NHL Free Agency: Hunting for the best bargains

It is now two weeks since the opening bell of the free agent season on July 28th. As many of the best UFA’s have come off the board, teams most likely are determining if they want to add some players at bargain prices.

As we continue to get deeper into August, the players remaining become more likely to sign 1 year deals at “Crazy Eddie” prices. Let’s take a look at the best candidates.

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NHL Free Agent Bargains

Joe Thornton (C): At 42 years of age, Jumbo Joe can still help a hockey team out. Last season, Thornton played on an offensive machine in Toronto. He also dealt with limited travel that helped alleviate stress on his aging body. Playing in 44 games, he notched 20 points. His points per game was almost on par for the previous season with San Jose, but a far cry from his point a game days.

joe thornton free agent
Jan 18, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Joe Thornton (97) stretches during the warm-up against the Winnipeg Jets at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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.

Ryan Donato (F): Another rare 25 year-old UFA, the Sharks opted to not give him a qualifying offer. This was the same issue with both Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase in Boston. Donato scored 20 points in 50 games last season and should be picked up before the season starts.

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.

Eric Staal (C): Last season, the 36 year-old pivot split time between the Sabres and Canadiens but only managed a career low 13 points in 53 games. To make matters worse, he set a career high with a -30 plus/minus rating. Of course, Staal could bring value to a team’s fourth line next season at a bargain price. His leadership and experience would be worth the money alone.

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.

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.

For those of you that didn’t get the Crazy Eddie reference, it’s because you are under 40.