With the first two-plus weeks of free agency officially in the rearview mirror, we can compare and contrast the dozens of UFA deals to get a true feel for which teams should be patting themselves on the back (or suffering from buyer’s remorse) and which agents might be getting a shiny new Rolex come holiday time (or settling for the gift that keeps on giving the whole year).
The Rich Don’t Need to Get Richer
How can signing UFA forwards Adam Cracknell and David Van Der Gulik (combined 29 points in 113 career NHL games) count as having a positive impact on a team? Easy - when that team is the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. Another reminder that although making a big splash in free agency is impressive, it’s almost always better to enjoy the luxury of not having to fix what isn’t broken.
And in the UFA poker game among the NHL’s elite teams, the cap-challenged Boston Bruins folded (none signed so far). But the 2015 Cup frontrunner Chicago Blackhawks called the two spare parts deals of the Kings (signing Cody Bass and Pierre-Cedric Labrie - combined 10 points in 95 NHL games), and raised them one former Conn Smythe winner in Brad Richards, who agreed to a one year, $2M deal.
But the reality is the Richards experiment won’t end well. Last season the highest point total by any bought out forward was 37 from Vincent Lecavalier, whose intended second/third line role with Philly was a lot like what’s probably envisioned for Richards. And since Chicago evenly spreads its PP time, Richards - who normally relies upon at least a third of his scoring via the man advantage – won’t even see close to the 3:40 of PP time (second lowest average of his career) he got last year.
Former New York Rangers Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman left the Big Apple for the sunny confines of Tampa Bay, where they’ll also be joined by Brenden Morrow. Is it just me, or is over $8M per season a lot to spend on three players whose points totals have headed in the wrong direction in the past few full seasons (Boyle had 35 points in 2011-12, 26 in 2011-12, and just 18 in 2013-14; Stralman had 18 in 2010-11 and 2011-12, but just 13 in 2013-14; Morrow had 56 in 2010-11, 26 in 2011-12, and only 25 in 2013-14)?
Maybe the most interesting tidbit to come from the Boyle and Stralman signings is how the advice of Ryan Callahan – he of the only 24 career games in a Lightning uniform – apparently played a large part in getting them to come to Tampa. No word yet on whether Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen sought input from UFA Dustin Penner (18 games for Washington last season) on the quality of D.C.’s breakfast fare before agreeing to their massive deals with the Caps.
Coming to a Theater (but maybe not a Rink) Near You - Dallas IR Club
Dallas Stars fans are eager for newly signed Ales Hemsky to rekindle his 2013-14 magic (17 points in 20 games) with Jason Spezza, whom the Stars acquired via trade. But prior to last season when they combined for 150 games played, you’d have to go back to 2008-09 to find the last time both suited up for 70+ games in the same campaign; and each has more seasons of missing 10+ games than not. Hopefully their suits and street clothes made the trip south from Ottawa…..
The 2014 offseason is shaping up to be all about inexpensive reclamation signings, where you can literally picture general managers saying, “For that little money – why not!?” Between Morrow, Steve Downie ($1M with Pittsburgh), Dany Heatley ($1M with Anaheim), Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy ($1.05M and $1M with Nashville), and Martin Havlat ($1.5M with New Jersey), you could ice a fantasy hockey top six...if this was circa 2009.
Forget about Heatley making a positive impact. If he couldn’t produce when he had to earn a new contract, then he’s unlikely to be resurrected on Anaheim, especially since unlike the Minnesota Wild (who paid him $5M last season) the Ducks can afford to play him wherever they want (or not at all).
Morrow’s higher salary ($1.55M) could help his cause. But the reality is that barring injuries to other players (and – by some miracle – not to him), he’s likely to see time mostly in the bottom six, which means even 35-40 points would be a big stretch.
Ribeiro and Roy are going to perhaps the best possible landing spot, as on Nashville their offensive flair (particularly on the PP, where Roy has thrived his entire career and Ribeiro tied for the NHL lead in PP points in 2012-13) should be more than enough to compensate for their defensive shortcomings. It’s safe to count on both topping 50+ points if they stay healthy.
