The Biggest Potential Bargains in 2014 NHL Free Agency
Free agency is a wonderful time of the offseason. Teams shell out massive amounts of money to land available players that could be the difference between missing and making the playoffs or making the playoffs and making a deep run in the postseason, offering fans hope of a better future.
There's no shortage of players who will have money thrown at them on July 1. Some of the big names include Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Marian Gaborik, Paul Stastny and Matt Niskanen. Some players will re-sign with their current teams while others will move on to greener pastures, but they will all be paid handsomely for their services.
But there will also be those under-the-radar signings that can change the fortunes of a team.
That will be the focus of this slideshow—the best bargains available in unrestricted free agency. What constitutes a bargain is subjective and guessing how much money a player will earn is an inexact science (Will a free agent stay with his current team at a discount or break the bank elsewhere?), but there are some potential gems to be mined.
Feel free to bookmark this and throw it back in my face a year from now when all of these players are either huge busts or turn out to be vastly overpaid this summer.
(All statistics via NHL.com or ExtraSkater.com)
Mark Fayne, D, New Jersey Devils
Most recent contract: Two years, $2.6 million
2013-14 statistics: 4 goals, 7 assists, 72 games
Breakdown: Mark Fayne saw time on the Devils' top pairing last season alongside Andy Greene, and while it doesn't look like it based on his statistics, he has had a very solid season. He had a PDO of 96.6, the 22nd-worst mark among regulars, which had more to do with his on-ice save percentage settling at .892 while playing in front of Martin Brodeur. He was a positive possession player, boasting a 55.3 Corsi percentage. He's coming off groin surgery but could be an excellent bargain for the Devils or whoever signs him.
Peter Mueller, C, Kloten
Most recent contract: One year, $1.725 million in 2013 with the Panthers
2013-14 statistics: 24 goals, 22 assists, 49 games in the Swiss league
Breakdown: Concussions have ravaged a once-promising career and led to Peter Mueller taking a one-year deal to play in Switzerland. But after a year away from the NHL, he'd like to return to the NHL next season, according to Craig Custance of ESPN.com. After a 22-goal, 54-point rookie season with the Avalanche, he steadily declined until an eight-goal, 17-point campaign in 2013 with Florida. He may not be a top-six forward in the NHL, but he could contribute on an inexpensive contract in the right situation.
Devan Dubnyk, G, Montreal Canadiens
Most recent contract: Two years, $7 million
2013-14 statistics: 11-18-3, 3.43 GAA, .891 save percentage
Breakdown: What a nightmare season for Devan Dubnyk. In his previous three seasons with the Oilers, he had a .917 save percentage over 120 games. The wheels came off under new coach Dallas Eakins, as he was dealt to the Nashville Predators after a dreadful 32 games. After two games with the Predators, he was dealt to the Canadiens for future considerations. So the question becomes this: Is Dubnyk the goalie who posted the .917 over three seasons, or the one that was among the worst in the NHL last season? It's a low-risk, high-reward situation for a team that needs help in net.
David Booth, LW, Vancouver Canucks
Most recent contract: Six years, $25.5 million
2013-14 statistics: 9 goals, 10 assists, 66 games
Breakdown: David Booth hasn't been the same player since suffering a concussion from a hit by Mike Richards in October 2009. Booth had 53 goals in 145 games over the previous two seasons, but since the hit, he has 59 goals in 222 games. The Canucks used a compliance buyout on Booth, who could be productive in a new environment. Perhaps a healthy Booth that isn't playing in a defense-first system like the one John Tortorella employed can help a team looking for offense.
Thomas Greiss, G, Phoenix Coyotes
Most recent contract: One year, $750,000
2013-14 statistics: 10-8-5, 2.29 GAA, .920 save percentage
Breakdown: Thomas Greiss has been strictly a backup his entire career, but he could be ready for an equal timeshare. He has faced 1,700 shots in his career and has a .915 save percentage, and considering how unproven he is, Greiss could be a cheaper alternative to the bigger names out there. After Mike Smith was lost for the season in late March, Greiss had a .914 save percentage over nine starts. The Coyotes fell short of the playoffs, but Greiss showed promise.
