NHL Free Agency Thoughts

There were so many factors this off-season that had people believing this year’s free agency period would be nothing but mass chaos. The fact that only so many desirable players available combined with the salary cap increasing to $70.3 mil. led a lot of people to believe that there would be a lot of massive over-payments and ludicrous contracts handed out to second-tier type players this summer. The off-season is still young but we have yet to see too many ridiculous deals handed out so far and there have actually been quite a few underrated signings that could have a lot of value at the end of next season.

After the jump, I’ll go over some of the contracts I thought were solid bets and also talk about some deals that I wasn’t a huge fan of. There are still plenty of moves to be made, but I just wanted to post my thoughts on some of the transactions that have occurred over the past week.

Signings I Liked:

Brad Boyes to the Islanders (1 year, $1 mil.):

This is the ultimate “buy-low” signing. Boyes is coming off the worst season of his career (8 goals & 23 points in 68 games) but he has been a very solid goal-scorer for most of his career. He scored over 2 points per 60 minutes at even strength the previous year and has been a positive corsi player for most of his career, meaning that he has been able to create possession at even strength. Boyes turned 30 last April so it is possible that he isn’t the player that he used to be, but a one-year contract at only $1 mil is next to nothing under the current salary cap. All Boyes has to do is be a useful third/checking line player and he would have lived up to his contract’s value. If he can regain his scoring touch (and see his shooting percentage improve from last year) then he will give the Islanders a lot more for their money. They are only investing $1 mil. in Boyes so if he becomes useless, then the Islanders can move him or let him sit in the press box without losing much money. This is a good investment by Garth Snow. Too bad he almost nullified this by giving a contract to Eric Boulton.

Ray Whitney to the Stars (2 years, $4.5 mil. per year)

I usually stay away from players who are above 40 but The Wizard has simply been able to get the job done over the course of his career. Last season was likely an aberration points-wise for him because I don’t think he’ll touch 75+ points again, but one thing you can’t overlook is how terrific he is at controlling possession. He was given the toughest assignments among the Coyotes forward corps last year and destroyed everything in his path with a Corsi Rel. rating of 12.9. He has also scored at well above what is considered a top-six rate for the last five seasons and can work well with a good supporting cast. Even if his production drops off from last year, Whitney will still give the Stars good enough value for their money unless he severely regresses. This might be only a two year deal but it’s still somewhat risky given Whitney’s age, but I think the Stars got him for a good deal at $4.5 mil. A line with him, Jamie Benn and Jaromir Jagr has a lot of potential.

Adrian Aucoin to the Blue Jackets (1 year, $2 mil.)

Despite being 38, Aucoin was being given some tough assignments in Phoenix and performing relatively strong against them as he posted a positive corsi rate on a mediocre Coyotes team. He wasn’t dominating with those minutes but he proved himself to be a capable second pairing defenseman and that is certainly a need for the Blue Jackets right now. Him for $2 mil. should be a good deal provided he can stay healthy and if he can’t, then there isn’t much harm done.

Ryan Smyth to the Oilers (2 years, $2.25 mil. per year)

Smyth had a terrific season as part of the Oilers shutdown line with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky. The nice thing about this deal is that the Oilers paid Smyth about what he worth right now (possibly a little less) given his age and usage. His production has stayed relatively consistent throughout his career but it is prone to drop if he sees his ice time decrease, which could certainly happen. At the very worst, the Oilers have themselves a good checking winger who can give you 30-40 points for a little over $2 mil. per year. You could do a lot worse than that. Smyth may have taken a hometown discount but this is a great deal for him and Edmonton, where he will likely finish his career.

David Moss to the Coyotes (2 years, $2.1 mil. per year)

This is a slight overpayment and also a little risky because Moss plays a bottom-six role and has played only 90 games in the last two seasons but I like what he brings to the table. Moss has always been a stud when it comes to controlling puck-possession and taking on the tough matchups. He makes a good replacement for Taylor Pyatt and is an improvement over him in quite a few ways. I think that he can give the Coyotes a solid checking line along with Boyd Gordon and Lauri Korpikoski. 

Matt Carle and Sami Salo to the Lightning

Steve Yzerman had to overpay to get both of them but the Lightning needed to revamp their defense and find a new second pairing and they managed to get that done within the first week. Carle was seen as a lot of team’s “Plan B” if they couldn’t land Ryan Suter and there’s a good reason for that; he is a very solid top-four defender. Some say that Carle isn’t worth the six-year, $33 mil. contract the Lightning gave him, but he has done nothing but post strong underlying numbers for most of his career. He plays on both special teams units and can be used in many different situations at even strength. The Lightning having Victor Hedman & Eric Brewer also means that Carle doesn’t have to play the shutdown role so he can be used in similar situations that the Flyers did over the last few years. That is good news for both him and Tampa Bay.

As for Salo, his numbers over the last few years haven’t been as promising and I think he is worth a little less than the $3.75 mil. the Lightning will be paying him over the last two seasons, but he’s a serviceable top-four option for Tampa Bay. Him and Carle are definitely a lot better than the Clark/Kubina disaster they dealt with for most of last season.

Signings That I Didn’t Like

George Parros, Eric Boulton, Jon Scott and Darcy Hordichuk all getting contracts

I understand wanting to insert “toughness” into the lineup but I also think that it’s necessary to find tough players who can actually be counted on to play for more than 5 minutes per game. To make things better, Dale Tallon actually thought it was a good idea to add on another year to Parros’ contract and there is also word that the Panthers have inked the other former Ducks tough guy, JF Jacques, to a contract. I can think of at least five better ways to spend $500-900k.

Bryce Salvador to the Devils (3 years, $3.16 mil. per year)

Was it Salvador’s “strong” playoff performance, the weak market or “veteran presence” that impulsed the Devils to bring him back for three more years? Salvador might have been producing points in the playoffs but when he wasn’t, he was getting steamrolled by opposing team’s top lines. This was happening to him all season long. He is also 36 so he isn’t going to get much better at all during this time.

Jiri Hulder to the Flames (4 years, $4 mil. per yer)

I’ve talked about Hudler in the past and he was one of the players I wanted to avoid this off-season. He was given the luxury of playing soft minutes on a very talented line featuring Henrik Zetterberg and Vatteri Filppula and reaped the benefits with his counting stats. Hudler also had a career high shooting percentage of 19.4% and wasn’t able to drive the play forward much, which suggests that his goal & point total is subject to decline. This is also a warning sign that Hudler will likely be bad value for whatever team signs him to a long-term deal and it looks like the Flames were the ones who fell into the trap. Overpaying for a top-end player is sometimes necessary but overpaying for a mediocre talent is not. Hudler probably falls closer to the latter category.

I also wasn’t crazy about the Brandon Prust contract but I don’t see it as largely detrimental.