NHL Free Agency: Are there any good players left to sign?

It has been well over a week since the opening bell of the free agent season on July 28th. There have been a number of signings in recent days, but they are all restricted free agents or players being extended before their current deals are up.

Since the last time we posted this list several players have signed. Tomas Tatar is now with the Devils, and Marcus Johansson has joined the Seattle Kraken.

So the question to be asked is if there are any good UFA’s left.

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Remaining Free Agents; or are they?

This crop of UFA’s are still out there but rumored to already be under contract with the NY Islanders. Lou Lamoriello is probably working on something in the form of a trade and does not want to tip his hand.

Casey Cizikas (F): The Islanders “Identity Line” center should be the top free agent the Rangers should target. He wins draws, and scores clutch goals in the postseason. Cizikas isn’t physically imposing at 5-11 and 195 lbs but he plays so much bigger than his size. It’s rumored that he has a deal in place with the Islanders but Lou Lamoriello is likely working on something else and doesn’t want his cap situation known.

Kyle Palmieri (F): The 30 year-old Long Island native struggled during the regular season after his acquisition. In 17 games he collected just four points with some doubting why the Islanders went hard to obtain him. Then the playoffs rolled around and he came alive with 7 goals and 2 assists in 19 games. There was several reports that the Islanders and Palmieri reached a deal but noting official yet. As to why it has not been announced, see the note on Cizikas.

kyle palmieri free agent
May 16, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (35) makes a save against New York Islanders right wing Kyle Palmieri (21) as Pens defenseman Cody Ceci (4) defends during the second period in game one of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG Paints Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Parise (F): He’s a 16-year NHL veteran, tallied 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 45 games in 2021-22. He has 810 points (393 goals, 417 assists) in 1,060 career games with the New Jersey Devils (2005-12) and Wild. All signs point to a deal with the Islanders for the 36 year-old. Same as both Cizikas and Palmieri, Lou may announce all signings at one time.

Travis Zajac (C): The Islanders acquired Zajac at the trade deadline along with Kyle Palmieri for additional center depth heading into the playoffs. At 36, he score 20 points in 46 games and added another 2 points in 14 playoff contests. There’s a rumor that he has also agreed to return to the Island.

NHL UFA Bargains

As we continue to get deeper into August, the players remaining become more likely to sign 1 year bargain deals. Let’s take a look at those candidates.

James Neal (F): The 33 year-old had just five goals and five assists (10 points) in 29 games during his season with the Oilers. Overall, he has 294 goals and 261 assists (555 points) in 13 seasons with the Dallas Stars, Pittsburgh, Nashville Predators, Vegas Golden Knights, Calgary Flames and Edmonton. Someone is going to give him a 1 year deal.

james neal buyout
Mar 6, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames forward Matt Tkachuk (19) and Edmonton Oilers forward James Neal (18) fight during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Sami Vatanen (D): I am always shocked that a solid right-handed defender like Vatanen continues to be available. He certainly doesn’t put up the offensive numbers as he used to, but he can still help a defense out. He’s only 30 years-old so I expect him to not stay unsigned for much longer.

Jason Demers (D): He’s a right-handed defenseman that can still play third pair minutes. In 41 games, the 33 year-old veteran picked up just 4 helpers for the Coyotes. He’s a prime candidate for an invite to a training camp on a professional tryout (PTO).

Tyler Bozak (C): The 35 year-old scored 17 points in 31 games last season playing bottom six minutes. There’s no doubt he can still be a productive contributor. He has a one year deal from the Blues available to him, but is currently seeing what else is on the market.

Zdeno Chara (D): The 44 year-old defender isn’t even sure if he will play next season or retire. “I think it’s not always a decision I can make myself,” he said at season’s end. “I have to have a conversation with my wife and children and see where we want to be in the next few days or weeks. After those conversations, I’m going to probably let the emotions settle in and see where I’m at.” If he does play, he’d be a great value add to shore up a team’s bottom pair.

Nikita Kusev (F): At 29 years of age, Kusev is already a reclamation project. Highly touted coming out of the KHL, the disappointed Devils terminated his contract. The Panthers signed him mid season, where he finished with 10 points in 31 games split between the two clubs. He could be worth a cheap flyer or at least an invite to camp on a PTO.