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January 6, 2012
Driving To The Net
Best, Worst Summer Signings

by Timo Seppa and ESPN Insider


In just a couple weeks, we'll have reached the halfway point of the 2011-12 regular season. While our perceptions of many players are colored by what's a relatively small sample of games—particularly for the intrinsically volatile performance of goalies—it's reasonable to look back on last summer's free-agent acquisitions and see which ones turned out best.

Goals Versus threshold (GVT) is a measure of how many goals above "replacement level" a player is worth, with six goals equivalent to one win in the standings. The dollar figures shown are the annual cap hit of the contract. Goals Versus Salary (GVS) is a measure of how many goals a player has been worth compared to the cap hit. Players with a positive GVS are more than "worth the money" and players with a negative GVS are overpaid, while a zero GVS indicates that similar assets would have been readily available at the same price.

While current GVS served as a guideline in this exercise of evaluating the best and worst contracts, other factors were considered: age, contract length, expected performance during the length of the contract and "unsustainable performances" in a small sample of games.

Finally, we're only considering players who signed with new teams, so the likes of Shea Weber, Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne are not in the mix.

With the groundwork laid, let's jump in and see which have been the best and worse summer signings thus far.

Forwards worth the money

Jaromir Jagr, Philadelphia Flyers: 7.3 GVT, $3.3 million for a year, 3.6 GVS:

He's four years removed from his last NHL campaign, but Jagr has already proven that he could have significantly padded his Hall of Fame career stats had he remained in North America. Believe it or not, the former Penguins, Capitals and Rangers player ranks in the top 10 in all-time GVT.

Maxime Talbot, Flyers: 4.9 GVT, $1.75 million for five years, 3.3 GVS

The popular Talbot was always a bit overrated, and that was even before his Game 7 heroics in the 2009 Stanley Cup finals. GM Paul Holmgren rolled the dice to invest long term in the 27-year-old, but the cap hit's not bad if he can continue to be a versatile contributor, particularly on the penalty kill. That said, a career-high 18.2 shooting percentage has fueled the unexpected 10 goals.

Benoit Pouliot, Boston Bruins: 3.1 GVT $1.1 million for a year, 2.3 GVS

Once a fourth overall draft choice, Pouliot certainly has been a disappointment compared to initial expectations, scoring only 0.38 points per game in 213 career contests. But at a low-risk, low-cost deal—and slated to fill only a bottom-six role—Peter Chiarelli picked up a nice bargain in the 25-year-old ex-Habs player.

Daniel Carcillo, Chicago Blackhawks: 2.4 GVT, $775,000 for a year, 2.0 GVS

Two seasons ago, Carcillo drew an impressive 3.0 penalties per 60 minutes while filling in up and down the lineup of the 2009-10 Eastern Conference champion Flyers. Fast forward to 2010-11, and an underperforming Carcillo was relegated to Peter Laviolette's doghouse, playing a mere 7:45 per game in 57 contests. Chicago GM Stan Bowman sensed a bargain, and he got one.

Tomas Fleischmann, Florida Panthers: 7.3 GVT, $4.5 million for four years, 1.6 GVS

Aside from the mega-moves of the Flyers, Dale Tallon's Panthers had arguably the most active and controversial offseason, tossing big-money contracts at a truckload of third-tier talent. There are some obvious misses that we'll cover shortly, but the hit thus far is Fleischmann, whose surprising performance of recent seasons is beginning to look like a trend.

Vinny Prospal, Columbus Blue Jackets: 2.9 GVT, $2.5 million for a year, 0.1 GVS

Though scoreless in his last four games, 14-year NHL veteran Prospal is tied for the Blue Jackets' lead in scoring with Rick Nash (27 points). Put him on a better team, and his passable power-play scoring rate might even pick up a bit. In any case, the 36-year-old still scores at a fine clip at even strength, despite never having been that fast a skater. With Columbus' struggles no doubt putting it in selling mode, Prospal could be an intriguing addition for a contender. ________________________________________

Forwards not worth the money

Ville Leino, Buffalo Sabres: minus-0.3 GVT, $4.5 million for six years, minus-5.9 GVS

Do a couple of strong postseasons and a strong regular season qualify as a breakout? Maybe not. Because you might recall that the enigmatic Leino scored only 0.20 points per game in 2009-10, what you might expect from a third-pairing defenseman or fourth-liner. Leino is no doubt talented—a former Finnish league MVP—but his skill set seems limited enough to require just the right mix of teammates and opposition to succeed. And don't forget that his signing was partially justified by a move to (second-line) center, a dubious notion that was scrapped in the very early going by Lindy Ruff.

