NHL Teams That Will Be Hit Hardest by Free Agency in 2014 Offseason
It's exciting to watch for all the new signings that occur every year after the July 1 free-agent deadline, but one team's new arrival is another team's departure. Which teams have the most pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs) ready to pack their bags?
Hockey analytics can be used to estimate the value of every pending UFA. For example, Hockey Prospectus provides a catch-all statistics called Goals Versus Threshold. GVT, much like baseball's WAR, approximates all of a player's offensive and defensive contributions at a high level, no matter if they're a high-scoring forward, a shut-down defenseman or even a goalie.
I calculated a weighted GVT average of the past three seasons for each UFA, with each year being twice as important as the previous. In this way, the past is considered but doesn't matter as much as each player's current scoring totals.
Using the list of unrestricted free agents posted on Cap Geek, which is the source of all cap-related data in this article, I totaled up the entire impact of each team's UFAs in terms of goals scored and/or prevented in order to identify the league's top 10.
The average team stands to lose about 18 goals scored and/or prevented on July 1, while those on this top 10 range from 26 goals to over 50. There's a big gap between sixth place and fifth, and the top two teams, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, are really out on their own.
Turn over to begin the list of teams that stand to lose the most at the July 1 trade deadline.
All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.
10. New York Rangers: 25.9 Goals Scored And/or Prevented
Pending UFAs: Defensemen Raphael Diaz and Anton Stralman, secondary scorer Benoit Pouliot and checking line forwards Dominic Moore, Brian Boyle and Daniel Carcillo.
Net Impact: The New York Rangers currently have only 10 of their 18 skaters signed for next year: Six forwards and four defensemen.
The Rangers should be okay up front, assuming they re-sign their three key RFAs Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider, especially with a relatively strong prospect pool.
As for their blue line, their impressive top four is set with Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Kevin Klein, but they have absolutely nothing beyond that.
At the moment, they would need to re-sign John Moore and/or Justin Falk to fill out their depth or advance prospects like tough guy Dylan McIlrath.
Free-Agent Strategy: The Rangers will be focused on re-signing their key forward RFAs and use any remaining funds to fill up their blue-line depth.
With just under $17 million in cap space, which is 22nd in the NHL, the Rangers should have enough to address these two areas, but without much to spare.
9. Washington Capitals: 27.6 Goals Scored And/or Prevented
Pending UFAs: Trade deadline rentals Jaroslav Halak and Dustin Penner, second line center Mikhail Grabovski and injury replacement call-up defensemen Julien Brouillette and Tyson Strachan.
Net Impact: Despite these losses, Washington is actually well set for next year.
Rookies like Evgeny Kuznetsov are ready to step into forward roles, their blue line remains largely intact (especially if they re-sign RFA Nate Schmidt), and Braden Holtby and Philip Grubauer should be a perfectly capable goaltending duo.
On paper it certainly appears that Washington is going to take a hard hit at the UFA deadline, but it's essentially just two rentals and Kuznetsov's seat-warmer. Nothing to see here.
Free-Agent Strategy: The Capitals don't have a lot of cap space. Their $13 million ranks 25th in the NHL.
Given that their only RFAs to re-sign are depth players, they actually have the option of adding a secondary piece or two instead.
8. Montreal Canadiens: 28.0 Goals Scored And/or Prevented
Pending UFAs: Other than scoring star Thomas Vanek, several defensemen are pending UFAs, including superstar Andrei Markov, trade deadline rental Mike Weaver and depth veterans Douglas Murray and Francis Bouillon. Also, key forward Brian Gionta and enforcer George Parros could be leaving town.
Net Impact: Two defensemen! That's all the Canadiens currently have under contract for next season, Josh Gorges and Alexei Emelin.
Even if you add in Jarred Tinordi and a re-signed RFA P.K. Subban, that blue line still looks dangerously thin. Their third pairing would be Davis Drewiske and Nathan Beaulieu.
They should be okay up front though, especially if they can re-sign Lars Eller and depth line RFAs Dale Weise and/or Ryan White.
Free-Agent Strategy: Strong defensemen are notoriously difficult to find through free agency and often require significant overpayment.
