One of the most entertaining aspects of following the National Hockey League is tracking free agency. July 1 is like Christmas for hockey fans. We analyze the heck out of which players are the hottest tickets, who is flying under the radar and which players should give their agent a raise. Then when they sign, we declare which teams dolled out too much.
As soon as the season gets rolling, we move on to coach firings, storylines of the day and then the magnificent trade deadline. But what about all those signings we had such strong opinions about?
The Olympic break gives us a chance to take a look at where teams and players are heading into the final stretch. How have all those free agents fared this season?
Here are the 10 top performing free agent signings (who signed with a different team), the poorest producing five and five whose worth will be determined down the stretch of the 2013 off-season
BEST 10 Free Agent Signings
1) Ottawa – F – Clarke MacArthur – 2-years, $6.5M – GVT: 13.7
The former Sabre, Leaf and Thrasher had a solid lockout-shortened season with Toronto, but carried a stigma of being soft and lacking top-end offensive skills. But with a +7.7% Relative Corsi in 2013 and decent even-strength scoring rates despite a low offensive zone start percentage, he looked like a prime candidate for a “value pickup.” MacArthur has turned out to be more than that for the Senators with 18 goals, 24 assists and a +1.8% Rel Corsi.
2) New Jersey – F – Jaromir Jagr – 1-year, $4M – GVT: 11.6
The ageless future Hall of Famer may not have the foot speed he once did, but he has found a way to continue to produce at a top-six level. Jagr is still a wizard at keeping the puck on his stick and creating shots where it seems there is no room. He has been one of very few offensive bright spots for the Devils with 17 goals and 32 assists.
3) Boston – F – Jarome Iginla – 1-year, $6M – GVT: 9.7
The Bruins’ persistence in grabbing the former Calgary winger has paid off. Iginla never quite seemed to have the right fit in Pittsburgh, but has come through big for the B’s by providing a possession team with a serious offensive threat. With 17 goals and 26 assists, the veteran will have a chance to play a huge role in a playoff run.
4) Tampa Bay – F- Valtteri Filppula – 5-years, $25M- GVT: 8.5
Sometimes all it takes is giving a player a chance. Filppula was in the shadow of Detroit’s stars and performed solidly at times, but was rarely given a chance at a top role. This year he has been one of Tampa Bay’s key players and posted 20 goals, 21 assists. His signing has been a major part of Tampa Bay’s turn around.
5) Washington – F – Mikhail Grabovski – 1-year, $3M – GVT: 7.8
It is hard to believe Toronto is paying Grabovski to play for someone else. The Leafs bought out their No. 2 center in the off-season and the move has turned into the Capitals’ gain. Despite being injured, he two-way veteran forward has 12 goals, 21 assists.
6) Anaheim – F – Dustin Penner – 1-year, $2M – GVT: 6.6
Make all the pancake jokes you’d like, but the Ducks’ power forward is back. After some tough years with the Kings, he is back to playing an offensive role and has produced accordingly with 13 goals, 17 assists.
7) Detroit – F – Daniel Alfredsson – 1-year, $5.5M – GVT: 6.1
After an ugly exit from Ottawa, the future Hall of Famer has been up to the challenge of playing for a new team for the first time in his career. He started slow, but has come on strong to help keep Detroit in contention. Alfredsson is actually producing at a stronger rate than last year with 14 goals, 21 assists.
8) Toronto – F – Mason Raymond – 1-year, $1M – GVT: 6.1
The Leafs may have messed up by buying out Grabovski, but they totally redeemed themselves with the signing of Raymond. It is hard to believe, with all the money spent, that nobody wanted a decent second line scorer. The former Canuck has proved they should have, scoring 16 goals and 19 assists this year.