Brad Richards, New York Rangers: 2.7 GVT, $6.67 million for nine years, minus-5.4 GVS

How can a player be a disappointment when scoring 29 points in 37 games? By providing that output at nearly $7 million per season, while getting the benefit of 4:17 power-play ice time per game (fifth among NHL forwards). In the short term, though, it's a sensible signing for the peaking Rangers, a legit Cup contender. The money was there to be spent, and Richards' production should improve, particularly if he's used in more of a scoring role than a two-way role by coach Tortorella.

Marco Sturm, Canucks/Panthers: minus-2.3 GVT, $2.25 million for a year, minus-4.8 GVS

Don't blink, because 33-year-old Marco Sturm may not be in the league much longer. Boston's Peter Chiarelli happily passed the overpaid and fading German winger off to Washington's George McPhee last season. This season, it was the Canucks' turn to play hot potato; their fortunes improved upon Sturm's departure, much as the Bruins' did.

Tomas Kopecky, Panthers: 0.0 GVT, $3.0 million for four years, minus-3.6 GVS

You can never have too many guys named Tomas ... or can you? It was a bit of a mystery why Joel Quenneville used Kopecky on a first line during the Cup run, but apparently that perception has persisted. If you're looking for the 29-year-old Slovak to be a top-six forward, you're in for a disappointment. Like this. Marian Hossa might have had something to do with that production.

Simon Gagne, Los Angeles Kings: 1.2 GVT, $3.5 million for two years, minus-3.1 GVS

Injury-prone and on the back nine of his career, Gagne is far removed from his point-per-game production in 2005-06. Despite decent possession numbers that may have enticed the Kings' front office, the 31-year-old hasn't scored at a top-six rate at even strength since 2008-09. It's a case of what you see is what you get. ________________________________________

Defensemen worth the money

Ian White, Detroit Red Wings: 7.6 GVT, $2.875 million for two years, 4.3 GVS

The epitome of a journeyman, White managed to play 83 regular-season games in 2009-10 and has worn five teams' sweaters during the past two years. The 27-year-old Manitoba native is perennially underrated, though—not uncommon for sub-6-foot defensemen.

Shane O'Brien, Colorado Avalanche: 3.5 GVT, $1.1 million for a year, 2.6 GVS

Fantasy hockey enthusiasts might have been carrying O'Brien on their rosters a couple of years ago to be racking up a pile of PIM from the D position, but the former Canucks player has cut way back—from a whopping 190 minutes in 2008-09 to well fewer than 85 in each of the next two campaigns. With more quality ice time, it's no surprise that O'Brien's actually producing non-virtual value for his real-life team.

Sheldon Souray, Dallas Stars: 3.7 GVT, $1.65 million for a year, 2.1 GVS

The end of Souray's tenure with the Edmonton Oilers wasn't pretty, but the fact that he was buried in the minors had to do with an overpriced contract, not intrinsically worthless play. The 35-year-old started the season off blazing hot, with 13 points in 14 games, but you couldn't have expected anything close to that pace to continue. ________________________________________

Defensemen not worth the money

Tomas Kaberle, Hurricanes/Canadiens: 0.0 GVT, $4.25 million for three years, minus-5.4 GVS

Aside from picking up a championship ring, things have gone from bad to worse for Kaberle. Considered a passenger in the Bruins' Cup run, the former Leafs defenseman ranked as one of the five worst skaters in the league before being dealt to the Habs. While Kaberle wasn't quite as bad as his early-season play seemed to indicate, Montreal GM Pierre Gauthier has saddled the Habs with yet another player contract with negative value. And yes, with Scott Gomez on the squad, it's actually not the worst.

