With another month of summer come and gone, players are beginning their regimented fitness programs in preparation for another run at the cup with their NHL club. For several veterans, they find themselves in a unique position for their careers, free agents in August. Although free agent frenzy has passed there are still names on the board that could contribute to a contending team.
Top Three Remaining NHL Free Agents
Projected Contract: One-year, $2,500,000
It is no secret that Fisher is getting long in the tooth. The 17-year NHL veteran, who turned 37 this summer, is coming off his second Stanley Cup Final. Captaining the Nashville Predators, Fisher put up an impressive 18 goals and 24 assists in 72 games. However, the playoffs turned out to be quite the struggle for the aging center as he was held to no goals and four assists before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the Stanley Cup Final.
Although his playoff performance was quite disappointing, Fisher can still be effective in the league in a reduced role. Based on his HERO chart (http://ownthepuck.blogspot.ca), Fisher is an eyelash short of being a second line center. Yet, at 37, the inevitable sharp decline is most likely just around the corner. It would be foolish to project Fisher in a second line role. It should be expected that Fisher is at most a very good third line center or a great fourth line center.
Fisher is most likely, if he does not retire, to return to his Nashville Predators. However, there are still many teams that are lacking center-depth that could use him. The Montreal Canadiens currently line up with Phillip Danault, Tomas Plekanec, Torrey Mitchell and Peter Holland. Mike Fisher would most likely be their second best center despite his aforementioned limitations. Unless Alex Galchenyuk can figure himself out, or Jonathan Drouin can successfully make the move to center, Montreal’s center position would still be subpar even with the addition of Fisher.
Other possible destinations: New York Islanders, Pittsburg Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets
Projected Contract: One-year, $2,250,000
It is really a wonder that a 29-year-old right-shot defenseman still finds himself a free agent in August. Rumors have run rampant for months about theoretical trades that would move elite young defensemen like Mathew Dumba, and Sami Vatanen. However, for whatever reason Franson now sits beside his phone waiting for a new rink to call home.
One reason that Franson remains unsigned could be the fact that he is not elite rearguard. That is not to say he does not have a place in the league though. Franson, based on his HERO chart, is still a borderline second pair defenseman with elite shot suppression numbers. Though, like Fisher, he would be best suited playing below his maximum, leaving him as a third pair defenseman. Franson would be very effective as third pair defensemen, and still, has lots to offer on special teams as well.
Another reason he remains a free agent could be the lack of competitors with a combination of positional need and cap space. However, it is not hard to fathom that he could be as effective as Maple Leafs Ron Hainsey or the Canadiens Karl Alzner at a lower cap hit. This leaves up and coming teams that either had a down season or showed real promise in 2016-17. The Arizona Coyotes, with their elite farm system, could use a quality right handed defenceman and have the cap space to easily absorb the hit.
Reports suggest that if Franson does not have a contract in September, he will head to Chicago Blackhawks training camp on a try-out basis.
Other possible destinations: Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets
Projected Contract: One-year, $3,000,000 + $1.5 million in bonus
Jagr is a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame there is no doubt about it. Yet, if he wishes to continue his storied career it appears he will have to find his ninth NHL club. At 45 it is not uncommon for a player to be unsigned in the world’s best hockey league. But not every 45-year-old puts up 46 points and plays all 82 games of the NHL schedule.
The ageless wonder may not have the foot-speed he once did when he and Mario Lemieux dominated in the Steel City, but he remains effective without it. Jagr remains a very good first line player. One could argue that he is a superior player to Alexander Radulov, who just signed a five-year, $6,250,000 contract at 30 years old. 5 on 5 there is no argument based on their hero charts. Aside from ice-time Jagr’s HERO chart is on par or betters Radulov’s. Nonetheless, Radulov is very effective on special teams and is 15 years younger.
Given his production and the inherent discount, because of his age, there is no reason why any team with cap space shouldn’t already have number 68 waiting for him. It is very surprising that Jags is still sitting without a contract in August. One team that has plenty of cap space, one of the NHL’s best one-through-six defense corps, a potential number one goalie and a handful of promising young forwards is the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes are very close to taking a huge step. Signing a productive veteran to a discount contract would certainly improve them. If only there was a 21-year-old, German center that they could offer sheet, the ‘Canes could quietly shift to a Stanley Cup favorite.
Other possible destinations: Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, San Jose Sharks