Fortunately for the Habs, they have over $27 million in cap space available, the sixth most in the NHL. Expect Montreal to bid heavily on several big name blueliners.
7. Phoenix Coyotes: 31.8 Goals Scored And/or Prevented
Pending UFAs: Top scorer Radim Vrbata, backup goalie Thomas Greiss, veteran defenseman Derek Morris, versatile winger David Moss and depth forwards Paul Bissonnette, Andy Miele, Jeff Halpern and Tim Kennedy.
Net Impact: Over the past five seasons, Radim Vrbata is the only Coyote to have managed at least 100 goals (with 110), and his 229 points are second only to Shane Doan.
That's a big chunk of scoring that an already offense-starved team will find difficult to replace, especially for the bargain cap hit of just $3.0 million per season.
Fortunately for the Coyotes, the other unrestricted free agents, while numerous, shouldn't be overly difficult to adjust to being without.
Free-Agent Strategy: The Coyotes have just under $19 million of cap space with which to work, which is just a little bit below league average.
A top-six scorer is obviously foremost on their shopping list, much like the acquisition of Mike Ribeiro was last offseason. They will also need at least one solid NHL defenseman and a cheap backup goalie for workhorse Mike Smith.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs: 31.8 Goals Scored And/or Prevented
Pending UFAs: Last year's bargain signing Mason Raymond and defensive-minded forwards Dave Bolland, Nikolai Kulemin and Jay McClement, along with depth options Troy Bodie and Trevor Smith, and injured defenseman Paul Ranger.
Net Impact: How can the Maple Leafs get completely outplayed and outshot every night and still remain a competitive team?
I don't have the answer, but their wealth of defensive-minded forwards must have been an important component, and most of them are gone. Unless they're replaced, so too might their days as a legitimate playoff contender.
Free-Agent Strategy: The Leafs already secured Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel at great expense, but still have about $22 million with which to work.
Toronto will have three main priorities this free-agent season:
- Re-sign key RFAs like backup goalie James Reimer and defensemen Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner,
- Rebuild their defensive depth up front and,
- Assuming sufficient funds remain, find at least one more solid defenseman, preferably of the top-four variety.
5. New Jersey Devils: 42.5 Goals Scored And/or Prevented
Pending UFAs: Aged veterans Jaromir Jagr and Martin Brodeur, valuable defensemen Marek Zidlicky and Mark Fayne, and depth forwards Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier and Cam Janssen.
Net Impact: Free agency will hit the New Jersey Devils just about everywhere. There's quite a jump on this list from sixth to fifth.
The Devils are losing their leading scorer, half of their goaltending duo, a third of their blue line and most of their forward depth. The resulting team could get pushed into a draft lottery position.
Free-Agent Strategy: The Devils will be very busy this free-agent season!
They'll need a backup goalie for Cory Schneider, will urgently need to fight for whatever scarce top-six scoring is available and also have to deal with the extreme difficulty in finding a legitimate top-four defenseman (or two).
4. Anaheim Ducks: 42.8 Goals Scored And/or Prevented
Pending UFAs: Goalie Jonas Hiller, legend Teemu Selanne, shutdown line specialists Saku Koivu and Daniel Winnik along with trade deadline rental defenseman Stephane Robidas.
Net Impact: Anaheim tough minutes line of Daniel Winnik, Saku Koivu and Andrew Cogliano has been a more critical part of the team's success than many people realize.
They make the room for Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf to fully unleash their almost incomparable offense. Failing to re-unite or re-construct this line could actually prove to a devastating loss.
As for Teemu Selanne, obviously his loss was inevitable, but at least it occurs when the Ducks have either Kyle Palmieri or RFA Jakob Silfverberg sufficiently developed to replace him.
Free-Agent Strategy: Moving Viktor Fasth and the deadline was a telling move, but will the Ducks re-sign Jonas Hiller or go with surprise rookie Frederik Andersen, with a blue-chip prospect like John Gibson or Igor Bobkov as a backup?
