- Craig Custance
There was a flurry of activity to get players signed at the outset of free agency, but the salary-cap drop has squeezed teams that might prefer to continue shopping.
"They're waiting," Brisson said when we chatted earlier this week. "You have teams out there that have to move money."
And right now, there's no urgency to do it. Some general managers have restricted free agents to take care of, others are finally squeezing in time off after a relentless 2013 schedule.
A lull of activity late in July is nothing new, but this year is different in that it comes while there are still high-quality unrestricted free agents available. It may not happen until August or even early September, but teams will still be able to add some talent in free agency. Here's a look at five of the best players still on the market:
1. Tim Thomas
A few teams reached out to the Thomas camp when free agency opened, including a couple with established starting goalies. He's a fascinating option because there's nobody else on the market who is capable of changing the course of the season for the team that takes a chance on him. There's also not another player on the market who took a year off to spend time with the family in Colorado. He's a wild card, and the best path for Thomas may be to sign a professional tryout deal with a team to start training camp and prove he's in shape and ready to return to form. If he can do that, suddenly he immediately becomes the best option for a team hit with a goalie injury or in need of an impact starter.
He's another interesting option because he's still under 30 years old, just two years removed from a 29-goal season, but also torched his former coach on the way out of Toronto. However, he's the best center available. During a chat with his agent on Monday, I was told that several teams remain in the hunt to sign him. His agent, Gary Greenstin, characterized three teams as "very interested." Greenstin expects a deal to get done sometime in August.
"No rush," Greenstin said. "First decision [is on] what management and coach and what role on the team."
Greenstin said there's interest from the KHL, but the priority is to play in the NHL, something he's optimistic will happen.
"He's great on power play," he said. "Can play penalty killing. He's a great playmaker. He would like to stay here. He's an NHL player. He would like to win something."
He's 27 years old and scored 12 goals in his first 44 NHL games. He then followed it up with nine points in 14 playoff games. He's still rounding out his NHL game, but proved he can score at this level and contribute on the power play, where he spent significant time on the point. The Red Wings wanted him back, just not at the price Brunner expects to ultimately get on the open market. His agent, Neil Sheehy, declined to comment on specific negotiations, but did say there are no plans to return to Switzerland, where Brunner lit things up offensively for years.
"Damien will play in the NHL this upcoming season," Sheehy wrote in a text.
Another Red Wings forward on the market is Daniel Cleary, although Detroit remains the front-runner to keep him. GM Ken Holland has to clear cap room up front for it to happen, but Cleary showed again with his physical play in the postseason -- along with 10 points in 14 games -- how valuable he is to a playoff contender.
"He's a perfect fit for [Detroit]," said Brisson, who represents Cleary. "I have other teams that are showing interest as well ... Detroit is the place where it's a win-win for him but it has to be done the right way."
4. Brad Boyes
After two rough seasons with the Sabres, Boyes revived his game with the Islanders, putting up 35 points in 48 games last season in New York. He clicked with John Tavares and proved he can still produce when put in a top-six role. There were conversations between Boyes and the Islanders around the draft combine about a contract extension, but the two sides couldn't find the right deal. Now Brisson said the 31-year-old winger is looking for another good fit.
"We want to have the right setup," Brisson said.
Hurricanes beat writer Chip Alexander reported that Carolina has engaged in conversations with Morrow's camp, and that would be a good signing for the Hurricanes. GM Jim Rutherford continues to look to upgrade his team with the move to the new Metropolitan Division, a steep jump in quality of competition from the Southeast into a group that now includes the Rangers, Penguins, Flyers and Islanders. Morrow has also been connected to the Canadiens, another team looking to add size and physicality. At this point, Morrow is still looking for term in his next contract and there may be enough demand to get it.
"He is getting lots of calls," his agent, Brad Devine, said in an e-mail Tuesday evening. "He is not in a hurry and wants to make sure he would fit in well with the team he decides upon."
Craig Custance examines the five best free agents still looking for a landing spot this offseason.