Ramblings: Thoughts on Free Agent Frenzy

by Michael Clifford on July 2, 2019

 

Did everyone catch their breath?

With the advent of the talking period, it seems like most deals are ready to go as soon as the clock strikes noon on July 1st. That was pretty much the situation this year as most of the contracts were known a day or two beforehand, and we got an avalanche of signings as soon as free agency officially opened.

Dobber, Ian, and I had the readers covered on Canada Day with trade/signing breakdowns complemented by a handy trade/signings tracker that summarized all our breakdowns on one page. Thanks to Mario Prata for that. Readers can check out our thoughts all in one place.

At the risk of self-flagellation, a hearty thanks to the entire Dobber team. Not only the people doing the writing, but the people behind the scene like Mario as well as our developers. A day like that is a team effort.

There were a lot of players I didn’t get to touch on as the work was writing work was divided between the three of us. Let’s get some of those thoughts out now.

 

Sergei Bobrovsky

I understand why Florida would want to make this move, as they finished second-last in five-on-five save percentage as a team in 2018-19. Over the last three seasons, they’re tied with the Flyers for a team save percentage of .917 at five-on-five.

What I don’t understand is why spend a mid-first round pick to draft a goalie only to sign one for $70M less than two weeks later. The thinking, obviously, is that it will take Spencer Knight five or six years to develop and by then, Bobrovsky will be in year six or seven of his contract. What if Knight goes to college and is ready in three years, they’ll leave him in the AHL for three seasons? What if Bobrovsky, who turns 31 before the season, hits a hard decline in two years?

Anyway, those are questions to be answered on another day. The Panthers clearly needed help in goal and Bobrovsky is exactly that. Like most goalies, Bobrovsky has seen some inconsistency in his career but he’s one of the top netminders in the NHL and has been for a while; since the start of the 2013-14 season, he’s third in Goals Saved Above Average, behind only Henrik Lundqvist and Corey Crawford.

This is a big, big gamble for Florida. If Bobrovsky is closer to his 2018-19 form than 2017-18 for the duration of his contract, this will be a disaster. If he’s closer to his 2017-18 form than 2018-19, it could work out very well.

There has been a lot of talk about giving goalies rest to ensure peak performance in the playoffs, or 1A/1B situations. This won’t one of those cases. If healthy, Bobrovsky cruises to 60 starts. That’ll make him very valuable in fantasy.

 

Mike Smith

The very definition of doing something for the sake of doing something. He’s had probably one season out of the last six where he’s been a top-10 goalie in the league and now he goes to play behind a defence corps that has some prospects coming but is still looking pretty bad right now.  It’s just a one-year deal and Ken Holland’s hands were tied by his predecessor but this seems like a huge gamble.  

 

Mats Zuccarello

Again, another signing that is confounding. Minnesota trades away Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle but goes ahead and signs a winger turning 32 years old in September to a five-year contract?

This isn’t disparaging Zuccarello. He’s quite good and a fun player to watch. It just doesn’t seem to make sense from Minnesota’s perspective. This is a team that missed the playoffs, still has Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed for six more years (!), and they add Zuccarello because…? They’re a lot further away from being a contender than just signing a big-money winger.

And then there’s this:

 

 

Honestly, my hearts go out to Minnesota fans. This is a rudderless ship.

Fantasy-wise, I don’t expect Zucc to be anything more than the 50-60-point zero-peripherals guy he’s usually been. It sure does make their PP situation a bit more of a mess.

 

Tyler Myers

I think Myers gets unfairly maligned sometimes because he’s not bad offensively. He can help move the puck and generate from the blue line. But he’s bad defensively, and he’s been bad in sheltered roles.

Assuming Myers plays with Quinn Hughes, which has been the assumption I’ve seen, that would indicate he’ll continue to get sheltered roles. He’ll get more minutes, but it seems unlikely he faces top competition. That’s probably the best deployment to get the most out of him and t’s still not a very good contract.

