Franson best of available free agents who may interest B's

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With the first and second waves of free agency complete, there are still a number of solid, useful players of value without contracts who are available. Clearly the name at the top of the list is right-handed defenseman Cody Franson, who was among the best available D-men on July 1 before some of the others (Mike Green, Andrej Sekera) found deals following the noon opening of free agency.

Judging by the questions in my Twitter mentions, Bruins fans are still wildly curious about Franson after the scattered rumors of Boston closing in on a deal for him. Those didn’t turn out to be true at the time, but that hasn’t stopped ardent B’s fans from keeping an eye on ways the team can improve itself on the back end.

One caveat: The one-year deal given to ex-UMass and San Jose defenseman Matt Irwin doesn’t leave any room for another NHL defenseman given the Bruins' current roster composition. That goes doubly so if they want young guys like Joe Morrow, Colin Miller and Zach Trotman to win spots during training camp. So the Bruins would have to deal a D-man in order to add anything else on the blue line, and that’s not an easy task given that both Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have no movement/no trade clauses, Adam McQuaid just signed his new four-year deal, and Torey Krug is really the team’s only puck-moving defenseman/power play QB at this point.

According to generalfanager.com, the Bruins have roughly $4.7 million in cap space, a number that drops to about $3.3 million if you add Brian Ferlin (extra forward) and Jeremy Smith (backup goaltender). If a player representing great value drops into their lap or becomes available in trade due to another team’s salary cap hardship (think Brent Seabrook), one would expect the Bruins to move pieces around to accommodate him.

But don’t expect the Bruins to make too many moves at this point simply because Dealing Donnie Sweeney is itching to file more league paperwork for another transaction this week. But with all of that in mind, here is a list of the top 10 available players still out there on the free-agent market, along with their chances of signing on with the Bruins:

1. Cody Franson – Defenseman. The 6-foot-5 right-handed 'D' is coming off a career-high 36 points last season for Toronto and Nashville, and provides the kind of big shot, offensive skill and big body the Bruins lost when Dougie Hamilton went to Calgary. Franson doesn’t have Hamilton’s ceiling, but won’t make as many mistakes due to immaturity or inexperience. There was major smoke on this one when a rumor showed up on Facebook that Franson to the Bruins was a done deal, but that was absolutely not the case at the time. One would suspect he’s waiting for a team or two to clear cap space before signing a bigger deal in the $5 million plus-per-season range, but the situation will get a little more desperate for him the longer things go on. One concern on Franson: He’s grown up in a dysfunctional Leafs system, and struggled down the stretch for Nashville during crunch time. The Predators had no desire to bring him back after giving up a first-round pick for him, and that should give anybody pause.

Chances of the Bruins landing him: Fair. They would need to move Seidenberg, which isn’t impossible and would be a smart move for Boston given that Franson is six years younger with a price tag that will come in slightly higher.

2. Christian Ehrhoff – Defenseman. The multiple concussions have scared off some teams, but at least the German defenseman restored some of the luster to his game while moving from the Sabres to the Penguins. Free of that dreadful contract he signed in Buffalo, Ehrhoff could be an easy, commitment-light signing now that he’s a bit more desperate for an NHL home with a playoff team. The 6-foot-2, 203-pounder played 21:46 per game for the 49 games he did play last year, with 3 goals and 14 points, and, at 33, is still young enough to help on a one-year deal.

Chances of the Bruins landing him: It may not be Boston, but somebody is likely to get a very good deal on a top four D-man in Ehrhoff provided he can stay healthy next season.

3. Alex Semin – Right wing. The 31-year-old right wing was a complete disaster with the Carolina Hurricanes. Now Semin is back on the market looking to re-establish his value, and has a ton to prove with a willingness to take on a one-year contract to show he can still be an explosive offensive performer in the NHL. Semin’s camp also seems to be pushing away the KHL option, so this could be intriguing for a team like the Bruins, who are light in the offensive skill department. Just five years ago Semin was a 40-goal, 84-point player for Washington, and he’d scored 20-plus goals in three of the last four seasons leading into last year’s train wreck of a season. So the talent is still very much there, and he would be good insurance in case David Pastrnak still isn’t quite prime-time ready at 19 years old and both Brett Connolly and Jimmy Hayes prove to be limited offensively.

Chances of the Bruins landing him: While it would be interesting for the power play and for the potential soap opera inside the Bruins dressing room, I don’t see this one happening.

4. Johnny Oduya – Defenseman. In many ways, he’d be a great fit for the Bruins at this point in his career. He’s a proven winner with multiple Cups in Chicago, he’s still an excellent shutdown defender at 33 years old capable of playing top four minutes, and he’s familiar with Claude Julien after getting his NHL start under him in New Jersey. Plus, he’s not the kind of defenseman who's going to break the bank in free agency coming off a contract that was paying him $3.375 million per season. But Oduya isn’t really what the Bruins need either: he’s not a puck-moving defenseman in the Hamilton sense, and won’t really help much on the power play, either.

