NHL Free Agency: Ranking the Best Players Left On the Market

NHL Free Agents
NHL Free Agents
Buffalo NY USA New Jersey Devils defenseman Marek Zidlicky 2 on the bench against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center Timothy T Ludwig USA TODAY Sports

Although much of the big name talent signed on the dotted line in the first few hours of free agency on July 5th, there are plenty of quality NHL players still looking for new homes. Now that the high-risk mega deals are out of the way, GM’s can slow down and pick up a role player or two that can change their team’s fortunes.

Here are five of the best players remaining on the free agent market:

5. Marek Zidlicky – Defense

A veteran puck-moving defenseman, Marek Zidlicky could provide a significant boost to the second or third pairing on a contending team. The 36-year-old spent last season with the New Jersey Devils and enjoyed a strong 19 point campaign. With 11 powerplay points in the 48-game season, Zidlicky proved that he can consistently facilitate scoring with the man-advantage. Though his best days may be behind him, he will come cheap and he has the opportunity to once again be a 40 point blue-liner in the right situation.

4. Brad Boyes  – Right Wing

2013 proved to be a renaissance for Brad Boyes, who rebounded from an awful stint in Buffalo with a superb run on Long Island. Benefitting from the presence of rising star John Tavares, Boyes put up 35 points. Including 10 goals and a remarkable 21 powerplay points, it was easily his best season since 2008-09, when he totaled 33 goals and 72 points with St. Louis. The 31-year old Boyes is experienced but not yet old, and he could offer a team quality scoring depth and a decent jump on the man advantage.

3. Mikhail Grabovski – Center

Bought out by the Toronto Maple Leafs after a poor season, Mikhail Grabovski is about to take a big pay-cut. Although he’ll no longer earn $6 million a year like he did in Toronto, he might be able to get his promising career headed back in the right direction.The 29-year-old Grabovski has scored at least 20 goals in three of his five full NHL seasons, suggesting that one down year may not spell doom. Given the chance on a good team’s second line, Grabovski should have little trouble posting fifty points a year over the next few seasons.

2. Tim Thomas – Goalie

Signing Tim Thomas is a risky move this summer due to his age, history of distracting behavior, and the unknown effects of his year away from the game, but the 39-year-old is just two years removed from an all-time great season in which he won the Vezina, the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup. Thomas has made a career of proving people wrong, and it won’t surprise anyone if he puts together a sparkling campaign this year. Too many teams need goaltending help for Thomas to stay unemployed long, and the former Bruin should find a new home soon.

1. Damien Brunner – Left Wing

Last fall a number of the NHL’s most talented players, including John Tavares, Joe Thornton, Patrick Kane and Henrik Zetterberg, laced up their skates in Switzerland. Although many NHL players lit up the scoreboard in the Swiss National League A, none could match Damien Brunner who led the league with 57 points in just 33 games. The lightning quick winger finally came over to the NHL when the lockout ended and impressed as a 27-year-old rookie with the Detroit Red Wings. Brunner scored 12 goals in 44 games, finishing the year with 26 points. When considering Brunner’s success, it is important to remember that he was adapting from the Swiss game on the fly. With a full training camp and some NHL experience under his belt, he has the chance to become a legitimate star next year. He should be capable of racking up 30-goals next season, no matter where he ends up.

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Chris Blanchard
Chris Blanchard is a Boston, MA native and a student at Davidson College. He began writing about hockey as a Boston Bruins featured columnist for Bleacher Report in the fall of 2012. He has been covering the NHL for XN Sports since May of 2013. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');