Ramblings: Looking Back on Some Signings, Looking Ahead to Others (July 7)

by Michael Clifford on July 7, 2016
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Looking Back on Some Signings, Looking Ahead to Others (July 7)

Some free agent signings from last week, and unsigned players Hudler and Vrbata

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Last week’s free agent frenzy, speaking as someone that was doing write-ups along with Dobber, Neil, and Ian here last Friday, was completely off the rails. I got home at 12:55 PM Atlantic time, so five minutes before free agency, hoping I could eat the slice of pizza I brought home with me. I didn’t touch it for nearly three hours.

The interview period allowed by teams sure helped things along, as there was about a dozen signings in the first 30 minutes.

I just wanted to go over three players that I didn’t get to touch on last week as they were written up by other writers here at Dobber.

Alex Radulov

This one seemingly came out of nowhere. Anecdotally, there are rumours nearly every year about Radulov coming back to the NHL, and outside of a short stint in 2012, they never came to fruition. Well, he is now as a member of the Montreal Canadiens for at least a year

Call me skeptical on Radulov, though. There are three reasons for this:

  1. The assumption is he will be starting on the second line alongside Tomas Plekanec. I like Plekanec a lot as a second line centre, but going into his Age 34 season, it’s a reasonable question to ask how much Plekanec has left in his game. Also, Plekanec’s ice time decreased last year as the season went on as a function of the increasing role of Alex Galchenyuk.
  2. The first power play unit – again, an assumption – probably won’t include Radulov, at least out of the gate. From Dobber Tools, if last year was any indication, the Habs will use either Pacioretty-Galchenyuk-Gallagher or Pacioretty-Plekanec-Gallagher as the three forwards, with Weber-Markov on the blue line. I suppose they could go to a four-forward power play, but they rarely did that last year. Michel Therrien is nothing if not consistent.
  3. Speaking of Therrien, do I need to bring up Alex Semin? Not making parallels because of their nationality, but if a player doesn’t play the way Therrien wants him to play, that player will be riding the bench in short order. Or you could end up like some players and just be traded or sent to the AHL.

Just because Radulov is a premier talent doesn’t mean he’s going to be a success with the Habs. Were that a likelihood, he wouldn’t have received just a one-year contract. He won’t be on the top line, probably won’t be on the top power play, and will have to bend over backwards to earn his coach’s trust. There are a lot of hurdles here, so I’m curious to see where his ADP will be this year. For right now, and this is subject to change, I wouldn’t draft him inside the top-100 players.

Troy Brouwer

I am really, really, curious to see what Brouwer’s role will be with the Flames. After signing a four-year deal with Calgary carrying an AAV of $4.5-million, he should be featured in this offence.

This is important because while Calgary’s second line duo if Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik is a very solid one, there is no doubt that playing on the top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan is the more beneficial place to be.

Brouwer isn’t really a guy that drives the bus. By this, it is meant that he’s not the one that should be relied upon to make those around him better; he was last on the Blues over the last two years among their regular forwards in driving shot attempts at the other net. For our purposes in fantasy, though, that’s not really a big deal. Brouwer is a guy that can get to the front of the net and score 20 goals just by playing with the right line mates. He has that opportunity in Calgary.

All that is especially true if he gets on the power play unit with them. He won’t rack up the power play assists, but the opportunity is there for 10-plus power play goals. He has to be playing on that top trio, and I think he will be. With the right deployment, Brouwer is a 20-25 goal, 40-45 point guy that can rack some penalty minutes and hit double-digits in power play points. That’ll play in roto leagues.

Frans Nielsen

The Detroit Red Wings had a serious centre problem last year. Henrik Zetterberg is (was) not the player he was five years ago, Pavel Datsyuk was really more of a defensive centre, Riley Sheahan was used in a defensive role as well, and Brad Richards was not the answer, either. With Datsyuk gone, Detroit needed a centre, and they got theirs with Nielsen.

