NHL Free Agency 2011: Top 5 Sleepers

Updated: September 6, 2011 at 12:46 pm by Dan Berlin

Slim pickings.

That’s the best way to describe the list of remaining Free Agents available when the signing frenzy begins on July 1st.

With big names like Brooks Laich, Ilya Bryzgalov, Eric Brewer, Alex Tanguay, Joni Pitkanen and Kevin Bieksa already re-signed with their respective clubs, there’s not a whole lot of A-1 talent remaining on the board as teams look to bolster their lineups with a key signing or two.

Well, we all know who first prize is – Brad Richards – who is expected to draw major attention from Toronto, Philadelphia and New York come Friday and major bucks to boot. But after Richards, the 2011 Free Agent class is really lacking the kind of marquee names that GM’s salivate over. This year’s crop is more reminiscent of the list of available players in my pool’s waiver wire in mid-January, than anything close to resembling a group of All-Stars.

So what value is really out there? Here are my picks of the Top 5 Free Agent Sleepers with the most upside, and who won’t bust your team’s payroll for the next 7-10 years either.

VILLE LEINO, LW, 2010-11 Salary: $825,000
The (former) Finnish Flyer is entering his prime right now, turning 28 when the 2011-12 season gets underway in October. Following a breakout performance in the 2010 playoffs (21 points in 19 games), Leino backed it up with a breakout regular season (19 goals, 53 points in 81 games) in his first full year in the league. In the right environment, Leino could realistically approach the 60-65 point plateau next year and beyond.

SEAN BERGENHEIM, RW, 2010-11 Salary: $700,000
Like Leino, Bergenheim’s another Finn who will test the Free Agent come Friday. After managing 14 goals and 29 points during the 2010-11 regular season, Bergenheim made a name for himself during Tampa’s run in this year’s postseason. The 27-year old scored am impressive 9 goals in 16 games before suffering a lower body injury that kept him out of the Lightning’s final two playoff contests. GM’s might expect more of the same next year.

MATT D’AGOSTINI, RW, 2010-11 Salary: $550,000
After toiling in the Montreal Canadiens organization for years, D’Agostini seemed to finally find a home in St. Louis, recording his first 20+ goal season (21) while playing in all 82 games for the Blues last season. But the Blues elected not to extend D’Agostini a qualifying offer, making the 24-year forward a UFA come July 1st. Notable stats include finishing 3rd on the Blues with 6 PPG and tied for the team lead with 5 Game-winners.

JOEL WARD, RW, 2010-11 Salary: $1,500,000
Ward has seen his regular season production diminish slightly in each of the past two seasons, finishing last year with a meager 10 goals and 29 points. But in this spring’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, the 30-year old proved he has a knack for scoring clutch goals and playing with the big boys. Ward scored 7 goals and 13 points in 12 postseason games with Nashville, including a dominant performance in the 2nd round vs. the Canucks, where he amassed 8 points. A skilled role player for any team looking to make a deep run next season and beyond.

TYLER KENNEDY, C, 2010-11 Salary: $850,000
Kennedy was not extended a qualifying offer by the Penguins this offseason, despite stepping up noticeably last season for Pittsburgh in the absence of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. In 80 regular season games, Kennedy posted career highs in PPG (7), Goals (21) and Points (45), good for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th highest totals on the team respectively. With the expected return of a healthy Crosby and Malkin next season, the 24-year old likely wouldn’t receive the same playing time he did during their absence. Nonetheless, Kennedy proved in a short time last year that he is capable of being more than just a third line Center in the NHL.

Throw on your GM hat and share your thoughts on which impending Free Agents you think will make for good or bad signings. Daily Faceoff wants to hear your take!

Free Agency, Joel Ward, Matt D'Agostini, NHL, Sean Bergenheim, Top 5, Tyler Kennedy, Ville Leino