Free agency is an exciting time for fans of most NHL teams, and it can be just as exciting for the players moving to new clubs whenever free agency opens up on July 1st of every year. However, there are always at least some major free agents who, for one reason or another, get left behind and don't end up being able to find a new team. Some of those players move to Europe, while others don’t even bother signing with an NHL team – and in the case of certain players, they call it quits and hang up their skates altogether. With these 15 players, that might just be the case. On the other hand, some of these players might still be of good use to an NHL team, and it wouldn’t be totally out of the question to see them get scooped up mid-season by an NHL club needing reinforcements in the form of one of these free agents. With that in mind, this list will be counting down the top 15 current NHL free agents, ranked based on the biggest season-long paycheck they’ve ever received during their career.
Some of these guys have been Stanley Cup winners on multiple occasions, while others are players who were once synonymous with the team that they spent the majority of their career playing with. Still others are known more for controversy either on or off the ice than for their abilities as a player. Although these players may be on the wrong side of 30 – or even 40 – they’ve proven at some point or another that they’ve been more than worthy of a place in the NHL, and may still be able to contribute at least somewhat to an NHL club should one sign them. Here are those 15 men who have seen some big paydays over the course of their career.
15 Cory Sarich
Known for his durability on the ice rather than his offensive contributions – he went four seasons without missing a single game while with the Tampa Bay Lightning – Cory Sarich may be an unrestricted free agent at the moment, but a Stanley Cup being on his resume isn’t a bad thing to have even if he's without a club. Sarich has spent the rest of his career as a member of the Calgary Flames (with whom he made $3.9 million during the 2007-08 season) and most recently as a member of the Colorado Avalanche. However, serious injuries sustained after being hit by a car while he was cycling during the off-season have kept him off the ice and without a new club as of yet.
14 Derek Morris
He was a pretty steady offensive defenseman in his days with the Flames, Avalanche and Coyotes while he was arguably still in the prime of his career, but alas, Derek Morris is still clubless during the first month of the current NHL season. Despite making $3.95 million during the 2008-09 season while with the Coyotes before being traded to the Rangers later that season, Morris seems to have been an unfortunate casualty of a solid group of young defensemen on the Coyotes’ books. However, he could still be a solid addition to a team in need of experience on the blueline – perhaps a return to the young Avalanche, or to his hometown team of the Edmonton Oilers, could be in the cards for him?
13 Michal Handzus
Although his career, especially in recent years, has been marred by injuries at times, there’s one specific thing Michal Handzus can take with him as he heads toward retirement: a Stanley Cup. Known also for his achievements with the Slovak national team – he won a gold medal with them at the 2002 World Championships – Handzus has put up solid numbers during his NHL career, his career year coming during the 2003-04 season, where he got 58 points (20 goals and 38 assists) as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. His biggest payday came up to $4 million per season during his four years with the Los Angeles Kings between 2007 and 2011.
12 Dustin Penner
A number of NHL players have been overlooked at the NHL draft but go on to succeed at the NHL level anyway (you only need to look at Wayne Gretzky for proof of that). One such player is Dustin Penner who remains a free agent despite having put up respectable numbers over the course of his career, particularly while he was with the Edmonton Oilers. The native of Winkler, Manitoba is still a reliable power forward for any team to have on their roster if need be, and he’s made the money to justify his on-ice impact: he made a year-long payday of $4.25 million from 2007 to 2012 while a member of the Oilers and later with the Los Angeles Kings as a result of the offer sheet then-Oilers GM Kevin Lowe signed him to.
11 Joni Pitkanen
There's no denying Joni Pitkanen is still talented enough to be of service to any NHL club in need of defensive reinforcements, but his injury woes – especially as of late – could very well be why he has yet to find a new club after his contract with the Carolina Hurricanes ended after last season. He missed the entire 2013-14 campaign thanks to a broken heel, and has reportedly still not recovered enough to play yet. A former fourth overall draft pick in 2002, Pitkanen made $4.5 million per season from 2010 to 2014 while he was with the Hurricanes.
10 Ray Whitney
Known more for being a journeyman than for being a star NHLer, the next announcement Ray Whitney may make as far as his hockey career is concerned is that of his retirement from the game. At 42 years of age, Whitney’s best days – which he experienced with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes, the latter of whom he won a Stanley Cup with in 2006 – are behind him, but he could still put up decent point totals and be valuable added experience for younger teams. His last two seasons as a player are also the ones where he made the most money; $4.5 million a year with the Dallas Stars.
9 Mike Komisarek
Most notable for his playing days with the Montreal Canadiens earlier on in his career, and later with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Mike Komisarek remains on the free agent block following a tryout with the New Jersey Devils during the preseason that saw him miss out on a spot with the team. His physical style of play perhaps being his strongest asset, Komisarek was once making $6 million per year as a member of the Leafs during the 2010-11 season. His most recent NHL contract with the Carolina Hurricanes last season was a far cry from that, at only $700,000 for the season.
