Forward Bargain Bin: Who's left? By Luke Garrison (Tuesday July 24th, 2018)
Photo by www.hookedonhockeymagazine.com
TORONTO—It’s been just over three weeks since the NHL free agency period began. There are still multiple RFAs engaged in contract negotiations; however, most of the quality UFAs have already found a new home.
But not all. So who’s left?
Let’s take a look at three players (two forwards and a goalie) who could still provide value at a reasonable price.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the forward prospects is Rick Nash. The only trick is to convince him to play again. He’s been contemplating retirement despite still being capable of posting modest offensive numbers.
But Nash’s reasoning for potentially hanging up the skates is quite warranted. After suffering multiple concussions throughout his career, it’s time to think about life and health after hockey as he enters the final stretch of his playing days.
His most important asset is his ability to consistently score goals. Last season was encouraging as he scored 21 goals (16 at even strength) while registering an average of 3.73 shots per game. He also had a healthy corsi (51.1%) and thats been the case for most of his career.
In other words, he’s still taking shots and they’re going in at a decent rate. He also continues to drive play in a positive direction. If he were to come back, it would most likely be on a one-year deal worth 2-3 million with a contender. With the right linemates, he could still be productive.
It wouldn’t be surprising if he returned to Boston. Perhaps a career finale in the GTA could even be in the cards..
The second player to consider is 36-year-old Scott Hartnell. It’s no secret that his point totals have been declining every season since 2014-15 (when he last put up 60+ points). He also missed 20 games last year due to a lower-body injury. This could be the result of either getting unlucky or getting older.
Either way, Hartnell is generally an ironman and still managed to put up 13 goals and 24 points to go along with a 51.1 CF% through 62 games. His shooting percentage has also been 12.5% or higher in each of his last four seasons. Take from that what you will, but it’s a good sign considering he doesn’t take a crazy amount of shots for a winger.
He made a million bucks last season on a one-year deal after being bought out of a 6-year contract that he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2013-14 (4.75 AAV). He probably stands to make 1-1.5 million on a one-year deal again and with 24 points being his lowest total since his rookie season (2012-13 lockout excluded), he’s probably a good bet to score 30 or 40 points next year. Even given his age.
Last, but not least (well, maybe least..) is goaltender Kari Lehtonen. As he’s one of the greatest Finnish backstoppers of all time, it’s sad to say that Kari just can’t handle a starter’s workload anymore. On the flip side, he could still pass for a more than adequate backup.
He received the first Vezina nomination of his career (at the age of 30) after his amazing play in the 2013-14 season (33-20-10 record, 2.41 GAA, .919 SV%). Unfortunately, his numbers regressed considerably in the following three seasons. But last year was a different story. After seeing his workload decrease from the 52 starts he made in 2016-17 down to 30, his save percentage rose from .902 to .912 and his and his goals against average fell from 2.85 to 2.56.
Perhaps he just needed to see the ice a bit less in order to allow time for his body to rest. After all, 34 is the new 44 when you’re a goalie. Either way, it appears as though he still has something left to give. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him end up in Washington as a backup on a cheap deal now that Philipp Grubauer has left.
In the end it would be strange to see any of these players not find a contract with someone; although, it could also make sense given the financial crunch in today’s NHL. Even despite the moderate, incremental raises to the salary cap each year.