Help Wanted: NHL free agents who can fill a need

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/players/2468/" data-ylk="slk:Justin Williams">Justin Williams</a> will be a coveted player in free agency. (Nick Wass/AP)
Justin Williams will be a coveted player in free agency. (Nick Wass/AP)

This year’s free-agent class is a little underwhelming, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t help to be had.

Although there’s no big fish, there are plenty of role players available who can help a team fill a need.

Here’s a look at what’s out there, given some common areas of need.

Chris KunitzWho knows more about winning than a four-time Stanley Cup champion? The 37-year-old is coming off the worst offensive season of his career (9 G, 20 A), but he stepped up his game in the postseason. If he doesn’t re-sign in Pittsburgh, Kunitz would be a valuable asset for a young team with playoff aspirations.

Justin Williams: Mr. Game 7 has a lot of gas left in the tank at age 35 and would be a good get for any contending team. The three-time Stanley Cup champion is still getting it done on offense, coming off a 24-goal campaign, and has only missed three games over the last six seasons.

Jaromir JagrIt seems likely Jaromir Jagr will return to Florida next season, but if he decides to test the market there will be no shortage of suitors. He’s still putting up respectable numbers, driving possession and to no one’s surprise leads all active players in playoff scoring and games played.

Other candidates: Matt Cullen, Brian Gionta, Patrick Sharp, Ron Hainsey, Brian Campbell

Brian BoyleAt 6-6 and 244 lbs., Brian Boyle is the ideal big man in today’s NHL. He can actually do more than just take up space, like scoring the occasional goal (13 the last two seasons), killing penalties and winning faceoffs (52.2% in 2016-17).

Dwight King: Another monster of a man, King tips the scales at 6-4 and 224 lbs. He’s coming off an abysmal stint in Montreal, but the bruising winger was a good soldier on L.A.’s Cup-winning teams in 2012 and 2014 and is only turning 28 years old.

Chris NeilThey don’t come much grittier than Chris Neil. Sure, he might not be able to keep up anymore, but the 38-year-old will lay it all on the line for seven minutes a night and “keep guys honest.”

Other candidates: Martin HanzalRoman Polak, Tanner Glass, Matt Hendricks, Nate Thompson

Kevin ShattenkirkAlthough he did himself no favors with his performance in the playoffs, Shattenkirk is still the best defenseman available by a wide margin. He has the 10th most points among defensemen since breaking into the league in 2010-11 and is only 28 years old. He’ll get his money.

Michael Stone: Played some good hockey last season after leaving Arizona and has shown an offensive touch in the past. He’ll probably get overpaid, but he’s the only other prime-aged top-four right-handed defensemen available on the market.

Cody Franson: Franson isn’t a top-four guy, but he’s a capable defenseman who can chip in on the power play, has decent underlying numbers and won’t cost a fortune.

Other Candidates: Roman Polak, Dennis Wideman, Dan Girardi

Karl Alzner: Alzner was a major fixture on Washington’s seventh-ranked PK unit last season, averaging a team-high 3:03 of short-handed ice time per game (8th in NHL). He also blocked 162 shots, which ranked 12th, and second behind Girardi among free agents.

Daniel Winnik: Only four forwards averaged more short-handed minutes last season than Winnik (2:31), who also chipped in two short-handed goals.

Roman Polak: Polak has the perfect tool box for a penalty-killing specialist. He blocks shots, can move guys in front of the net and win battles in the corner. The 31-year-old, who is coming off surgery for a broken leg, was Mike Babcock’s most-used defenseman on the league’s 10th-best PK unit last season.

Other candidates: Francois Beauchemin, Dan Girardi, Ron Hainsey, Nick Bonino, Jay McClement

Shane DoanAfter 21 years with the Coyotes franchise, Shane Doan should finally get his chance to play for a true Cup contender.

Jarome Iginla: Time is ticking for Iginla, who has played 1,554 games and counting without hoisting the Stanley Cup. It’s a shame he wasted the past three years of his career in Colorado — hopefully he chooses wisely this time.

Joe Thornton: Jumbo Joe has made the playoffs in 16 of his 20 years in the league, but has made it to the conference finals just three times. The Sharks should be a playoff team again next year, but their window to win it all with their current core looks to be closed. Will Thornton jump ship?

Other Candidates: Patrick Marleau, Radim Vrbata, Mike Fisher, Andrei Markov, Ryan Miller

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