There aren’t any marquee NHL free agents left. Anyone with considerable upside has been snatched up by a general manager who was probably overpaying for those services.
A market that was thin in the first place has been whittled down to the slim pickings. Yet there’s something to be said for adding the right low-cost piece as the days of summer slide off the calendar.
For example, the Columbus Blue Jackets recently snagged 22-year-old Anthony Duclair on a one-year deal worth the league minimum of $650,000. That’s a remarkable value, even for a player who is essentially heading to Ohio to revitalize his career under John Tortorella, according to Aaron Portzline of The Athletic.
Who can forget the impact Devante Smith-Pelly had for the Washington Capitals after waiting until July 3 to sign last year.
Chris Peters @chrismpeters
Construction will soon begin on the Devante Smith-Pelly sculpture where he’ll forever be diving and slipping a puck between the columns of the Lincoln Memorial. https://t.co/dqoUFPEOVi
John Tavares is long gone, and so are the big dominos that tumbled after he bolted for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but there are a handful of players left who could make an impact in the right situation. None of these skaters are going to put a team over the top alone, but they could turn out to be an integral part of the machine down the stretch.
Rick Nash Has Plenty of Options Should He Decide to Return
We’d be remiss if we examined possible free-agent additions while leaving Rick Nash out of the equation. The veteran wing is considering retirement due to concussion issues, according to Greg Wyshynski of ESPN.com. However, we still don’t know for sure if he’s hanging his skates up for good.
Nash informed teams ahead of the free-agent frenzy that he would be taking his time to decide on his future. Perhaps even more incredible is that, based on John Shannon’s account for Sportsnet, the 34-year-old left multiyear deals worth at least $15 million on the table while deciding whether or not he was healthy enough to play.
John Shannon @JSportsnet
Further on Rick Nash’s decision to opt out of Free Agency, for now…8 teams made calls on #61… and he could have agreed in principle to a deal that would have paid him 15 million dollars on a multi-year deal.
He decided to take the high road.
In the right role, Nash could thrive as a top-six wing and perhaps inject some life into his career after a rough, injury-riddled 2017-18 campaign.
The Bruins gave up a bundle of assets to acquire Nash from the New York Rangers in February, but he only made it into 11 contests for the club. Boston is hoping for a lengthy playoff run this season and badly needs depth at forward.
Nash could provide that from the second or third line while avoiding the toughest defensive matchups altogether. Don’t sleep on a return to Columbus either.
Alex Brandon/Associated Press
Washington Capitals Could Bring Brooks Orpik Back
In late June, the top priority for the Washington Capitals was to re-sign defenseman John Carlson before he could flirt with free agency. To do so, they needed to create cap space.
That’s why they shipped Brooks Orpik and Philipp Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche for a second-round pick in the 2018 draft. The Avalanche never had any intention of rostering Orpik and instead bought him out three days after acquiring him.
“I owed him the respect to let him know that the plan is to buy him out and let him be a free agent,” Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic said at the draft, according to Wyshynski. “I’m sure he’ll have a lot of teams that’ll want to add him to their group.”
Yet Orpik remains a free agent.
However, the Capitals may actually be interested in bringing Orpik back into the fold, according to Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post:
Isabelle Khurshudyan @ikhurshudyan
MacLellan said Caps are in discussions with Orpik. He’s weighing some options as well.
At 37, Orpik isn’t the player he once was but could still fill that “vaunted veteran defenseman” presence as Washington gets younger on the back end.
Madison Bowey, 23, should take on a larger role next season, while Christian Djoos is looking to build off a promising rookie campaign. The latter, in particular, appears to be a certifiable good one.
Orpik’s last deal had him hitting the salary cap for $5.5 million. He’s not going to get anywhere near that number on his next deal, but he may have a tough choice when it comes to what kind of role he wants to play next season.
In Washington, he’d be the No. 6 or No. 7 defender. If he believes that he still has top-six minutes in the tank, though, a team like the New Jersey Devils could make a lot of sense. Orpik has a history with general manager Ray Shero dating back to their time in Pittsburgh, and if the Devils don’t think someone like Ty Smith will be ready for full-time action in the NHL just yet, Orpik could be a solid stopgap.
The veteran was also at his best last season when he was paired with someone like Carlson—a defender who can get the puck out of the defensive zone and up the ice. New Jersey has several players in that mold, so the Devils could hypothetically shelter Orpik to some degree.
Bill Boyce/Associated Press
Dan Hamhuis Still Considering His Options
Any organization that is looking for an old-school, stay-at-home defenseman has their pick of the litter now.
Like Orpik, Hamhuis is on the wrong side of the age curve at 35 and may be looking for his last professional contract. Unlike Orpik, Hamhuis is still actually capable of producing points at a decent clip.
The former first-round pick isn’t Drew Doughty, but he still notched a respectable three goals and 24 points for the Dallas Stars. That point total ranked him 75th among defensemen, and the 74 players ahead of him all have (or will have, following arbitration rulings) contracts for 2018-19.
He was also entrusted with protecting the cage while Julius Honka settled in as an everyday player and was just fine in that role.
Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB
Shift in the @DallasStars defensive alignment with Dan Hamhuis paired with Julius Honka. Stephen Johns with Greg Pateryn.
There always seems to be a general manager around who is willing to bring on a veteran defenseman for depth, and according to Hamhuis himself, he’s weighing his options at the moment. This is according to an interview with Sportsnet 650’s The Program this past Friday.
A majority of the conversation centered on Alex Burrows, who recently was hired by the Montreal Canadiens organization to be an assistant coach at the AHL level. Hamhuis’ playing career naturally came up, though, and the defender said there were “a few irons in the fire.”
It’s easy to see why the Stars decided not to re-sign Hamhuis. According to Sean Shapiro of The Athletic, last week Dallas emerged as the front-runner to land Erik Karlsson.
Despite not rejoining Dallas, Hamhuis is still a useful player and could fit in well given the right set of circumstances. He’s not going to be a top-pairing option and leaning on him to anchor a second pairing might be a big ask, but Hamhuis is still perfectly capable of playing 20ish minutes a night while producing 15 or 20 points if healthy.
He told Sportsnet that he’s looking to join a contender, but those kinds of jobs are tough to find. Perhaps the Chicago Blackhawks could entice Hamhuis to take a run at the Stanley Cup. Hamhuis wouldn’t be the magical cure-all for that shoddy blue line, but he could be a useful member of the roster.