Heading into free agency, there were several big names on the move, including (and still include) players like Johnny Gaudreau, Nazem Kadri, Claude Giroux, David Perron, Ondrej Palat and Darcy Kuemper. While they are all great players, not a single one of them is a defenseman.
The market boasted many talented forwards and goaltenders, but there weren’t a ton of defensemen up for grabs. Leading the way was John Klingberg, though he was recently scooped up by the Anaheim Ducks. Josh Manson and Ben Chiarot were also intriguing names, but they are no longer available either.
That said, while there weren’t as many good defensemen as in other years, a few still have value. In fact, for teams that are considering adding a blueliner to their roster, some intriguing names are still up for grabs. Here are three that could benefit a few teams around the league.
Though he is no longer the Norris Trophy defenseman he was almost a decade ago, P.K. Subban is not as bad as some have made it seem of late. Sure, his $9 million cap hit was far too high for what he was providing the last few seasons, but disregard his salary, and he is still a very capable, everyday NHL defenceman.
The 33-year-old Subban suited up for 77 games with the New Jersey Devils last season, registering five goals and 22 points. While those stats don’t jump off the page, 21 of those points came at even strength, as he was used sparingly on the power play throughout the season.
While no longer a top pairing defenseman, Subban is still capable of playing regular minutes. In fact, during the 2020-21 season, he averaged north of 22 minutes per game through 44 outings. That number dipped down to 18:18 this past season but still goes to show that he can be an everyday player on a third pairing. He should have no problem finding a new home before training camp begins.
For years and years, Anton Stralman was one of the most underrated shutdown defensemen in the NHL. In the first four of his five seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning (from 2014-2018), he averaged over 21 minutes per game and was constantly thrown out against the opposition’s top players.
As it goes with all players, however, age has begun to slow down the recently turned 36-year-old over the last couple of seasons, making his last contract with a cap hit of $5.5 million an overpay. That said, he was quietly solid in 2021-22 as a member of the Arizona Coyotes. Despite being on a team that ranked dead last in the NHL for goals scored, he had a respectable 23 points in 74 games while ranking third on the roster with an average of 21:20 minutes in ice time.
Stralman, like Subban, is also a right-handed shot, which general managers and coaches value highly on the back end. Though he may be forced to remain patient as teams figure out their cap situations, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him back on an NHL roster for the 2022-23 season.
Calvin de Haan
There are few NHL defensemen that have felt the wrath of their fanbase more than Calvin de Haan did during his three seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks. The injury-prone rearguard’s cap hit during that span was $4.55 million, which certainly didn’t help, nor did the Blackhawks’ struggles throughout most of his time spent with the club.
At no time in his career has de Haan been considered a point-producing defenseman, but any offensive skill he showed early in his NHL career has gone out the window. This past season, he managed just four goals and eight points in 69 games, so any team inquiring about his services will be well aware they aren’t bringing in someone to move the needle offensively. What they will be getting, however, is a responsible, stay-at-home defender who, on a cheaper contract than his previous one, can still provide value.
This past season, de Haan averaged just under 19 minutes per game, 17:16 of which came at even strength. His even-strength ice time was fifth among Blackhawks skaters, trailing only Jake McCabe, Patrick Kane, Connor Murphy and Seth Jones. He also averaged over 1:30 minutes per game on the penalty kill and is more than capable of helping out when down a man. Whether or not he will have a contract in place by the time training camp rolls around remains to be seen, but if he does, he has a great chance to prove that he is a better defenseman than he has been given credit for recently.
Slim Pickings Left Available
After these three players, there are almost no defensemen left on the open market. This means that if any general manager realizes they need to add one to their roster, they will need to act fast. While many will be quick to point out that all three are on the back nine of their careers, that shouldn’t take away from the fact they can still contribute when put in the proper situation, something they will each hope happens this upcoming season.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.