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Peeking at the Market: UFA forwards (Part 2)

The Carolina Hurricanes already have a complete forward group signed, but if a multi-part deal were to materialize out of Carolina, then the UFA market would be a place the Canes could look to.

Chicago Blackhawks v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2020 offseason will be a hectic and chaotic time due to many factors: the condensed time frame, the draft and free agency starting only a few days apart and the flat cap. So, there are a lot of reasons why this offseason could see some strange moves.

With those moves, the need for cheap replacements throughout the forward group may be an area of interest.

Therefore, let’s take a look at 10 UFA forwards who could be feasible budget options. If you didn’t see part one, highlighting the bigger names in the UFA forward class, check that one out first.

To keep in mind, the Hurricanes may not even have a need for an unrestricted free agent forward this year, with a full group already signed and the presence of talented prospects in the waiting, but it’s best to keep an eye on what is available on the market, just in case.

(Players are organized by increasing value of their last AAV)

  • C/LW/RW Tyler Ennis (30): 16-21-37

Last Contract: 1 year; $800,000

Ennis had a huge bounce-back year on an Ottawa team that didn’t have a lot going for it. His resurgence saw him become available as a trade deadline option where he was picked up by the Edmonton Oilers as a depth piece.

A big concern will be if Ennis can sustain his usability for another year or two. His production shouldn’t warrant much of a pay increase, but this year could have been a one off.

Along with that, the injury he sustained during this year’s playoffs — a leg fracture and ligament damage in his ankle — could be even more of a hit to Ennis’ next season.

Despite it all, Ennis could be a good low-budget option for the bottom six, if those spaces need filling.

Micah Blake McCurdy
  • LW/RW Pat Maroon (32): 9-14-23

Last Contract: 1 year; $900,000

A big-bodied cup winner who is already helping another team go on a deep playoff run may be just what the Hurricanes could use if the contract stays close to the same.

Maroon plays a heavy game that can create chaos in opposing net fronts and along the boards. He also can act as a deterrent to other teams who may look to target some of Carolina’s more skilled players.

The same worries about age that was mentioned in part 1, are often amplified in power forwards like Maroon. The heavier style wears down their bodies much faster, but at the low value Maroon is currently at, it may be worth the risk.

Micah Blake McCurdy
  • LW/C Derick Brassard (32): 10-22-32

Last Contract: 1 year; $1.2 million

Brassard is a good example of a player who fits the EvolvingWild age curve.

He was a good middle-six player for the Rangers and the Senators and had solid playoff numbers, but fell off a cliff after he was traded to Pittsburgh. He bounced around to Florida and Colorado still struggling, but this season found a home with the New York Islanders, though in a diminished role.

Brassard can no longer be looked to for big numbers, but he has shown that he can be a good temporary replacement player in the bottom-six on the right team.

Micah Blake McCurdy
  • RW/LW Josh Leivo (27): 7-12-19

Last Contract: 1 year; $1.5 million

With the current cap situation in Vancouver, the Canucks are going to be hard pressed to sign many of their young players and Leivo may be one of the players who gets overlooked. If that’s the case, Leivo could prove to be a good middle-six option for cheap.

After struggling to break onto the Maple Leafs’ roster, Leivo’s trade to Vancouver saw him start coming into his own. However, a fractured kneecap early into this year kept him from being able to continue to prove himself.

He has a good shot and finds ways to get to quieter areas and may prove to be a decent test project for the Canes if the price stays around the same.

Micah Blake McCurdy
  • RW Jesper Fast (28): 12-17-29

Last Contract: 3 years; $1.85 million AAV

Fast is an able-bodied two-way forward and was one of the Rangers’ most reliable penalty killers in the regular season. Fast has never seen a big breakout from a scoring standpoint, but he does provide a solid game for cheap.

There isn’t much to write home about on his offense, but he is a quick skater as the name might suggest and he has shown moments of flare, but those are few and far between.

Fast is a target for bottom-six support that can contribute steadily, but that really has a better skill set for defensive-oriented styles.

Micah Blake McCurdy
  • LW/RW Jimmy Vesey (27): 9-11-20

Last Contract: 2 years; $3.775 million AAV

Vesey has never really amounted to what he was projected to become. The 2016 Hobey Baker award winner signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers and never reached the 20-goal mark and only once surpassed 30 points in a season. This year saw his overall points drop in his first year with the Buffalo Sabres.

There is still potential skills there and his recent struggles should see his price tag diminish. It’s a risk, but if it’s a low-cost one, there may be some merit in giving him a shot, but he doesn’t necessarily provide what the Hurricanes are looking for.

Micah Blake McCurdy
  • RW/LW/C Vladislav Namestnikov (27): 17-14-31

Last Contract: 2 years; $4 million AAV

Namestnikov was a great fit when he showed up in Colorado at the deadline. He was a great blossoming talent when he was with his first team, Tampa Bay, but after he was traded to the Rangers, his overall game took a dive.

Ottawa acquired him soon into this season, and he started to regain traction on his game, all culminating in a great small showcasing with the Avalanche.

His contract is much too high for the value that he is bringing, but a smaller deal could make a lot of sense for someone looking for middle-six help. It’s still a risk to bet on him regaining the curve he was on for his original development, but a lot of eyes will be on Namestnikov this offseason.

Micah Blake McCurdy
  • RW Craig Smith (30): 18-13-31

Last Contract: 5 years; $4.25 million AAV

Smith is a very underrated middle-six centerman. He’s reached the 20-goal mark in five of his last seven seasons — would have been six of seven if this season had continued — and his defensive game is strong.

Smith has been arguably Nashville’s most reliable center and it would be a hit to their team to see him leave in free agency, but if he does hit the market, he would be a great target that could be a huge boost at 3C.

The reality though is that the asking price for him in terms of money and term will make acquiring him essentially a pipe dream for Carolina if they want to sign Dougie Hamilton and Andrei Svechnikov to extensions, but I’d be remiss to not mention what I think could be a real diamond in the UFA forward market.

Micah Blake McCurdy
  • LW/C/RW Alex Galchenyuk (26): 8-16-24

Last Contract: 3 years; $4.9 million AAV

Potentially the biggest risk on the UFA market, Galchenyuk has regressed heavily ever since he reached the 30-goal mark in 2015-16. There were signs of him finding a game again after he was dealt to Minnesota, but after diminishing returns for four seasons, there isn’t much to love with Galchenyuk.

He had decent seasons in Montreal after the 30-goal season and his one year in Arizona saw him finish as the team’s leading scorer — his 19 goals led the team for the entire 2018-19 season — but he seems like a big reclamation project.

His asking price should have fallen pretty far after this struggling season, but it will probably still be more than the Hurricanes would find reasonable.

Micah Blake McCurdy
  • RW/LW Wayne Simmonds (31): 8-17-25

Last Contract: 1 year; $5 million

After a difficult past two seasons, Simmonds is claiming to be fully healthy and at 100%.

When he was healthy, just a few seasons ago, SImmonds was a highly-touted power forward that always gave opponents trouble during his time in Philadelphia. He is a hard nosed player that has a scoring touch near the net.

If he is healthy as he claims, it can be a big boost to teams looking for finish in tight and a little bit of physicality. There is no way he warrants anywhere near the amount he was given last offseason, and so if he is looking for a prove-it deal, Carolina could use that sort of presence in its group.

Micah Blake McCurdy