Top 10 underrated ‘depth’ free agent signings
A week ago, I was all prepared to write a column about the top 10 worst UFAs signings.
But surprisingly, a lot of NHL GMs showed a lot of restraint. There were no crazy eight-year, $64 million contracts. There was no David Clarkson type deals. There were no Deryk Engellands, getting almost $9 million over three years based on nothing.
In fact, the opposite was true. There were a lot of smart signings, as GMs were looking for good quality players for a low term and low cap hit (in fact, there were only four deals signed that stretched four or more years). The good news about that is that for fantasy GMs in cap leagues, it creates a new market of serviceable players.
You won’t find many superstars on this list, but these are the kind of depth players who help you win if you can get them cheap.
Just to note, we’re looking at unrestricted free agent signings that happened once the market open on July 1.
10. Daniel Winnik
Winnik will never be confused for a 50-point guy in the NHL, but he actually had an outside chance of being a 40-point player. Since 2012-13, Winnik has 83 points in 203 games (a 34-point pace) despite playing on three different teams. He’s a consistent 30-point pace player wherever he played, and on the plus-side, he hasn’t been a minus-player since 2011-12 (heck, he was plus-15 in 58 games with the Leafs’ train wreck of a season last year). If he can get enough playing time to get 35 points and be a plus player this year, there would be worst buys at $2.25 million a season.
Let’s stop and think about Colaiacovo’s situation for a minute. A few seasons ago, he was a consistent 25-point player who had regular power play time with the Blues. Then injuries started to take its toll, and he was passed on the depth chart by younger, better players. Then he went to different teams where he was never counted on to play many minutes. Now, he signs a one-year deal with the Sabres at just $900,000. All of a sudden, he’s moved back up the depth chart, should be getting power play time, and will play with the league’s most improved offence next season. At this price, he’s well worth the risk.
I was more excited about this deal until I heard goaltending coach Sean Burke might be leaving the Coyotes organization, but this is still an excellent signing for Lindback owners. He’s owed just $875,000 for one season. But the big thing is how great Arizona has been for goaltenders’ careers. In the past five seasons, we’ve seen Ilya Bryzgalov, Mike Smith and Devan Dubnyk revive or have their best seasons in Arizona. With that track record, and Smith’s recent decline, Lindback is definitely worth a gamble.
7. P.A. Parenteau
Looking at his career history, this may be a bit of a stretch, as it seems like he can only perform when he has someone like John Tavares on his line. But the Leafs are going to be desperate for scoring, and right now, there’s not much competition for a top-six spot in Toronto (there may be even less if Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul are traded). Someone is going to need to score, and despite his troubles last year, it was only two seasons ago he put up 43 points in 48 games. At just $1.5 million for a year, it was a nice gamble for the Leafs, and will be for GMs in cap leagues. If he performs, great. If not, at least he didn’t cost a lot.
6. Antoine Vermette, 2 years, $3.75
The nice thing about this deal isn’t so much what Vermette got, but what the Coyotes got. By trading him to Chicago, the Coyotes got a pick and a prospect in return. Now Vermette has signed back on with the Coyotes at $3.75 million a year for the next two years, he’s probably giving Arizona a discount. After all, many thought he was going to score a big paycheck. But this is great news for Vermette owners, as the 32-year-old centre will be once again the top line guy in the desert, and should be able to strike 50 points and be a top faceoff guy once again.
A year ago, I made a big deal of Chad Johnson, the New York Islanders backup. With starter Jaroslav Halak‘s tendency to get injured, and Johnson’s previous experience, I thought he was a shoo-in for at least 30 games. Well, he ended up playing 19 games, most of it not very well, before being dealt to Buffalo. But the main takeaway from this story is regarding Halak. He played 59 games, his most ever and only the second time the 30-year-old has played more than 46. I don’t think we can count on another 55-plus starts from Halak. Usually his backups are good for at least 25 games. This year, that backup is Thomas Greiss, who signed a two-year deal at $1.5 million per to patiently wait for Halak’s groin to give out. If you were to ever handcuff a goalie in the league, it would be Halak’s backup.
4. Cody Hodgson
One of the former darlings of the fantasy world, Hodgson has fallen from grace pretty quickly. So much so, the best deal he could get this offseason was a one-year deal at $1.15 million, just a step up from a tryout contract. There is plenty of good news for Hodgson owners though. One is that Nashville has a bit of history of signing centres for cheap (see Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy last year). The second is that Hodgson is only 25 years old, and only two years ago was a 44-point player, and three years ago he had 34 points in 48 games in the lockout-shortened season. The talent is there, but last year was tough on a lot of Sabres. Any type of half-decent bounce-back season (especially in plus-minus, he’s been a minus -54 combined the last two seasons) makes Hodgson very valuable in cap leagues.
While there’s no guarantee that Williams will be playing alongside Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the fact he’s no longer on low-scoring L.A. means a boost to his stats. If he can get a top-six role, even if it means playing with Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov, then Williams owners will be delighted. After all, he is making just $3.25 million a year for the next two seasons, and as a multiple Cup winner, will be leaned on heavily to show the Caps what it takes to win.
2. Yannick Weber
Fun fact #1: Weber was the only Canucks defenceman to hit double digits in goals last season, and his 11 goals was just as much as Alexander Edler, Dan Hamhuis and Christopher Tanev combined. Fun fact #2: His five power play goals was tied for second on the Canucks, despite averaging just 1:27 per game on the power play. Weber isn’t really a contender as a top defenceman, but since the fall of Alexander Edler, he’s the Canucks best option. Extra bonus: He signed a one-year deal that will pay him just $1.5 million. There’s only eight defencemen in the league that had at least 10 goals, five power play goals, 30 pims and a positive plus-minus, and the rest make a lot more money.
Despite getting a 77 per cent pay raise, Eaves will still only be making $1.15 million for the next season after re-signing with the Dallas Stars. Because of injuries last year that limited him to 47 games, he’s a little underrated, but let’s pro-rate his stats: 24 goals, 47 points, plus-21, 10 power play goals, and 159 shots. Sure there’s no guarantee that he will play with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn regularly like he did last season, and he is due for a regression as last season was his best in eight years and his shooting percentage was 15.4 (five points higher than his career average). But at that salary, he’s well worth it even with a regression coming.
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