NHL: 13 Most Overrated Free Agents of 2011
Ah, yes, the free agent season. The time of year when ordinary players cash in on extraordinary contract years, luring desperate teams with the deep pockets.
The 2011 free agent class was remarkably shallow apart from the likes of Brad Richards, Kevin Bieksa and evidently Jaromir Jagr (all exempt), but summers like these are when we generally see the most money bandied about.
With the busiest portion of this summer's free agent frenzy drawing to a close and the start of training camp close at hand, it's time to look back and and reflect on some of the more bloated and questionable signings.
1. Ilya Bryzgalov (Philadelphia)
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Arguably the strongest goaltender on the market this summer, Ilya Bryzgalov was bound to attract considerable attention come July 1. After making it clear he would not return to Phoenix, Bryzgalov's rights were traded to the Flyers on June 6.
Since the legendary Bernie Parent retired in 1979, Philadelphia has searched fruitlessly for stability between the pipes, and while they may have found it in Ilya Bryzgalov, the price they paid to sign him (nine years, averaging $5.6 million per year) is a little outrageous.
The team was also forced to trade away franchise players Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in order to make Bryzgalov's mega-deal fit under the cap. While Philadelphia still boasts a sturdy back end, the loss of Carter and Richards puts a lot of added pressure on Giroux and Briere to handle the bulk of the offensive load.
2. James Wisniewski (Columbus)
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James Wisniewski has never been a top-pair defenseman, but don't tell that to the Columbus Blue Jackets. GM Scott Howson didn't seem the least bit hesitant in signing him to a massive six-year, $33 million contract on July 1, effectively making Wisniewski their No. 1 defenseman in the process.
With Kevin Bieksa resigning with Vancouver and Christian Ehrhoff shipping up to Buffalo the remaining group of available D-men was weak, but I can't help but shake my head at the dollar value of Wisniewski's contract.
He's played for three different teams over the past three seasons, but each of those clubs already had an established blue line upon his arrival, so perhaps he'll relish the opportunity of being a big fish in the small pond that is Columbus.
Either way, it's a risky deal.
3. Tim Connolly (Toronto)
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The Leafs are in trouble.
In each of the past six years since the lockout, Toronto has failed to make the playoffs. They haven't played well enough to clinch a spot or bad enough to bottom out completely. The team's lack of a scoring centre to play with Phil Kessel has been one of T.O.'s more glaring issues.
After it became clear the Leafs were out of the Brad Richards sweepstakes, the team signed longtime Buffalo Sabre Tim Connolly to a two-year, $9.5 million contract.
If $4.75 million per year for a player who has failed to score 20 goals in any of his ten NHL seasons isn't the definition of overrated and overpaid, I'm not sure what is.
4. Erik Cole (Montreal)
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I like Erik Cole. I really do.
His return after suffering a broken vertebra in March 2006 to play in the final two games of that year's Stanley Cup Final was nothing short of miraculous.
Over the course of his career he's been a reliable 20-goal guy, when he's in the lineup. He had a decent season in 2010-11, scoring 26 goals and 26 assists, but he'll will be turning 33 this fall. It's relatively safe to say his best days are behind him.
The Habs signed Cole to a four-year, $18 million deal on July 1. I would like to call this a good pickup for Montreal because he has the potential to be an impact player, but at $4.5 million per year, I'm not sure he'll be able to live up to the expectations of a high-salary player.
5. Ville Leino (Buffalo)
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After spending two years twiddling his thumbs in the Detroit system, Ville Leino joined the Flyers in 2010 in time for their impressive playoff run and had an immediate impact, tying Dino Ciccarelli's record for most points by a rookie in the postseason with 21.
He followed that up with a less-than-stellar 2010-11 campaign, scoring 19 goals and 34 assists before disappearing entirely in the playoffs (not unlike the entire Flyers team). After tying up millions upon millions to secure Ilya Bryzgalov's spot on the team, it became clear Philly would not be able to meet Ville Leino's salary demands. He eventually signed a six-year, $27 million contract with the Sabres.
Leino must have the best agent in the world—he must have pulled some crazy voodoo magic to convince Buffalo his client is worth $4.5 million a year.
At age 27 (and $4.5 mil) it's alarming that he's never scored 20 goals. It's entirely possible that his stock is still on the rise, but either way, it's a risky move on Buffalo's part. In order for this deal to be viewed as anything but a bust Leino must elevate his game, and quickly.
6. Tomas Fleischmann (Florida)
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For years, Tomas Fleischmann rode the coattails of Washington's high-calibre offense behind the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom. He was one of many Caps players who had a tendency of "pulling a Casper," to borrow a phrase, in the postseason.
Midway through the 2010-11 season he was dealt to Colorado, finishing the season with 12 goals and 31 points in 45 games.
In what can only be considered a ploy to reach the salary cap floor, Florida signed the young left winger to a four-year, $18 million contract on July 1.
