Unqualified free agents, are they worth a shot?

A week ago, I talked about what players the Carolina Hurricanes had to qualify to retain their rights and they qualified just about everyone who had a realistic shot of being in the NHL next season. The only players who were not qualified were Cedric McNicoll, Kyle Lawson and Matthew Pistilli, who were in the ECHL for most of last season. The Hurricanes may have held onto all of their NHL talent but there were some other teams who decided not to. Those players are now unrestricted free agents and any team can sign them starting this Sunday.

Are any of these players worth giving money to, though? Seeing how a lot of them were cut loose by some pretty bad teams, one would think that most of them are a lost cause. That is true in most cases, but with the free agent pool being as shallow as it is, some teams may have no choice but to look at some of these players if they want to acquire cheap talent. When you look at who some clubs chose not to qualify, you’ll notice that there are a lot of players who are either A) still pretty young or B) were good a few seasons ago but have fallen by the wayside the last few seasons.

Some GMs usually have an eye for this kind of talent and are willing to take a chance on them if they need someone to fill up a roster spot or are short of talent. It really isn’t a bad idea when you think about it because these players are going to be cheap and will probably accept whatever contract they can get in the open market. The worst case scenario is that the player is placed on waivers and the Canes are out only $500-800k It’s a low-risk way to acquire talent if you need it and there are actually a few players who the Hurricanes might pursue. We will take a look at them after the jump. 

What I am going to do is list some forwards who were unqualified by their teams who could be a good fit with Carolina. After looking at their numbers from this most recent season, I will take a more in-depth look at all of them to determine if they are worth taking a risk on. 

Player TOI/60 Corsi RQOC Corsi Rel. On-ice Sh% PDO OZ% P/60
Blake Comeau 13.21 0.582 8.4 4.84 979 49.1 0.86
Peter Muelller 12.67 -0.004 -2.3 5.74 991 57.9 1.63
Wojtek Wolski 11.99 0.428 0.1 7.14 974 58.8 1.77
Guillaume Latendresse 12.26 0.376 -4.7 10.64 1072 40.2 2.45
Gilbert Brule 10.4 -1.046 2.2 12.58 1050 44.6 2.27
Benn Ferriero 11.5 0.301 -3.3 5.56 996 39.8 1.03
Benoit Pouliot 10.99 0.262 3.9 10.02 1035 57.7 2.07
Eric Fehr 9.2 -0.592 3.3 2.74 949 55.8 0.56

TOI/60 = Even strength time on ice per 60 minutes, Corsi RQOC = Corsi relative to quality of competition, Corsi Rel. = Corsi Relative, On-ice Sh% = On-ice shooting percentage, PDO = On ice sh% + on ice sv%, OZ% = Offensive zone start percentage, P/60 = points per 60 minuts at evven strength

Most of these players either had a bad season (Fehr, Comeau), were injured for most of the year (Latendrsse) or just aren’t very good at all (Ferriero). In other words, there’s a very good reason as to why these players were not tendered by their respective teams. Data from this year alone tells us only so much about what a player can do, which is why we’re going to take a closer look at these players to see how much potential is there and if signing one would be a good investment. 

Blake Comeau

Year GP TOI/60 Corsi RQOC Corsi Rel. Sh% On-ice Sh% PDO OZ Start% P/60
2007-08 51 10.78 -0.072 0.5 11.9% 7.55 1003 46.9 1.42
2008-09 53 12.88 0.765 -2.8 9% 8.71 980 46.3 1.49
2009-10 61 12.37 0.245 2.7 12.8% 9.12 977 47.3 1.99
2010-11 77 13.49 0.125 2.8 13.2% 8.23 974 44.3 1.79
2011-12 74 13.21 0.582 8.4 3.6% 4.84 979 49.1 0.86

Comeau had a terrible season, so bad that the Islanders put him on waivers in November and he was claimed by the Calgary Flames. He was stuck in a season-long slump as it took him until December to tally his first goal and he finished the year with only five. A closer look at his numbers shows that bad luck may have been a cause of this. Comeau had 17 and 21 goals the two years prior and his shooting percentage dropped by nearly 10%. Considering how effective he was at getting shots on goal (had at least 2 per game with the Flames), there is some hope that Comeau can rebound next year. Whoever signs him could potentially get a pretty good deal if he rebounds because his numbers last year aren’t an accurate representation of his true talent. He may have played a bit over his head the previous year but he’s nowhere near as bad as his scoring line from last year indicates.