Mason Raymond, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs
Most recent contract: One year, $1 million
2013-14 statistics: 19 goals, 26 assists, 82 games
Breakdown: Mason Raymond made the Leafs roster after a signing a tryout contract and delivered on a small investment. His production in Vancouver declined after hurting his back during the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, but he bounced back after a change of scenery. His 44.2 percent Corsi last season isn't great, but his relative Corsi of plus-1.9 percent says a lot about his game with a team that is a possession black hole. His 19 goals may make him more expensive than he needs to be, but he could fly under the radar during free agency.
Kyle Quincey, D, Detroit Red Wings
Most recent contract: Two years, $7.5 million
2013-14 statistics: 4 goals, 9 assists, 82 games
Breakdown: Kyle Quincey lacks the impressive offensive numbers of some other free-agent defenseman, but he has been a terrific driver of possession during his career, making him somewhat of a sneaky option for a team looking to add scoring to the blue line. He's coming off a down year, as his Corsi dipped below 50 percent (49.7) for the first time in four seasons, and he was a minus-26 in penalty differential. He's still young, and while the market for defensemen usually skews toward overpaying greatly, Quincey has bargain potential.
Adam Pardy, D, Winnipeg Jets
Most recent contract: One year, $600,000
2013-14 statistics: 0 goals, 6 assists, 60 games
Breakdown: Adam Pardy played the most games of his career last season since his rookie season in Calgary in 2008-09 and acquitted himself quite well as a back-end blueliner. His zone starts were favorable as was his quality of competition, but Pardy did well against that level of competition. Teams looking for a sixth defenseman or to gamble that Pardy could step up against better competition can likely land him for only slightly more than what he earned last season.
Mike Santorelli, RW, Vancouver Canucks
Most recent contract: One year, $550,000
2013-14 statistics: 10 goals, 18 assists, 49 games
Breakdown: After a 20-goal season with the Florida Panthers in 2010-11, Mike Santorelli scuffled in a major way. He had just 11 goals in 94 games over the next two seasons before signing a two-way contact with the Canucks last season. He has been above the 50-percent mark in Corsi the past three seasons, and he is coming off a shoulder injury that ended his season in January. He said recently that he "100 percent" wants to stay in Vancouver, so a hometown discount for a undervalued player has bargain written all over it.
Ville Leino, LW, Buffalo Sabres
Most recent contract: Six years, $27 million
2013-14 statistics: 0 goals, 15 assists, 58 games
Breakdown: One way to snag a player who is undervalued is by signing him when his value is at its lowest. That's the case for Ville Leino, who was recently bought out by the Sabres after three seasons that can only be classified as molten hot garbage. After signing that massive contract, he delivered 10 goals in 137 games. Leino's agent, Markus Lehto, told the Olean Times Herald (N.Y.) that his client wishes to stay in the NHL.
“Yeah, for sure, in the NHL, he’s (a) top player,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll be talking to teams, yes.”
While Leino isn't a "top" player, he could produce in a new setting with the expectations of a huge contract off his shoulders. Leino had a positive relative Corsi (1.2 percent) in 2013-14 with the Sabres, the 29th-worst possession team last season, and he could have an impact on another team.
Anton Stralman, D, New York Rangers
Most recent contract: Two years, $3.4 million
2013-14 statistics: 1 goal, 12 assists, 81 games
Breakdown: Anton Stralman this summer will serve as a litmus test between fancy stats and regular stats. His 13 points rank tied for 14th among UFA defensemen and his plus-9 isn't all that great. He has served as a second-pairing defenseman for most of the past two seasons, and while he has done an excellent job in that role, some of that credit will go to regular defense partner Marc Staal.
But his underlying numbers paint a different picture. Tyler Dellow broke down Stralman's past two seasons in March, and it looks like Stralman is the real deal. The numbers show he's the one making Staal look better, not vice versa, and the quality of competition rising hasn't affected Stralman one bit.
So if teams look at the old-timey numbers and offer contracts based on that, he could be a steal even at $4 million per season.
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