Monday Musings: Why NHL keeps overpaying free agents

Reflect

You’ve had 72 hours to digest another NHL spending spree. In 2015, teams spent $227.9 million on day one of free agency, but this year they handed over $424.1 million, which is the second highest amount in the past seven years. In 2014, NHL GM’s went crazy, spending $528.1 million.

Two years later many teams already have buyers remorse.

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The Wild signed Vanek for three years with a $6.5 million cap hit. They paid him $12 million over the first two seasons and he produced 39 goals and 93 points in 154 games. They bought out the final year of his deal, worth $7.5 million, so for 39 goals and 93 points they paid him $17 million for two seasons of average play.

The Florida Panthers signed Dave Bolland for five years at $5.5 million per season. He’s produced a mere seven goals and 28 points in 78 games in the last two seasons.

Brooks Orpik signed for the same money and term as Bolland, and the stay-at-home D-man still has three years remaining on his overpriced deal with Washington. He had a solid first year, but missed half of last season, and he turns 36 this September. He will have a hard time keeping up with the speed of the game.

Matt Moulson signed a five-year deal worth $25 million in Buffalo. He has 21 goals and 62 points in 158 games. The highlight of his time in Buffalo was being Jack Eichel’s billet.

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Mike Cammalleri signed for five years at $5 million/season. He had 27 goals and 42 points the first year, and this year he was productive, but only played half the season, scoring 38 points in 42 games. He just turned 34, and with three years remaining on his deal the Devils will be hard-pressed to get bang for their buck.

Matt Niskanen signed a seven-year deal worth $5.75 million and he’s been very consistent. He’s played all 164 games and he scored 4-27-31 his first year and 5-27-32 this past season. He has played almost exclusively with Karl Alzner and they’ve been a steady duo. The issue is he is their second best RD, behind John Carlson, and the final three years of the contract could be a boat anchor.

The total money spent on those six players was $164.75 million.

Paul Stastny has made $14 million the past two seasons and he has 26 goals and 95 points. He does more than score, but I’d want more than an average of 13 goals and 48 points for a $7 million centre.

Mason Raymond’s three year, $9.5 million deal had him play the first year in the NHL and score 12 goals and 27 points. Last year he had five points in 29 NHL games. He was waived and played 15 games in the AHL. He was bought out of the final year last week.

Every year management and their fans get excited about the prospect of new players and how they will help the team. Some work out, but often many of the players don’t live up to their contracts and the GM who signed them aren’t around when the deals become a hindrance to the team’s salary cap.

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I doubt it ever changes. Last year was the summer of sanity, but the past three days have shown once again owners and GMs are willing to overpay players now and worry about the consequences later.

WIN NOW WORRY LATER CLUB

Worry

  • New York Islanders and Andrew Ladd. He turns 31 in December and signed for seven years at $5.5 milliion per. Ladd has been very consistent the past six years scoring 28, 29, 18 (prorates to 30 in full season), 23, 24 and 25 goals. However, he is coming off his lowest point total, 46, in the past six years. I think NYI has three good years, before he drops. Ladd has only missed 10 games combined over the past eight seasons, so the Islanders are banking his durability continues.
  • Loui Eriksson turns 31 in July. He’s coming off his best season, 30-33-63, of the past four years but his previous three produced 47 points, 37 (in 61 games) and 29 in lockout shortened seasons (prorates to 49). Like Ladd, he’s been very durable. An injury cost him 21 games in 2013/2014, but he’s only missed four games combined in his other seven seasons dating back to 2008/2009. Jim Benning and the Canucks are hoping he and the Sedins can lead them to a playoff berth in the next two years. I highly doubt Benning is in Vancouver during the final years of Eriksson’s deal.
  • David Backes is 32 years old and signed a five year deal worth $6 million/season. He has been pretty consistent his past seven full NHL seasons, producing 54, 48, 62, 54, 57, 58 and 45 point seasons. He struggled during the lockout season tallying only six goals. He’s mainly played centre, but with Bergeron and Krejci in Boston I suspect he’ll play the wing like he did in the playoffs with the Blues.  Backes has a very strong playoffs scoring 7-7-14 in 20 games, but he’s coming off his lowest point total of the past seven complete NHL seasons. How much does he have left and for how long? Can he score 50 points when he is 34? Shane Doan did, but Doan also had seasons of 78, 73, 68,66 and 63 prior to that. Backes might hit 55 points for two years, but he’ll likely be a sub 50-point player for the final four years of his deal.
  • Frans Nielsen is 32 and signed a five year deal worth $5.25 mill/year with the Red Wings. He’s an excellent all-around player. The Wings are banking on him being a later bloomer. He has topped 50 points twice in his career, 52 this past season and 58 in 2014. The Wings are hoping he can replace Datsyuk, and he might be able to, at least on the PP. Both had 20 PPP last season. Neilson has had 20,18 and 20 points the past three years on the PP. The Wings feel his value is more than just points, however, and they like his two-way play, however, very few players increase, or even maintain, their production into the mid 30s.
  • Troy Brouwer turns 31 in August. He’s only missed one game in his past five seasons. He’s been a model of consistency his past seven years scoring 22, 17, 28, 19, 25, 21 and 18 goals and producing 40,36,33,33,43,43 and 39 points. His more productive year was the lockout year when he had 19-14-33 in 47 games. Over his last seven seasons he’s averaged 21 goals and 41 points (I included his prorated lockout totals). He had an excellent playoffs for the Blues scoring 8-5-13 in 20 games. He could be a top-six forward for two years, but his production suggests he’ll be a 3rd liner for the final two years at $4.5 million/season.

