NHL Free Agents: Statistical Predictions for the Top 14 Free-Agent Signings

Kyle NicolasContributor IJuly 20, 2011

NHL Free Agents: Statistical Predictions for the Top 14 Free-Agent Signings

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    With free agency slowing down and the last of the big free agents getting under contract, it's time we start looking ahead to the new year and thinking about how these players will perform with their teams.

    Some players have decided to continue their career in new cities while others have signed new deals where they're at in hopes of finding success with their new team.

    Or perhaps some are even hoping to turn over a new leaf and find the form that made them a superstar to resurrect their career.

    Some will no doubt succeed where they move, some will not.

    Here are statistical predictions for the 14 biggest free-agent signings this summer.

     

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14. Joni Pitkanen

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    Defenseman, Carolina Hurricanes

    New Contract: three-year, $4.5m/yr cap hit

    Joni Pitkanen might have been the second-biggest name on the defensemen market this summer, behind only that of Kevin Bieksa.

    His invaluable experience, veteran leadership and combination of gritty play with offensive contribution saw him score five goals and finish with 35 points last year.

    It's a good thing Carolina was able to bring him back, however it will be rough for Pitkanen at the same time because beyond him and the free-agent signing of Tomas Kaberle, the Hurricanes really don't have a lot of defensive talent.

    In fact, the Hurricanes didn't do much this summer at all to improve on a team that missed the playoffs for the second straight year last year.

    They did however, boost their powerplay with the acquisition of Kaberle, and that's the only reason I think Pitkanen's numbers will stay about the same next season.

    Predicted Statistics: 4G, 30A, 34P, 23:00 min. per game

13. Jamie Langenbrunner

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    Right Wing, St. Louis Blues

    New Contract: one-year, $2.8m/yr cap hit

    For the first time in his career, Langenbrunner will be playing with a franchise that is not based in either Dallas or New Jersey, the result of a year he would love to have everyone forget about.

    After an extremely lackluster season in which he only scored nine goals and 32 points while registering a paltry minus-18 rating, Langenbrunner found a job with a St. Louis team that can't seem to pull itself out of rebuild mode.

    He'll be playing with some brilliant young talent on the Blues roster, with the likes of Chris Stewart, David Backes and Matt D'Agostini all signed on for next season.

    Additionally the Blues brought in veteran Jason Arnott to boost them offensively.

    However, the Blues do not have the strongest defense in the league, led by Barret Jackman and Kevin Shattenkirk, brought in at the trade deadline last season.

    Assuming he stays healthy, I think Langenbrunner's numbers from last season will go up but not enough to the point to make people start to believe that he's not approaching the end of his career.

    Predicted Statistics: 13G, 25A, 38P, 15:00 min. per game

12. Christian Ehrhoff

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    Defenseman, Buffalo Sabres

    New Contract: 10-year, $4.0m/yr cap hit

    Possibly one of the most underrated defensemen in this year's free-agent class, Christian Ehrhoff's services were locked up long term in Northern New York for a pretty hefty sum.

    In addition to a no-movement clause and a modified no-trade clause, Ehrhoff will be making $10 million in salary next season and $8 million the season after before the contract then begins to taper off until he becomes a free agent again in July 2021.

    Will Buffalo get a performance worthy of $10 million in salary next season from their new prized defenseman?

    Not even close.

    Even on Vancouver, Ehrhoff was a third-pairing defenseman who the Canucks were willing to let walk away. If he was that important to their system, they would have found a way to pay for him, much in the same way they found a way to pay for Bieksa.

    While his offensive production looks great last season, with 14 goals and 50 points with a plus-19 rating, you have to remember just how strong the team around Ehrhoff was last season and consider where he's going.

    Buffalo isn't a bad team by any means, but isn't nearly the same as Vancouver. Ehrhoff's going from a role as a depth defenseman to one who's expected to lead a team's blueliners, which I'm not exactly sure he's cut out for.

    Thus, I say Ehrhoff's numbers will actually drop next season.

    Predicted Statistics: 8G, 31A, 39P, 26:00 min. per game

11. Tomas Fleischmann

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    Left Wing, Florida Panthers

    New Contract: four-year, $4.5m/yr. cap hit

    The journeyman left-winger is just one of the many acquisitions of Dale Talon and the busy Florida Panthers squad that's looking to build a name for itself and emerge from the depths of failure and obscurity.

