Poll: What were the best/worst free agent signings?

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There are still some noteworthy unrestricted free agents left on the market, but the vast majority of the money that will be spent on UFAs this summer has already been allocated. As is always the case, analysts have debated over what the best and worst signings were, so here’s your chance to have your say.

There are always plenty of contenders when it comes to the worst signings of the summer, but here are five to consider:

Brooks Orpik — Washington signed the defenseman to a five-year, $27.5 million contract. He logged big minutes with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the stay-at-home defenseman will turn 34 in September, so what is currently a questionable cap hit could look very bad in a couple years.

Dave Bolland — The Florida Panthers inked him to a five-year, $27.5 million deal. He’s never recorded more than 47 points and even that was back in 2008-09. On top of that, he has a lengthy injury history, which makes the term questionable. On the other hand, he’s won the Stanley Cup twice and played a meaningful role in both of those championships.

Benoit Pouliot — Seemingly desperate to get bigger, the Edmonton Oilers handed bottom-six forward Pouliot a five-year, $20 million contract. That’s an awful lot of money for a guy that’s probably going to average less than 14 minutes per game.

Nikolai Kulemin — The former 30-goal scorer has only found the back of the net 23 times over the past three seasons, but the New York Islanders still decided he was worthy of a four-year, $16.75 million deal.

Kyle Quincey — The Detroit Red Wings went into the free agent market with ambitions of improving their defense. The big-name defensemen on the market ended up turning them down though and instead they inked Quincey to a two-year, $8.5 million deal.

Have someone else in mind? All the biggest signings were included in the poll and are listed in order of their total contract value:

On a more positive note, here are some names to keep in mind when talking about the best signings of the summer:

Thomas Vanek — He came under fire for his performance in the 2014 playoffs, but Vanek has been a solid first-line winger for most of his career. His new deal with the Wild comes with a $6.5 million cap hit, which isn’t much of a bargain, but the fact that Minnesota got the 30-year-old to agree to just a three-year deal should help them.

Brad Richards — He was a point-per-game player in Dallas, but saw his stock fall considerably with the New York Rangers. Even still, the Chicago Blackhawks might have gotten the steal of the summer when Richards agreed to join them on a one-year, $2 million contract. The Blackhawks were up against the cap, but this move allowed them to address their second-line center vacancy without making significant sacrifices.

Marian Gaborik — He revitalized the Los Angeles Kings’ offense and was played a big role in them winning the Stanley Cup. Despite his lengthy injury history, Gaborik was in a position to cash in big this summer, but he choose to take a smaller annual salary for a longer deal and the luxury of playing with Los Angeles. His seven-year, $34.125 million contract is certainly lucrative and not without it’s risks, but he likely did leave money on the table to help the Kings’ cap situation.

Paul Stastny — The fact that he now has an annual cap hit of $7 million means that he’s obviously not a steal. At the same time, the Blues managed to limit him to a four-year deal that will cover the prime of the 28-year-old’s career. That’s a win for St. Louis considering he was one of the most highly sought after free agents on the market.

Christian Ehrhoff — Like the Chicago Blackhawks, the Pittsburgh Penguins were in a difficult cap situation. In Ehrhoff though, they have a potential short-term replacement for Matt Niskanen at the cost of $4 million for the 2014-15 campaign.

Report: Sharks sign Czech d-man Simek

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San Jose’s had good success scouting European leagues in recent years, and the club is hopeful that trend continued on Monday.

The Sharks have signed d-man Radim Simek out of the Czech League, per NBC Sports California. It’s a one-year, two-way pact for the 24-year-old, who just finished representing his native Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship.

Simek had two points in eight games for the Czechs.

According to a report out of Radio Praha, the Sharks beat out the Rangers to acquire Simek. Passed over in his draft year, Simek has spent his entire pro career with Liberec Bili Tygri.

As mentioned above, Sharks GM Doug Wilson has done well finding European skaters in their early-to-mid-20s, ones that contribute right away at the NHL level: Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, most specifically.

Smith could re-up with Rangers, agent expects Gorton meeting soon

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Earlier this month, we wrote about how pending UFA d-man Brendan Smith impressed his Rangers teammates with his strong postseason play.

It was clear the Rangers wanted to keep Smith, a trade deadline pickup, in the fold. And now it sounds like the interest is mutual.

“He’s more than open to coming back,” agent Anton Thun told the New York Post. ““I’m sure I’ll be speaking to Jeff [Gorton, Rangers GM] in the next week or so and we’ll see if we can work something out.”

Smith, 28, just wrapped a two-year, $5.5 million deal with a $2.75M average annual cap hit. His stock certainly rose following the move from Detroit to New York, thanks in large part to a playoff in which he had four points through 12 games, and averaged just under 20 minutes per night.

Add it all up, and a raise is in the cards.

Helping Smith’s cause is a relatively weak crop of free-agent defensemen this summer. Kevin Shattenkirk will be the top dog, while the second tier includes under-30s like Smith, Karl Alzner and Michael Stone.

