NHL·Analysis

NHL free agency: Plenty of talented players still up for grabs

The 2019 free-agent summer turns 22 days old on Monday and there are still plenty of talented players up for grabs.

With training camps fast approaching these valued vets are worth watching

Jake Gardiner has a boatload of offensive talent, but his record in big games is suspect . (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The 2019 free-agent summer turns 22 days old on Monday.

As usually is the case action among the 31 NHL clubs somewhat has been muted in the past few of weeks since marquee players such as Joe Pavelski, Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Sergei Bobrovsky Wayne Simmonds, Tyler Myers, Brandon Tanev, Ben Chariot and others changed addresses in the first couple days of the free-agent frenzy.

There still are plenty of talented players up for grabs. Three-time Stanley Cup-champion Justin Williams comes to mind. So do solid citizens such as veterans Andrew MacDonald, Marc Methot, Jamie McGinn, Dan Girardi and goaltender Cam Ward.

Some clubs like to take a break, take stock before making prudent moves to upgrade its roster in the weeks and days leading up to training camp.

The salary cap limit being increased by only a couple million dollars to $81.5 million US has somewhat hampered the free-agent market. But there also are some summertime trends that you should recognize.

From valued vets like Justin Williams to the player try out crowd, teams have options to mull over. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Plenty of intrigue

There is the valued veteran category. Players like Williams, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton fit this genre. They're proven performers who can afford to wait for the right fit for family and the hope to play for a contender.

There also is the one and done. Think of someone like Thomas Vanek or Pat Maroon. Maroon returned home to play for the St. Louis Blues; won a Stanley Cup and proved his worth. But, at 31, he has also made the round, playing for four different teams, in six full NHL seasons.

There also is the PTO (player tryout) crowd. Members of this group are wondering if their time is up or not. Maybe the next step is retirement or Europe. Perhaps they are willing to take a shot at attending training camp on a tryout basis to see if they can make an impression.

So, between now and when training camps open in mid-September, here are a handful of players that could land in intriguing spots:

Jake Gardiner

The 29-year-old defenceman has a boatload of offensive talent. But his record in big games is suspect. Also, after missing only eight games in five seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was sidelined for 20 matches with a back injury late in the past regular season. Gardiner has sought a short-term deal this summer, and that has hurt his prospects.

WATCH | Gardiner contributes to Leafs collapse in Game 7 vs. Bruins:

Boston scored four goals in the third period of a 7-4 win over Toronto. 2:05

Brian Boyle

The 34-year-old fourth-line centre has played for six teams in 12 seasons. He's a wonderful person, with leadership qualities, whose been good on face-offs. He went to back-to-back Stanley Cup finals with the 2013-14 New York Ranges and 2014-15 Tampa Bay Lightning.

Hip Check: Brian Boyle scores after leukemia diagnosis:

It's the forward's first goal as a New Jersey Devil 0:34

Derick Brassard

The third-line centre has 99 games of Stanley Cup playoff experience. He went to the final with the Rangers four years ago and the East final with the Ottawa Senators three years later. Brassard, 31, has bounced around from the Rangers to the Senators to the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche in four seasons, but that's because he's a valued performer.

Ben Hutton

The dependable 26-year-old defenceman is a definite casualty of the small increase in team salary cap space. His last contract was a two-year deal worth $2.8-million a season with the Vancouver Canucks. But he's a proven depth defender who struck gold with Canada at the 2016 world championship and could help a contender. 

Thornton/Marleau

How can you not be intrigued to see where this pair of friends wind up? Thornton was selected first overall by the Boston Bruins in 1997. Marleau was taken second by the San Jose Sharks. The two later spent 11-and-a-half seasons together in San Jose before Marleau decided to bolt for the Maple Leafs two years ago. Marleau turns 40 on Sept. 15. Thornton already is 40. Do they wind up together again back in San Jose?

WATCH | Patrick Marleau passes Maurice Richard on NHL all-time scoring list:

Patrick Marleau scored his 545th goal on Saturday night to pass Maurice Richard for 30th on the NHL's all-time scoring list. 0:17

About the Author

Tim has covered the hockey landscape and other sports in Canada for more than 25 years for CBC Sports, the Globe and Mail and Toronto Sun. He has been to three Winter Olympics, 11 Stanley Cups, a world championship as well as 17 world junior championships, 13 Memorial Cups and 13 University Cups. The native of Waterloo, Ont., always has his eye out for an underdog story.