    That being said, Tomas Fleischmann looks primed to be a breakout superstar and could be one of the biggest steals of this year's free-agency class.

    However, that being said, I'm not sure I trust the Florida Panthers squad with what they've done.

    Don't get me wrong, bringing in the amount of talent they did will only help them, but I still don't think they'll be a playoff team next season.

    They will put up a much bigger fight for it though.

    Joining Fleischmann in Florida are proven sniper Scottie Upshall and playoff hero Sean Bergenheim who proved with Tampa Bay that he can score despite being a third-line forward.

    With a now clean bill of health and some speedy talented forwards to support him, I think Tomas Fleischmann will be a great pickup for the Panthers next season.

    Predicted Statistics: 26G, 30A, 56P, 18:30 min. per game

10. Jean-Sebastien Giguere

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    Goaltender, Colorado Avalanche

    New Contract: two-year, $1.25m/yr. cap hit

    The goaltender who won the Anaheim Ducks a Stanley Cup in 2007 never really found his place in Toronto and thus was forced to move on this summer.

    Next year, he'll likely spend most of his time as the backup to also newly acquired Semyon Varlamov in Colorado.

    This is a great move for the Avalanche, who can finally say they have a consistent, reliable goaltending pair since the retirement of Patrick Roy and no, Craig Anderson backed up by Peter Budaj is hardly reliable.

    While it's good that Giguere was able to find a place that would bring him in considering how far his play has fallen from his prime years with the Ducks, it's also hard to picture his numbers getting any better.

    Last season with the Maple Leafs, Giguere logged an even 11-11-4 record with a .900 save-percentage and a 2.87 GAA.

    As a backup, I would expect to see him play probably around 20 games next season, but there's no question Giguere's approaching the twilight of his career rapidly.

    Predicted Statistics: 23GP, 8-8-4, .908 SV%, 2.95 GAA, 0 SO

9. Ed Jovanovski

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    Defenseman, Florida Panthers

    New Contract: four-year, $4.125m/yr. cap hit

    I'm not sure whether it's a case of nostalgia that convinced Ed Jovanovski to come back to Florida or if he really thinks they have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup within a few years, but the grizzled veteran is back with the team which he began his career with back in 1995.

    For the Panthers, this is a great addition that will really help to bolster their blueline with both size (Jovo stands a solid 6'3", 221 lbs.) and talent on both ends of the rink.

    In addition to logging just under 20 minutes of ice time per game with Phoenix last season, Jovanovski also managed to net five goals and 14 points with a plus-four rating.

    His play was a large part of the reason the Phoenix Coyotes secured their second-consecutive playoff berth.

    For Florida, I would expect Jovo's ice time to increase per game, seeing as he and fellow veteran Brian Campbell are now the two big names on the roster.

    However for the other statistics, I wouldn't expect to see much of a jump, if any jump at all.

    Phoenix and Florida are built much the same way, in that they have a talented group of players, and then not much in the way of depth between that group and their lower lines.

    For that, Jovo won't get much help unless he's consistently paired with a speedy forward line, which can't always happen, so I think Jovo will post numbers that are relatively the same next season.

    Predicted Statistics: 3G, 15A, 18P, 24:00 min. per game.

8. Kevin Bieksa

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    Defenseman, Vancouver Canucks

    New Contract: five-year, $4.6m/yr. cap hit

    After a solid performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kevin Bieksa was anticipated to be possibly the most highly sought after defenseman come July 1st.

    However, as expected, Bieksa chose to stay with Vancouver and make another run at the franchise's first Stanley Cup next season.

    The only big difference is this year he'll be getting paid much nicer, getting $7 million on the first year of his new deal.

    Bieksa isn't known for his offensive output or his numerical contributions, but his play in his own defensive zone has made him into a proven and reliable player that will make himself worth the money.

    Now 30 years old, Bieksa will likely see his production stay about the same next season, but that doesn't mean his play will not have improved.

    After finishing with a dazzling plus-32 rating last season, Bieksa looks poised to take over a long-term role in the Vancouver system, providing security in front of Roberto Luongo for years to come.

    Predicted Statistics: 5G, 18A, 23P, 27:30 min. per game

7. Simon Gagne

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    Left Wing, Los Angeles Kings

    New Contract: two-year, $3.5m/yr. cap hit

    The Kings are hoping that their acquisition of the French-Canadian winger will finally fill that last piece of the puzzle they need to put themselves into a position as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

    On paper, it certainly looks as though it does.