8 Tim Thomas
He went into self-imposed exile during the 2012-13 season, and his win-loss totals with both the Florida Panthers and the Dallas Stars last season were nothing to write home about. At 40 years of age, with a Stanley Cup victory on his resumé, Tim Thomas remains a free agent – the same goalie that made $6 million per year with the Boston Bruins from 2009 to 2011. Due to his age and current unemployment, it’s possible that Thomas may hang up his glove and pads if he can’t find a team. But if he can, that team will surely benefit from having a well-seasoned vet who knows what it takes to win.
7 Tomas Vokoun
His name has been attached as of late to a possible signing with the Colorado Avalanche, but as for now, Tomas Vokoun remains a free agent. Best known for his playing days as a Nashville Predator, Vokoun has unfortunately had a history of blood clotting, and surgery on his pelvis for a blood clot kept him off the ice for most of last season – only seeing him play two games for Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. At 38, the goalie who once made $6.3 million per season in 2010-11 with the Florida Panthers may be motivated to retire, but would make a good veteran backup for a team in need of one.
6 Nikolai Khabibulin
The more recent years of his career aren’t much to cheer about, nor are his injury problems or brushes with the law, but free agent Nikolai Khabibulin’s overall reputation as a goalie both in the NHL and internationally most certainly is: two medals for Russia at the Olympics (including a gold in 1992 when they were known as the “Unified Team”) and a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004 are among his best-ever accomplishments in hockey. He’s been rewarded financially for his performances too, making $6.75 million per season between 2005 and 2009 after his Stanley Cup victory when he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks. As he's out of a team this season, it looks like the "Bulin Wall" may have finally been knocked down.
5 Martin Brodeur
He told ESPN back in June that he would try his luck as a free agent for the upcoming NHL season, but so far it’s looking more like Martin Brodeur might be better off hanging up his goalie equipment and maintaining his status as a one-club man for the New Jersey Devils. Without question one of the greatest goalies to ever play the game, Brodeur is now 42 years old, and the four-time Vezina winner and 10-time all-star is well past his prime at this point. Having made $6.89 million per season from 2002 to 2004, Brodeur could be a very good backup for any NHL team – Devils or otherwise – but it may not be the wisest choice for him to make.
4 Todd Bertuzzi
Perhaps known best for having prematurely ended Steve Moore’s career with a punch from behind – and the legal ramifications that followed – than for his once-sublime hockey skills, Todd Bertuzzi is on the free agent block after a 16 point season with Detroit last year. Those are extremely disappointing point totals even though he’s now 39 years of age, and Bertuzzi may be headed toward retirement at this point rather than a new club. Once having made $6.9 million per season in 2003-04 with the Vancouver Canucks – the same season in which his incident with Moore took place – Bertuzzi may be better off hanging up his skates, especially now that his nephew Tyler recently signed a three-year contract with the Red Wings.
3 Daniel Alfredsson
He’s been undecided about his future due to a lingering back injury, and another season in Detroit will most likely be his choice if he does return, but Daniel Alfredsson remains an unrestricted free agent as of this point. One of the most beloved players in Ottawa Senators history, Alfredsson once made $7 million per season with the Sens between 2009 and 2011, and is still a player that can put up respectable totals despite being 41 years of age. If he does anything other than retire once he’s made his decision, Alfredsson will certainly want to play where he’ll have a shot at the Cup, whether that’s Detroit or elsewhere.
2 Scott Gomez
How the mighty have fallen. After signing with the New York Rangers to a contract with a starting year salary of $10 million which he made during the 2007-08 season (a contract that should never have happened to begin with), Scott Gomez’s career went on the decline quite soon after. Although he put up great totals as a New Jersey Devil, the team with whom he won two Stanley Cups, and had a very good first season as a New York Ranger, Gomez never truly justified his gigantic contract worth $51.5 million over seven years. His years as a Montreal Canadien only add credence to that, and his status as a free agent despite a preseason tryout with the Devils isn’t surprising.
1 Ilya Bryzgalov
He was released from his tryout with the Minnesota Wild before the start of the season despite solid performances with them at the tail end of the 2013-14 season as well as the playoffs, and now Ilya Bryzgalov is once again back on the free agent block. Having once made $10 million in 2011-12 as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, Bryzgalov could still help a team between the pipes if he’s signed at any point soon, but he might not be worth much more than a solid backup/occasional starter. He's not worth that kind of “humongous big” contract anymore (brownie points to you if you get that reference), but he’s still a pretty serviceable net-minder.
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