With the NHL draft fast approaching, followed by unrestricted free agency, there’s considerable speculation over destinations for potential trade candidates and pending unrestricted free agents.
While this summer’s UFA pool is a shallow one, there’s still some suitable talent worth pursuing. There’s also a higher-than-usual number of notable players potentially available in the trade market.
That’s generating considerable excitement among NHL fans over possible big signings and trades. It could also ramp up trade and free agent chatter among NHL general managers, but they must temper their excitement with the knowledge that some of this summer’s free agents and trade bait aren’t worthy of their current hype.
Here’s my listing of ten NHL players who are risky gambles via trade or free agency.
Thomas Vanek: He’s a big winger who regularly reaches 60-plus points each season, but he’s also a streaky scorer who failed to elevate his play in this year’s playoffs. He rejected a seven-year, $49 million offer from the NY Islanders. Be careful of spending too much for too long on him. He’s a supporting player, not a leader.
Ryan Kesler: A solid two-way performer who has also been hampered by recent injuries. He’s approaching 30 and has two more years at $5 million per on his contract. While worth the risk in the short term, interested teams must be careful not to give up too much to get him.
Ryan Miller: His stock has certainly fallen after failing to carry the Blues past the opening round of this year’s playoffs. He’s coming off a $6.25 million per season contract. He turns 34 this summer and his best years seem behind him. Could be worth a gamble on a short-term deal for $5 million per but not worth a long-term contract at this point.
Kris Letang: He has a history of health concerns and starts a seven-year deal worth over $7 million annually. Though only in his late-twenties, Letang would be an expensive gamble at this stage. Even if the Penguins pick up part of his salary, seven years is a long time to invest in someone with an injury history.
Ryan Callahan: He’s among the most respected two-way players in the game, but his aggressive style means he’s frequently injured. Seeking a six-year, $39 million contract got him shipped out of New York. Any team taking him on for that price and for that long is taking a chance.
Vincent Lecavalier: His days among the NHL’s elite players are long gone now. He’s 34, has an injury history and carries $4.5 million annually for the next four years. If you can convince the Flyers to eat half his salary, he might be worthwhile in a second-line role, but four more years of carrying a fading talent still isn’t a worthwhile investment.
Ales Hemsky: When he’s healthy Hemsky’s a smooth playmaker capable of 60-plus points per season. Alas, he’s rarely healthy for long. Sought $5.5 million annually from the Senators. He’s certainly not worth that much, but someone might be willing to gamble on him for that price. They’ll be sorry.
Dave Bolland: Yes, he had a promising start with the Toronto Maple Leafs (10 points in 15 games) before sidelined most of this season to an ankle injury. A healthy Bolland couldn’t cut it as a second-line scorer with the talented Chicago Blackhawks, so why believe he can do so effectively with a lesser team? He’s a solid checking-line center but not worth the $5 million annually on a seven-year deal he’s reportedly seeking from the Leafs.
R.J. Umberger: His performance has declined over the past couple of years and he was a healthy scratch late in the season. He also has three more years at $4.6 million per left on his contract. Unless the Blue Jackets pick up half of that, he’s a risky acquisition.
David Legwand: Another player whose stock definitely declined following the trade deadline. Though he tallied a combined 51 points this season with the Predators and Red Wings, he went pointless in the playoffs and was a fourth-line winger by the time the Wings were bounced from the first round. He’s not worth over $5 million annually.