5 unrestricted free agents that could prove to be steals
Free agency is a period where GM’s trip over themselves to hand out various players varying degrees of stupid contracts, but it’s also a day that teams can uncover assets and seriously bolster their roster.
Everyone knows who the marquee free agents are, but not every team is going to get their hands on a player like John Tavares or Paul Stastny. So the next logical avenue is to look at the tiers under that to try and find some form of undervalued talent.
Here’s a look at 5 candidates who are free agents on July 1st that could be that next undercover talent:
1- Victor Antipin, D
The case around Antipin is an interesting one. Reports suggested that he’d return to the KHL after his sub-par season in Buffalo, where the press box became a more familiar sight than he would’ve liked.
However, after not tendering a qualifying offer for the Russian rearguard, Sabres GM Jason Botteril said that Antipin hoped to stay in North America and find an opportunity here.
That means he’s available to any team as a free agent, which in turn means a team could potentially be getting a top four D-man under 26 -- one of the rarest commodities in the league – without having to surrender assets other than cash.
Antipin is versatile, he’s a strong skater and an aggressive offensive defenseman who often starts rushes and gets involved offensively. He has a strong first pass, a solid grasp on gap control and isn’t afraid to engage in the post whistle festivities.
Antipin can play both sides efficiently, and actually prefers the right side despite being a left hand shot. At times he may seem timid and inconsistent, but if this past season showed us anything, it’s that if you can skate and move the puck at a decent enough level as a D-man there is a place for you in the league.
I don’t consider Antipin too dissimilar to Michal Kempny, who just won the cup with the Capitals playing key minutes in a top four role. Kempny was also an unrestricted free agent who struggled to fully adapt in his first year on North American ice, look at him now.
Teams looking for creative avenues to fill the bottom half of their back end with cheap players should heavily consider Antipin as an option. They could be playing with house money in less than a year.
2- Nick Shore, C/W
The 25-year-old pivot scored 19 points in 64 games last season, splitting time with three different organisations. His numbers don’t pop off the screen and he appears to be your run of the mill bottom line center.
That said, I think there may be upside there. Shore has generated scoring chances at an incredibly high clip, and done so with less than stellar line mates. Shore’s xPrimary points per 60 flirts with those of a league average top 6 forward, and leveraged in a more offensive role on a team looking for effective depth scoring, Shore could tap into that potential and become a contributor.
You can never have enough skill and you can certainly never have enough centers. In a game that is moving away from physicality in the lower parts of the line up to skill in those same spots, Shore could have a future as a secondary offensive contributor.
Teams like Buffalo, Dallas, Montreal, and Ottawa that are looking for more scoring without having to shell out the big bucks and term for the JVR’s and James Neal’s of the world could look at Shore as a cheaper and more reasonable alternative.
3- Brandon Davidson, D
Another D-man to add to the list is Brandon Davidson. Though perhaps not as good a puck mover as some teams may like, Davidson remains a reliable figure on the back end with some nice upside.
Davidson has bounced around a bit and always looked kind of average wherever he went, but his shot suppression stats have continuously remained solid and he offers solid passing and a heavy shot as well.
A team looking for a bit of size and reliability from the back end, Davidson can offer that.
I don’t think Davidson has the upside the other two players listed have. He may not be a smart enough player to fill a larger role than that of a bottom pairing D-man. But for what is likely to be less than two million dollars, Davidson may be one of the more affordable options on the market.
Plenty of GMs are sure to be after a solid defenseman at a discount, that’s Davidsons appeal. Bland, but still a nice piece of business could potentially be made.
4- Dylan DeMelo, D
The third blueliner on the list is former Sharks player Dylan DeMelo.
DeMelo is, in my opinion, the most undervalued of the rearguards mentioned on this list, I also believe he has the highest ceiling, though his chances of reaching that ceiling aren’t exactly high.
DeMelo is a great skater and an exceptional passer. A good puck moving D-man who can be the quarterback on a powerplay is what a lot of teams need, and DeMelo offers that.
The Sharks have their own plans to worry about, but not qualifying DeMelo was something that surprised me. I think he could be a really useful asset for a lot of teams.
Instead of going after the big fish and ending up with an egg on your face (see Karl Alzner), go after a guy like DeMelo and give him an opportunity.
Edmonton have supposedly been in the market for a right handed powerplay quarterback, well here he is. Teams that had a struggling power play but have a plethora of high end trigger men could look to DeMelo for cheap PP production. DeMelo generates loads of primary scoring chances both at even strength and on the man advantage, that type of high level production can really be exploited in the right circumstances.
DeMelo is a fairly good shot suppressor as well. While he may not be anything to write home about, he still shows a lot of competence in his own end.
Whoever ends up with DeMelo will make some forwards on their team very happy, and with so many teams preaching speed and skill, I’d expect him to find a home.
5- Calvin De Haan, D
Easily the biggest name on this list and one of the top free agents still without a contract, De Haan could be a bargain.
Typically I’d say a player like De Haan is ripe for an overpayment. That said, coming off an injury shortened season, GM’s appetite to give their annual head scratching contract in a last- ditch effort to find a top four D-man isn’t present.
With Jack Johnson, arguably the only other D-man of note in this free agency pool going for 5 years and just over 3 million a season, De Haan’s deal could actually be a team friendly one.
Shoulder concerns are real with De Haan and the scare of a potentially early decay is a very real one, but for the prices that have been brandished on the first day of free agency, one could speculate it’s worth the gamble.
De Haan has proven himself to be a solid shot suppressing D-man. Though perhaps unspectacular offensively, De Haan is able to keep up with the pace of the modern game and is a strong passer.
A veteran D-man like De Haan could really help a team in need of some form of stability on the back end. Teams like Buffalo, Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa, who are at the time starved for talent and have money to play with should consider De Haan if they haven’t already.
De Haan is also able to play opposite of a high end offensive D-man, which coincidentally, three of the aforementioned teams have.