The Post estimated a $4M AAV could be on the horizon for Smith, which makes sense. Thun didn’t talk specific numbers, but did suggest the Rangers weren’t going to get any sort of discount.

“To pass up free agency,” he explained, “Brendan’s going to need a contract that reflects market value.”

 

 

Penguins redefining defense by committee

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When the Pittsburgh Penguins lost defenseman Kris Letang for the entire postseason it was thought be a crushing blow to their chances to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Especially with a path that was likely to include two of the NHL’s best teams in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Not only is Letang one of the best defensemen in the world, he is one of the most important cogs in the Penguins’ machine. During last year’s Stanley Cup run he played close to 29 minutes per game and did so at an incredibly high level. Losing that sort of workhorse is nearly impossible to replace.

But even with Letang’s absence (and even additional injuries to defensemen Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz) the Penguins find themselves one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final without really having a true No. 1 defenseman to turn to.

This is almost unheard of in today’s NHL.

Every team that goes on a deep run in the playoffs has a minute-eating defenseman that can be counted on to play a significant portion of the game. Letang. Drew Doughty. Duncan Keith. Erik Karlsson. Zdeno Chara. Players like that.

When it comes to the playoffs, teams tend to roll with their top-four defensemen the most and do their best to hide or shelter their third pairing by limiting their minutes as much as they can. The Penguins have not had that luxury without Letang.

That means everybody has had to step up and take on an expanded role. Just about everybody is playing more than they are used to while there is virtually no difference between each role.

First, consider that every team (22 of them) that has reached the Stanley Cup Final since the 2005-06 season has had at least one defensemen average more than 22 minutes of ice-time per game. Twenty-one of those 22 teams have had at least two players log more than 22 minutes, while 18 of them have had at least one player average more than 25 minutes of ice-time per game.

The 2016-17 Penguins currently have none.

Brian Dumoulin is currently their ice-time leader, playing just over 21 minutes per game.

Let’s take a look at what that looks like from a usage perspective.

The table here looks at this year’s Penguins, the remaining final four teams this season, and every Stanley Cup Finalist dating back to 2011-12 and what percentage of a 60-minute game each of their top-six defensemen played on an average night. This year’s Penguins should stick out as a massive outlier.

 

Other than the 2014-15 Lightning and 2011-12 Devils every other team on here had a No. 1 defenseman that was on the ice for more than 40 percent of the game on a given night. And the Lightning and Devils were very close to it.

All of them had a No. 2 defenseman that played more than 36 percent of the game on a given night.

Again, the Penguins currently have nobody taking on that sort of a workload in either spot.

Every team on there was able to limit their playing time of their third pairing (some more than others) while there was a significant gap between the ice-time for their No. 1 and No. 6 defenseman.

For Pittsburgh, their third pairing plays almost as much as their second pairing, while there is minimal difference between the workload for their top pairing and their third pairing. Last year, as an example, Letang averaged more than 13 additional minutes per game than their No. 6 defenseman.

This year Dumoulin is only averaging three more minutes than their No. 6.

It really is a defense by committee approach and it has been kind of fascinating to watch.

They are clearly lacking the elite puck-moving presence that a player like Letang can provide, and at times their ability to smoothly and efficiently exit the defensive zone has been a struggle.

It is also a situation where a lot of players are being thrust into roles they are not used to playing.  This has at times led to extended zone time for their opponents and put them in a situation where they are giving up way more shots per game than they want. They are also fortunate to have two outstanding goalies in Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury that have been fantastic this postseason to keep pucks out of the net. But overall it is a unit that has seemingly taken on a whatever it takes approach to get the job done.

It runs counter to everything we have seen from contending teams in recent years when it comes to the makeup of a defense, but they have somehow found a way to make this patchwork unit work. Now here they are, just one win away from getting back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Gibson skates, could start as Ducks face elimination in Nashville

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John Gibson, who exited Game 5 of the Anaheim-Nashville series with a lower-body injury, could be back in the Ducks’ goal tonight for Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena.

Gibson participated in today’s morning skate, and was the first goalie to exit. Jonathan Bernier, who came on in relief on Saturday and allowed two goals on 18 shots, stayed out for extra work.

“When they skate, usually that leads you to believe that there is a great opportunity for him to play,” head coach Randy Carlyle said at Monday’s media availability. “But I haven’t talked to [Gibson]. We’ll wait until he is off the ice and has a conversation with the training staff.

“And then we’ll make a decision based off that.”

Gibson has been solid, if unspectacular, for the Ducks this postseason. His numbers (2.59 GAA, .918 save percentage) are somewhat pedestrian, but he’s been a calm, steadying influence for his team.

Bernier has also been good for the Ducks this year, though his playoff body of work is limited. Game 5 was just his third appearance of the postseason, and he’s never started a Stanley Cup playoff game before.