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September 25, 2012
Howe and Why
Best Consensus Summer Signings

by Robert Vollman and ESPN Insider

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When Craig Custance observed a positive consensus in the statistical community about Michal Rozsival's one-year, $2 million deal in Chicago, it prompted me to figure out which other offseason deals provoked a similarly universal approval.

That's why I asked 24 experts from across the continent to examine the summer signings involving unrestricted free agents who inked deals worth $1.5 million or more per year. They put secondary factors, such as jersey sales, team chemistry and positional scarcity, in the backseat and rated these deals simply based on who will provide the most puck for the buck. The best and worst signings were ranked based on approval rating from the statistical community.

In sum, the best signings this offseason were low-risk, short-term deals for players with the potential to significantly outperform expectations, according to our panel of advanced hockey statistics experts.

The worst summer signings will be looked at Tuesday, but here is the consensus list of the top five offseason signings:

1. Dustin Penner, Los Angeles Kings, one year, $3.25 million
Approval:
91.3 percent
Attraction: Poised for a bounce-back season

While the price may seem like a lot for a 30-year-old coming off a 17-point season, this deal ultimately proved the most popular because of strong indications that Penner is due for a rebound.

Penner's drop in scoring last season can largely be explained by bad luck and fewer opportunities. Not only did he lose almost four minutes per game in playing time while being relegated to the checking line, but his bafflingly unlucky shooting percentage of 5.9 percent was barely half of his previous career low. Worse yet, the team's shooting percentage was just 4.8 percent when he was on the ice, one of the lowest in the league. So how was he supposed to get any points?

These low shooting percentages typically prove temporary, and a good postseason performance -- such as his 11 points in 20 games while winning his second Stanley Cup last season -- is a strong indicator of a bounce-back season. By signing Penner to a one-year contract, the Kings have a low-risk way of finding out if they got a bargain on a potential 30-goal, second-line winger.

Other examples: Teammate Jarret Stoll, 30, is coming off a 21-point campaign while making the same $3.25 million per season but received a 67.4 percent approval score due to the riskier three-year term.

2. Tomas Vokoun, Pittsburgh, two years, $2 million
Approval:
91.3 percent
Attraction: Solid goaltending at an affordable price

That stick to the head Vokoun absorbed from Keith Ballard in November 2009 must have been harder than we thought, because his curiously affordable contracts have left many to wonder if he needs a new agent.

In his nine seasons as a starting goalie in the NHL, only once has Vokoun's save percentage dipped below the league average, giving him the sixth-best save percentage over that span (minimum 100 games).

Described as "better than Fleury at less than half the price" by one analyst, Vokoun is seen as a considerable improvement over Brent Johnson and as a veteran who can relieve and challenge Pittsburgh starter Marc-Andre Fleury. In an offseason with surprisingly few capable goalies on the market, the Penguins receive an enthusiastic thumbs-up for landing one of the league's more reliable netminders on the cheap.

Other examples: In another great deal (76.1 percent approval), Josh Harding signed for a little less in Minnesota -- $1.9 million per season for three years.

3. Teemu Selanne, Anaheim, one year, $4.5 million
Approval:
87 percent
Attraction: He's Teemu Selanne!

The first rule of finding Moneypuck players is to look for a talented player who, for some reason or another, is bound to be undervalued. Examples include undersized players, those coming off injuries and/or bad seasons or those in their twilight seasons -- such as the Finnish Flash.

With an offensive GVT over 10 for three seasons in a row while consistently posting one of the league's highest power-play scoring rates and with solid possession-based play against top-six opponents at even strength, is there any doubt that Selanne would be offered a heck of a lot more if he hadn't turned 42 years old in July?

Though a few were neutral on the deal, not a single panelist disliked Anaheim's low-risk signing, which was for the same money as Olli Jokinen (63 percent approval) and Ray Whitney (58.7 percent approval) but for a safer one-year term.

Ducks GM Bob Murray also got kudos for signing Daniel Winnik to a two-year, $1.8 million per season deal (76.1 percent approval) and defenseman Bryan Allen to a three-year, $3.5 million per season pact (58.7 percent approval).

Other Examples: 81.8 percent Jaromir Jagr, Dallas, one year, $4.55 million; 78.3 percent Mikael Samuelsson, Detroit, two years, $3 million; 78.3 percent Ryan Smyth, Edmonton, two years, $2.25 million; 78.3 percent Steve Sullivan, Phoenix, one year, $1.85 million

4. Peter Mueller, Florida, one year, $1.725 million
Approval:
87 percent
Attraction: A low-risk deal on a player with huge upside

If he's healthy, Mueller is considered to have a tremendous offensive upside with a very low-risk contract.

Mueller scored 54 points as a teenage rookie, a feat bested since the lockout only by Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Jeff Skinner, Anze Kopitar and Matt Duchene. Though he has yet to reach that single-season total again, he signaled his true potential with 20 points in the final 15 games of the 2009-10 season with Colorado until a concussion at season's end. Another the following preseason cost him both his momentum and the entire 2010-11 season.

Consistently scoring at a top-six rate of 1.7 points per 60 minutes throughout his career, highly successful on the power play since arriving in Colorado and coming off his highest shots-per-game season, Mueller at the very least can be an effective source of secondary offense and shootout scoring (8-for-17 over the past four seasons) -- which alone is well worth the $1.725 million.

Other examples: 83.6 percent Kyle Wellwood, Winnipeg, one year, $1.6 million

5. Alexander Semin, Carolina, one year, $7 million
Approval:
84.8 percent
Attraction: Possession-driving players are worth their weight in gold

Without the same attention as Minnesota, the Carolina Hurricanes have vaulted themselves up from the basement to the playoff picture with the acquisitions of Jordan Staal and Semin. Among summer UFAs, only Minnesota's newest additions -- Ryan Suter and Zach Parise -- top Semin's cap hit. Thus, it's quite impressive for Semin's new contract to receive such overwhelming approval and a testament to how highly his play-driving talent is regarded among the advanced statistical community.

Whether or not his reputation as a nonclutch player lacking heart is fair, the indisputable fact is that the Capitals have enjoyed a whopping 11-shot advantage per 60 minutes when Semin has been on the ice over the past two seasons, even when he faced top-line opponents in 2010-11. The one-year term of his deal in Carolina is a low-risk way of finding out if his tremendous success in Washington was a result of his playing conditions, his linemates or his own tremendous talent.

A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Contributors to the panel were Jeff Angus, George Ays, Alex Calloway, Cam Charron, Marty Clarke, Matt Coller, John Fischer, Neil Greenberg, Dirk Hoag, Derek Jedamski, Josh Lile, Rob Luker, Brian MacDonald, Aaron Nichols, Jon "J.P." Press, Andrew Rothstein, Alan Ryder, Corey Sznajder, Eric T, Rob Vollman, Matt Wagner, Ben Wendorf, Jonathan Willis and Kent Wilson.

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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Top 10 Prospects (09/24)
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