Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Top 2015 NHL UFA Forwards Still Available

Although a large amount of unrestricted free agents (UFAs) have already been signed to NHL contracts, there are a host of players who do remain unsigned as UFAs.  Let's take a look at the cream of the crop of those remaining to be signed at the forward position.

Lee Stempniak - The 32 year-old winger has suited up for several different NHL teams since being selected in the fifth round of the NHL draft in 2003.  He was traded in March of 2015 by the New York Rangers to the Winnipeg Jets where he finished up a one-year contract paying him $900K with a much lower cap-hit.  Stempniak can still put the puck in the net and would be a valuable addition on offense for several teams in need of scoring.  If the price is right, look for teams such as the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres to show interest as the start of the 2015 season approaches.

Jiri Tlusty - The 27 year-old forward and former first round draft pick played for both the Carolina Hurricanes and Winnipeg Jets in 2015.  His offensive number show that he had more success while with the Hurricanes, notching 23 points in 52 regular season games.  With a salary and cap-hit of just above $700K for 2014-15, if he's looking for a comparable number, he could wind up as an addition for a team in need of offensive depth without much cap room.

Martin Erat - The 33 year-old left shooting winger was drafted all the way back in 1999 if you can believe it.  An NHL mainstay since 2003, he's bounced around the league a bit, but continues to show a propensity for the net.  With 545 points in 881 regular season NHL games, his production is nothing to sneeze out.  Most recently, with the Arizona Coyotes, Erat had 32 points (9 goals) in 79 regular season games.  The issue here becomes price.  Coming off a contract that generally carried a $4.5 million annual cap hit (barring one season), Erat's contract can be expected to come in at a significantly lower number for interested teams in 2015-16, taking into account age an overall production.

Curtis Glencross - The left-shooting veteran winger finished last season with the Washington Capitals after a trade from Calgary Flames, where he spent seven seasons.  He had seven points in the 18 games with Washington, which is just under his more than half-a-point per game average over his lengthy NHL career.  His cap hit while with the Flames was $2.55 million, and there are several teams who could afford, and need, a veteran producer like Glencross with a relatively affordable contract (if it carries a cap hit near $2 million).

Daniel Briere - The 37 year-old Briere has suited up for several NHL teams since breaking into the league with the Phoenix Coyotes during the 1997-98 season, after being selected in the first round of the 1996 NHL draft.  He signed a two-year deal with the Montreal Canadiens beginning in 2013-14, which carried a cap cost of $4 million.  A trade in the summer of 2014 sent Briere to the Avalanche where he notched 12 points in 57 regular season games last season.  Briere's talents could certainly be used by NHL teams looking for a veteran presence with a scoring touch, however, it would need to come at a considerable discount to his previous contract.

Erik Cole - Cole, when healthy, may be the top offensive player on this list.  His career stats show that he has notched 532 points in 892 games.  Most recently, after being traded to the Detroit Red Wings in March of 2015, for their push to the playoffs, Cole had put up six points in 11 games, before suffering a spinal contusion which put him out for the remainder of the 2014-15 season, beginning in early April.  He was finishing a contract that carried a $4.5 million per year cap hit.  At 36 years of age, Cole can still produce at a high level when healthy.  

Scottie Upshall - The 31 year-old winger, and former number six overall draft pick, spent the past four seasons with the Florida Panthers, finishing up a $14 million contract.  Upshall can still produce, although he has not average a half-point per game since the 2009-10 season while with the Phoenix Coyotes.  A team with cap room looking for a depth forward will likely give Upshall a shot, but at a steep discount to the $3.5 million cap number his contract carried previously.

Sean Bergenheim - The Finnish winger taken in the first round of the 2002 NHL entry draft will be an offensive asset to a team in need of a goal-scorer this season.  It's somewhat surprising that he has not yet been signed to a contract.  Unless he is looking for a big raise on his salary from his most recently expired contract, he would be coming at a relative bargain benchmarked against the current offensive market.

Mike Santorelli - An under-30 pivot who can score won't sit on the sidelines through the start of the NHL season.  Although his scoring dropped a bit after joining the Nashville Predators in a trade last season, he showed that he can score while with the Toronto Maple Leafs previously, notching 11 goals and 29 points in 57 games.  If he's looking for a contract similar to the one-year deal at $1.5 million he had last season, he'll likely be suiting up with an NHL team before October.

Scott Gomez - "Gomer" is getting older, but at 35 years of age he can still play this game at the highest level.  He returned to his roots last season, joining the team that drafted him in the first round back in 1998, when he won the Calder Trophy as a member of the New Jersey Devils.  With a $550K salary on a one-year deal, suffice it to say that Gomez was a bargain last season.  For a team sorely in need of offensive assistance, he garnered 34 points in 58 games. The guy can play, and just wants to play.  He will.

Who is missing from this list?  Let us know with a comment!

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