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $4 million)

Stafford and the Jets are talking extension; question is whether he can handle top six minutes with, say, Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little. He had a $4 million hit on a 4-year deal last season, posting 18 goals in 76 games. Not sure what the overall market would be, but he’d be a nice depth addition for a contender.

6. Joel Ward, RW, Washington Capitals

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $3 million)

Joel Ward being in the same free agent class as Justin Williams is like DEEP IMPACT and ARMAGEDDON coming out in the same summer. He’s a good third liner who somehow becomes essential in the playoffs. Ward wants term. The Capitals don’t want to give it to him.

7. Michael Frolik, RW, Winnipeg Jets

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $3.3 million)

Depending on the price, he could be one of the more valuable UFAs in the mix. A very solid depth player, great possession numbers and only 27. Plus he kills penalties. Jets fans want him back; are there greener pastures?

8. Mike Ribeiro, C, Nashville Predators

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $1.05 million)

All due respect to the reclamation project David Poile took on, and the 62-point season that Ribeiro had, but does anyone want this guy as a teammate given what’s happening away from the rink at the moment? Besides maybe James Neal? Still, as productive centers go, few can match Ribiero's numbers. 

9. Chris Stewart, RW, Minnesota Wild

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $4.15 million)

You know what you’re getting: Around 15 goals, a good amount of PIMs from a 230-pound power forward. But he was a non-factor for the Minnesota Wild after he escaped Buffalo, which didn’t exactly add value to what we already knew about him. Plus he’s injury prone.

10. Jiri Tlusty, C/W, Winnipeg Jets

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $2.95 million)

Tlusty is 27. He seemed to find his stride over the years with the Carolina Hurricanes as a top six forward. His one goal in 20 games with the Jets after his trade there was indicative of the fourth-line role he was handed, but Jets fans liked him as a possession driver. Could be a nice value add for the right team if he doesn’t return to the ‘Peg. 

11. Brad Richards, C, Chicago Blackhawks

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $2 million) 

Richards is only one year removed from a 20-goal campaign with the Rangers. If his asking price is around the $2 million the Blackhawks paid, he’s a steal. But anything more would be overpriced. Last season he had 37 points in 76 games mostly playing on a line with Patrick Kane – until Kane got hurt in February.

Still, playing with “Showtime” you’d think those numbers would look slightly better.

Richards did come through as a clutch player in the postseason with 14 points in 23 games including two assists in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Will he come back to Chicago? He says the Hawks are in his heart forever, or something like that. Would the Blackhawks want him?

12. Mike Fisher, C, Nashville Predators

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $4.2 million)

If you want Mike Fisher, you’ll have to pry him out of Poile’s powerful grip.

Poile has gone to great lengths to say that as long as he’s the general manager, he won’t let Fisher go. Fisher’s wife, country music star Carrie Underwood, lives in the Music City. He really has no reason to go.

At the age of 35, what’s reasonable for Fisher? He had his fourth-best points per-game total at 0.66 last season. He wins 52 percent of his face offs. He’s an excellent penalty killer.

Father Time has not caught up to Fisher yet. A two-year deal for him seems reasonable. But again, you’d have to grab him from Nashville, and that seems hard, if not impossible, unless you’re the Blackhawks and can offer him a chance at a Stanley Cup because you’re not bringing back Brad Richards.

 13. Shawn Matthias, C, Vancouver Canucks

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $1.75 million)

Matthias is one of the more underrated parts of the Roberto Luongo trade from the 2013-14 season.

 He scored 18 goals this past season for the Canucks. He’s another one of those younger UFAs who could help you for not a lot of change.

People are always looking for depth down the middle these days. Matthias counts in that department. He’s also 27, which boosts his value to a major degree.

14. Martin St. Louis, RW, New York Rangers

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $5.625 million)

St. Louis this year is sort of like Richards from a year ago without the buy out. He’s older. He’s coming off a bigger contract. There are questions as to how much he has left in the tank – especially at the age of 40. But he’s still productive 

Last season, St. Louis had 21 goals and 59 points in 74 games for the Rangers. If a contending team is looking for veteran depth, St. Louis fits. But with a lot of top teams getting squeezed by the salary cap for next year, St. Louis will have to go for a significant discount than what he was making before with the Rangers.

He was a disaster in the Rangers’ playoff run, after being the team’s inspiration a year ago. He had just one goal in 19 games.

