2020 NHL Free Agents left on market: Bargains, buyer beware, and more

2020 NHL Free Agents still on market: Bargains, buyer beware, and more
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About a week ago, PHT looked at the best remaining 2020 NHL Free Agents. After Evgenii Dadonov and Joe Thornton found new homes, that 2020 NHL Free Agent class is even murkier. In many cases, teams are probably better trying to land their version of the Nate Schmidt trade.

But what if those opportunities aren’t out there? Unlike the Schmidt trade sending him from Vegas to Vancouver, teams aren’t usually fond of in-division swaps. Or maybe prices on the trade market went back up?

Either way, there are plenty of names still on the 2020 NHL Free Agent market. How appealing should they be, though? Let’s consider buyer beware cases, and also opportunities to find value.

2020 NHL Free Agents remaining: Buyer Beware

  • Mike Hoffman: During a typical free agent stretch, some team would have talked themselves into Hoffman, 30, by now. It’s not just that Hoffman scored 29 goals in 2019-20; it’s that he’s an unusually reliable sniper. He was easily on pace to push 30 this past season, and he’s riding a six-season 20+ goal streak.

Such numbers place the asking price high, and that’s where the problems become potential crises. Generally speaking, Hoffman does little beyond scoring goals. And you might even deem them “empty calorie goals,” anyway.

It’s not just that you have to weigh Hoffman’s offensive contributions vs. his defense. You also have to wonder if his overall offensive impact is a bit overstated. Consider how unappealing Hoffman looks by a variety of metrics in this RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey:

Mike Hoffman Evolving Hockey
via Evolving Hockey

Now, that doesn’t mean Hoffman boasts zero value. It makes sense that he was linked to a team like Montreal, as the Canadiens lack many true sniping finishers.

In a report for the Athletic on Tuesday (sub required), Adam Vingan notes that Hoffman’s agent said there’d be “no issue” with a one-year deal. That idea seems a lot more appealing. Even if he’s not worth whatever the dollar amount would be, you’d mitigate the risk of another James Neal-type swandive.

In the case of Duclair and Athanasiou, you have young speedsters. Kovalchuk’s someone you can picture putting up big numbers, and he enjoyed some big (if brief) surges with the Canadiens.

So, no, these free agent forwards aren’t all exactly the same.

The bigger picture is fairly similar, though. A team paying for these players would be getting some level of offense, while accepting the more likely: abysmal defense. (If you’re lucky, they’re neutral overall at five-on-five.)

Much like with Hoffman, these signings could conceivably work out. These players have some degree of skill and name recognition.

Still, there’s just as much of a risk of a “square peg in a round hole” situation. Is it worth finding the right role for these players? What if injuries stack up, and you need to ask more of them?

Maybe it’ll make sense on the cheap, but paying a premium for various offense-only forwards seems foolish. That might be the conclusion many NHL teams came to, considering their availability on the free agent market.

Not much sizzle: some solid potential NHL free agent forward bargains

On the opposite side of Hoffman-style double-edged swords, you have perfectly decent players who might be … well, kind of dull. OK, I’m sure these players are capable of excitement, just not so frequently that you’d describe them that way.

And that’s perfectly fine! You want that razzle-dazzle with your lottery picks, not while rummaging through the bargain bin.

  • Mikael GranlundIf you want about as safe a bet as you can get in free agency, it’s probably Granlund. At 28, Granlund might warrant some term, which forwards haven’t received often in this 2020 NHL Free Agent market.

One area where Granlund = Hoffman is that it’s all about value, though. If it’s multiple years and cheap, Granlund can be worth the gamble. It’s unclear if he can be a go-to player (like he was with the Wild) after things never really panned out with the Predators, though.

Again, you might not get spectacular results, but you might get solid bang for your buck. Not sure if Frolik still belongs in this category, yet historically he’s been a decent depth gem.

Curious case of Benjamin Hutton

In a shallow field of defenseman, I feel like Ben Hutton is such an odd duck that he deserves his own subsection. More than anything else, it’s usage that makes Hutton, 27, such a strange beast to assess.

A lot of that boils down to the Canucks leaning on Hutton to a staggering degree. Over 276 games from 2015-16 to 2018-19, Hutton averaged 20:20 minutes per game. Above all, the finale was startling: Hutton averaged 22:21 in 2018-19, second only to Alexander Edler. The Canucks trotted out Hutton for two more minutes per night than Christopher Tanev, who received a big contract from the Flames.

Then, in 2019-20, Hutton averaged a more manageable 18:16 TOI with the Kings. Considering the free agent market, a potential suitor might use him even more sparingly, and receive solid results.

With such wild swings in usage, Hutton’s underlying numbers are all over the place. To me, the 2018-19 vs. 2019-20 SKATR comparison really hammers the enormous difference home:

2020 NHL Free Agents still on market: Bargains, buyer beware, and more Ben Hutton
SKATR comparison via Bill Comeau

Um, how is this the same player?

Ultimately, it’s dangerous to read too much into Hutton’s far better 2019-20. Overall, his career numbers are shaky. But he’s also been severely miscast at times during his career, and in a shallow 2020 NHL Free Agent market for defensemen, maybe he could bring value on a third pairing?

Anyway, Hutton probably belongs in the section below, but I found his story too odd not to single him out.

Slim pickings, including goalies and on defense

  • It doesn’t feel like Zdeno Chara is a “true” free agent, but he must be mentioned. If he became available, there’s the risk that his name recognition would loom Chara-tall. (Still, picturing him as a depth player mentoring others? Not the worst idea ever, though far-fetched.)
  • Corey Perry: Another aging veteran with a big name. In Perry’s case, things looked dicey before some prominent playoff moments. If it’s similar to the Stars’ deal from 2019-20, at least that would be fairly low-risk.
  • Sami Vatanen‘s a player whose availability stuns many. Really, it’s not so surprising here, though. He’s struggled mightily in his end over the years, while his offensive impact has waned.

Here’s a theory on what else might hurt the Vatanens of the world: could it be that he doesn’t have as much of a place in the NHL since teams go with four forwards and one defenseman more often? If Vatanen’s main value is on the power play, is he one of the top 31 PP QBs in the NHL? If not, how valuable would it be to get him to run your second unit?

As you can see, there’s a lot of quantity on the market. In fact, sites like Cap Friendly can give you an idea of the enormity of players available in 2020 NHL Free Agency. Unfortunately, the quality doesn’t come near that quantity.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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