Some of the best remaining talent in the RFA pool is still unsigned. Some of them may have plans to travel and just aren’t doing business related things right now. Others are deep in training and wanting to justify a better contract by arriving at camp at a better level of fitness than before. For others, maybe management of their teams thinks they can out wait the players and get them to sign on the teams terms.

Nikita Kucharev is three years into his NHL career and has proven himself in both the regular and post season. In the last two seasons he’s averaged 29.5 points and 65.5 points in the regular season playing a bit over 18 minutes last year, and putting up over a point per game in his last playoff run just this spring. He is arbitration eligible, and if there is or was a case for anyone getting an offer sheet in this crop of RFA’s, it should be him.

Some would argue Johnny Gaudreau is the top talent in the RFA class not Kucharev, and it isn’t a clear cut choice. “Johnny Hockey” averages slightly more points per game, and is playing with largely less teammates. He does however play more time at almost 20 minutes per game. In his one playoff run, he did put up strong numbers at 4-5-9 over 11 games. Small, slight, and hard to contain, its hard to imagine he’s going to have anything but a large impact on the game for years to come. Like Kucharev he is arbitration eligible.

The Buffalo Sabres have been busy stocking the shelves with UFAs and trade pieces, not to mention the odd draft pick or two. What they haven’t done is sign Rasmus Ristolainen, a defenseman who has they found use for nearly 26 minutes a night. Not yet playoff tested, but last season his points total doubled from the previous year. The 21 year old Finnish defender was tops on the team in shorthanded time on ice, tops for defensemen in powerplay time on ice, and first overall in time on ice for the team by five hundred minutes. In all that ice time he racked up half a point a game on a pretty awful team. This year with a bolstered forward group, he has a genuine shot at sixty points if they get him resigned.

Jacob Trouba is often overlooked in the NHL landscape. Being on the Jets lineup is not an easy thing for a defenseman playing in front of a porous goaltending tandem. Trouba was second on the team in total ice time, and shorthanded time on ice. To go with that he had a strong PDO, led the team in blocked shots, finished more shifts in the offensive zone than he started there, and was just a bit behind the team leader (Tyler Myers) in on ice save percentage.

Hampus Lindholm is one of the best unknown talents in the game. If he played further east he’d be better known, and appreciated. The smooth skating Swede has been part of the wolf pack of talented young defensemen residing on the Anaheim blueline. He led the defense in games played, time on ice, and even strength TOI. If the Ducks don’t sign him they won’t be as damaged by his loss as the Jets would be without Trouba or the Sabres without Ristalienen, but they are very, very unlikely to be better.

The free agent market is always interesting. Some years the silly contracts fly from all corners of the globe, other years it seems like the prime rib is left on the table while mystery meat is carted off by the ton.

Left Wing:  Vinny Prospal, while one of the elder statesman of this years free agent class, and the NHL as a whole, he still had a highly productive year, especially in comparison to some of the other free agents. Danny Cleary, Brenden Morrow, and Guillame Latendresse probably didn’t have the years they (and their agents) wish they had had, all  of them are at least a little bit younger.

Center: Mikhail Grabovski of all the possible reasons he was bought out by the Maple Leafs none o them seem to suggest competence in the front office. Of all the centers on the market, he’s demonstrated the most upside. You can make cases that Kyle Wellwood, Scott Gomez or Nik Antropov might fit in better on a team but not that an of them are mote talented.

Right Wing: Damien Brunner wins out over Jaromir Jagr on foot speed, and Brad Boyes on consistency. Right wing is clearly the deepest remaining free agent pool, despite having its creame scraped off with the signings of Iginla, Horton, and more.

Defense 1: Ron Hainsey

Defense 2: Ryan Whitney

While the defense is slim pickings this year, an honorable mention goes to Andrew Alberts, and for a team willing to take a risk Michael Sauer.

Goalie: Tim Thomas, yes he took last season off. But looking at the rest of the market you have two guys who were bought out, a guy who hasn’t seen a sv% over .900 in  three years, a guy who was injured when he wasn’t bad for a lottery team and a guy who is even older than Thomas and hasn’t been a number one goaltender for a playoff team in his NHL career.

 

The unrestricted free agent market tends to be where NHL general managers make their most interesting, and often fatal mistakes.  The right wings in this market represent a very strong crop. There are at least three who were in the top twenty for scoring at their position, some of whom were on pretty bad teams most or all of last season.

Jarome Iginla

While the entire Penguins roster evaporated in second round, and that might not give teams the greatest confidence in him, he did put up 10 points over his first twelve playoff games since 2009. In Calgary was a winger he took a lot of faceoffs and was at times their best man on the dot. Another seven million dollar a year contract is probably not in the cards, but two to three years at five per year is not an undue risk

Michael Ryder

The former Dallas Star, Boston Bruin and Montreal Canadien managed to tie for 14th in scoring for right wings with one of his teammates from the Stars, Jaromir Jagr. Not as physical as most forwards he still holds one of the fastest releases in the NHL. Most times when he gets his shot off there is no warning at all. At 33 he’s still young enough that if you believe he’ll stay healthy and motivated a five or six year contract is worth considering if you don’t want to deal with a roster spot for a few years.