With that being said, I don’t think Comeau is a good fit for the Hurricanes. This team needs a top-six player and Comeau has proven to be a fringe top-six option at best. Could he be worth the risk? Sure, but he doesn’t offer much of a solution and this team currently has too many players who are borderline top-six players. No reason to add another.

Peter Mueller

Year GP TOI/60 Corsi RQOC Corsi Rel. Sh% On-ice Sh% PDO OZ Start% P/60
2007-08 81 12.68 -0.21 3.2 10.9% 6.97 981 54.1 1.81
2008-09 72 12.22 0.006 3.3 9% 8.41 999 55 1.7
2009-10 69 11.6 0.185 3.5 10.5% 7.67 992 64 1.95
2011-12 32 12.67 -0.004 -2.3 8.5% 5.74 991 57.9 1.63

At 24, Mueller is still very young and has a lot of good years ahead of him but concussion problems have kept him off the ice for most of the last three seasons. When he’s healthy, he is a terrific offensive talent and has produced at a top-six level for most of his career. He is also a versatile player as he can be used both as a center and a winger, so he fits into the Hurricanes plans. Staying healthy is the biggest problem with Mueller because he has suffered two concussions and has a long ongoing battle with PCS. The reward might be worth the risk with him, though because he is going to be cheap and can give you top-six levels of production and great counting stats if he’s given the minutes.  He averaged at least 2.5 shots per contest in the 32 games he played with the Avs last year. However, the other concern I have with him is that he was given some very soft ice time over his career and that will probably continue next year because of injury concerns. The Hurricanes need more of a tough minute forward to play with Jordan Staal so Mueller may not be what they are looking for. He is certainly worth the risk with the results he can give you, though.

Wojtek Wolski

Year GP TOI/60 Corsi RQOC Corsi Rel. Sh% On-ice Sh% PDO OZ Start% P/60
2007-08 77 12.87 0.380 5.1 11.4% 10.33 1019 54.5 2.54
2008-09 78 13.14 0.431 -3.7 8.3% 7.74 989 47.5 1.52
2009-10 80 14.28 0.352 12.3 11.8% 11.13 1040 48.8 2.78
2010-11 73 12.09 0.335 7.4 8.9% 8.43 1010 58 2.04
2011-12 31 11.99 0.428 0.1 8.0% 7.14 974 58.8 1.77

Wolski is an interesting character. He has shown the ability to produce at high levels, drive the play forward and play in the top-six but so many teams want nothing to do with him. He was traded from Phoenix and New York after he fell out of favor with the coaching staffs there and Florida decided to not even tender him after last season. Wolski has been somewhat of a dangerous scoring threat for most of his career but he has been regarded as useless over the last couple of seasons even though his underlying stats paint a completely different picture. Wolski seems to need protection in terms of zone starts but he had one year (2009-10) where he produced at a very high level in somewhat tough situations. If he can re-kindle that magic (and high shooting percentage) then he would fit perfectly on the Hurricanes. Unfortunately, he was only able to do that once and has yet to replicate it. He could fit into the Hurricanes lineup but that’s uncertain at this point.

Guillaume Latendresse

Year GP TOI/60 Corsi RQOC Corsi Rel. Sh% On-ice Sh% PDO OZ Start% P/60
2007-08 73 10.67 0.213 -6.7 13.8% 9.15 10114 42.5 1.62
2008-09 56 11.91 0.049 6.2 12% 8.76 1017 48.8 1.8
2009-10 78 12.72 0.217 2 16.8% 8.84 1004 49.8 1.81
2010-11 11 10.84 -0.922 -0.8 16.7% 12 1087 50 2.01
2011-12 16 12.26 0.376 -4.7 13.9% 10.64 1072 40.2 2.45

Here is another player that has fallen victim to injuries the last couple seasons. He showed up for the Wild’s training camp out of shape in 2010 and suffered a torn labrum and a sports hernia that subsequently put him out for the season. The next year, he was apparently working harder to stay in shape but his year was cut short by a concussion and the Wild felt that he wasn’t worth keeping around. With Latendresse’s injury and conditioning problems, that is completely understandable but he has been able to play well when healthy. The 27-goal season he had in 2009 looks like an aberration, though and he’s likely more suited for a checking/third line role. He’s a big guy and can drive the play forward but his scoring upside likely isn’t very high. The Hurricanes have enough third liners as it is and there’s a good chance that Latendresse isn’t much more than that.

