NHL free agency is more than a month old, yet still chock full of value. In fact, the Athletic’s Jonathan Willis calls it the strongest August unrestricted free agent class that he has seen in over a decade. So how many of these notable names can expect to find NHL employment before next season? Willis broke down the group of unsigned players, listing five centers, six left wings, four right wings, four left-shot defensemen, four right-shot defensemen, and zero goaltenders that he feels certain still deserve a role in the league. Many of those are distinguished veterans who will comes as no surprise, names like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Justin Williams, Derick Brassard, Patrick Maroon, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Brian Boyle, and Ben Lovejoy, for example. Others are simply role players at this point in their career, having failed to show the upside needed to be an impact contributor, such as Riley Sheahan, Tobias Rieder, Magnus Paajarvi, Dmitrij Jaskin, Ben Hutton, Joe Morrow, and Fredrik Claesson, to name a few. However, the most intriguing names, pointed out by Willis as possible targets for bargain hunters at this point in the off-season, include Jake Gardiner, Kevin Shattenkirk, Oscar Lindberg, Valeri Nichushkin, and Alex Petrovic. Willis believes each one has a high ceiling and has more to give an NHL team than the rest of the list, aside from some of the top veterans. Some of those analyzed by Willis who he didn’t feel were necessarily worthy of another NHL contract? Jamie McGinn, Micheal Haley, Cody McLeod, Zac Rinaldo, Devante Smith-Pelly, Drew Stafford, Andrew MacDonald, David Schlemko, Adam McQuaid, and Cam Ward.
- One of the aforementioned names, Derick Brassard, may be closest to finding a new home. The Edmonton Journal’s Kurt Leavins has confirmed the Edmonton Oilers’ interest in the veteran center, as they currently have a hole down the middle on their third line. This is hardly the first time that Brassard’s name has been linked to the Oilers, but it is the first time details have emerged. Leavins reports that Brassard is seeking upwards of $4MM AAV on his next contract, which is beyond what Edmonton is willing to pay. They have fair reason to avoid that salary too, as Brassard is coming off the worst season of his career, a 23-point campaign split between the Pittsburgh Penguins, Florida Panthers, and Colorado Avalanche. Approaching 32 years old and already showing signs of decline over the past few years, Brassard will be hard-pressed to get $4MM from any team, never mind the cap-strapped Oilers. Leavins mentioned that the Montreal Canadiens also have interest in Brassard, but the two teams are unlikely to engage in a bidding war. If the Oilers are already in talks with Brassard, they stand a good chance to land him at a fair price, even if it takes another few weeks to move him to a reasonable asking price.
- Leavins also notes that Scottie Upshall is hoping to throw his hat back into the ring for NHL consideration this summer. Upshall joined the Oilers in training camp on a PTO last fall, only to suffer a serious lower-body injury and to be cut from camp. Leavins notes that he has been rehabbing for the past nine months and feels he is ready for a comeback. The market for Upshall certainly won’t be overwhelming – he was on a PTO last year and is now a year older and coming off a major injury – but there’s reason to think he still has value and could earn another training camp invite. Upshall has had his struggles with both injuries and consistency throughout his 15-year NHL career, but the journeyman forward has cracked 30 points five different times and is an established two-way contributor and penalty killer. His last full season with the St. Louis Blues in 2017-18, Upshall played a regular role on the team’s fourth line, albeit missing 19 games, and was on a full-season pace for 25 points and a career-high 155 hits. If Upshall really is back at full strength, it’s fair to assume that some teams may have interest in his veteran presence and energy role, especially if they can also assume a 20-30 point season on a minimum contract.