Capped: Unheralded Signings from the Summer

by Alexander MacLean on September 29, 2016
  • Capped
  • Capped: Unheralded Signings from the Summer

This week's Capped discusses a few offseason contracts that may have flown under the radar. 

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Good day to all. I hope you are all ready for the end of the World Cup of Hockey. I am looking forward to seeing how the end of this championship plays out. As exciting as this tournament has been though, what I am really interested in is the start of the NHL season. We have been lucky that there has been some exciting news over the course of the summer. The biggest three pieces of news would be the Taylor Hall/Adam Larsson and P.K. Subban/Shea Weber trades on the same day, the Steven Stamkos sweepstakes that saw him re-sign in Tampa Bay at the last minute, and the record salaries numbers thrown around on July 1st for the unrestricted free agents (UFAs). Behind all that however, there were many more moves made under the radar. Capped is here to open some eyes to the contracts that may have been overlooked this offseason.

These contracts won’t be the biggest ones signed, but it isn’t the big names that always win you pools. What it can really take, especially in a cap league, is having the right set of bargain players to put you over the top. Some of these contracts are value in younger players, that haven’t quite hit their peak yet, whereas others unfortunately tailed off right before their next contract. As such, there is a nice mix of players here that should be able to help in various different league styles.

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Eric Staal (C) –  Minnesota Wild

Contact –  Three years at $3.5 Million per year 

Eric Staal is joining his third team in a calendar year, after having played only for the Carolina Hurricanes up until last year. Staal posted a career high of 100 points in just his second NHL season in 2005-2006, and then was one of the most consistent scorers in the NHL for years. After the lockout season in 2012-2013 however, he seemed to lose a step, and has fallen down to the level of a 45-50 point player. In today’s NHL, though, even a 50 point player is a bit of a bargain at $3.5 Million dollars. If Staal plateaus there, then it’s money well spent. If he can rebound a bit with the change of scenery to Minnesota, then this could become one of the best contracts from the 2016 free agency period.

There is a lot to be optimistic about when looking at the 31-year-old Staal (yes it caught me off-guard too that he is only 31, seems like he has been around longer). Taking a quick look at his player page, we can see that his five-on-five shooting percentage is quite low at 6.92%. This could in part be due to a lower quality in his most frequent line mates from last year: Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm and Kris Versteeg in Carolina, along with Jesper Fast and Kevin Hayes with the New York Rangers. In Minnesota, Staal comes into a situation with a new coach in Bruce Boudreau, who knows how to handle offensive talent. The new team should also be able to help Staal’s plus/minus numbers, but the biggest thing to look at will be the power play (PP) time. Staal only scored seven PP points last year (83 games), which was his lowest total since his rookie season, including the lockout season of 48 games. With a boost in PP production, alongside new teammates Mikku Koivu, Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund, Staal could see a bounce back upwards of 50 points. In just about any league, he can be had for a bargain at the draft or on the trade market. In cap leagues, there are almost no players that are more easily acquired, that can give you more bang for your buck than Staal could this season at $3.5 Million.

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Calle Jarnkrok (C) –  Nashville Predators

Contact –  6 years at $2.0 Million per year

Rookie contracts aside, 24 year old Calle Jarnkrok could be the lowest paid second line centre in the entire league this season; and if not this season, then next. Mike Ribeiro currently holds the second line centre spot for the Nashville Predators. Ribeiro however seemed to fall out of favour with head coach Peter Laviolette and the Predators during the playoffs this spring when he was a healthy scratch during some key games. During those games, Jarnkrok looked good when he was placed on the second line at the time with Filip Forsberg and Craig Smith. Regardless of where Jarnkrok fits in the lineup this season, as long as he is healthy, he should be in line to match and exceed the 30 points from last season. That should be his floor anyways, his ceiling on the season could be as high as 50 points if the chips fall the right way. As we went through with Eric Staal, players in that range on bargain deals can be quite valuable.

