Free agent star power is in short supply yet again this July 1, but that doesn’t mean helpful contributors and potential bargains aren’t out to be found.
Here are eight names to keep an eye when Canada Day rolls around:
1. Patrick Marleau
Position: Left wing/centre
Marleau has quietly been one of the most productive players of the last 20 years, and though he’s not quite elite anymore, the 37-year-old can still be a difference-maker. He had 27 goals last year and hasn’t had fewer than 17 since he was a rookie with the Sharks in 1997. He’s also the picture of durability, yet to miss a game since the 2008-09 season while suiting up in all but 31 games over a 19-year career. The Saskatchewan native remains a strong skater, faceoff man and power play contributor with solid underlying numbers.
2. Brian Elliott
Need a backup goalie who can step in and play regularly when you’re in a pinch? Elliott is your guy. His first and likely only season in Calgary started off disastrously, but Elliott actually had the ninth-best save percentage (.919) in the league after Dec. 1 — though he struggled again in the post-season. He also has a long track record of excellence, dating back to his lengthy stint as the sometimes starter, sometimes backup in St. Louis. Interested teams could peg Elliott for 25-30 games and be comfortable knowing he could play more if the starter gets hurt or struggles.
3. Sam Gagner
Because he went so high in the 2007 draft — sixth overall — more was expected of Gagner, but the product of London, Ont., has actually been a pretty consistent contributor over a 10-year NHL career — averaging 14 goals and 40 points. Gagner, who’s still only 27, had his career-best 50 points last year as a fourth line centre who got plenty of power play time for Columbus. That would seem to be his ideal role moving forward. He doesn’t kill penalties and is weak on the draw, but if slotted right and counted on for modest offence, Gagner can help someone.
4. Steve Mason
Starting destinations are limited for the former Calder trophy winner with only Winnipeg and Philadelphia — Mason’s last team — having obvious openings. That might mean a year or two of backup duty for Mason, who had the eighth weakest save percentage (.908) last year among regular starters. But in the two seasons previous, Mason performed quite well for the Flyers with a .928 save percentage in 2014-15 and .918 mark in 2015-16. All of which suggests that Mason might be an ideal buy-low candidate for a team that needs a little extra stability in goal.
5. Jordan Weal
Weal might just be one of those players who only needs an opportunity. The 25-year-old has been a potent minor league producer — including 47 points in 43 games last year —who has gotten only a rare sniff in the NHL. He made the most of the latest and longest chance this past spring with eight goals and 12 points in 23 games for Philly. One year ago, Florida took a chance on Jonathan Marchessault, another productive minor league player who hadn’t had much opportunity in the NHL, and he delivered 30 goals and 51 points for US$750,000 on the cap. Could Weal be that guy this time around?
6. Justin Williams
Position: Right wing
Even as he approaches his 36th birthday in October, Williams still checks a lot of boxes. He averaged 23 goals and 50 points over two seasons in Washington with strong puck possession numbers. He’s also one of those cherished veterans with winning experience — including three Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe Trophy. Williams can play anywhere in the lineup, too, and though he didn’t do so last year, has been an effective penalty killer in the past. For a team looking to make a jump and needing a veteran boost, the Cobourg, Ont., native might just be a perfect fit.
7. Kevin Shattenkirk
Probably the top available player on the market and lone impact defenceman, Shattenkirk will help your power play and generate plenty of offence. The American is top-10 in goals and points among defenders since the start of the 2011-12 season and even better with the man advantage. Only Erik Karlsson has more than Shattenkirk’s 131 power-play points and only Shea Weber and Oliver Ekman-Larsson have more than his 32 power-play goals.
8. Mikhail Grigorenko
Unlike Shattenkirk, Grigorenko is a pure gamble. Things haven’t panned out well for the Russian in the NHL, but Grigorenko was a high first round pick for a reason — a big six-foot-three, 200-pound centre with skill. The Sabres mishandled his development early — bouncing him between the NHL and junior — and there’s reason to think he could still be a useful piece with more opportunity. Grigorenko scored all 10 of his goals at even-strength last year and though he had only 23 points in 75 games, those came with fourth-line ice-time and second-unit power play duty. More of both with better players, and perhaps Grigorenko can be something for someone somewhere.