Chances of the Bruins landing him: It would certainly make Julien happy to bring in a smart, sound, veteran player like Oduya, but I’m not sure this type of defenseman represents an upgrade to the Bruins. An up-and-coming team like the Sabres will probably overpay for Oduya’s intangibles.

5. Marek Zidlicky – Defenseman. The Czech-born defenseman is 38 years old, but could be a low-cost signing capable of still playing big minutes, generating good power-play production and helping fill some of the offensive void on the backline. His right-handed bomb would be an instant help to a B’s team that lost Hamilton’s strong shot from the right point. Zidlicky had a cap hit of $3 million last season, and won’t be commanding much more than that given that he’s still available on the market two weeks into free agency. Zidlicky put up 34 points for the Devils and Red Wings last season, and still badly wants to remain in the NHL for this upcoming season.

Chances of the Bruins landing him: Zidlicky is the kind of player that the Bruins could sign to a team-friendly one year deal, and then really reap some benefits from this season. They do need to be really careful about not getting too rickety with their D-corps, however.

6. Brad Boyes – Right wing. The 33-year-old Boyes finished with a plus-11 and 38 points for the Florida Panthers last season, and would be extremely affordable veteran talent after making just $2.625 million last season. The bonus with Boyes: He has 39 shootout goals in his career, with 12 of them being game-winners. While the shootout will be a less frequent occurrence given the 3-on-3 OT rule change for this season, it could help the shootout-challenged Bruins to have a specialist like that in their lineup. Another bonus with Boyes: He’s got a good relationship with Patrice Bergeron going back to their days playing on the same forward line together with Marco Sturm. Boyes is clearly not the same player who scored 43 goals for the St. Louis Blues in 2007-08 after being traded there by the Bruins, but he still chipped in 14 goals last season.

Chances of the Bruins landing him: The B’s will most likely give this spot to a young player rather than an aging free agent-type like Boyes, but they do need somebody that can snipe during the shootouts after their SO inefficiency assisted in them missing the playoffs.

7. Lubomir Visnovsky – Defenseman. He was limited to nearly 50 games due to injury, but he was a top-four defenseman and productive offensive player for a playoff team in the Islanders when he was healthy. The 38-year-old made $4.75 million last season, and will be taking a haircut from that amount given his advanced age, his health situation last season, and the clear lack of demand on the free-agent market. Visnovsky was reportedly discussing a short term deal to return to Brooklyn for this upcoming season, but could be a real bargain deal for another team willing to sign the aging blueliner.

Chances of the Bruins landing him: There are better options if they want to sign an older D-man to a one -year deal, so don’t expect this one to happen.

8. Mike Santorelli – Center/Wing. The Bruins could use a player like Santorelli that can play bottom-six minutes, move from wing to center, kill penalties and provide the occasional offense that you’d like from a third- or fourth-line player. The 29-year-old was on an NHL minimum contract last season, and has three times reached double digits in goals including his 12 last season combined for the Maple Leafs and Predators. While the 6-foot, 189-pounder isn’t going to wow many people as a free-agent signing, Santorelli is a player that you always seem to notice when he’s out on the ice. The Bruins could always use more of those.

Chances of the Bruins landing him: I don’t think Santorelli will be a member of the Bruins unless Chris Kelly gets taken off the roster, and there’s no certainty that is going to happen. But the cap savings in going from Kelly to a Santorelli-type player would be significant.

9. Eric Fehr – Center. The bottom -ix center had an impressive 19 goals and 33 points for the Washington Capitals last season, and wouldn’t stand to cost much more than the $1.5 million he made with the Caps last season. He’s 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, has cracked double digits in goals in five different seasons, and still has miles left in the tank at 29 years old. Fehr is coming off elbow surgery, but that shouldn’t be much of a hindrance after a summer of healing and rehabbing.

Chances of the Bruins landing him: Once again, Fehr could be a cheaper alternative to Kelly as a bottom-six center. In a salary-cap world this kind of move is always a possibility, and Fehr could be a nice fit for the Black and Gold at a cheap price.

10. Jarrett Stoll – Center. Clearly there is some baggage here after the drug charges in Las Vegas, and he’s no spring chicken at 33 years old. But there are some big truths to Stoll as well: He’s one of the best faceoff men in the entire NHL (someone who routinely gave Patrice Bergeron fits when the Bruins played the Kings), he kills penalties, and he’s a proven winner as a bottom0six grunt with the Kings on their Cup teams. Stoll is the guy L.A. moved into the faceoff circle during crunch time, which would lighten Bergeron’s responsibility in that department. He might also come very cheaply coming off the Vegas controversy, and be itching for a second chance to redeem his reputation around the league.

Chances of the Bruins landing him: I don’t see the B’s signing Mr. Erin Andrews to a free agent contract to come to Boston simply because it isn’t worth the risk with other similar players like Santorelli and Fehr still available on the market. But he could be a great free agent bargain for some team out there willing to take the risk.

Remember, keep shooting pucks at the net and good things are bound to happen.

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