Fleischmann undoubtedly benefited from being the only household name in a weak free agent pool, but for a player who has never scored more than 51 points in a season, one can't help but wonder what Panthers GM Dale Tallon was thinking.
7. Ed Jovanovski (Florida)
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Hmm. Another Florida Panthers signing. I'm sensing a pattern here. After losing Bryzgalov, the Phoenix Coyotes also inexplicably allowed one of their best defenseman to skip town this past offseason, inking a four-year, $16.5 million pact with the Panthers.
Since originally being drafted first overall by Florida in 1994, Ed "JovoCop" Jovanovski has established himself as a prime two-way defenseman, scoring 10 or more goals five times over the course of his career. He also won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2002 Olympics, pitching in three assists.
Okay, but that's all good stuff, you say. So what's the problem?
Well, I'm glad you asked.
Ed Jovanovski has only been past the first round of the playoffs once in his career. Eight other times, he's missed the postseason entirely. He's also been awfully prone to sustaining significant injuries, having only played 80 or more games in a season twice in the past 10 years.
The Panthers are a team that clearly wants to make the playoffs now, and if they falter, you can bet guys like Jovo and Tomas Fleischmann will be on a short leash.
8. Joni Pitkanen (Carolina)
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Joni Pitkanen's tour of the NHL has already made stops in Philadelphia, where he enjoyed a breakout 2005-06 season, Edmonton and Carolina, where he seems to have found a home.
His recent three-year, $13.5 million reupping with Carolina may be the tamest deal on this list. Joni Pitkanen is a decent defender with some offensive prowess, and he finished minus-two on a team that was 21st in goals allowed this past season.
This deal may eventually turn in Carolina's favour, but for right now, the $4.5 million price tag seems to me a little steep.
9. Brooks Laich (Washington)
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Since becoming a regular in Washington back in 2005-06, Brooks Laich has, similar to former teammate Tomas Fleischmann, been basking in the statistical successes of his immediate superiors in Ovechkin and company.
He went from a career-high 25 goals in 2009-10 down to a relatively icy 16 this past season.
Despite that fact, the Capitals rewarded him with a six-year, $27 million contract. The salary cap may be going up for the sixth consecutive year, but $4.5 million per season (another pattern?) is awfully pricey.
10. Jan Hejda (Colorado)
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The Colorado Avalanche are a team in utter disarray. Since losing "Super" Joe Sakic and defenseman Adam Foote to retirement in 2009 and 2011 respectively, they have been mired in the team's first-ever rebuilding phase. With only three players over the age of 30, it seems the Avs have the potential to be competitive again a few years down the road.
One of those three players is Jan Hejda, formerly of the Columbus Blue Jackets, whom the Avalanche recently signed to a four-year, $13 million contract. For a team that is desperately seeking some veteran leadership and experience, it's interesting that Colorado went after a player like Jan Hejda.
Since joining the NHL in 2006, Hejda has averaged 0.009 playoff games for every one regular season game played. Perhaps you can chalk up that lack of postseason play to the four years he spent on a lousy Blue Jackets team, but at $3.25 million a year, it's definitely alarming.
11. Jason Arnott (St. Louis)
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Similar to Colorado, St. Louis is a young team in need of guidance, so it's not entirely surprising that the Blues went after veteran free agent Jason Arnott, who at 36 years of age (37 this October), automatically becomes the team's oldest player. St. Louis inked him to a one-year deal for a questionable $2.8 million.
Arnott has a wealth of playoff experience, winning the Cup with New Jersey back in 2000, but he's sputtered of late, mostly due to injuries, having only played two full seasons since the lockout.
I get that the Blues have a ton of cap space, but giving an injury-prone 37-year-old $2.8 million seems a touch outlandish to me.
12. Andrei Markov (Montreal)
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Andrei Markov has been an excellent defenseman for Montreal since his debut back in 2000-01. I don't have anything negative to say about Markov except for his apparent inability to stay healthy over the course of an entire season: He's played in only 52 games over the past two years combined.
Markov may indeed prove to be worth the exorbitant three-year $17.25 million contract he recently signed with the Habs, but until he proves he's able to spend more time on the ice than off it, I've got to think this is a questionable signing by the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.
13. Dwayne Roloson (Tampa Bay)
Dwayne Roloson had one heck of a rebound year for Tampa Bay. After spending much of the year on Long Island playing in front of hundreds of fans, he was picked up by the Lightning on January 1 and quickly earned the starting position by posting a 1-0 shutout in his first game with Tampa.
His return to relevance and impressive postseason run was easily one of the most intriguing stories of the past season, which garnered him a new one-year, $3 million contract with the Bolts.
However, his age is a considerable question mark—he turns 42 on October 12. I have no doubts whatsoever about his resolve or his will to win, but I can't help but wonder what he's got left in the tank physically.
At $3 million, Tampa Bay is really putting a lot of faith in the veteran net-minder, considering their backups are Mathieu Garon and Dustin Tokarski, both of whom lack experience as NHL starters.