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GMs should learn to shop smarter (What We Learned)

Ryan Lambert
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(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

Tanner Glass and Lee Stempniak are teammates again, for the first time since spring, and second time since 2004-05. That year, they played together at Dartmouth, with Stempniak a senior and Glass a sophomore.

Now, they're both on the New York Rangers and highlight a particularly bizarre portion of the NHL's annual summer free agency period.

The early days of free agency almost always come off as being woefully inefficient. Guys who sign on or around July 1 tend to be overpaid in terms of dollars and years, and that's a secret to approximately nobody. But the weird part is that things go from laughably expensive to laughably cheap pretty quickly, and it usually happens around the start of the second week of the month. The TSN-coined term “free agent frenzy” is, as a consequence, alarmingly apt. Teams get themselves all worked up to make it appear as though they're doing something that they pay top dollar for players they shouldn't.

Glass is the case in point here. He's played 337 NHL games, and in them he's piled up 54 points. He's also on his fourth organization in five seasons, because what Glass does — get buried in possession and occasionally fight — is available on the open market for very cheap if you know where to look, and that's if you have to go shopping for it; most minor league teams have at least one guy who can do what Glass does.

And yet his cap hit, on a contract unsurprisingly signed on July 1, will be $1.45 million for the next three seasons. That's too much money and too many years for a fighter who'll be 31 in November; remember how Shawn Thornton dropped off a cliff the last two or three seasons? Glass was never as good as Thornton.

Meanwhile, his old college buddy Stempniak had to wait until July 19 to sign his deal with the Rangers. Stempniak has more points in his 637-game career than Glass has games played. For each of his three seasons in Calgary, Stempniak's possession numbers were better than what the rest of the team was doing when he wasn’t on the ice. His career low in points (13) is three below Glass's career high, and that's because the season in which he bottomed out was also one in which he played just 14 games. 

You don't need stats to tell you that Lee Stempniak is better than Tanner Glass, of course. That much should be obvious. And yet no one would ever deign to call the former a highly sought-after free agent, obviously. Glass obviously was.

That's why Glass collected a contract worth $4.35 million in total over three years — one that wasn't worth the commitment for the Rangers the second it was signed — while Stempniak got just $900,000 for one year, and that was the end of it.

One wonders what, exactly, possesses a Glen Sather to consider Glass to be worth 1.6 Stempniaks, but “rational thought” cannot be included among the acceptable answers.

The point is, though, that this kind of thing happens all the time. From July 7 on, NHL teams have signed a total of 13 players, all but two for just one season, for an average cap hit of $1.17 million. Compare that to the first five days of July, when teams committed an average of about $7.15 million to 79 players, and the average term was about 2.3 seasons (that means an AAV of roughly $3.1 million).  

Now granted, some of that is skewed by the fact that the big-name free agents tend to get signed only July 1, or maybe a few days after that. None wait around until the middle of the month to make their decisions. But then again the vast majority of players being signed in that initial rush aren't highly sought-after, or at least shouldn't be. You'd have to feel comfortable lumping the more recently hired guys in with most July 1 signings in terms of quality.

Were you a betting man, you might be able to make some good money betting that Lee Stempniak has a better season than, say, Dave Bolland. Since 2007-08, they're in roughly the same neighborhood in terms of ES points per 60; Stempniak is 142nd in the league at 1.66, and Bolland is 155th at 1.61. And yet the latter, who's more injury prone and demonstrably worse, was the one who got $5.5 million a year for the next five seasons.

You can grab a lot of headlines on July 1, no doubt about that. But you're not likely to grab good value. Teams that sit back and wait for players to come to them — teams like Nashville, which signed Derek Roy, Mike Ribeiro, and Anton Volchenkov in an eight-day period for a total of $3.05 million, for instance — are the ones that grab the value. Were you a betting man, you might also be able to make pretty good money wagering that Volchenkov will have a better year than Brooks Orpik.

Just because you have money doesn't mean you should spend it. Splash the cash on quality free agents all you like, but don't mistake a Day-1 bidding war for a bargain. Unless you're adding players to your starting lineup, it will almost certainly be far cheaper to sit back and wait.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Please don't count on John Gibson being a Calder candidate. It would take a disaster for him to get a full-time starting job this season.

Arizona Coyotes: Does Ray Whitney still have something in the tank? Possession numbers remain shockingly fine, but anyone hoping for 60-point seasons any more will be sorely disappointed.

Boston Bruins: Milan Lucic says he will not apologize for the handshake line threats he made to various Canadiens. And if you ask him about it again, he's going to [expletive]ing kill you.