    Assuming the Kings are able to bring back Drew Doughty, Los Angeles now boasts one of the best combinations of brilliant young skill and experienced veteran talent in the entire NHL.

    Gagne has the versatility of being able to play with the dominant Anze Kopitar as well as taking on more of a supporting role on a lower line.

    But no matter where the Kings play him, he has the ability to put the puck in the net, which is something the Kings were sometimes hard-pressed to do last season.

    His 17 goals and 40 points might not be the numbers the Kings are hoping for, but assuming Gagne stays healthy this season, he should be able to break that 20-goal plateau without problem and will most likely even stretch it further.

    With an offense now boasting guys like Kopitar, Jarret Stoll, Dustin Brown, Dustin Penner and Justin Williams to go along with Gagne, the Kings have quickly become my choice for the favorite to win the Pacific Division next season.

    Predicted Statistics: 24G, 30A, 54P, 16:00 min. per game

6. Tomas Vokoun

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    Goaltender, Washington Capitals

    New Contract: one-year, $1.5m/yr. cap hit

    Widely considered to be the big prize goaltender in this year's free agent class, Tomas Vokoun brought experience, solidity and a proven name to the table.

    With a lot of teams needing a good goaltender, his phone was most likely ringing off the hook.

    The big winners however proved to be the Washington Capitals, who in addition to offering him a starting job, will give him a good chance at a Stanley Cup next season.

    After a year in which the Tampa Bay Lightning proved that the Caps still had a lot of work to do on their defense and goaltending situations.

    As a result, the Capitals brought in Roman Hamrlik to help with their defense and Tomas Vokoun to take the reins in net and give the Capitals a strong look for the start of next year.

    With some good support from an improved defense in front of him, Vokoun should see a pretty nice jump in his numbers next season, one that is hopefully good enough to hold off the Tampa Bay Lightning again and give the Capitals a fifth-straight Southeast Division title.

    Predicted Statistics: 60GP, 33-20-7, .920 SV%, 2.39 GAA, 4SO

5. James Wisniewski

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    Defenseman, Columbus Blue Jackets

    New Contract: six-year, $5.5m/yr. cap hit

    After a season in which Wisniewski notched 10 goals and 41 assists to become one of the highest-scoring defensemen in the league, he won probably the biggest and most expensive contract of the summer, signing a deal with the Blue Jackets that on the outset looks absolutely ridiculous.

    For a 27-year-old defenseman, Wisniewski has still yet to prove he's the type of defenseman who can be more than a second or third-pair type of guy, and now he's being paid $7 million for the first two years of his contract in what looks to me like a desperation move by the Blue Jackets to get back into the playoffs.

    I don't blame them for wanting to find success rapidly. After 11 years and only one playoff series appearance, the fans in Columbus are getting extremely restless and impatient with their team.

    The good news is they finally have some offensive support for Rick Nash by acquiring Jeff Carter from Philadelphia.

    The bad news is they still have very little in the way of depth that can carry them back to the playoffs.

    With not much beyond his skill on the blue line, the Blue Jackets are still going to have a very hard time keeping the puck from getting behind Steve Mason, and Wisnewski will be seeing a pretty big drop in his numbers as a result.

    Predicted Statistics: 6G, 25P, 31P, 24:30 min. per game

4. Ilya Bryzgalov

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    This guy would have been the big fish of free agency goaltenders had Philadelphia not pulled off quite possibly the most brilliant business deal of the summer to get him ahead of July 1st.

    Bryzgalov proved his status as one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL during his years with Phoenix in which he managed to backstop the team to consecutive playoff berths and earn himself a Vezina nomination.

    With Philadelphia being in need of a stellar goaltender for such a long time now, Bryzgalov might be their answer.

    He'll be getting a good amount of defensive help from former-teammate Chris Pronger (both have their name on the Stanley Cup from the 2007 Anaheim triumph) as well as Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros.

    Up front the offense throwing pucks past the other goaltender still boasts Scott Hartnell, Daniel Briere and Claude Giroux among others.

    The Flyers look to rectify their late-season collapse from last year, and with Bryzgalov in place, they just might find a way to do it. I expect a jump in his numbers from last year, with the Flyers being a much better team defensively than the Phoenix Coyotes were.