LUCIC and OKPOSO DEALS

Twins

Both signed identical seven year deals worth $6 million/season.

No doubt there is some risk with both, but they are 28 years old and being three years younger historically makes a difference for many players.

The five aforementioned players proved you can stay productive between 28-32, and I’m sure that is what Tim Murray and Peter Chiarelli are banking on. The advantage Lucic and Okposo have is they will likely be playing with two very good young centres in Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid.

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I’d pretty much guarantee they’d be slotted beside those two to start. There will be a lot of pressure to produce, and if you are going to pay them that much you better player them with a centre they can score with.

Okposo has proven he can play with an elite centre in Tavares, which isn’t as easy as some think, while Lucic has played with Anze Kopitar and David Krejci. Lucic only played 322 EV minutes with Patrice Bergeron in the five years between 2010-2015. The first few years of their deals shouldn’t be an issue, and the risk of them slowing down in the latter years is still not as high as those above simply due to age.

QUICK HITS

SpeedBag

  • I wouldn’t use David Clarkson as a comparable player to Lucic. Yes, he signed a big free agent deal, but that is where the similarities end. He’s much smaller than Lucic, it is more taxing to be a power forward when you weig 25 pounds less, and he’d only had one season with more than 42 points prior to his deal with the Maple Leafs.
  • It is hard to find someone similar, but I’d look at Scott Hartnell, Ladd and others well before Clarkson. Ladd has been productive into his late 20s as shown above, while Hartnell had 49 points when he was 28 years old, had 37 goals and 67 points at 29, got hurt at 30, had 52 points at 31, 28 goals and 60 points at 32 and he had 23 goals and 49 points this past season at 33 years of age. Hartnell has been successful without being blazing fast, so if Lucic produces just above those numbers, and maintains his physical presence, the Oilers would be getting a decent return on their investment.
  • When the Oilers sign Jesse Puljujarvi to an ELC the battle for a roster spot intensifies. McDavid, Lucic, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Draisaitl, Pouliot are the top-six today. That could change with Chiarelli still looking to upgrade his RD position, and depends if they want to play Draisaitl on the wing.

    That leaves Maroon, Yakupov, Kassian, Letestu, Hendricks, Lander, Puljujarvi, Pakarinen, Caggiula, Pitlick and Beck to battle for the final seven or eight roster spots, depending if they carry 13 or 14 forwards. There will be some interesting battles during the preseason games. I wouldn’t rule out Pitlick or Caggiula. Pitlick is healthy, for now, and Caggiula plays with an edge Chiarelli loves.

  • The main reason the Oilers will improve next year isn’t due to Lucic-Larsson arrival and Taylor Hall departure. A jump up the standings will come from McDavid, Klefbom, Davidson, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle staying healthy. They missed 187 games. One new RD, and a change or LW will not magically vault the Oilers up the standings.

Recently by Jason Gregor:   

  • Is Milan Lucic worth it?
  • What will Larsson bring to the Oilers
  • Hall trade: It is based on Hope
  • Chiarelli needs to be cautious
  • Monday Musings: Chiarelli the grinder, draft age and more
  • Draft Day Two: Acquiring a D-man still alive
  • Draft rumblings and the Top-60
  • Dreams will be made this weekend

    • #1 overall waivers pick

      Why one-dimensional Larsson wasn’t enough for Hall –
      TRAVIS YOST

      …The troubling piece of it is that the tough zone start issue doesn’t seem to explain his poor impact on team goal-scoring rates. You can see that as his offensive zone start% climbs, the team’s goal differentials – both actual and expected – either stagnate or decline. That’s the discouraging piece of this…

      …Larsson can definitely play, and I think he’s going to provide real tangible benefits to an Oilers team sorely in need of blueline help. But, the other side of the coin is that he seems to be a somewhat one-dimensional defender. That one dimension is great, but is it worth the premium of an elite scorer like Hall?
      I certainly don’t think so.

      • @Hallsy4

        To me I Larsson Keeps the puck out of our net that’s enough, and exactly what we need. I’ve never really seen him play either, but I like pretty much everything I hear. 17 even strength points, and zero PP time. I don’t think 30 Pts this year is a stretch at all, and I wouldn’t be suprised if he gets 40 plus as he improves, while shutting down teams top lines. Reasonable bet by Chia I think. 17 Even strength Pts and plus 15? Seems like he probably wouldn’t be out for many goals against. Preventing a goal is just as good as scoring one at the end of the day

        • Hemmercules

          I feel bad for Larsson. He’s going to have this Hall business on his back forever. New articles on TSN and Sportsnet everyday outlining how terrible the deal was. I hope he can look past all of it and just play his game and be a good defender. I’m skeptical, the pressure will be immense on this kid.

    • OILFANMEXICO

      I’m curious what Chiarelli’s thoughts are concerning our numerous LHD and guys like Yak.

      Is he solely focused on wins or will he try and throw Yak and Reinhardt etc. on upper lines to pad their stats for a future trade?

      Regardless we have lots of options and are a deeper team then last season and he’s probably not done rounding it out yet.