As expected, July 1 came and brought with it a wave of seemingly nonstop player movement. Actually, before free agency opened, Steven Stamkos re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning and we had the blockbuster P.K. Subban-Shea Weber and Taylor Hall–Adam Larsson trades — then the signings reshaped the landscape. Then everyone basically went on vacation and the offseason newsfeed slowed to a lazy stroll.
But not all big signings are made on July 1. Just ask the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Two of their biggest additions last summer were depth forwards Eric Fehr and Matt Cullen, who were signed July 28 and Aug. 6, respectively.
“[July 1 is] the time you look at your needs and you try to go after free agents who really can help your team,” said former Los Angeles Kings general manager Rogie Vachon, who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 14. “But sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes you’re looking for one guy and all of a sudden he’s gone and you have to wait until the end of July or even September and training camp … whenever you can get the players you’re really looking for. It doesn’t matter what the date is.”
Here’s the short list of players still waiting for the phone to ring who could potentially have a real impact.
Sam Gagner, C: The 2007 No. 6 pick hit rock bottom with the Philadelphia Flyers last season. After establishing career lows in goals and points while struggling through a stint in the American Hockey League, Gagner is essentially starting over. It’s hard to believe but he’s still only 26 and isn’t far removed from a 41-point output in 2014-15 with the Arizona Coyotes. So what does a team in search of depth down the middle really have to lose? The numbers don’t bear it out, but Gagner did have his moments with the Flyers last season. He made his Stanley Cup playoffs debut, setting up Ryan White‘s winner in Game 5 of their first-round series against the Washington Capitals, and enjoyed a run following the All-Star Game in which he collected five goals and nine points in 18 games.
James Wisniewski, D: The veteran will definitely be taking a pay cut from the six-year, $33 million deal he signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2011. The Carolina Hurricanes bought out the final year of his contract in June, but at only 32 years old Wisniewski should have something left to offer a team in search of veteran power-play help. A torn left ACL mere seconds into his Hurricanes debut limited Wisniewski to a single game last season. But in 2014-15 split between the Blue Jackets and the Anaheim Ducks, he scored seven power-play goals. The season prior, he ranked ninth in the NHL with 29 power-play points. Considering the importance of special teams, someone could come calling soon enough.
Luke Schenn, D: Teams in search of depth on their blue line could be eyeing the 2008 fifth-overall pick. After struggling with expectations early in his career, the physical defenseman has established himself over the past few seasons. There shouldn’t be any more misconceptions about exactly what he provides: a physical presence with limited versatility and no offensive upside. Still, what he does bring could make him a good fit in the right place. That might have been most apparent after Schenn was traded, along with Vincent Lecavalier, to the Kings on Jan. 6. While much of the attention surrounding the deal was on the veteran Lecavalier, Schenn brought his lunchbox with him from Philadelphia, contributing depth and consistency to a Kings defense that desperately needed it. His work on the penalty kill was especially helpful.