The majority of unrestricted free agents who will find employers have already signed. Still, there are a handful of very interesting players still on the market.
This week we’re going to highlight some of the biggest names still looking for work. Two of the following five players had their contracts bought out under the NHL's new CBA in which the buyout is not included in the salary cap.
1) Ilya Bryzgalov
Although a number of effective players whose excessive contracts were bought out have quickly found work with new NHL teams, Bryzgalov is not one of them.
To be fair to Bryzgalov, the goaltending market is always a different beast. While finding an elite goaltender is tough, overall there are just not a lot of jobs to go around and they’re so important that teams have to be selective. Bryzgalov’s tenure with the Philadelphia Flyers was marked by as many bizarre media sessions as it was by on-ice struggles, and that combination has likely scared off potential suitors.
Still, let’s not forget the Flyers coveted him in the first place because when he’s at his best, he is the type of goaltender who can carry a team. He had some amazing seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes and at the age of 33, he still could have several strong seasons left in him.
Maybe he would be able to recapture some of that lost magic in a smaller market with a team that’s less than entirely confident with their projected starter. However, depending on his contract expectations, he might end up in the KHL.
2) Tim Thomas
Like Bryzgalov, part of the problem is that there are fewer teams willing to gamble on a goaltender than a forward.
Thomas’ surprising decision to skip the 2012-13 season despite the fact that he was still under contract with the Boston Bruins put the team in a difficult situation. It ended up working just fine for them, but the end result is that Thomas is a 39-year-old goaltender who hasn’t played in a year.
That makes him a big question mark as he attempts this comeback, but of course, it’s hard not to be tempted by the idea of getting a two-time Vezina Trophy winner.
Ultimately, the success of Thomas’ comeback will be partially dependent on his commitment to returning to the NHL. If he’s willing to join a team’s camp on a professional tryout, he might win a role as a team’s backup and from there, who knows. If that doesn’t appeal to him, this comeback might die before it ever really got started.
3) Mikhail Grabovski
You have to wonder if Mikhail Grabovski would have signed by now if he didn’t respond to the Maple Leafs’ decision to buy him out by calling Leafs coach Randy Carlyle a "[expletive] idiot." There was probably a more professional way to display his discontent over a lack of playing time.
All the same, Grabovski isn’t far removed from back-to-back, 50-point-plus seasons and yes, if he gets more playing time, he should be an appealing top-six power forward.
Unlike Thomas or Bryzgalov, the question with Grabovski is when he’ll sign rather than if. Assuming he doesn’t price himself out of the market - and keep in mind the Maple Leafs will pay him more than $14 million over eight years - someone should eventually agree to take a chance on him. Under the right circumstances, they won’t be disappointed.
4) Jaromir Jagr
Jagr’s days of carrying a team are long past him, but he’s still capable of serving as a top-six forward and he’ll bring a wealth of experience to any team that signs him.
Not to mention some added fanfare as Jagr continues his climb up the NHL all-time leaderboards. Jagr ranks 10th in goals and is just nine shy of Mario Lemieux, 11 away from Steve Yzerman, and 13 short of Mark Messier. He would need just 36 points to surpass Lemieux and claim sole possession of seventh place on the NHL’s career scoring list.
Jagr is one of the few remaining holdovers from a higher scoring era. Beyond Jagr and Selanne, the next highest player on the NHL scoring race is Joe Thornton, who ranks 55th. In other words, when those two leave, it will be a while before these kind of statistical milestones are challenged again.
Where Jagr will end up remains to be seen, but one possibility is the Carolina Hurricanes, who were believed to be interested in him if they could free up the cap space necessary to sign him.
5) Damien Brunner
On this list, Brunner sticks out like a sore thumb. He’s not an aging former superstar or a player that has been the subject of a major controversy, but his situation is still unique.
He is a 27-year-old who has only one season of NHL experience under his belt - really one half season due to the lockout. He wasn’t a dominant player, but he was great at times and he averaged out to be more than serviceable. Factor in his success in Switzerland and it’s not hard to see why teams are interested in him.
Still, he’s an obvious risk, given his lack of North American experience, especially if he expects a multi-year contract, and it’s very likely that he does. Brunner could turn into a solid top-six forward, but he still has to prove he can handle the rigors of an 82-game campaign and be relatively consistent.
Recent reports suggest that the New Jersey Devils are pushing hard to sign him after Ilya Kovalchuk bolted to the KHL.