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September 26, 2012
Howe and Why
Worst Consensus Summer Signings

by Robert Vollman and ESPN Insider

When Craig Custance observed a positive consensus in the NHL statistical community about Michal Rozsival's one-year, $2 million deal in Chicago, it prompted me to figure out which other offseason deals provoked a similarly universal approval -- or disapproval.

That's why I asked 24 hockey statistics experts from across the continent to examine the summer signings involving unrestricted free agents who inked deals worth $1.5 million or more per year. They put secondary factors, such as jersey sales, team chemistry and positional scarcity, in the backseat and rated these deals simply based on who will -- and won't -- provide the most puck for the buck. The best and worst signings were ranked based on approval rating from the statistical community.

On Monday we looked at the consensus list of the top five offseason signings, all of which were low-risk, short-term deals for players with the potential to significantly outperform expectations, according to our panel.

Now it's time to look at the worst signings, though there were very few truly horrible deals, according to the panel.

All but two contracts earned the tacit approval of at least a third of our analysts -- it may have been three if the Shane Doan deal with Phoenix hadn't missed our September 13 cutoff -- though several deals that involved riskier terms or overpayments for more one-dimensional players were clearly frowned upon more than the others.

Here's a look at the worst consensus summer signings of 2012:

1. Dennis Wideman, Calgary, five years, $5.25 million per year
6.5 percent
Concern: Not a two-way, top-pairing defenseman

Despite similar deals being received favorably -- such as 56.5 percent approval for Matt Carle's six-year, $5.5 million contract in Tampa Bay or 63.0 percent approval for Jason Garrison's six-year, $4.6 million deal in Vancouver -- Wideman's final agreement with Calgary received almost unanimous condemnation among our advanced stats gurus.

Why the negative analysis? Simply put, Carle and Garrison are seen as two-way players and top penalty-killing options who can line up against the league's top lines and shut them down, all while generating only slightly less offense than Calgary's newest power-play quarterback.

Carle, for instance, has only three fewer points combined over the past three seasons than Wideman, but doesn't share the same disappointing minus-41, the fourth-worst mark among the league's defensemen. Despite the fact Carle faced top-line opposition for all three seasons, and started in the defensive zone more often than the offensive zone, the highest goals-against average his teams have suffered with him on the ice is 2.50, much better than the 3.45 Florida and Washington endured with Wideman in 2010-11. Even better, Garrison, who has had one of Florida's top two quality of competition scores in each of his two full seasons, has always kept his personal goals-against average under 2.0.

In fairness, Wideman is a perfectly good second-pairing defenseman whose prowess with the man advantage might be fully unleashed by new coach Bob Hartley -- but not likely worth more than $26 million for the next half-decade. In Boston, Florida and Washington he failed to rank better than third in quality of competition and started in the offensive zone more than the defensive zone in two of the past three seasons -- yet has never enjoyed possession-based scores in the same exclusive neighborhood as his two salary-based peers.

2. Paul Gaustad, Nashville, four years, $3.25 million per year
28.3 percent
Concern: Too much for a checking-line player

Normally praised by the statistical community for a variety of reasons -- including being one of the league's top penalty killers, winning an amazing 57 percent of his faceoffs in each of the past three seasons and averaging more than a hit every 10 minutes, consequently drawing very nearly as many penalties as he takes -- Gaustad just isn't worth the sheer size and length of his new deal in Nashville.

Whether in Buffalo or Nashville, "Goose" consistently leads his team in defensive zone starts, but his possession-based statistics plummeted last season, when he started facing top lines instead of depth players. While players who truly can shut down top scorers are worth their weight in gold, Gaustad, who places his teams in a hole of 11.5 shots per 60 minutes, isn't one of them.

