Which free agents are still available?
With NHL training camps due to open in less than a month, several notable veteran players still remain available in this summer’s unrestricted free-agent market, but it remains to be seen if they will have new NHL teams to play with.
Forward Paul Kariya stated in early July he would wait for the free-agent market to settle down before he’d start fielding offers. But until recently, there hadn’t been any significant interest in the veteran winger.
Once the Anaheim Ducks signed veteran winger Teemu Selanne for another season, it was reported he had spoken with the Ducks and Kariya about a possible reunion. Selanne and Kariya were linemates with the Ducks from 1996 to 2001, forming one of the most lethal one-two scoring punches during the late 1990s. Their last reunion, in 2003-04 with the Colorado Avalanche, didn’t go well as both were hampered by injuries.
They’re now much older – Kariya is 35, Selanne 40 – and it remains to be seen if they have any magic left together but recent reports out of Anaheim suggested Ducks GM Bob Murray might be willing to consider bringing Kariya back.
If so, Kariya might have to wait until Murray has added another defenseman and re-signed restricted free agent forward Bobby Ryan, whose talks with the Ducks management have been stalled for most of the summer.
It’s been suggested Kariya might have to accept a deal similar to that recently signed by Mike Modano with the Detroit Red Wings – a bonus-laden one-year contract with a base salary around $1 million -- if he and Selanne hope to play together one more time.
Forwards Lee Stempniak and Bill Guerin are also still searching for new contracts.
Stempniak, 27, scored the second-most goals of this summer’s UFA class last season (28) but he netted half of those in the final 18 games of the season after he was dealt to the Phoenix Coyotes at the trade deadline by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It could be teams which were or still are seeking scoring depth might be leery of acquiring Stempniak, uncertain over whether they’ll be landing the sniper who lit it up with the Coyotes or the winger who struggled to pot 14 goals in 62 games with the Leafs.
Age appears the main reason Guerin remains available, for while he had 21 goals and 45 points in 78 games in 2009-10, he’ll turn 40 in November and there’s concern if he’ll have enough left in the tank for another long season.
It is possible both could return with the clubs they last played for as the Coyotes reportedly are still in contact with Stempniak while the Pittsburgh Penguins are rumored to be interested in bringing back Guerin.
Goaltender Jose Theodore still remains on the open market, but it appears all NHL teams are content to head into training camp with their current goaltending rosters.
That’s probably why former Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi also remains available. Though his agent recently claimed a few NHL teams expressed interest and remained confident of Niemi landing a contract soon, he still remains unsigned. It doesn’t bode well for a veteran like Theodore if Niemi, who backstopped the Blackhawks to the 2010 Stanley Cup, is having trouble finding a new home.
Still, it’s possible both could end up signed to one-year deals before the start of the upcoming season once teams have had time during training camp and preseason to fully evaluate their goaltending or perhaps to address any injuries that might come up.
Former Vancouver Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell also remains available, but his status could change soon. Mitchell, 33, has made a full recovery from the concussion that sidelined him for most of last season and recent reports suggest the LA Kings, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals and the Canucks had various degrees of interest in him, which isn’t surprising given his rugged style of play, leadership and experience.
Mitchell could be one of the lucky few free agents to get a contract before the start of training camp.
Other notables still available include Slava Kozlov, Mike Comrie, Brendan Morrison, Miroslav Satan,Marc-Andre Bergeron, Darcy Tucker, Brendan Witt and Paul Mara.