With Downie, he’s in line to get regular time as watchdog alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, allowing him to have points literally dropped onto his lap. Plus he had some early season traction (seven points in 11 games, 36 PIM) with Colorado during 2013-14, so clearly he has something left in the tank.
As for Havlat, to some his situation might look just as hopeless as Heatley’s; but the difference is New Jersey actually needs him (27th in goals scored last season, versus 2nd for Anaheim). And it helps that Havlat will be welcomed with open arms by countrymen and ageless wonders Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias. If Havlat plays in 75 games, he could tally 55+ points.
When More Definitely Is Less
Pop quiz – what happens when you mix the cap floor with two top prizes in the 2015 entry draft? You get Florida and Buffalo combining to commit huge money to some questionable UFAs.
In fact, if you remove Matt Moulson (51 points), Jussi Jokinen (57) and goalie Al Montoya, the combined 2013-14 scoring for the other seven UFA skaters they signed was 119 points in 410 games, translating to a full season rate of just under 24 points per player. So essentially they signed the equivalent of seven Kyle Brodziaks and Marc Methots, and will pay the seven in excess of $22M next season.
But hey - at least Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will have some “character guys” to help transition them into the NHL in 2015-16.
Short, but Not Always Sweet
Other than Niskanen, no UFA this summer has been signed for more than five years, making it interesting to compare and contrast all the multi-year deals. Here are the best and worst – by number of years – in terms of impact on the signing teams.
• Best Two Year Deals: Chad Johnson by the New York Islanders Islanders and Justin Peters by the Washington Capitals. Remember how great Anton Khudobin did after coming to Carolina from Boston? Johnson and Peters have a chance to replicate that success in 2014-15, especially given the shakiness of the guys in front of them (Jaroslav Halak for Johnson and Braden Holtby for Peters).
• Worst Two Year Deals: Radim Vrbata by the Vancouver Canucks. He’ll get a shot with the Sedins; but they combined to score fewer points (97) in 2013-14 than Henrik had in 2009-10 or Daniel posted in 2010-11. Dan Boyle by the New York Rangers. He only amassed 56 points in his last 121 games while getting top minutes and responsibilities, but now will be second banana to Ryan McDonagh.
• Best Three Year Deals: Stephane Robidas by Toronto: An ageless workhorse who’ll lessen the tough minutes workload on Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson. Mason Raymond by Calgary: He won’t forget how close to bottom he was last September, and will give the Flames everything he has. Thomas Vanek by Minnesota: The deal’s short term and the return to his college stomping grounds ensure he’ll actually remain dialed in.
• Worst Three Year Deals: Ryan Miller by Vancouver: Either he didn’t have many suitors or he decided the pressure of a top contender wasn’t for him; either way, this looks like a bad fit. Brian Gionta by Buffalo: Great guy to root for, especially since he’s literally going home again; but 81 points in his last 160 games is a far, far cry from 89 in 82 games back in 2005-06.
• Best Four Year Deal: Paul Stastny by St. Louis. Exactly the right term and dollars from a team that makes perfect sense as a landing spot; the only concern might be keeping his dad away from a live mic.
• Worst Four Year Deal: Nikolai Kulemin by New York Islanders: By most accounts he was coveted by Pittsburgh, where he could’ve feasted by playing with countryman Evgeni Malkin; but instead he landed with the Islanders….cough cough…..money grab….cough cough.
• Best Five Year Deal: Benoit Pouliot by Edmonton. After going from being drafted fourth overall to playing for five teams in as many seasons, something clearly clicked with Pouliot on the Rangers; and that something will go a long way in helping him and the Oilers even if he never scores 30 goals or reaches 70 points in a season.
• Worst Five Year Deal: Matt Moulson by Buffalo: In his final 130 games with the Islanders, Moulson posted 122 points, while in 74 games since then he tallied only 45; anyone who thinks this’ll work out well is likely on Moulson’s payroll or works in PR for the Sabres.
Rick Roos is a Senior Writer over at DobberHockey.com where you can read his Cage Match articles every Wednesday.