Gilbert Brule

Year GP TOI/60 Corsi RQOC Corsi Rel. Sh% On-ice Sh% PDO OZ Start% P/60
2007-08 61 9.01 0.06 0.3 1.4% 5.2 975 60.7 0.87
2008-09 11 9.41 -0.018 -12.6 15.4% 7.32 962 63 1.74
2009-10 65 12.52 0.419 5.8 14.1% 9.62 993 48.4 2.36
2010-11 41 12.18 0.261 -4.1 9.7% 7.25 992 49.3 0.96
2011-12 33 10.4 -1.046 2.2 8.9% 12.58 1050 44.6 2.27

Much has been said about Brule and how his development was hindered by Doug MacLean in Columbus as he has yet to be much of an impact player in the NHL. You can see that he was able to score at a high rate with the Coyotes last season but that was with fourth line minutes in very easy situations. The Hurricanes are better off letting some other team figuring out what to do with him. 

Benn Ferriero

Year GP TOI/60 Corsi RQOC Corsi Rel. Sh% On-ice Sh% PDO OZ Start% P/60
2009-10 24 10.39 0.292 10.7 4.8% 7.44 1026 51.5 1.2
2010-11 33 12.06 -0.693 8.8 8.9% 7.94 1027 51.5 1.21
2011-12 35 11.5 0.301 -3.3 10.3% 5.56 996 49.8 1.04

Ferriero could be useful for the fourth line but not much beyond that.

Benoit Pouliot

Year GP TOI/60 Corsi RQOC Corsi Rel. Sh% On-ice Sh% PDO OZ Start% P/60
2007-08 11 7.75 -0.986 -12.1 20.0% 10 1015 44.7 1.41
2008-09 37 9.52 -0.924 -7.8 14.7% 8.03 1031 44.9 1.19
2009-10 53 13.02 0.775 7.3 15.3% 8.71 1022 50.4 1.1
2010-11 79 10.56 -0.231 10.5 10.1% 7.71 991 51.6 2.08
2011-12 74 10.99 0.262 3.9 15.0% 10.02 1035 57.7 2.07

After looking like a major bust early on, Pouliot has turned into somewhat of a useful player the last couple of seasons. He could be useful in a depth role but I wouldn’t count on him fitting in the top-six and he certainly doesn’t offer a solution for the top line. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the Lightning traded for his rights only to not qualify him so he might be looking for a big deal. Pouliot could provide some value to whatever team signs him but I’m not sure if he offers the Hurricanes anything more than what Chad Larose or Jiri Tlusty have already given them.

Eric Fehr

Year GP TOI/60 Corsi RQOC Corsi Rel. Sh% On-ice Sh% PDO OZ Start% P/60
2007-08 23 9.09 -0.095 6.7 2.5% 6.62 1005 60.6 0.57
2008-09 61 10.39 0.399 15.9 9.0% 7.73 992 55.9 2.18
2009-10 69 10.58 0.187 -5.5 14.5% 12.2 1052 53.6 2.71
2010-11 52 10.52 0.306 1.5 8.3% 6.12 991 55.2 1.32
2011-12 35 9.2 -0.364 3.3 3.7% 2.74 949 55.8 0.56

Nightmare of a season for Eric Fehr last year as he saw the perfect storm of bad luck in just about all areas. He’s obviously a lot better than that but he isn’t the 20-goal scorer that the Washington Capitals signed a couple years ago. He’s never been given anything more than third line minutes for his career so there could be some untapped potential here but I don’t know if Fehr can be much more than a fringe top-six guy at the most. His possession rates are somewhat promising but those came with some very favorable zone starts. You can’t fault him for taking advantage of those minutes but the Hurricanes need someone who can play in tougher situations AND the top-six. Fehr has proven neither.

If the Hurricanes are going to target any of these players, the best bet is probably Peter Mueller given his potential but he’s still a big risk with the concussion problems. That and none of these players appear to be the top-six winger that the Hurricanes need right now. That isn’t to say that they can’t have break out seasons because that is always possible, but the Canes might look for more proven players next week. Unfortunately for them, there aren’t many of those to go around this summer so they might need to settle for one of these players instead. Like I said earlier, they are low-risk options and the Hurricanes won’t be losing much if they do sign one of them.

Stats from Behind The Net