Brad Boyes

Perhaps the most enigmatic UFA this year, Boyes is capable of outstanding offense, silly turnovers, sound but not stellar play in all zones, and being completely invisible. With 30% less games played than the previous year in Buffalo he put up 30% more points this season with the New York Islanders. It seems noteworthy that he’s been collecting more of his points of late as a setup man, so perhaps teams that have a shooting center versus a playmaker might want to sign the 31 year old, former 40 goal man.

Nathan Horton

Without even looking at his current skill set Horton is worth signing for two reasons that can contribute to his next teams success; he went high in the ultra-deep 2003 draft and he’s been part of a Stanley Cup win. Add in a willingness to play through pain, playoff experience as a top contributor, and having spent years at the bottom of the barrel to feed his hunger and you’ve got a compelling package. He’s still got his shot, he’ll play physically, has played at center in the past as well as his normal right wing slot. With the right linemates he’s still got thirty goal potential.

Pascal Dupuis

At thirty four having had his two best seasons in the last two years, its probably safe to call Dupuis a late bloomer. The forty five goals in just two years represent 25% of his career total in a career that is two games short of 800. The versatile Quebec native has a strong two way game, is a good penalty killer, plays on the penalty kill and has been pretty healthy throughout his career. A team willing do double his $1.5 million a year salary and sign him for multiple years is likely to end up with a guy who will be happy to sign and play hard every night.

David Clarkson

Speaking of late bloomers, the undrafted David Clarkson toiled as a bottom six player for years. Two seasons ago he gets elevated minutes in the wake of an unremitting string of injuries to the Devils forwards. How does he respond? He tosses up a thirty rack of goals. After that ‘fluke’ he put up fifteen goals in the lockout shortened season a stat in which he lead the Devils. At 29, he’s got several more good years left in him.

Teemu Selanne

While it is likely his list of choices this summer are A: return to the Ducks or B: Retire with maybe, just maybe C: play in Europe a distant third, no one expects Selanne to do anything but one of the first two options. Diligent general mangers will still place a call, but it should be regarded as strictly pro forma.

Jaromir Jagr

Anyone expecting the top flight goal scorer of ten or fifteen years ago is sorely out of touch. He is however a quality playmaker, almost immovable when he’s got the puck, and one of the most underrated passers in the NHL. On a team that gets a lot of powerplays he could be a difference maker. Seeing him dive into the pile to protect the net this post season should be enough to convince people he’s still playing because he’s hungry and not that he just doesn’t know what else to do with himself.

For this drinking game you’ll need two beverages. You mght want to pick drinks mathing your favorite team colors or just the two nearest things you can handle in volume.

First Drink:

Take One Sip:

  • Every time scoring chances are mentioned.
  • An opponent of from the previous round is mentioned.
  • Jarome Iginla and Matt Bartkowski are mentioned in the same sentence.
  • The cameras pan the crowd or the guy between the benches instead of a scrum.
  • You know what a coach/player is going to say in an interview before they say it.
  • Either team gets a five on three powerplay.
  • Don Cherry makes more sense than anyone else the camera has been aimed at in the last ten minutes.

Two Sips:

  • If the trade deadline is mentioned.
  • If Jagr’s time in Pittsburg is mentioned.
  • If any mention is made of the number of Stanley Cup wins a players has.
  • If the Nathan Horton vs Jarome Iginla fight is shown.
  • A goaltending change is made.
  • A pending UFA is mentioned.

Three Sips

  • A full period passes where you don’t hear the name of the junior and or college team any player was drafted from.
  • Anyone says a team is or isn’t getting bounces.
  • The broadcast fails to show a faceoff but cuts in when the puck is already in motion.
  • Two commericals for the smae company play in one commercial break.
  • A period ends with more than a 10 shot difference between the teams.

 

Second Drink

Take One Sip:

  • If Chara’s size is mentioned.
  • If any of Crosby’s past injuries are mentioned.
  • If a backup goaltender is shown.
  • If either Coach is shown standing on the bench.
  • Someone on sicial media says the offials are biased.
  • Someone dangles so much they lose the puck with no one with no help from opposing players.

Two Sips:

  • James Neal or Tyler Seguin miss high and hit the glass with a shot.
  • The broadcaster between the benches asks the guy(s) in the booth if they saw something going on in the game.
  • Someone mentiones “line shuffling”.
  • Any rookie is pointed out (Simone Despres and Beau Bennett for the Penguins, Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski for the Bruins).
  • A general manager or owner is shown.
  • A fairly routine hockey play (faceoff win, goal, or saucer pass, etc) is described as “wizardy” or magic.

