5 NHL free agents flying under the radar

New York Rangers center Vaclav Prospal (L) celebrate his goal against the Washington Capitals,...

New York Rangers center Vaclav Prospal (L) celebrate his goal against the Washington Capitals, April 17, 2011. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine

Mackenzie Liddell, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

 

In a year lacking an abundance of top-end free agents -- a pool that is becoming shallower with each passing day leading up to July 1 -- general managers league-wide will be have to overpay to lock up the best of the bunch.

But that doesn't mean there aren't serviceable players flying under the radar. The following are a few who are up for grabs:

JOSH HARDING, G - MINNESOTA WILD

Having missed all of last season due to a torn ACL and MCL suffered shortly after undergoing offseason hip surgery, Harding's health could be a hindrance for teams looking for a reliable backup or patchwork starter.

But if he can recover from a lost season and get back to form, he's a very steady netminder with plenty of upside.

Although he's spent the majority of his career backing up Wild starter Niklas Backstrom, the 27-year-old has a career 2.66 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage.

Scooping up the injury-prone netminder would be a shrewd, cost-efficient move, but the team that makes the gamble better ensure they have a sound third option in place.

RADIM VRBATA, RW - PHOENIX COYOTES

In terms of unmentioned, wallflower-type players, Vrbata checks in near the top of the list.

The 6-foot-1 winger scored 19 goals with 48 points in the regular season on an offensively-challenged Coyotes team. And he didn't shy away in the playoffs either, racking up five points in four games against the Red Wings in the first round.

His financial worth, however, is debatable. The Tampa Bay Lightning locked up the 30-year-old Czech after a 56-point season in 2007-08. But after some personal issues apparently interfered with his on-ice play, Vrbata went back to the Czech Republic before returning to the NHL the following season.

Upon his return, Tampa Bay dealt Vrbata to Phoenix where he went on to lead the team with 24 goals.

Although streaky and one-dimensional, Vrbata can add some offensive punch to a lineup lacking goal scoring.

JOEL WARD, RW - NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Ward isn't going to be an unknown commodity on Friday after an impressive performance in the post-season, but he is a player who has gone unheralded for a few years now.

Since cracking the Predators lineup full-time in 2008-09, Ward has been a good foot soldier and competent third-line checker who can chip in 10-15 goals.

He can shut down the opposition's top players and kill penalties effectively, while using his 6-foot-1, 218-pound frame to generate offense on the cycle and in front of the net.

Ward would be the ideal acquisition for a team looking to add size and depth on the wing without overspending.

VACLAV PROSPAL, C - NEW YORK RANGERS

At 36 years old and coming off an injury-shortened season, Prospal's best days are behind him.

But considering he put up 23 points in 29 games for the Rangers, it's still premature to write off a player with Prospal's hockey sense.

Although the bidding teams won't be able to get a lot of mileage out of the 14-year NHL veteran, especially after undergoing knee surgery, he was a key cog on the power play when healthy and reliable in the faceoff circle (53.9 percent).

There are no guarantees Prospal will even play this season, but if he can squeeze out one more year and stays healthy, he has the hands and smarts to be an effective point-producer.

ANDY GREENE, D - NEW JERSEY DEVILS

After struggling last season in New Jersey, Greene, 28, is unlikely to return to the cap-strapped Devils in 2011-12.

The two-way defenseman is the perfect boom-or-bust option for a GM banking on a rebound season from the Trenton, Michigan, native. In 2009-10, Greene led all Devils in ice-time (23:31) and chipped in an impressive six goals and 37 points, while playing solid in his own zone.

Unfortunately for the free agent, his numbers (23 points, minus-23) and all- around play dipped, which will ensure a lower-starting point for contract negotiations.

He might have been playing over his head as a top-two option in New Jersey, but he would slot in nicely on a team looking for a second- or third-pairing defenseman who can play on the power play.

 


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