 

Brandon Tanev

Six years for a fringe third-liner, likely a fourth-liner. This is horrific. It’s not worse than the Jack Johnson signing last year but it’s in the same area code.  

 

Cam Talbot

This is a very good signing by Calgary.

Any guesses on where Talbot ranks in Goals Saved Above Average over the last three years? You know, those three years he spent mostly in Edmonton and partly in Philadelphia? He ranks between Pekka Rinne and Ben Bishop, and inside the top-10 across the league. He did that, meanwhile, playing behind a defence that allowed this in 2017-18 (from Hockey Viz):

 

 

Red areas are where the Oilers allowed shots above average compared to the league, and the darker it is, the more shots they allowed. It was better in 2018-19 but they still allowed more than the league average in the danger areas.

Calgary had a tough season defensively in its own right and with the rumours swirling, there’s no telling what exactly the defence looks like for 2019-20. It’s still a very smart bet on a goalie who’s shown he can keep a team afloat even when they leave him out to dry.

 

Brett Ritchie

A smaller signing but one that could pay off in spades. Ritchie has generally been able to put up good shot rates before that cratered in 2018-19 as he was buried by the Stars.

Ritchie’s first four seasons brought a goals/60 at five-on-five of 0.76. That’s in the neighbourhood of other middle-six wingers like Richard Panik and Jakob Silfverberg. That included a rather poor 2017-18 season, which only got worse in 2018-19.

The one-year deal from Boston is a bet by the Bruins but a smart one. He’s a guy who can score like a third-line winger and is solid defensively. We’ve seen the coaching staff move David Pastrnak to the second line in an effort to spread out scoring. Whether it’s the first or second line, there’s a top-6 right wing spot that he can at least push for and the Bruins seem to be hoping Ritchie can be that guy for them. He’s a player that should draw a lot of interest in deep fantasy leagues. If he can flirt with 20 goals playing in that top-6, and then add his huge hit totals, he can bring a lot of value in deeper formats. I think he eventually settles on the third line but the opportunity to move up is there.

 

Sebastian Aho

Love it. I love it. I get that maybe Marc Bergevin, the Montreal general manager, maybe should have offer-sheeted Aho for more, but it’s kind of brilliant in its own way:

  • Five years would bring Aho to UFA status, buying one year of UFA. Carolina would obviously want an eight-year deal, buying a few UFA years, so they could let him walk in his age-30 season. It’s a great deal for Aho, who gets over $40M now and then gets to free agency heading into his age-27 season, allowing for another big contract.
  • It’s laden with signing bonuses, and roughly half the value of the contract would be paid in the next ~12 months, even if there’s a lockout. Carolina isn’t a cap team that spends a lot of money so this is another sticking point for them.

I still expect Carolina to match, but this is how big-market teams should flex their financial might. Seeing that Timo Meier got 4x6M from San Jose, it’s clear there are other players who should’ve seen an offer sheet. This isn’t going to be some sort of water-shed moment, but it’s nice to see a GM not be afraid to use the tools available in an effort to improve the team. More GMs should do this. 

 

Matt Duchene

From a fantasy perspective, I’m kind of ambivalent here. My vision is that Nashville runs pairings of forwards and then mixes and matches a third winger to go with the pairings. Something along the lines of Forsberg-Johansen on the top line with Duchene-Arvidsson on the second line, with guys like Craig Smith and Mikael Granlund filling in the empty roles.

That’s one reason I’m uncertain this really helps the star Nashville forwards, at least at even strength. The line of Forsberg-Johansen-Arvidsson was pretty good for fantasy purposes and this can’t possibly help that. All that can change is if Duchene brings the needed boost to the power play. If Nashville and Duchene can turn the PP around, this could be a boon to PP production for all involved. If not, then it’s probably going to be status quo production-wise, at least for guys like Forsberg and Arvidsson.

 

There is a lot to discuss and I haven’t even gotten to Artemi Panarin, Joe Pavelski, the Kadri/Barrie trade, and a whole lot more just yet. Until later this week!