Salvaging veteran help from the free-agent scrap heap

There have been a few teams that have reached into the free-agent pool and pulled out something they felt could affect their fortunes in October. The Tampa Bay Lightning, for example, signed former New York Rangers defenseman Marek Malik; he's a plus-2 in four games, during which the Bolts are 3-1.

No one's going to claim Malik is a difference-maker, but he could have been a stabilizing veteran force for a team that needed one, especially on defense. That was our first thought when news of Mark Parrish signing with the Dallas Stars made the rounds last night: A team in absolute turmoil, with a myriad of chemistry problems at the forward position, inking a player with 660 games under his belt and something to prove after getting canned by the Minnesota Wild.

Mark Stepneski of Andrew's Dallas Stars Page offered this take on Parrish to the Stars:

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I don't think Mark Parrish would have been high on my list during the summer, but right now and under the circumstances I don't think this is a bad move. He's an established veteran player who has some grit, is a character guy and can still put the puck in the net.  He's a right shot and he's a guy who shoots the puck. Those are both positives. He's also good around the net, which is something that will help. He's coming cheap, which is important considering the Stars' current cap situation.

Cheap, in this instance, is a contract for $500,000 at the NHL level and $100,000 at the minor league level, according to Mike Heika of the Dallas Stars Blog. You'd imagine another free-agent forward still on the market named Brendan Shanahan would ask for slightly more than that for his services.

Where will Shanahan end up? What about other veteran UFAs like Bryan Berard, Martin Gelinas and -- ugh -- Mats Sundin? Can any of these players make a difference?

Shanahan spoke with Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren yesterday, and the Philadelphia Inquirer had the details:

Holmgren said he never discussed salary with Shanahan, who scored 23 goals for the New York Rangers last season. With the Flyers only about $700,000 under the $56.7 million cap, the club would have to be creative to sign Shanahan, even if he signed for a bargain-basement price of, say, $1 million.

"It's just very exploratory, on Brendan's part and on our part," Holmgren said. "But if you have an opportunity to add a good player who doesn't cost you any assets, you have to look into it. He's an experienced player and has been on three Stanley Cup champions, and his presence on the ice and in the locker room would be invaluable."

Even when Danny Briere returns from injury, the Flyers could use Shanahan as something more than a spare part. The lineup is so loaded up the middle that a veteran winger who could chip in 15-20 goals could be a rather perfect fit. And as Holmgren said: He's great in the room. Could be a Primeau-type for this roster.

James Mirtle has a very good summary today of some of the other names floating out there. Some of these players will likely sit on the sidelines until 2009, and then will only garner interest in order to fill very specific needs: Glen Murray, for teams that need an aged sniper; Yanic Perreault, who can still win you a faceoff or two; and Peter Forsberg, waiting by the phone for the Colorado Avalanche to call.

But Mirtle also spotlights a few more worth mentioning here:

Bryan Smolinski
Last seen: Posted 25 points in a third-line role with the Habs last season but laboured in his own end and wasn't re-signed.
Current whereabouts: Smolinski turns 37 at the end of December and is continuing to work out in the hopes that someone shows some interest.

Martin Gelinas
Last seen: Had a solid season in Nashville last year with 20 points in an energy role
Current whereabouts: Gelinas, 38, is skating with the University of Calgary team but hasn't had a lot of interest. He could end up in Europe if he wants to extend his career, which is a shame given he likely still has something to give.

Bryan Berard
Last seen: Potted 22 points with the Islanders and went minus-17 in 54 games
Current whereabouts: Just 31 years old, Berard's career may be over, and it's hard not to believe it has more than a little to do with the devastating eye injury he suffered in 2000. He failed to make the Flyers, despite their decimated blueline, in a tryout this fall, and hasn't surfaced elsewhere.

Gelinas would seem to be a player that could find a home fairly quickly if a team finds itself with injuries up front or malfunctioning depth lines. He's a pro, and still a viable one. Ditto Smolinski.

Berard appeared, at one point, destined to join the disjointed blue line in Tampa. It never came together, and Berard remains out of work. What keeps him as a player of interest is his ability on the power play; he had 15 points in 54 games last season for the New York Islanders.

In the end, these players could be nice veteran additions to contending teams. They are not game-changers.

Mats Sundin, of course, is a game-changer. And Damien Cox of the Toronto Star writes that the stubborn Swede may go west:

There have been suggestions that Sundin, should he return to the NHL, is interested in teams that can offer him relative anonymity in his personal life, a warmer climate and a schedule that doesn't include a visit to Toronto this season, a scenario that would produce a dramatic and emotional evening.

Anaheim could offer all three, with the Ducks having already visited Toronto two weeks ago for the only scheduled meeting between the teams this season.

The other piece of speculation out there is that Sundin, having earned close to $80 million in his career, might only be looking for a $2 million, pro-rated salary this season.

That sound you just heard was Canucks GM Mike Gillis banging his head against the wall.

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