Free agency has been going on for six weeks in the hockey world, but it has been a tough market for many players looking for their next deals. The top NHL salary cap has barely budged in the past five years, rising just 3.7% $79.5 million during 2018-19 season to date $82.5 million for 2022-23 season.
This pressure should lead to a crisis for some players when others are still signing long and lucrative contracts, which is no better than Evan Rodriguez’s plight. He is 29 years old. He’s coming off the best season of his career with 19 goals and 43 points. He can play center or wing, on anything from the first to the fourth line. However, it is still not signed. His former teammate Danton Heinen was in a similar situation, having already had to take home his $100,000 salary last season, despite scoring 18 goals.
It’s a neighbor that this is the world and the business climate for NHL hockey these days, but that’s how it goes. Fortunately for Rodriguez, he will not be a free agent for an indefinite period of time if reports continue to emerge that teams are interested, perhaps this will inspire someone else to step up, if Calgary does not end up signing him themselves.
While Phil Kessel was slowing down and aging, he was in a similar situation sitting unsigned at free agency until Vegas finally secured a contract earlier in the week. Besides Rodriguez’s unfortunate case, here are some of the other former Penguin players who appeared in NHL games last season and are still looking for their next home.
Brian BoyleBoyle is old and slow, but he was also an effective fourth-line player and made a positive impact on the Pittsburgh team last season. Most teams would be weary of him turning 38 soon, however, Boyle sees it again in the off-season. He may need to offer a PTO to attend training camp and try to win a job again, as he did with Pens last fall.
Alex GalishniukGalchenyuk scored just six goals (and 21 points) in 60 games last season with Arizona. Which, for an unknown like Coyotes, is hard to remember Galchenyuk was actually in the NHL at all last season. He’s played for four teams since being traded from Pittsburgh in 2020, and hasn’t found Mojo anywhere (though… Toronto Writers’ Best Efforts trying to encourage the story of salvation into existence). The NHL job could end for 28 years.
Daniel Sprung Speaking of players who leave bad taste and move around a lot, healthy Daniel Sprung scratched himself outside of Washington (like he did in Pittsburgh and Anaheim) and ended up trading the Seattle Kraken expansion to play the extension last season. Sprong did what Sprong does – scored enough for the action (six goals, quick passes in 16 games for Seattle) but didn’t get a playoff bid from Kraken. At only 25 years old, but already on four different teams and not always having the most optimistic attitude about playing in the AHL, who knows what’s next for Sprong. He could be a player with more success in Europe, and this chapter of his career could soon begin at this rate.
Derek Brassard Brassard scored 16 points in 31 games for the Flyers (of course he would really try to do fairly well there) and was a respected player before he was traded to Edmonton and became a no-factor in the playoffs (as he was only one-dressed). Brassard will turn 35 next month, but he has a very impressive ability to keep hanging out and looking for new teams to play for. He’s appeared on six different teams since being traded to Pittsburgh in 2019. He’s played for five different metropolitan teams (CBJ, NYR, PIT, NYI, PHI), is Washington, Carolina or New Jersey next?
Zack Aston Race – Despite having some really impressive defensive influences, Aston Racers’ career has been hampered by a lack of scoring lately, perhaps to the point of costly hiring. He played fairly well at Anaheim after being included in Rikard Raquel’s deal mainly to balance salaries, scoring three goals in 17 games with the Ducks, which won only two goals in 52 games during the Pittsburgh portion of his season. It was reported that the New York native was ice skating in Demons’ Exercise Arena (Which may not be that important—many local NHL players not devils associated with the New York area ski there during the summer), but none of that is made possible by a signed contract. On top of that, not much in the way of Aston Race news or rumors in what is never a good sign that you’re a free-from icy cold customer.
Dominic Simon -Unlike Aston Race, there wasn’t much to forget or write about for Simon at Anaheim (no goals, four assists in 17 games). Then there was a strange event in the World Championships, Where is Simon fired? The Czech national team is in the middle of the tournament to start a fight with his teammate. Who knows what happened there, but that kind of mishap wouldn’t help trying to find another job elsewhere.
Carter Rooney After playing 2018-21 at Anaheim (including some solid seasons midway through his tenure there), he was the 2017 Stanley Cup champion in Detroit for 2021-22. It was a mostly memorable season as there were only 26 games and six points (four goals, two assists). This now represents two bad seasons for Rowney. Players that are 33 years old are usually not allowed to have two bad years in a row and continue to find high level careers in the hockey world.
James Neal Holy cow, the “real deal”! The five-year, $28.75 million contract he signed in 2018 with Calgary was bought out in 2021, and Neil went to Camp St. Louis at the PTO last fall. He did really well and ended up turning him into a contract, but the magic ran out and he was eventually given up and sent to the AHL last year. Playing his first games in that league since 2008, he did well and scored 26 points in 28 games for Springfield. with Nearly 57 million dollars In career earnings (and three more years of impressive acquisition money coming in from Edmonton), it remains to be seen if Neal will continue his playing days or if the 35-year-old will head into the sunset.
Blake Como – We are now deep in the “Remember This Man” area. After reviving his 2014-15 career with Pens (if Evgeni Malkin hasn’t taken a slice of Comeau’s future earnings since then, surely he should have), Comeau’s season, and possibly an NHL career, ended with a moan. He played six games for Dallas in the early days of the season, was waived in November and assigned to the AHL. But he never went. Dallas did not press the case and forced Cuomo to report, allowing what was said to be taken three weeks leave due to injury. (or perhaps “injury”). He hasn’t played a game since then and no one seems to have talked about why. At the age of 36, this is probably the end of the road.
Scott Harrington – This guy is only 29 years old! Having played with Columbus since 2016, it seems that Harrington’s days in the NHL are also over. He was waived during the season, unclaimed and played most of the year for AHL Cleveland. Harrington has scored 210 NHL games, 185 with CBJ and you’ve guessed at least twice on both fronts. It felt like this guy had been hanging around for a long time.