Once the playoffs and entry level draft are over, the next step to tweaking an NHL roster in preparation for next year's season is the beginning of free agency. Whether trying to land that blockbuster player that'll take a team to the promised land, or just trying to fill a need in the roster without having to give up any franchise capital like a player or draft picks, general managers are often at their busiest in the first week of July.
Not every signing can be a hit unfortunately, and there's a fine line between a value signing and overpaying because of the hype. Just from last season, we saw a player like David Backes sign for a ridiculous 5 year $30 million contract at 32 years old. Valued for his grit and leadership, he was a fit for the Bruins. But how is $6 million a year worth only 38 points and an aging player?
When looking to sign a player, there should be more than the name and demand for that player that influences contracts. Sometimes it's better to not go after the player other teams are chasing since that role can be filled out at a cheaper price. With that being said, here is a list of eight players who could be signed and offer great value, and eight who could be overpaid for their performance.
18 Value: Martin Hanzal
Hanzal was playing well while with Arizona last year in what was a surprisingly injury free season for the towering centerman. He was a source of consistency and a veteran presence on an incredibly young team still in the middle of a rebuilding process. While centering primarily two solid wingers in Domi and Vrbata, Hanzal had 16 goals and 10 assists in 51 games. Once traded, he saw even more offensive success with 4 goals and 9 assists in 20 games even as a third line cente. He also excels at the faceoff circle, with a faceoff percentage of 56.02% with Arizona, and 57.77% with Minnesota.
If you can get past the injury risk, a big bodied third line center who puts up around 40 points and dominates on faceoffs is a steal at around the $3.5 million he had previously been making.
17 Overpaid: Kevin Shattenkirk
One of the premier offensive defensemen, Shattenkirk is probably going to get quite the pay raise this offseason now that his 4 year 4.25 million dollar contract has expired. A power play specialist and a top quality point producer, but who lacks skills on the defensive side of things shouldn't, but probably will get, the same type of dollar an elite all around defenseman (like a Letang or Karlsson) is getting. We saw in this past postseason how he couldn't handle the big minutes, and was brought in to help take Washington over the hump only to play on the bottom pair.
He's from New York so if the Rangers are looking to sign him, don't expect them to go for value since that's not a team known for modesty when it comes to free agent signings.
15 Value: Andrei Markov
After playing his entire career with Montreal and being their general on the blue line, Markov may be on the move this summer and would be a steal for anyone eyeing to sign him. Though injuries don't do his career totals justice, Markov has always been a solid and productive defenseman. On a team that generally lacks offense, and in a season once again marred by injury, he posted a more than respectable 36 points in 62 games, with 12 of those points coming on the power play.
His time on ice should decrease a bit more seeing as he is turning 39 in December, but his vision and passing in the offensive zone, especially on the power play, should more than make up for fewer shifts at 5 on 5.
14 Overpaid: Joe Thornton
When everyone thought Jumbo Joe was finally regressing after (only) a 65 point season, he puts up an impressive 82 points in 82 games. But last year was a huge hit on his value and a step backwards for the 37-year-old. With an uncharacteristic and unprecedented 50 points in 79 games, age may have finally caught up to the centerman. Perhaps exhaustion and lack of recovery was the reason for the bad season, seeing as he went all the way to the finals last year, but it may not be worth the risk of seeing if that was the case.
Even for a one year contract at Thornton's usual value of about 6+ million a year may be paying too much for the future hall of famer. Coming off an ACL tear you wonder what Thornton would be asking for at this point.
13 Value: Jaromir Jagr
The ageless wonder. At an astonishing 45 years old and over 25 years experience playing in the NHL, Jagr has shown he's still got it. In his two years with Florida, Jagr has not only produced offensively but played a role in helping the development of younger players, most notably his linemates Barkov and Huberdeau. In his first full season with the pair, he posted a cool 66 points at 44 years old. After posting only 46 points in 82 games this year, mostly due to key injuries for Florida (like Huberdeau) and an unfortunate 8.8 shooting percentage, expect Jagr to improve slightly next year depending on where he lands. His age brings a discount along with it, but the quality is still there.
12 Overpaid: T.J. Oshie
What more can a player ask for than posting a new career high in goals during a contract year before asking for a healthy raise in free agency? The ideal situation for Oshie is about to happen this July, but the alarm bells should start ringing. At the age of 30 he finally cracked the 30 goal mark (posting 33 goals in only 68 games). Though impressive, this may not be a sign of things to come, most notably due to having one of the best playmakers of all time in Nicklas Backstrom as his center, and shooting an astronomical clip of 23.1% all season.
Though a fantastic season, any team looking to break the bank signing Oshie may be disappointed when he doesn't produce to prior season's expectations. For such a coveted offensive player, he has also yet to crack more than 60 points in a season.
10 Value: Radim Vrbata
Vrbata had a nice bounce back season after an underwhelming one on an overall underwhelming Canucks team. After yet another season where he's scored 20 or more goals, along with 35 assists and 15 power play points, the perennial underrated sniper has shown that he can still help as a second line winger and on the power play. Though he is getting up there in age at 35, his prior contracts show that he is one of the best candidates for bang for your buck. Having only made 3.25 million last year, there are worse options out there that can hardly hold a candle at Vrbata's offensive contributions at that price.
He could easily be the steal of this free agency and fill the role as the missing piece on a lot of teams who can't afford much in terms of cap space.