Roman Hamrlik, Washington Capitals: minus-0.1 GVT, $3.5 million for two years, minus-4.2 GVS

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Hamrlik was the first pick in the 1992 NHL entry draft. While the 37-year-old veteran has been a useful contributor in recent, spirited Canadiens playoff runs, George McPhee and the Caps chose the wrong point in his career to sign the fading vet.

Ed Jovanovski, Panthers: 1.2 GVT, $4.125 million for four years, minus-4.0 GVS

Before the ink was even dry, you knew that this was going to be a bad contract in its last couple years, no matter what. The bad news for the Panthers' brass is that the man formerly known as Jovocop is already playing at roughly replacement level in Year 1. While you could spin scenarios in which the contract of Bryzgalov or Leino might work out, this deal was never going to produce positive net value.

Christian Ehrhoff, Sabres: 1.5 GVT, $4 million for 10 years, minus-3.4 GVS

Ehrhoff put up some nice numbers in Vancouver, but let's remember the quality of the other guys on the ice, particularly on the Canucks' deadly power play. The German blueliner was considered an offensive-first (if not offense-only) defenseman in Vancouver, but even his offense has deserted him thus far in Buffalo. He'll improve, but it was still an overpay. ________________________________________

Goaltenders worth the money

Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues: 14.1 GVT, $600,000 for a year, 14.0 GVS

If you ever wanted a demonstration of how goalies' performances can swing wildly from season to season, look no further than Exhibit A, Elliott, who was the league's worst player last season at minus-20.6 GVT and an .893 save percentage. Now he's Dominik Hasek with a .938? Trust us, it's not all a lifting of the Ottawa goalie curse. In any case, kudos to Armstrong and the Blues for getting even this much out of Elliott.

Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes: 8.9 GVT, $2 million for two years, 6.8 GVS

What looked like a non-optimal signing in the offseason—given Tomas Vokoun's bargain deal—has turned into an early-season win for Phoenix GM Don Maloney. But as a .908 career netminder, don't be shocked if Vokoun leads Smith in GVS and GVT when it's all said and done. What everyone should note, though, is the effect coach Dave Tippett seems to have on his goaltenders.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Avalanche: 6.3 GVT, $1.25 million for two years, 5.2 GVS

One of the worst values in the NHL when getting paid $6 million for a .900 save percentage, Giguere appears to have regained some of his past form. It's hard to believe that his .927 rate will last, but the price is right.

Jose Theodore, Panthers: 6.6 GVT, $1.5 million for two years, 5.2 GVS

Seen as a weak link for the powerhouse Capitals of 2008-09 and 2009-10, Theodore's proven to be an above-average netminder for Minnesota (.916) and Florida (.918) in his past 61 appearances.

Tomas Vokoun, Capitals: 4.6 GVT, $1.5 million for a year, 3.2 GVS

It's been an uneven season for free agent mega bargain Vokoun, one of the three best goaltenders since the lockout by GVT. While he's certainly not the reason for Washington's struggles, you'd expect a goalie of his caliber to be doing more to help out the Caps' cause.

Goaltenders not worth the money

Ilya Bryzgalov, Flyers: minus-8.7 GVT, $5.67 million for nine years, minus-15.5 GVS

Signing Bryzgalov to a big-money, long-term deal was a radical change in philosophy for the Flyers, who had spent near the bottom of the league on netminders under Holmgren. It was a wild overreaction and an unwise contract to say the least. In addition to the obvious problems of cap hit and contract length—throw in Bryzgalov's age at 30 as well—the fact is he's a cut below the NHL's elite. His six post-lockout campaigns have evenly divided between very good (.920, .920 and .921) and below average (.906, .907 and .910). Bottom line: You don't break the bank for a goalie.

Alex Auld, Ottawa Senators: minus-6.9 GVT, $1 million for a year, minus-7.9 GVS

Journeyman Auld has switched teams an incredible eight times since the lockout, enough times to make "Suitcase" Mike Sillinger's head spin. There's a pretty obvious reason why the 31-year-old can't lock down a multiyear deal, but for some reason, teams are still willing to pay more than the minimum for the veteran.

A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Timo by clicking here or click here to see Timo's other articles.

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Howe and Why (01/05)
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Driving To The Net (01/09)

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