Buffalo Sabres: Remember that kid who couldn't stick with the team last season? Put him on the first line!

Calgary Flames: The Jonas Hiller contract is off to a running start.

Carolina Hurricanes: Easy to be happy with the Hurricanes' depth additions this summer, but wouldn't it also be nice to get some actual good star players too?

Chicago Blackhawks: Niklas Hjalmarsson believes the the Winter Classic will once again be a “surreal” experience. Agreed. Absolutely unreal that this is the team's third outdoor game in six years. 

Colorado Avalanche: Joe Sakic says Jarome Iginla's shot and leadership are good. If his legs actually work for the next three seasons, that just might matter!

Columbus Blue Jackets: Hey, they're making strides in Ryan Johansen's contract talks. The kid's good but 30 goals might be a bit much to expect; I wouldn't count on him shooting almost 14 percent next season. He's lucky he got so lucky when he did, really.

Dallas Stars: Antoine Roussel wants $2.35 million in arbitration. The team wants to pay him $1.5 million. Let's call it $2 million and who cares? Dallas has tons of cap space.

Detroit Red Wings: Yeah, “bold” is one way to put asking a bankrupt city to foot a too-large part of the bill for a $650 million downtown district that includes an arena that seats 20,000-plus. Public stadium financing is a scam to make the rich richer, and always has been.

Edmonton Oilers: Remember when the Oilers started their rebuild in 2009-10? There's no one left from that team on the roster. What a life.

Florida Panthers: Love that Dmitry Kulikov contract. What I love even more is that he's apparently “inconsistent.” If having a 23-year-old who can drive possession out of his own zone against good competition isn't good, then I don't know what to think.

Los Angeles Kings: Justin Williams received the Key to the City of Ventnor City, N.J., when he brought the Stanley Cup back to his adopted hometown. That's the second time he's brought it there, but given the way the Kings are going, residents might want to get used to this kind of party.

Minnesota Wild: The Xcel Energy Center is getting a new scoreboard for the coming season. It will be about five times bigger than the previous one, giving fans a closer look at a team that will probably disappoint them this year.

Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens haven't done much this summer, which makes it all the more likely that this season will be like the one that followed the last time they made the Eastern Conference Final. A first-round bounce-out might actually be the best they can hope for.

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Seth Jones remained in Nashville to train this summer. Apparently, almost no Preds actually do that.

New Jersey Devils: The Devils have a lot of good, young defensemen. And Adam Larsson.

New York Islanders: Griffin Reinhart wants to be on the Islanders next season. Someone's gotta take all those tough Andrew MacDonald minutes.

New York Rangers: The city would burn.

Ottawa Senators: The Senators want to know how they can improve Canadian Tire Centre. One assumes most fans wrote, “Put a competitive team in it.”

Philadelphia Flyers: John Stevens brought the Stanley Cup to Philadelphia this past week, and people in Philly are apparently mad that he took it to the Rocky Steps. Does anyone want to let the city of Philadelphia know that “Rocky” isn't even that good of a movie? Ay at least they didn't bring it to Pat's or Geno's!!!

Pittsburgh Penguins: Mark Recchi was named the Penguins' player development coach. Word of advice: Don't ask if he wants to go to the movies.

San Jose Sharks: People are still upset about the Sharks' new ice girls team. It's a reasonable thing to be upset about, but the conspiracy theorist has to think this is at least partly a ploy to distract from how little Doug Wilson has done this offseason, eh?

St. Louis Blues: So cute. Doug Armstrong thinks Chris Butler is a “qualified defenseman.”

Tampa Bay Lightning: Yeah look if you can't squeeze Jonathan Drouin onto this roster you're not doing a very good job of making the team better. Pretty simple.

Toronto Maple Leafs: If David Clarkson thinks last year went badly, just wait until he's in year five of this awful contract and still has two to go! 

Vancouver Canucks: A decent number of people in Vancouver still don't like Derek Dorsett from his junior days. Can't imagine why.

Washington Capitals: Dmitry Orlov just isn't an offensive defenseman. Sorry.

Winnipeg Jets: Another season of missing the playoffs coming up in Winnipeg. No one gets fired! Hooray!

Gold Star Award

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How has no one signed Dustin Penner yet? Dustin Penner is good.

Minus of the Weekend

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Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Uhhh, nope.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “TannerIsAwesome” cannot be a Leafs fan.

To Toronto:
Johnny Boychuk (with a new contract in place, negotiated by Toronto)
To Boston:
1st in 2016
Korbinian Holzer

Signoff
Now my rash smells like bacon, and it doesn't itch any more.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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