9 Overpaid: Steve Mason
The Steve Mason experiment may finally be over for the Flyers as they probably turn to Neuvirth until their goalie prospects are ready for the NHL. The flashes of brilliance were few and far between and the team Philly has been icing these past few seasons just didn't have the defensive capabilities to mask Mason's mistakes. Known for his soft goals at inopportune moments, Mason could have thrived on the Flyers who have been begging for a legitimate starting goalie for years now. A pitiful .908 save percentage this past year adds to his uninspiring career .911 save percentage that hardly deserves the title of number one goalie. Nor do his numbers justify the $4.1 million a year he earned this past contract. Still pegged as a starting goalie, it won't be surprising if a team offers up a few million to overpay for his services.
8 Value: Mike Fisher
After posting a mere 23 points in 70 games in 2015-16, Mike Fisher looked to be on the decline. This past season however, he proved that even at 36 (just turned 37) he can still be a valuable commodity to any team looking to bolster up depth down the middle. As Nashville's second line center, he scored 18 goals to go along with his 24 assists. He was no slouch on the power play either, providing 17 points with the man advantage (a career high). Along with his contribution as a depth scorer, his 54.9% faceoff last year made him a solid bet at center.
With his two year contract expiring, and if retirement isn't on the table just yet, consider Fisher to be a value signing for his usual cost of around $4 million a year and perhaps even taking a hometown discount to stay in Nashville.
7 Overpaid: Ryan Miller
At 36 and having just made 6 million this year, Miller is now going into free agency as a possible regression candidate. In the past 8 years he's made 49.25 million dollars, while offering between average to slightly above average yearly performances. This past season, he was also the epitome of inconsistency, performing at elite numbers some nights then having fringe NHL goalie stats the next. With Vegas entering the league and needing a number one goalie, there may not be a change in trend for overpaying for him. For someone who had been making just 500 thousand less than Carey Price these past few years, you'd expect a lot more. But for some reason Vancouver and Buffalo both thought overpaying him was the right choice, and now the next suitor will probably do the same.
6 Value: Sam Gagner
Gagner was undoubtedly last year's steal of a contract. After signing a one year deal with Columbus worth only $650 000, it seemed to have sparked something in him. He went on to post career highs in points with 50 and power play points with 18. He played a key role on a power play unit that gave Columbus so much success this season. Having a coach like John Tortorella didn't deter his production either, since his mistakes usually cost him ending up on the fourth line. But he continued to produce even with minimal opportunities.
His pay raise shouldn't be too substantial, making him a solid choice as a second line center to bolster offense on both 5 on 5 and on the power play.
5 Overpaid: Patrick Marleau
Marleau could easily excel as a depth scorer if a team chooses to sign him. But the question is if he's willing to take a massive pay cut down from his expiring three year contract that saw him make $20 million. His numbers have consistently been dwindling down, from 70 points to 57, and 48. This past season saw him score 27 times but only put up 46 points. He is no longer considered a top tier threat, but can thrive on the second line and on any power play unit. He can also provide a veteran presence and is still more than capable of keeping up with the speed of the game, Marleau would be too expensive at anything over half of what he just finished making, but a consistent 25+ goal scorer and just 4 years removed from a 70 point season can ask for more than that.
4 Value: Anders Nilsson
Nilsson is a career back up so it may seem strange having him as a value player. However last year on a Buffalo team that enjoyed seeing the opposition shoot on their goalie, he posted a stellar .923 save percentage. The goals against average was still pretty good and would have been much lower had he not had to face nearly 33 shots a game over the 26 games he played in. For having played on a $1 million contract, he came in clutch to replace the oft injured Lehner and gave a bad team a chance at winning most nights he played.
A team in need of a backup won't miss out on value if they choose to sign Nilsson, especially if he's called upon to string a few starts together.
3 Overpaid: Alexander Radulov
Coming as a surprise signing by Marc Bergevin for the Habs, and starting off the season on fire, Radulov petered out as the season went on. The chemistry he had while he played with top forwards Pacioretty and Galchenyuk seemed to come and go, but for the most part it wasn't there on a consistent enough basis. As a result, he ended with only 54 points in 76 games, but still decent due to the hard work he brought on an otherwise lackadaisical team. At $5.75 million for one year, it was a decent deal for Montreal who needed a top 6 forward. But now the term and money desired by Radulov is rumored to have increased by a substantial amount, and at already 30 years old, doubt it will be worthwhile.
2 Value: Patrick Sharp
Prior to being traded to Dallas, Sharp was an incredibly underrated offensive player, putting up 488 points in 629 games as a Blackhawk. While with Dallas, he underwhelmed with a 55 point season two years ago even though playing with arguably the best duo in hockey in Benn and Seguin. This past year was even worse: a total disaster that saw him put up only 18 points in 48 games in a season that saw both injuries and an uncharacteristically bad Stars team. That being said, a team willing to take a gamble and Sharp taking a substantial pay cut compared to his $5.9 million he had been making could work out for a team in need of a depth winger with an abundant amount of playoff experience.
1 Overpaid: Patrick Eaves
Like Oshie, Eaves' next contract may fall victim to his incredible contract year performance. A career depth player, Eaves made the most of his opportunity when put in Dallas' top 6. Especially on the powerplay, where he thrived scoring 11 goals as well as having 16 points, eclipsing his prior career highs. A career 11.3 percent shooter, he's enjoyed seasons of 15.4, 12.8, and 13.6 percent with Dallas as well as 20 percent (with 11 goals) in the 20 games with Anaheim last season. The argument can be made that he finally played a full season, but it's unlikely he's reaching his potential at 33 years old.
Though overpaid by Eaves' standards may not be much, it is still overpaying nonetheless. Overpaying may potentially happen with Eaves, especially considering his season was good enough to be worth a 2nd round pick to get him onto the Ducks. Anything over 1.5-2 million per year would be too much.
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