Other examples: 34.8 percent, Brandon Prust, Montreal, four years, $2.5 million per year; 37.0 percent, Chris Kelly, Boston, four years, $3.0 million per year

3. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey, two years, $4.5 million per year
34.8 percent Concern: His current value is being overrated by emotion

Everybody wants a winner in the dressing room, especially someone who just guided New Jersey to its fifth Stanley Cup finals appearance with a solid .917 save percentage in the playoffs. Brodeur's 58.8 percent quality start percentage (measuring games in which a goalie records a save percentage over .912 or a save percentage between .885 and .912 while allowing fewer than three goals per game) over the past five seasons is the league's seventh best (minimum 100 starts), and his respectable .914 save percentage places him 22nd -- both of which seem to add up to about $4.5 million.

Unfortunately, the future Hall of Famer is 40 years old, and is coming off two bad seasons with save percentages of just .903 and .908. As for his consistency, after a virtual eternity over 60 percent, Brodeur's quality start percentages have dropped to just 48.1 percent and 50.8 percent. As fans we agree that Brodeur is worth $4.5 million, but unfortunately, our calculators don't.

Other examples: Unrated, Shane Doan, Phoenix, four years, $5.3 million per year

4. David Jones, Colorado, four years, $4.0 million per year
34.8 percent
Concern: Falling in love with one-dimensional 20-goal scorers

P.A. Parenteau's identical deal received a 56.5 percent approval score despite Parenteau also being an offensive-minded player who, like Jones, rarely kills penalties and similarly enjoys the most significant offensive-zone tilt his coach could manage. Yet only Jones' deal is going to leave Colorado "kicking themselves in a couple of years," according to one analyst.

The key difference between Parenteau and Jones is in their possession-based play, as recorded in their shot-based plus/minus rate (known as "Corsi"). Parenteau, for instance, faces top-line competition but used his offensive zone advantage to give the Islanders an extra 10 shots per 60 minutes. In stark contrast, Jones, despite skating against more below-average units last season, somehow put the Avalanche at an even bigger shot-based disadvantage.

Twenty-goal scorers never come cheap, but a team that already had three full lines of them didn't need to break the bank for such a one-dimensional version.

Other examples: 34.8 percent, Jiri Hudler, Calgary, four years, $4.0 million per year; 37.0 percent, Chris Kelly, Boston, four years, $3.0 million per year

5. Cory Sarich, Calgary, two years, $2.0 million per year
34.8 percent
Concern: You can do better

At first glance, getting a hard-hitting veteran defenseman for half of last year's salary seems like a ridiculous inclusion on a list of the worst offseason deals. One of Calgary's most defensive-minded blueliners, Sarich, who started primarily in the defensive zone in each of the past two seasons, posted a goals-against average high of just 2.08 in four seasons. And after several years near the break-even mark, even his possession-based statistics finally started to shine again.

Unfortunately, the slow, aging veteran can no longer kill penalties, takes too many of his own, is generally used only against depth lines and doesn't contribute offensively; he has a combined minus-0.3 offensive GVT (which measures a player's value in the offensive aspects of the game) over the past three seasons.

The experts came down hard on this deal because the exact same money could have been used to sign a hard-hitting, defensive-minded veteran who can play on the second pairing, kill penalties and who still possesses some potential offensive upside -- such as Rozsival, Adrian Aucoin, Hal Gill, Greg Zanon or even Shane O'Brien. Maybe this is a bad deal by a slim margin, but it's the type of slim margin that has kept the Flames on the outside looking in for three straight seasons.

Other examples: 37.0 percent, Matt Carkner, New York Islanders, three years, $1.5 million per year

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

Contributors to the panel were Jeff Angus, George Ays, Alex Calloway, Cam Charron, Marty Clarke, Matt Coller, John Fischer, Neil Greenberg, Dirk Hoag, Derek Jedamski, Josh Lile, Rob Luker, Brian MacDonald, Aaron Nichols, Jon "J.P." Press, Andrew Rothstein, Alan Ryder, Corey Sznajder, Eric T, Rob Vollman, Matt Wagner, Ben Wendorf, Jonathan Willis and Kent Wilson.

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

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