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A closer look at the UFA class: Who to target, and who to avoid

Dom Luszczyszyn
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A closer look at the UFA class: Who to target, and who to avoid

Nick Bonino. Image by: Getty Images

News

A closer look at the UFA class: Who to target, and who to avoid

Dom Luszczyszyn
By:

The 2017 free agent class is weaker than usual, so here's what advanced stats has to say about the big ticket guys, big value guys, big mistake guys, and under-the-radar guys.

Things are about to get crazy. The Free Agent Frenzy is about to begin and this year feels like it could get really weird. The group of players available looks much weaker than usual and parity is at an all time high. That’s a recipe for overpayment for the wrong players from teams that feel like they’re a piece or two away which is, well, 80 percent of the league. There’s probably around 24 teams that can realistically compete for a playoff spot and without many great options available, the contracts might get a little crazy.

That doesn’t mean everybody out there is bad, there’s still some decent talent that can help teams take that next step. Writer-Editor Matt Larkin went through the Top 30 available players and today we’re going to dig into the numbers behind those players: how good they were last season, how much value they bring to their teams next season, and how much they might cost. That should give a good benchmark for whether a player is worth acquiring and whether a team overpaid for his services.

Here’s how Matt’s Top 30 list looks along with some key numbers, followed by a look at big ticket guys, big value guys, big mistake guys, and under-the-radar guys.

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Role is where a player’s ice time ranks relative to the rest of the league.

Corsi is net shot attempt impact relative to teammates via puckalytics.com.

GS is Game Score, a combination of various box score stats.

GSVA is projected wins added to a team based on a player’s last three seasons of Game Score.

Trend is how their projected play compares to their last season.

Projected salary is via Matt Cane’s salary prediction model.
 

Big Tickets

Guys who are getting the most money and/or attention.

Kevin Shattenkirk: No team is improving in free agency more than the team that signs Shattenkirk, especially if that team has a struggling power play. There are some lapses on defense and a legitimate concern on whether he can handle tough minutes, but very few defensemen can move the puck like he can. He’ll fetch a big price tag, probably the biggest of any player available, but he’ll likely be worth it with his ability to drive play and put up numbers on the scoresheet. I know there’s some concern with him after a shaky playoff showing, but I’d take him on my team any day.

San Jose: It could be the end of an era in San Jose as both Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau may find new homes on July 1. They’d be great additions to any team, especially Thornton who is still a beast at influencing shot rates. His point production took a massive hit last season and off-season surgery makes his addition a bit riskier, but if teams are looking to take the next step he’s a very intriguing piece, especially since he should be better than he was last season. I’m more lukewarm about Marleau whose point production has dipped toward the 45 point range, not to mention his two-way game has never been as strong as Thornton’s. Term is everything for guys at this age, anything above two years is probably a bad bet, but they can definitely contribute for a contender next season.

Montreal: The Canadiens might be losing their own duo as Alex Radulov and Andrei Markov head for free agency. Markov had a great season at 38 and he looks as good as ever. He may be old, but he’d be a great back-up plan to any team that loses out on Shattenkirk. Radulov made a big impression in his first season since his NHL comeback and offers some great scoring punch on the wing, though he does have some discipline issues. Losing both players would be devastating to Montreal as their time to win is now and both guys are important pieces. They can’t afford to lose five points from their lineup which is what these two are approximately worth combined. That could mean a big gain for another team though.

Martin Hanzal: The man that ruined Minnesota’s season is the best non-Thornton center on the market. That says a lot about the weakness of this year’s crop, but also about Hanzal’s skill. Hanzal is a terrific and underrated player that would be a perfect fit on a second line and would provide a lot of value as a third line center. He’s better than most people think, but as the next guy in line after Thornton there’s a big concern of what his contract could look like. Cane’s projections have him at four million which feels just right, but anything over, with big term, would be less than ideal.
 

Big Value

Guys who should be cheaper than their projected production.

Cody Franson: He's fallen out of favor greatly since his time with the Leafs, but Franson can still be a very useful piece on any blueline. His point totals have taken a hit since he stopped getting power play time, but he’s still crushing in the shot attempts department, especially on the defensive side of things where he gave up nine fewer shot attempts relative to his teammates last season. He’s never posted a negative relative Corsi for his career and while he’s mostly played a sheltered role the fact that he does so well in that role can’t be discounted. He’s probably one of the best third pairing D-men in the league, he can slide up the lineup if necessary and he’ll be much more affordable than other options.

Patrick Sharp: This one is a bit of a risk and really depends on what he gets, but if teams are turned off by last year’s 18 point effort then Sharp can be a steal. At 35, his 2016-17 campaign might be a sign of things to come, but I think there’s still some gas left in the tank and he can bounce back with a much better season. He shot 5.5 percent last season, almost half of his career percentage, while maintaining his usual shot volume. He should be fine if he can keep getting pucks on net. A lot of his struggles last season were injury related and as long as he’s healthy he would make a great add to a team’s middle six.
 

Big Mistakes

Guys teams will regret giving a lot of money to.

Defensive defensemen: The biggest mistake made during free agency is giving too much money and/or term to a one-dimensional player. This is a big sticking point when that dimension if offense, yet strangely okay when it’s defense. I’m not sure why that is. It would be fine if these players were proven to be good defensively, but most of them bleed shots against and only look good because they spend so much time in their own zone.

The leader of this year’s crop is Karl Alzner, who had a terrible season and may get five or six years on a new contract anyway. He isn’t as bad as he was last season (and he’s probably above replacement level if usage is accounted for), but he’s still a guy who provides zero offense and who made his team nearly 15 shots worse whenever he was on the ice last year. That’s the worst of anyone on the Top 30 list. He was plus-23 by goals this season, but he also had the highest PDO of his career at 104. Alzner is probably fine as a third pair guy, but he’ll be paid like a top four D-man for a long time and is in over his head in that role.

That’s not the only potential landmine on the backend. Michael Stone has shown he isn’t much without Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Johnny Oduya is a shade of what he used to be, and Ron Hainsey might be fine in softer minutes, but I still wouldn’t want to pay what he’ll get on the market. Worst of all though is Dmitry Kulikov. Last season was a nightmare scenario, but he wasn’t all that good before that either. That’s a lot of defensive defensemen ready to be overpaid. Be concerned if it’s your team doing the overpaying. The market is super thin for blueliners so they might cost even more than their market price, making them even riskier.

Nick Bonino: A good player, but he’s a troublesome consolation prize at center to Thornton and Hanzal, and is getting more hype than he deserves. His numbers last year were alarming and though he should be better next season, it’s still a cause for concern. One of the reasons Pittsburgh’s possession numbers weren’t as dominant as they were in 2015-16 was because Bonino’s line went completely in the tank. He’s a decent option as a third line center, and he’s fine at a projected three million, but I have to assume he gets a bit more than that. And with rumours that he’s looking for big term close to five years, this contract can potentially be a day one disaster.
 

Under The Radar

Guys who didn’t make Matt’s list that are worth a flier.

Ales Hemsky: When he’s healthy – and that’s a big if – there are few players in the league with his sublime playmaking ability. He’s not what he used to be, but he can provide solid secondary scoring at 33 and his two-way game is far from a burden.

Scott Hartnell: I get the cap hit was an issue, but I’m still not sure why Columbus bought Hartnell out. He’s still a very good player who’s aging pretty well for a guy who plays with an edge. Don’t be fooled by dropping point totals, it’s a byproduct of lower minutes. Last season he put up a 5-on-5 points-per-60 of 2.42, the highest of his career.

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A closer look at the UFA class: Who to target, and who to avoid