9) Minnesota – F – Matt Cooke – 3-years, $7.5M – GVT: 5.7
A somewhat risky pickup considering past suspensions, Cooke has not only been on his best behavior but has produced in a defensive role for the Wild. He has only seen 33.7% offensive zone starts, but has scored nine goals and added 14 assists
10) Florida – D -Tom Gilbert – 1-year, $900,000 – GVT: 4.9
The most under-appreciated defenseman in the free agent class, Gilbert has out-performed the bigger name players by becoming Florida’s No. 2 D-man. The puck-mover has been a strong possession player and added three goals, 22 assists to a team that struggles to put up points.
1) Chicago – G – Nikolai Khabibulin – 1-year, $2M – GVT: -6.0
For a team that makes so many great moves, this one is unexplainable. Not only had the ‘Bulin Wall not been a wall for the last four seasons, but he had been injured last year and is 41-years-old. There were no less than 15 American Hockey League goalies who would have been better options. Good thing for Chicago, a mistake at backup goalie is only a blip on the radar.
2) New Jersey – F – Ryane Clowe – 5-years, $24.3M – GVT: -0.9
The Devils’ power forward got off on the wrong foot, missing most of the first half due to injury. Since he has come back, however, Clowe has not added much in terms of scoring to a team that struggles to put the puck in the net. The days of penciling him Clowe for 50-60 points look farther and farther away. Like the Clarkson deal, this one could still turn out when he is back to 100 percent.
3) Detroit – F – Stephen Weiss – 5-years, $24.5M GVT: -0.7
A hernia has sidelined the former Florida star, but even before his injury Weiss was struggling to fit in with the Red Wings. Detroit had hoped he would bounce back from another injury and brutal 17 games in Florida in 2013, instead Weiss scored just two goals and two assists in 26 games. At 30, there is plenty of time for him to get healthy and turn into a significant contributor, but the clock is ticking.
4) Toronto – F – David Clarkson – 7-years, $36.8M – GVT: -0.7
Clarkson was a perfect fit for the slow, possession game of the New Jersey Devils. Well, you could not imagine two more different style teams than New Jersey and his new club Toronto, who runs and guns and ranks terribly in possession. The Leafs went looking for their next Wendell Clark, but everything that could go wrong did go wrong this season. Here is to next year.
5) Montreal – D – Douglas Murray – 1-year, $1.5M – GVT: -0.6
It should have been a sign to all other NHL teams when the San Jose Sharks moved Murray that the time was up. Instead he was acquired last deadline by Pittsburgh, then signed by another playoff team in Montreal. While he was once one of the tougher defenseman to play against, Murray’s speed is all but gone and the Canadiens are left with a below replacement level player.
To be determined…
New Jersey – F – Michael Ryder – 2-years, $7M – GVT: 3.3
Ryder has added 16 goals this season, which is exactly what the Devils hired him to do, but he has not been the overall producer that he was in a small sample for Montreal last season. He has only added four goals and two assists on the power play. Can he help New Jersey get on a hot streak and reach the playoffs? That may determine whether the pick was a boom or bust.
St. Louis – F – Brendan Morrow – 1-year, $1.5M – GVT: 4.4
While he has added solid depth scoring to the Blues’ All-Star lineup, the final say on this signing will be entirely based on how he plays during the post-season. Last year with Pittsburgh, Morrow posted 14 points in 15 games during the regular season, but only four during the playoffs. The Blues will need his help this spring to make a deep playoff run.
Philadelphia – F – Vinny Lecavalier – 5-years, $22.5M – GVT: 2.3
The Flyers had to have been expecting more than 23 points in 46 games when they signed the 33-year-old scorer, but Lecavalier has added a power play presence with 10 man-advantage goals. Come post-season, when things lock down and the refs eat the whistles, he will have to be better at even strength.
Matthew Coller is Managing Editor of Hockey Prospectus. He is the long-time host of Hockey Prospectus Radio, producer of the Howard Simon Show on Buffalo’s WGR550 and their Rochester Amerks reporter, and a multi-sport play-by-play announcer.
Follow Matthew on Twitter at @matthewWGR.