If you’re a team hunting for offence in free agency, you’ll need to get creative.
For the most part, this year’s crop is a lot of players with question marks, outside of the big names right at the top, with veterans like Jarome Iginla and David Legwand and players coming off buyouts like Brad Richards.
Paul Stastny is one of those and deserves to get paid, but he wants to stay in Colorado and could fetch a number that makes him one of the highest paid centres in the league.
And that’s no exaggeration.
With that in mind, here are the top 10 forwards available in unrestricted free agency this year.
1. Paul Stastny: He’s still young, productive, good defensively and one of the more underrated centres in the Western Conference. But is he worth $7-million a season on a long-term deal? The Avalanche don’t think so, which has put Stastny in a tough position. Will he take a hometown discount to stay? Or chase the money and end up with a rival somewhere like St. Louis?
2. Thomas Vanek: Call him whatever you like – and mercenary’s the word most often used – Vanek can score goals. He won’t be going back to Montreal, but Minnesota, where he lives in the off-season, is on the radar, even if the Wild don’t want to commit long term.
3. Jarome Iginla: He may turn 37 on July 1, but Iginla had a big bounce-back season for the Bruins with 30 goals in 78 games and can really help put a good team over the top into contender status.
4. Mike Cammalleri: Negotiations with the Flames were long and heated, but Cammalleri is expected to move on. He had 26 goals and 45 points in 63 games without much support in Calgary and could surprise in new surroundings.
5. Radim Vrbata: One of the more underrated players available this summer, Vrbata is getting plenty of interest as one of the highest scoring wingers available. He’s solid defensively and played tough minutes for the Coyotes but more importantly had 35 goals two years ago when he actually had some decent linemates.
6. Mikhail Grabovski: Always controversial, Grabovski is coming off a season where he scored at a 50-point pace with the Capitals despite getting some fairly weak linemates throughout much of the year. With the crop in centre so thin, he could get a surprisingly big payday from whoever whiffs on Stastny.
7. Matt Moulson: Can Moulson score without John Tavares? He had 17 goals and 42 points in 64 games in Buffalo and Minnesota and is only 30 years old so should draw some heavy interest from teams needing a second-line left winger.
8. Ales Hemsky: Another wild card. His effectiveness had fallen off in Edmonton but a deadline trade to the Senators showed he might flourish in another setting, as he produced 17 points in 20 games to close the year.
9. Brad Richards: Yes he’s slowing down and yes the Rangers bought him out, but Richards not being worth his huge contract doesn’t mean he can’t still contribute. He became a heart and soul leader in New York and can still be a No. 2 or 3 centre on a decent team, even at 34 years old.
10. Dave Bolland: Will the Toronto Maple Leafs bite with a big, long-term deal? Bolland’s health is a huge question mark after his ankle injury last fall, but there are enough teams willing to overlook his health and bet big given his Stanley Cup experience.
Honourable mentions: Benoit Pouliot, David Legwand, Nikolai Kulemin, Brian Gionta, Jussi Jokinen, Olli Jokinen, Dustin Penner, Mason Raymond, Milan Michalek, Dominic Moore, Martin Havlat, Brian Boyle, Derek Roy, Steve Ott, Mathieu Perreault, Mike Ribeiro
Buyouts: Brad Richards, David Booth, Ryan Malone, Martin Havlat, Mike Ribeiro, Ville Leino, Jordin Tooto
Trade candidates: Jason Spezza, Vinny Lecavalier
Notable RFAs: Ryan O’Reilly, Ryan Johansen, Derick Brassard