Sometimes, all an underachieving NHL hockey player needs is a second chance to re-discover the talent and success that got him into professional hockey in the first place. Sometimes those second chances come in the form of trades, but in the offseason, many result from free agent signings.
Here are a few of this off-season’s biggest finds so far.
It was surprising to see the Toronto Maple Leafs part ways with 27-year-old defender T.J. Brennan this off-season, given how much he has done for the organization over the course of the last three seasons, but the journeyman has been through this before.
After signing with the Philadelphia Flyers on July 5, he has now been a part of seven different NHL franchises since he was drafted in 2007 (31st overall by the Buffalo Sabres).
With just 53 games of NHL experience in five years, one may wonder why Brennan was a big find. Look no further than his tenure with Toronto’s AHL affiliate, the Marlies. He scored 72 points in 76 games during the 2013-14 season and 68 points in 69 games in 2015-16.
His presence on the Marlies roster provided the minor league team a huge boost in the scoring department from the back end, not to mention the fact that he was named the AHL’s best defenseman this past year. But it was about way more than just point production and personal accolades. This past season, he served as an alternate captain and — more importantly — a mentor to the young, future core of the Leafs during their wildly successful 2015-16 campaign.
He appeared ready to finally secure himself a permanent spot on an NHL roster this fall before the Leafs chose to let him go to the Flyers organization, but if all goes well, we may see the New Jersey native (and former Philadelphia Jr. Flyers standout) manning the blue line in Philly next season.
You can bet that all of California was rooting for Matt Tennyson when he inked an entry-level deal with the San Jose Sharks back in early 2012. The undrafted college defender was signed out of Western Michigan University, where he won a championship that same spring, but he is originally from the Golden State.
He’s not the most overly offensive blueliner, but Tennyson — a rare right-shot on the back end — plays a solid defensive game. At 26, he will provide some much-needed leadership to the likes of Carolina Hurricanes prospects Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown in the AHL if he starts there. Or, he may challenge for an NHL roster spot right from the beginning of 2016-17, as there are plenty of spots for the taking behind Noah Hanifin and Justin Faulk.
Without a lot of NHL experience, it’s easy to write off the unestablished, inconsistent Tennyson as a career minor-leaguer, but look for him to make a significant push on to the lacking Hurricanes blue line.
Perhaps the biggest gamble with the highest potential reward, Linden Vey is headed to his third NHL team, the Calgary Flames next season after an unimpressive 2015-16 campaign.
Though he’s never said it himself, it has got to be impossible for the talented forward to not have been affected by the off-ice issues that plagued his personal life this past year. They likely had a role in the fact that he scored just four goals and 11 assists in 41 regular-season games. But with all of that settled now, Vey will most likely make a comeback in a big way with the Calgary Flames.
The former Los Angeles Kings prospect had back-to-back star AHL seasons, posting 67 points in 74 games during 2012-13 and scoring at over a point-per-game pace in 2013-14. It wasn’t until he became a member of the Vancouver Canucks organization that his production began to dip, and this past season was by far his worst professional campaign yet.
Calgary once again swooped in and took on their rival’s young talent (they traded for once-heralded Canucks prospect Hunter Shinkaruk not too long ago), as Vey is just 24 years old. And it’s important to keep in mind such factors as age and off-ice issues when making a judgment on the unproven forward.
Calgary has plenty of roster space next season and look for Vey to secure himself at the very least a bottom-six spot with the Flames.