 

Three Sips:

  • The Bruins powerplay scores in a game.
  • The Penguins get a shorthanded goal.
  • A too many men penalty is called.
  • A penalty is called that makes no sense.
  • Matt Cooke’s hit on Marc Savard is mentioned.

 

Double Fist (1 sip of each)

  • If the playoff win total of a coach is mentioned.
  • Trades between the teams are mentioned.
  • The age of a player or players are mentioned in relation to how long its been since the teams last played in the playoffs.
  • The regular season series is mentioned.
  • Any player is mentiond for a past award or current nomination.
  • An obvious rule is explained for no reason.
  • Some says the refs have swallowed their whistle.
  • The compressed schedule in the regular season is mentioned.
  • Everytime there’s an obvious dive that goes uncalled.
  • If there is a fight where the combined salary is more than four million dollars.
  • Players or officials are said to be sending a message.

 

Skip a drink if:

  • You find yourself unable to scream coherently at a pinkhat.
  • You start explaining a simple rule like “icing” and take longer than two minutes.
  • You can’t remember which beverage to drink from.
  • Both fourth lines are on the ice.
  • A family member, girlfriend or spouse of a player is shown in the audience.

 

Disclaimer:

You can seriously injury yourself, destroy property, or even die even if your participation in this drinking game is nothing more than water. If you should happen to do something incredibly idiotic and entertaining during this drinking game that makes it to Youtube, TextsFromLastNight or other fun sites; do send a link. It won’t make your life better, but I’ll get a laugh too. No one is responsible for the stupid you commit but you.

Feel free to tweet @PuckSage as you play.

I’m a bit baffled by some of the remaining free agents. As weak as this free agent class is, the number of useful players who haven’t either taken off for the KHL or signed with an NHL team is pretty surprising.

As likely the best center left Kyle Wellwood‘s unsigned status is just baffling. He had more points last season than any other remaining center, and had the third most points of any forwards remaining unsigned. The two ahead of him are Shane Doan and Alex Semin. Doan only beat him by three points and played two additional games, Semin who beat him by seven points. Based on total time on ice, with similar distributions, and having played in the same division last year Wellwood was more efficient than Semin in producing points picking up each point about half a minute quicker than Semin.

Brian Rolston after being traded to Boston at the deadline Rolston showed there’s still something left in the tank. Points in the first three playoff games, three multipoint games in the last month of the season, including a four point night. He clocked as many as 19:58 a night, and showed his versatility playing up and down the lineup in all three forward positions. He manned the point on the powerplay put in some shorthanded time and looked like he’d rolled the clock back a few years. He probably won’t command the same money as his last contract, but for teams like Colorado, Buffalo and Winnipeg who don’t have much playoff experience on the roster and have very young teams he could be that elder statesman that helps push a team over.

Daniel Winnik could help any of the several teams that desperately need to improve their penalty kill do so. His 2:44 of SHTOIG is tops among this UFA class, and he chipped in more than twenty points.

Michal Rosival is a right shooting defenseman, he played nearly 20 minutes a night for the Coyotes, at 33 he’s still in his prime. He gained ground on most shifts, and in the playoffs he picked up about two hits and two blocked shots per game.

Carlo Colaiacovo good corsi, probably can be had for under or about four million. Good points production and solid contribution in the playoffs. Former 1st round pick, and a solid sized body.

Matt Gilroy popped in twenty points on 17:30 a night. He split the season between the Senators and Lightning, good depth player who should come along fairly cheap and continue to grow.

Curtis Sanford he put up better numbers than several goalies who made it to the playoffs, for the Columbus Blue Jackets last year. He might not be a starter on some teams, but as a heavy use #2 he’s probably going to be one of the better goalies available.

Yesterday Justin Schultz chose the Edmonton Oilers. Today his contract will be registered with the league. For the Anaheim Ducks this is an ugly blight on their off season. But things like this don’t happen in a vacuum. He was drafted back in 2008 and has had time to observe the Ducks organization in action for all that time. They’ve gone changed coaches, a player has been publicly and repeatedly scapegoated. Collectively the players on the ice have taken the first half of the season off two years in a row.

Then there is a drafting and development record that doesn’t deserve mention. Justin Schultz is 21 years old, he’s an adult. He didn’t choose the team that drafted him. And a team that doesn’t. compete well and douses its stars in public scorn isn’t someplace many will want to play there. When one of the biggest stars in the league who isn’t know for piping up does so just days before the draft maybe this. should be a wake up call.

Some might see this as a reason to change the CBA. I see this as a way to keep players who don’t feel a team offers what they needm or who may be toxic to stay out of low growth situations. As we saw with Jeff Carter thisyear and others in years past; unhappy players don’t perform well. What team really believes a miserable player is good for their team? Let it go, growand learn from it and move on.