Newspaper article The Canadian Press

NHL Teams More Cautious about Free Agency Given Weak Crop Available

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

NHL Teams More Cautious about Free Agency Given Weak Crop Available

Article excerpt

Free-agent crop is 'not a great group'

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The salary cap killed the free-agency star.

Now a decade into the salary-cap era, NHL free agency isn't what it used to be, and the 2015 unrestricted crop is one of the weakest in recent history.

"It's not a great group," Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said recently. "Your options are minimal."

Options are out there, like centre Antoine Vermette, wingers Matt Beleskey and Justin Williams, defencemen Mike Green and Christian Ehrhoff and goaltender Karri Ramo. But this isn't a star-studded class.

Money will still get thrown around like every July 1, but GMs are conscious of what this time of year actually means in the grand scheme of things.

"You can't grab four or five guys every year and try to be successful," Hextall said. "I just don't believe in it. It's a small tool that can help. You can fill that last box you have to make yourself a top contender, but you can't build like that."

It's almost the perfect time to fill holes. The Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks signed centre Brad Richards to a one-year in free last summer, and the Eastern Conference-champion Tampa Bay Lightning got centre Brian Boyle and defenceman Anton Stralman to complement a young core.

Like Valtteri Filppula in 2014, Stralman was a big hit with a US$22.5-million, five-year contract with the Lightning. He went on to play on the top pairing with Victor Hedman and should be the modern poster boy for smart signings.

"We had a huge, glaring hole in our lineup," general manager Steve Yzerman said at the Cup final. "We needed a right-hand shot defenceman. We have a pretty competitive team. A player like that can make a real difference, and he has in the first year."

Green, the only defenceman in the cap era to score 30 goals, and Williams, who has become known as "Mr. Game 7" for his playoff exploits, could fit the bill this time. For teams looking for depth, winger Michael Frolik and defencemen Cody Franson and Johnny Oduya are available. …

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