    Predicted Statistics: 62GP, 35-19-8, .924 Sv%, 2.38 GAA, 5 SO

3. Jaromir Jagr

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    Right Wing, Philadelphia Flyers

    New Contract: one-year, $3.3m/yr. Cap Hit

    With all the hype, anger and intense grabs at nostalgia that have come with Jagr's return to the NHL, the thing I think that most people don't realize is we're talking about a guy who's now 39 years old, hasn't played in the NHL since 2008 and only decided to come back after some good performances in both the Vancouver Olympics and the various world championships that have been played since then.

    In all honesty, I really don't see Jagr making that big of a difference to the Flyers, other than the fact that they'll now be able to talk even more smack to their rivals in Pittsburgh, who whom Jagr played for so long.

    Jagr won't even be close to the player he was in his prime when he was undressing defenses and lighting the lamp like a chain smoker lights cigarettes.

    Now, Jagr will pretty much be relegated to playing either second-line or possibly even third-line forward duties and will as a result probably leave a lot of Philadelphia fans kinda disappointed.

    If he doesn't retire midseason from an inability to keep up.

    As a result, my predictions for Jagr might seem pretty low, but I just can't picture him making any sort of a significant impact in the Flyers lineup other than giving them a little bit more than your average third-line threat.

    Predicted Statistics: 12G, 23A, 35P, 13:00 min. per game

2. Steven Stamkos

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    Center, Tampa Bay Lightning

    New Contract: five-year, $7.5m/yr. cap hit

    The swirling speculation that he might be searching for life outside Tampa Bay has finally been put to rest with Stamkos signing a new contract with the Bolts on July 19th.

    There's no question the Lightning will be happy to have their 21-year-old sniper back in the fold for some time, considering he scored an incredible 45 goals last season to finish second in the race for the Rocket Richard trophy.

    He's young, he's extremely talented as is and will no doubt break the 50-goal barrier several times in his career, making this re-signing a very important one for the Bolts.

    However that being said, I'm not exactly sure he'll be able to score 45 goals again next season, so I'm thinking there will be a very slight drop in his numbers.

    I'm not talking big, since the Lightning still have their offensive juggernauts in Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis to support him, but the departure of Simon Gagne will hurt the squad, as well as Stamkos' production.

    Predicted Statistics: 42G, 45A, 87P, 18:30 min. per game

1. Brad Richards

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    Center, New York Rangers

    New Contract: nine-year, $6.67m/yr. cap hit

    At long last we come to the No. 1 guy, the grand poobah or the big shiny trophy of this year's free agency, if you will.

    Brad Richards was hailed as the biggest name in the talent pool, but really this one was over before it even started as Richards made it so obvious he wanted to play for New York that the announcement of the deal really came as very little surprise.

    When you give the Rangers the final say on whether or not they want to match whatever offer you're given by another team, yeah it's pretty much a done deal you're winding up in New York.

    And while Richards is glad to be out of Dallas after two disappointing years out of the playoffs, I really don't think he knew what he was doing when he decided New York would be the best place to get him a Stanley Cup before the end of his career.

    I know the Rangers and I know their tendencies. Not only do they love to drastically overpay one player every summer, but they have a pretty bad recent history of either drastically underachieving and missing the playoffs completely or semi-underachieving and making the playoffs only to be ungracefully dumped in the first round.

    This year is not looking too different.

    While the Rangers are really hoping adding Richards to the top line that already boasts hot-shot Marian Gaborik will give them a dangerous first line (which it probably will if Gaborik can stay healthy), but beyond that, the Rangers depth still has some question marks.

    Even more questions can be asked of the defense which has not re-signed Bryan McCabe, the lone veteran, and lost Matt Gilroy, one of its brightest young prospects, to free agency.

    All of this leads me to believe Richards will see a slight drop in his numbers the first year and New York will have no more success than they're used to having next season, either missing the playoffs or making it by the smallest of margins and getting booted out in a first-round loss.

    When all is said and done, I'm willing to bet Glen Sather and the Rangers will be asking themselves why they agreed to pay Richards a whopping $12 million per year for the first two years of the deal when Steven Stamkos is making two-thirds of that and scoring nearly double the goals.

    Predicted Statistics: 25G, 42A, 67P, 21:00 min. per game

     

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