Still, he’s a very intriguing name on the market. He’s in obvious decline, but he did lead the NHL in scoring three years ago.

15. Mike Santorelli, C, Nashville Predators

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $1.5 million)

Who is Mike Santorelli? Is he the speedster who scored 11 goals in 57 games with Toronto last season and the guy who was a 20-goal scorer with Florida in 2010-11? Or is he the player who scored one goal in 22 games for Nashville after a February trade and found himself in coach Peter Laviolette’s dog house?

He also had 28 points in 49 games with Vancouver in 2013-14.

He has enough of a track record to merit some interest. Also at age 29 – and maybe below the $2 million mark –  he’d give you decent value, especially with his center/wing versatility. But there certainly should be questions based on how the speedster flamed out with the free-flowing Preds.

16. Derek Roy, C, Edmonton Oilers

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $1 million)

Roy is not the player he once was. But if you can grab him again for close to what he made a year ago, that’s a decent contract. With the Oilers, he proved he still belongs in the NHL, in spite of his decline.

Is he the guy who notched 69 points in 2009-10? Not at all. But in today’s speed game, he has a place. His 22 points in 46 games with Edmonton last season should prove this.

Is Boston a fit, asks The Fourth Period:

Roy could slot in as a third or fourth line centre and can land in Boston on a one-year deal with a reasonable salary -- he made $1 million this season.

At that price, he’s a good pickup.

17. Shawn Horcoff, C, Dallas Stars

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $5.5 million)

Finally, Horcoff’s insane 6-year $33 million contract is up. He’s going to have to take a paycut big time. The Dallas Stars have said they’re not going to re-sign him.

"He’s still got that burning desire to play pretty high minutes and would love to come back to our team if that situation was there. If the opportunity wasn’t there and he was going to be the 11th, 12th or 13th forward, he didn’t want to be in that situation," (general manager Jim) Nill said. "With where our forwards are at and our young kids are at he said he knew it might not happen here. He still has that desire, and he should for a couple more years. He really wants to help a team out, and he’s going to explore free agency. It was a mutual decision."

If Horcoff isn’t willing to be a depth forward, then where can he go? Who will want him? He’s another guy who probably needs to weigh the desire to win versus what he’s worth or thinks he’s worth.

The Dallas Morning News says $1.5 million – what Vernon Fiddler made – is a decent point for Horcoff. But he’ll have to be willing to take that type of a cut.

18. Daniel Winnik, C, Pittsburgh Penguins

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $1.3 million)

He did have 25 points in 58 games this past season with the horrible Maple Leafs.

Also, The Hockey Writers makes a compelling case on why Winnik is valuable:

In his brief 21 regular season games with the Pens, Winnik was an advanced analytics monster. His most frequent linemates Patric Hornqvist, Sidney Crosby and Brandon Sutter all had a Corsi For of over 55% playing with him.

So really, maybe there’s more to Winnik than simply appears, especially at decent value for potentially less than $2 million per-year.

He could be a hidden gem of the class.

19. Tomas Fleischmann, LW, Anaheim Ducks

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $4.5 million)

Wait, this guy made $4.5 million on a salary cap hit last year? Bless Dale Tallon, creator of the Blackhawks dynasty for giving him that contract with Florida. 

Fleischmann will get nowhere near that amount in free agency. He was a depth player for the Ducks in their playoff run.

What does he have going for him? The fact that he was a pretty decent scorer as recently as 2012-13 with 35 points in 48 games for Florida.

If you can get him at a decent value, he might be worth it. But he seems like a guy who will end up on a non-contending team with a chance to resurrect his career. 

20. Curtis Glencross, LW, Washington Capitals

(2014-15 Cap Hit: $2.55 million)

Glencross could work a team willing to upgrade forward depth. But he’ll probably have to take a large paycut. He’s a 32-year-old who has never scored more than 48 points in his career, and those don’t tend to get valued highly, and not nearly at the $2.55 million mark anymore. 

But he hasn’t shown any real tangible production decline yet, which bodes well. His 0.49 points-per-game was equal to his 2009-10 total.

Glencross seemed resigned to hitting July 1 per CSN Washington:

“You have to wait and see what’s going to happen. Come free agency on July 1 we’ll see what’s out there and go from there. You never know until that time comes.”

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