The dying embers of NHL free agency might just make for the most entertaining of the entire period.
While a financial far cry from the ridiculous half billion that was thrown around in the early goings, there is still value to be had on the open market as some quality players have managed to sneak under the radar and wait for the right situation to reveal itself.
In fact, this is the point in the year when championship contenders usually find sound depth and pretenders at least take a step in the right direction with a smart addition.
So let’s take a moment to highlight a few of the more intriguing developments as the offseason rages on toward its conclusion.
Chris Butler a Hot Commodity…
At 27 years old, defenseman Chris Butler has plenty to offer a contender off the bench, especially considering he is one of the rare names left at his position who saw 20 or more minutes of time on the ice last season.
After slogging his way through a horrific season with the Calgary Flames, it would make sense that Butler sacrifices playing time next season in order to experience success.
As CBS Sports Radio’s Andy Strickland notes, he should have plenty of options to select from, even at this stage of the game:
Considering he has seen time in 349 NHL games and came in second overall last season with 211 blocks, Butler is sure to find work at some point.
A reunion with the Flames is not entirely out of the question, but there has to be contenders willing to be in the neighborhood financially that are more attractive options, especially if we’re talking about a deal of decent length for a player approaching 30 years old.
…As is Nikolai Khabibulin
Call Nikolai Khabibulin the leader of the backup goalies.
Coming off shoulder surgery, the 41-year-old veteran spent last season with the Chicago Blackhawks and appeared in just four contests, and when one looks at his recent stat sheets, it is hard to understand how there would be a market for his services:
But there most certainly is.
According to Sportsnet.ca’s Josh Rimer, the Toronto Maple Leafs have an interest in bringing Khabibulin on as a backup:
Honestly, it’s the type of move one would come to expect from Toronto at this point given its offseason to date, namely whiffing on big names and bringing on what seem to be nothing more than stopgap solutions.
The team has been in the market for a goalie now for quite some time thanks to the apparent trade request from James Reimer, as per Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet.ca. But like most of the potential moves for the Leafs this offseason, there are others who may get in the way.
This time, it sounds like it will be the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, at least according to Dennis Bernstein of The Fourth Period:
That is precisely what Khabibulin is at this point—an insurance policy.
Even then, it is hard to imagine why he is getting more attention than say, Martin Brodeur, another veteran on his last wheels, who is both healthier and has a better track record in recent years.
Alas, it sounds like Khabibulin will play again next year. Where and for how much will be quite interesting.
Ryan O’Reilly to Arbitration?
It’s about to get messy in Colorado.
One season removed from scoring a career high 28 goals and 64 points, 23-year-old winger Ryan O’Reilly sounds headed to contract arbitration.
Which is funny, because Avalanche executive vice president Joe Sakic sounds like he wants the restricted free agent to stick around for quite a long time, as per Adrian Dater of The Denver Post:
“We’re going to focus on getting Ryan signed,” Sakic said. “We want Ryan to be here, and be here a long time. Now that we’re done with the draft and free agency, we’ll be getting in contact with (Pat Morris, his agent).”
Yet, O’Reilly sounds rather vague in regards to his long-term plans:
I want to be here next year. I want to be here and try to win again. I love (Patrick Roy) as a coach, and the guys on the team are unbelievable. Obviously, I want to be here, but it’s just the business side that has to happen. … I’m just going to take it year to year and try to win a Cup.
A source has since told Dater that the two sides will go to the fateful meeting July 23, where O’Reilly will be forced into a one or two-year deal that binds him with the club at a set rate for less than the $6.5 million he could have had—or declined—had the team not filed for a third party to enter the fray.
The funny thing is, the Avalanche will be right back in this same spot next year as O’Reilly is not eligible to become an unrestricted free agent until the 2015-16 season. So don’t enjoy the moment too much, as it’s just the beginning of the tug of war between the two sides.