Nashville acquired Jarnkrok from the Detroit Red Wings in a deal for David Legwand during the 2013-14 NHL season. It was thought at the time that he could become a top 6 forward for the team in a few years. Maybe this coming year he continues his progression upwards in points, but I think it will actually be in 2017-18 that we see the fourth-year breakout from him, and he tops 55 points. Nashville has done this before – signing a young player to a long contract before a breakout – and reaping the rewards for years. For example, Roman Josi (coincidentally my favourite player) has to be one of the best bargains in the NHL, making only $4-million as a top pair, 60-point defenceman. The hope in Nashville is that Jarnkrok can turn into a bargain half as good as Josi. Jarnkrok will have the teammates and the opportunity to be able to thrive with this new deal.

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Thomas Vanek (LW) –  Detroit Red Wings

Contact –  1 year at $2.6 Million per year

This is a big year for Vanek. He has two options at this point: one, he can show up, perform like the player that he has shown he can be and get a multi-year deal at the end of the season; two, he can flame out and be playing in Switzerland next year. Now maybe it isn’t so extreme, but he will have a chip on his shoulder to play himself into some more money on another contract.

Detroit is the perfect spot for him to do it. They have a group of forwards that is really searching for an identity in the transition period from the old Pavel Datsyuk/Henrik Zetterberg era, as they hand it over to the kids. The 32-year-old Vanek is no young sprout himself however, but he does still have some gas left in the tank. Over the last 5 years, Vanek has averaged 26 goals a season, and only last year (18 goals) did he dip below 20. That is quite the consistent run, especially considering the 38 games he played during the lockout season is sandwiched in there where he still managed to score 20.

Last season’s less-than-stellar performance could be attributed to a drop in time on ice, or it could just be that he was part of an overall underwhelming offensive group in Minnesota, seeing his assist totals struggle too. Vanek had his average time on ice drop by more than 3 minutes from two seasons ago, and the rest of his stats dropped as a result. He should be a better fit in with the Red Wings group alongside top forwards like Tomas Tatar, Henrik Zetterberg, Frans Nielsen and Gustav Nyqvist, he should be able to bring his point and shot totals back up to respectable territory.

If Vanek had been over his usual 200 shots last season, and keeping the same shooting percentage, he would have scored 25 goals instead of 18. Of the 56 players to score more than 24 goals last season, only 5 had a salary of $2.6 Million or lower. This list includes Kyle Palmieri, Mike Hoffman, Brayden Schenn, Zack Smith and Brock Nelson. The first three on that list got sizeable raises for this coming season, and Zack Smith shot 20% (with only 11 assists). It is rare territory for a scorer to be in, and Vanek should be able to get back there this season. He should be an easy trade target in leagues as well.

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Jake Allen (G) –  St. Louis Blues

Extension (Beginning in 2017-18) –  4 years at $4.35 Million per year

The St. Louis Blues knew they could let Brian Elliott walk this summer via unrestricted free agency because they had Jake Allen to take over full time duties in net. Allen played a career high of 47 games last season, and will be in line for more starts this season. Over those 47 games Allen posted a goals against average of 2.35, and stopped 92% of the shots he faced. Numbers like those over a full 60+ starts would be enough to place him easily in the top 10 most valuable goalies in the league. In addition, Allen has one of the top teams in the Western conference in front of him. This should lead to as many as 40 wins over the course of the season if he can stay healthy.

Health has been a concern for Allen in previous years, and when he came back from his short injury spells, Allen had to fight to usurp Brian Elliott. Now if Allen misses time, he will be thrust right back into the starting role, not having to worry about backup Carter Hutton stealing his job. Between the two of them though, St. Louis has one of the most affordable goaltending tandems in the league. Allen makes only $2.35 million this year, and then next year the pair of goalies has a combined salary of under $5.5 Million. They are making less than what a good chunk of NHL starters make alone. If there was a goaltending duo to target, it is this one, as starting with Allen, there is one of the best, and brightest young goalies in the league, on a very affordable contract. Hutton will fill in well when needed, and salary-wise, it won’t cost anything more than a starter alone would. By the end of the four years of Allen’s contract extension, he will be one of the best goaltending bargains in the NHL, and be in line for a significant raise. Enjoy it while you can Allen owners.

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Thanks again everyone for reading, and I will see you next week after the World Cup is over.

If you have any thoughts on the four players I have listed (agreement or disagreement) I would love to hear it. I would also be interested to hear opinions in the comments on who the most underrated signing of the 2016 summer could be.

More from Alex:

Unconventional contract structures  

The Value of Evgeni Malkin