While everyone is refreshing their phone 900 times per day to see if John Tavares and James Van Riemsdyk have signed yet, I decided to give a tribute to some players who don’t get as much attention, but might end up making just as big of an impact to their team one day. Perhaps in a post-season run?
I wanted to do something different, so I’m going to talk about the underrated UFA players in the NHL. Why? Well, let’s not forget that Milan Lucic and Loui Eriksson were once highly coveted free agents.
Meanwhile, the Washington Capitals went to the “bargain bin” and signed Brett Connolly, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Alex Chiasson. Those players all played big roles in Washington winning a Stanley Cup, while Eriksson is trapped in Vancouver and Lucic is constantly being bought out by fans on Capfriendly.com. Similarly, the Colorado Avalanche turned to waivers acquisitions and “bargain bin” players to help them make the playoffs in 2018. There is a hidden value in these types of acquisitions.
So here’s a monument to the guys who do a lot, but don’t get the credit that their peers receive.
On this list, I’m comparing deals with other players in the NHL and looking at where those comparable players were at the time they signed their contract. For the purposes of this list, “bargain price” has been interpreted with the consideration of their value and production in relation to the cap hits of other players in the league, including superstars. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if some of these players took a $1 million per year deal as a “prove it contract,” but I’m just considering each player’s base value.
- Matt Calvert-W (2018-Columbus Blue Jackets)-28 years old
2017: 10 goals, 5 assists, -4 in 65 games
2018: 9 goals, 15 assists -10 in 69 games
Last contract: 3 years, $2.2 million per year
Contract prediction: 2 years, $2 million per year
Colton Sceviour (current deal): 3 years, $1.2 million per year
Trevor Lewis (current deal): 4 years, $2 million per year
Eric Fehr (current deal): 3 years, $2 million per year
Calvert is a good offensive winger. While his numbers during the regular season aren’t super impressive, Calvert is a clutch goal scorer in the postseason. He has 10 points in 16 playoff games (6 goals, 2 game winning). For a bargain price, Calvert would make the perfect 3rd or 4th line addition to a contending team (even if it’s just remaining with Columbus). His numbers are incredibly similar to Connolly’s when he signed with the Capitals, so look for a team to hope he can become a productive bottom 6 winger.
4.Robin Lehner-G (2018-Buffalo Sabres)-26 years old
2017: 23-26-8, .920 sv, 2.68 GAA, 13.29 GSAA
2018: 14-26-9, .908 sv, 3.01 GAA, -6.08 GSAA
Last Contract: 1 year, $4 million per season
Contract Prediction: 2 years, $3.50 per season
Petr Mrazek (current deal): 2 years, $4 million per season
Brian Elliott (current deal): 2 years, $2.75 million per season
Steve Mason (current deal): 2 years, $4.1 million per season
Carter Hutton and Jonathan Bernier are deservedly going to be the most sought after free agent goalies. Do you know who else is likely going to be good? Robin Lehner.
Lehner is likely going to take a pay cut and play a smaller role, but if he can come back and reestablish himself, he could be in line for a big payday in the future. Lehner is a big goalie who has a knack for inconsistently winning games for his team. However, he is a safer bet than most UFA goalies since he is only 1 year removed from two solid years. Let’s also not forget that he’s been on some pretty bad defensively Sabres teams for the last two years.
2018: Sabres were 29/31 in goals against
2017: Sabres were 20/30 in goals against
2016: Sabres were 16/30 in goals against
Undoubtedly the defensive “success” for the Sabres in 2016 and 2017 were highly attributable to Lehner. For a one or 2 year deal, he should be worth a gamble. Any team that signs him could be acquiring a future number one goalie for cheap, especially given the current trends of teams betting big on backups (Antti Raanta, Cam Talbot, Scott Darling, Phillipp Grubauer, Martin Jones). One advantage Lehner has is that he is still fairly young when compared to other goalies that are/were UFA. By comparison, Hutton is 32, Lehtonen is 34, Mrazek is 26, and Ward is 34.
Unlike Mrazek, however, Lehner’s recent numbers are much more reliable.
