A great playmaker can help unleash the scoring talents of those around him. They can make 20-goal scorers out of nothing, push an average player to the 30-40 goal range and help an elite sniper top 50 goals and contend for the Maurice Richard.
Who are the best playmakers available through free agency?
To answer that question we'll look at primary assists only—since we're looking at who is setting up the goals directly. We'll also go back a few seasons to make sure no one who simply had a bad season is overlooked nor is the impact of someone's unusually strong single season being exaggerated.
Setup passes, which were explained in more detail in a Bleacher Report piece last October, is another analytic tool that can help identify the top playmakers. It's an estimate that's been recently demonstrated to be accurate within about five percent (given enough data) of the actual number of shots a player has set up.
Taken together, we have found and ranked the top 10 unrestricted free agents based on who is most effective at setting up scoring opportunities.
I was quite surprised to find someone who ranked higher than Paul Stastny, to realize how low one of this year's playoff heroes wound up and just how solid a gamble one particular 42-year-old may be.
Honorable mentions include Olli Jokinen, Mike Cammalleri, Ales Hemsky, Derek Roy and Radim Vrbata. Turn over to begin with the first of 10 free agents whose playmaking skills eclipse those five.
All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.