It was crucially important for the Wings to get a viable second line centre because of the abundance of wingers in their top-six. Dylan Larkin could be that centre, but until they use him there, I would classify him as a winger. They have Justin Abdelkader locked into a first line role, and also Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist. Those last two names are especially important; over the last three seasons, among 179 forwards with 2500 or more five-on-five minutes, both Nyquist (29th) and Tatar (21st) are in the top-30 for goals per 60 minutes played. They are true first line talent players, but need a centre who can get them the puck. Nielsen can be that centre.

Nielsen’s assist totals have been nothing special over the last few years, averaging 31 a season. I think one problem was that Nielsen had almost no consistency with his line mates for the Islanders: Nielsen didn’t have a single forward line mate play one-third of his five-on-five ice time with him over the last three years. And Kyle Okposo was the only forward that played at least 25-percent of Nielsen’s 5v5 time with him. That lack of consistency probably won’t be a feature in Detroit.

I think Detroit runs a second line with Nielsen/Tatar/Nyquist, at least to start the year. With two top-tier wingers by his side, it’s not unrealistic to think Nielsen has his best five-on-five season to date, which was previously a total of 30 points. Where Nielsen slots in on the power play is a bit more of a question mark, but he’s been a solid power play producer for a few years now, and Jeff Blashill would know this. Should he get the power play time required, Nielsen’s production last year is a good floor for this year, with obvious upside beyond that.

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There are still a couple wingers left unsigned that are worth a discussion.

Jiri Hudler

It’s probably safe to kind of set aside Hudler’s 2014-2015 season as an outlier. Unless he is signed by Dallas to play alongside Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, a 70-point season is not realistic.

The funny thing is, Hudler’s production as a rate didn’t really tank last year, despite the appearance of the 46-point season. In fact, in four of Hudler’s last five seasons, he has a points per 60 minutes mark of at least 2.00 in four of them. That is really, really solid production. What hurt Hudler's raw production last year was a four-year low in ice time per game.

Given Hudler’s age, teams are probably a little wary given recent signings of older wingers (like the one I will talk about next). There are some teams that could use a very good scoring winger. The first team that comes to mind is Nashville. It’s pretty clear they’re making a push to win now, and Hudler would slot very well into a top-six winger mix that features Craig Smith, James Neal, and Filip Forsberg. That would allow guys like Calle Jarnkrok and Colin Wilson to really flourish on a scoring third line, and would give Nashville a deep scoring roster.

Anaheim is another team that could use a scoring top-six winger. With the offseason losses like David Perron, Jamie McGinn, Chris Stewart, and Brandon Pirri (not to mention the players traded away), there are lots of winger holes in that lineup. The Ducks work with an internal cap, but signing Hampus Lindholm and then Hudler would probably still leave them a few million under the cap.

Wherever Hudler goes, he will be dependent on his line mates. That’s not to say he can’t drive offence, but it’s no coincidence that two of his three best production seasons were in Calgary when he was given a feature role. In the right spot, Hudler can be a 55-60 point player. We’ll see where he ends up.

Radim Vrbata

The trepidation around signing Vrbata is understandable. The production last year fell off a cliff, coming up with just 13 goals and 27 points following a 31 goal and 63 point season the year before for Vancouver. He will also be going into his Age 35 season, so he’s not exactly in the meat of his prime right now.

Vrbata also saw his shooting percentage crater to 6.5-percent last year, his lowest since 2006-2007. That was despite shooting from approximately the same average distance at five-on-five in 2014-2015 (36.7 feet) as in 2015-2016 (36.4 feet). Goal scorers eventually fall off – Patrick Marleau and Patrick Sharp are examples of this – but in a full season, with even a modest rebound, Vrbata can get back to 20 goals.

Given what happened last year, Vrbata should come cheap to some team. It may be a while before he signs because he’s probably trying to get one final payday, but I still think he can be a 20-goal guy. Let’s wait and see where he lands.

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*Stats from Hockey Reference, Hockey Analysis, Dobber Frozen Pool, and Behind The Net. Cap information from Cap Friendly.