- Tobias Rieder-W (2018-Arizona Coyotes/LA Kings)-25 years old
2017: 16 goals, 18 assists, -8 in 80 games
2018: 12 goals, 13 assists, -12 in 78 games
Last Contract: 2 years, $2.25 million per year
Contract Prediction: 2 years, $2.3 million per year
Ryan Strome (current deal): 2 years, $2.5 million per year
Brett Connolly (current deal): 2 years, $1.5 million per year
Patrick Maroon (current deal): 3 years, $2 million per year
Melker Karlsson (current deal): 3 years, $2 million per year
Matt Calvert (current deal): 3 years, $2.2 million per year
Right now, 4 Canadian teams (reportedly Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, and Edmonton) are fighting over him. Rieder should be a great pick up for a middle six role. In a world where Van Riemsdyk and Perron are at the forefront of UFA wingers, Rieder stands out as a lower risk, but higher reward player. Twice reaching the 30 point plateau, he is probably the best player in the “bargain bin,” especially for cash strapped teams like Edmonton. He has slightly below average corsi and PDO, but his numbers slightly increased during his time with LA. Pair him with McDavid or Petterson and watch him light up the scoreboard. This is absolutely one of those players that GM’s could regret not signing down the road.
*For Vancouver fans, his contract might also influence the negotiations of Sven Baertschi in Vancouver since they have similar numbers.
- Chris Kunitz-W (2018-Tampa Bay Lightning)-38 years old
2017: 9 goals, 20 assists in 71 games
2018: 13 goals, 16 assists, +8 in 82 games
Last Contract: 1 year, $2 million
Contract Prediction: It depends. If he wants to win, I could see him taking $1 million for 1 year. But if we are going based on value: 1 year, $3 million per year
Cal Clutterbuck (current deal): 5 years, $3.5 million per year
Alexandre Burrows: (current deal): 2 years, $2.5 million per year
Brian Gionta (2015-17): 3 years, $4.25 million per year
Looking for a champion? How about the 4 Stanley Cups Kunitz has won in his career. Often joked that Sidney Crosby smuggled him into the Sochi Olympics via a briefcase, Kunitz has shown his value in his own right during an impressive season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. There, he was part of a gritty 4th line, along with Cedric Paquette.
He is a great bottom six point producer and his numbers will impress the advanced statheads among any fanbase. Oh, and did I mention that he has 93 points in 178 playoff games, including 3 game winning goals? Plus he brings physicality and defense for those tight checking playoff runs.
- Jay Beagle-C (2018-Washington Capitals)-32 years old
2017: 13 goals, 17 assists +20 in 81 games
2018: 7 goals, 15 assists +3 in 79 games
Last Contract: 3 years, $1.75 million per year
Contract Prediction: 3 years, $3.45 million per year
Brandon Sutter (current deal): 5 years, $4.35 million per season
Kyle Brodziak (2013-2015): 3 years, $2.833 million per season
Marcus Kruger (current deal): 3 years, $3.083 million per season
Antoine Vermette (2015-17): 2 years, $3.75 million per year
Easily the most underrated free agent is Jay Beagle. Watching the Capitals for the last few seasons, I can vouch for him. His consistent performance has demonstrated that Beagle is the best fourth line center in hockey. Why does that matter? Ask the Penguins (who lost Matt Cullen) how important a 4th line center is.
Beagle does it all. Not only did he tally 22 points in 72 games in a 4th line role, but he is also an elite faceoff man and penalty killer. In 2018, Beagle won 58.5% of his faceoffs (he took over 900). Although he has terrible corsi numbers (most 4th liners do), Beagle’s PDO has been over 100 for each of the past for seasons.
Additionally, at one point during the playoffs, ex- Caps head coach Barry Trotz (known for his defensive style of play) was giving Beagle 75% defensive zone starts. Typically, you don’t do that unless you have an elite defensive center. He’s likely not going to put up 40 points, but Beagle will do the little things that help win games. He is probably going to be this year’s Nick Bonino
Don’t forget his epic saves during the playoffs!
Stats from hockey-reference.com
Cap info from capfriendly.com