We’re into mid-July, which means sunshine and cookouts and cold beer on the patio. It also means that, if you’re an NHL unrestricted free agent who hasn’t signed a contract yet, you’re probably screwed.
The market for UFAs dries up around the second week of July every year, with limited cap space leaguewide meaning fewer dollars available to the unfortunate leftovers still looking for work. That’s been especially true this year; the market was uncharacteristically reasonable at the start, indicating that the league’s GMs had finally realized that good teams aren’t built by throwing around millions in July.
That all paints a grim picture for the many players still available. If there’s any good news, it’s that at least a few of the remaining names present some interesting possibilities for the right team. There’s not much point trying to rank the available players in terms of best or worst; at this point, success or failure is as much about fit as anything, and one team’s best will be another team’s bust. So instead, let’s pick out a few guys who are still on the market and rank them from least to most intriguing. That’s a broad term that leaves us with plenty of room to get subjective, granted, but here are 10 names that would be worth keeping an eye on in between cold ones.
10. Christian Ehrhoff
2014-15 numbers: 49 GP, 3 G, 11 A, 14 pts; $4M cap hit
Why teams should sign him: Ehrhoff spent the first few years of his career in San Jose and Vancouver as a “so underrated he might be overrated” defenseman, topping out with an impressive 50 points as part of the Canucks’ near-Cup-winning team in 2011. That earned him a ridiculous 10-year, $40 million contract with the Sabres, one that was heavily front-loaded to keep the cap hit down. That front-loading made it a mild surprise when he was bought out last summer — the Sabres had already paid him $23.6 million for three years’ work — and his one-year deal with Pittsburgh seemed like one of the best bargains of the summer.
Why they haven’t: A disappointing season in Pittsburgh seems to have dampened any enthusiasm for Ehrhoff’s services. He missed a big chunk of the season because of injuries and wasn’t especially productive when he did play. With a surprisingly cool market and better blue-line options available, there’s been almost no buzz around Ehrhoff’s status.
What comes next: Like many players on this list, Ehrhoff will likely have to settle for a short-term deal and a pay cut. That’s fair — he just turned 33, so teams are right to be nervous about whether last season was a fluke or the start of a decline. But keep an eye on him; in the right situation, he could be one of those late-summer bargains that ends up making GMs wonder why they didn’t make a phone call.
9. Brad Boyes
2014-15 numbers: 78 GP, 14 G, 24 A, 38 pts; $2.625M cap hit
Why teams should sign him: Boyes has had a weird career path, bouncing around the league early on, briefly looking like a star in St. Louis, and then resuming his NHL-wide tour in recent years. But wherever he’s been, he’s almost always chipped in offensively. Not a ton — his days as a 40-goal scorer are long gone — but he’s scored 35 goals over the past two seasons, and plenty of teams could use that kind of scoring from their third line.
Why they haven’t: The Panthers clearly didn’t like what they saw, buying Boyes out despite those goals. He’s not a guy who really impresses you when he isn’t scoring, and it’s possible he doesn’t do that often enough these days to be worth a roster spot over a younger, cheaper option.
What comes next: There’s been speculation that Boyes may have to wait for a training camp tryout invite, which wouldn’t be unprecedented; that’s how he wound up in Florida two years ago. Still, it would be surprising if not one team could find space for a potential 20-goal scorer on the roster between now and then.