The Ducks have about $23 million with which to work this summer, the 12th most in the NHL. They can consequently do a lot more than just re-build their shutdown line, and also enter the bidding for one of the offseason's big guns too.
3. Boston Bruins: 43.2 Goals Scored And/or Prevented
Pending UFAs: Future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla, backup goalie Chad Johnson, hard-hitting veteran Shawn Thornton and depth defensemen Andrej Meszaros and Corey Potter.
Net Impact: In all likelihood, Tuukka Rask will be backed up by one of their goalies currently playing for Boston's AHL franchise in Providence—either Malcolm Subban or Niklas Svedberg. Barring an injury to Rask, it probably won't really matter who wins the job.
It will obviously be quite a blow to lose Iginla, whose 28 goals leads the team by six and is only two points back of the team scoring lead, but it must be so.
The Bruins are unlikely to have the cap space to keep this high-scoring legend, and need to start clearing a path for their up-and-coming young forwards like Alexander Khokhlachev, Seth Griffin, Ryan Spooner, Craig Cunningham and more.
Free-Agent Strategy: Boston has only $9 million in cap space, second lowest to the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Bruins will be able to re-sign key RFAs like Reilly Smith, Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug, and that's it. Given how they could really use one more solid defenseman, that budget crunch is a bit of a pity.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 49.9 Goals Scored And/or Prevented
Pending UFAs: Defensemen Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and Deryk Engelland, trade deadline rentals Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak, backup goalie Tomas Vokoun, along with Jussi Jokinen and a bunch of depth forwards Joe Vitale, Chris Conner, Chuck Kobasew, Tanner Glass and Taylor Pyatt.
Net Impact: It was a tough year on Pittsburgh's blue line, where injuries forced the use of 11 different defensemen, including four rookies and two borderline depth options.
With the healthy return of their two best defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin, the loss of two top-four defensemen and a veteran depth option won't be fatal to their blue line. They have Rob Scuderi locked in long-term, and Olli Maatta has developed into a legitimate top-four option.
Depth-wise, the Penguins have a collection of young defensemen in their system that could be ready to work on a third pairing, including Robert Bortuzzo, Simon Despres, Brian Dumoulin, Philip Samuelsson, Scott Harrington and more.
Free-Agent Strategy: Given their young depth on the blue line, the Penguins might be focused on building up their soon-to-be seriously depleted corps of forwards.
Currently only six of their forwards are signed for next season, although, fortunately for them, they are essentially their key ones.
Pittsburgh will have just under $16 million in cap space, 23rd in the NHL, and will likely continue to use it in true so-called moneypuck style to fill the balance of their roster with value players.
1. St. Louis Blues: 52.1 Goals Scored And/or Prevented
Pending UFAs: Goalies Ryan Miller and Brian Elliott, veteran forwards Derek Roy, Brenden Morrow and Steve Ott and depth players Adam Cracknell and Carlo Colaiacovo.
Net Impact: Obviously the biggest impact is in nets, where the Blues will be left with only their AHL starter Jake Allen. He has a .926 save percentage in 44 games with the Chicago Wolves this year and posted a .905 save percentage in his 15 games with the Blues last year.
The acquisition of Ryan Miller at the trade deadline may have been a "try before you buy" idea. If it's a mutual fit, the 33-year-old former Vezina winner could be re-signed long-term for around $7 million per season. Otherwise, they could go with an Elliott/Allen tandem or hit the open goalie market themselves.
If St. Louis does re-sign Miller (or if the Blues make the Western Conference Final), Buffalo will get its first round pick instead of the third.
Free-Agent Strategy: Should Miller depart, the Blues have plenty of cap space with which to get a new goalie. Their $25.7 million is seventh-most in the NHL.
Another possible target for the Blues could be a scoring line center to replace UFA Derek Roy and to play with breakout star (and RFA) Jaden Schwartz and/or Vladimir Tarasenko. The alternative is to use either Vladimir Sobotka or Patrik Berglund in that role, both of whom are RFAs.
Beyond that, St. Louis needs nothing more than some forward depth, especially if there is still some uncertainty about whether or not Ty Rattie and/or Dmitrij Jaskin are truly NHL-ready.