NHL Free Agency: The 5 Best, Worst, Overrated and Underrated Signings

Matthew FairburnCorrespondent IAugust 9, 2011

NHL Free Agency: The 5 Best, Worst, Overrated and Underrated Signings

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    Some things in this world cannot be analyzed right away. Unfortunately, in the sports world, those tend to be the topics that are subject to immediate nitpicking. 2011 NHL free agency is no different.

    We have had over a month to digest the dollar signs and the no-trade clauses alike, giving us plenty of time to pinpoint the best and the worst of this year's frenzy.

    The pads have not even been strapped on, and every signing has been put under the microscope. So here's the view of the offseason through this writer's microscope.

    Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter @MatthewFairburn to talk hockey.

The Best: Tomas Vokoun, Washington Capitals

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    Coming into the offseason, Ilya Bryzgalov and Tomas Vokoun were considered the top prizes between the pipes for this free-agent class.

    While Bryzgalov was swept off the market by the Philadelphia Flyers for $51 million over nine seasons, Vokoun cost the Capitals just $1.5 million for a single season of service.

    Meanwhile, the move allowed the Capitals to trade Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for a first- and a second-round pick. Washington made out like bandits in the goaltending department. 

The Best: Simon Gagne, Los Angeles Kings

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    The Los Angeles Kings were part of one of the biggest blockbuster trades of the offseason, acquiring Mike Richards from the Philadelphia Flyers for top prospect Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds.

    The move gave the Kings a solid two-way center in the prime of his career but not a whole lot to surround him with.

    Then, Los Angeles welcomed to town Simon Gagne, who played alongside Mike Richards for the early portion of Richards's Flyers' career.

    The two-year, $7 million contract is low risk, and if Gagne has as much left in the tank as I think he does, it could end up being a bargain.

The Best: Ian White, Detroit Red Wings

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    Brian Rafalski's retirement at the beginning of the offseason led many to speculate that the Detroit Red Wings would shell out big time money on a high price tag defenseman to fill the void. What everyone forgot was how shrewd the Wings are with their money.

    Instead of spending an absurd amount for a guy like Christian Ehrhoff or Joni Pitkanen, the Wings signed Ian White to a two-year, $5.75 million contract.

    White provides Detroit with a reliable puck-moving defenseman for the next few seasons while players develop within their system. 

The Best: Eric Belanger, Edmonton Oilers

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    The Edmonton Oilers have approached their rebuilding process the right way. The team has used the draft as the main source for acquiring talent, while bringing in role players and stopgaps to fill the holes in the rest of their roster.

    Eric Belanger is an excellent example of that type of signing. His $1.75 million cap hit is more than reasonable, and the defensive edge he will bring to this team will be valuable while some of the younger players develop that part of their game.

The Best: Roman Hamrlik, Washington Capitals

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    The Washington Capitals are clearly making a push to win now, and the signing of Roman Hamrlik will help them toward that goal.

    Hamrlik received a contract worth $7 million over the next two season, a modest price to pay for a player who will bring experience and skill to an already deep blueline.

The Worst: James Wisniewski, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets were desperate to make a splash this offseason, so they did a cannon ball right into the 2011 NHL free-agent pool, bringing in two high priced players in Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski.

    The Carter move made a lot of sense, but the James Wisniewski signing was ill-advised. The puck-moving defenseman will makes $5.5 million over the next six seasons with the Jackets. The guy can pay, but that's too much money.

The Worst: Tomas Kaberle, Carolina Hurricanes

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    The Carolina Hurricanes signing of Tomas Kaberle is a head scratcher. The team already has plenty of solid puck moving defensemen and could have used a tougher presence on the blueline.

    Not to mention, $4.25 million is an outrageous cap hit for a guy who soiled himself continuously throughout the 2011 NHL Playoffs for the Boston Bruins.

The Worst: Ville Leino, Buffalo Sabres

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    Ville Leino parlayed his breakout performance in the 2010 NHL Playoffs into a very solid regular season for the Philadelphia Flyers. His recent string of success made him the most overpaid player in 2011 NHL free agency.

    Leino is a nice player to have on your team. He's definitely a great third line wing, maybe even second line. But for $4.5 million a year? No thanks.

The Worst: Ed Jovanovski, Florida Panthers

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    I get that the Florida Panthers were forced to overpay for a few players in order to get closer to cap floor the league has imposed, but four years at over $4 million a year for Ed Jovanovski is ridiculous.

    Jovanovski is already on the decline and over 35 years old, meaning the Panthers will have to pay him every penny of that contract unless he retires.

The Worst: Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens

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    It's strange how the Montreal Canadiens had such a hard time hanging on to some of their top unrestricted free agents, but managed to find the money to re-sign Andrei Markov to a three-year, $5.75 million contract.

    Instead of bringing back Roman Hamrlik or James Wisniewski, the Canadiens opted to pay out the nose for a guy who played in just seven games this past season and 45 a year ago.

Overrated: Brad Richards, New York Rangers

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    I'm not saying the Rangers overpaid for Brad Richards (his contract was actually more modest than I expected), but the signing is not enough to put this team in consideration for the Atlantic Division crown, as many are starting to suggest.

    Richards has seen his best days and is coming off of a fairly serious concussion. It's likely that Richards will be successful in New York, but he is not the missing piece to their championship puzzle.

Overrated: Christian Ehrhoff, Buffalo Sabres

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    Christian Ehrhoff was a bit of a disappointment for the Vancouver Canucks as the 2011 NHL Playoffs wore on. He wasn't willing to get his hands dirty and spent more time mouthing off than clearing players out from the front of the net.

    However, that did not stop the Buffalo Sabres from giving him a 10-year contract worth $40 million. The deal is front loaded but still seems a bit lengthy for a guy who is approaching 30.

Overrated: Michael Ryder, Dallas Stars

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    Anyone who thinks Michael Ryder is going to be able to fill any part of the offensive void left by Brad Richards is mistaken.

    Ryder is as inconsistent as he is talented, and his $3.5 million contract is too hefty for a player with the kinds of peaks and valleys Ryder displays.

Overrated: Joel Ward, Washinton Capitals

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    On the surface, the Washington Capitals' signing of Joel Ward seems like a solid move. He is coming off a postseason in which he amassed 12 points in 13 games for the Nashville Predators, proving he can get things done in the postseason.

    However, considering Ward has never had a season with more than 35 points, and that he is already 30 years old despite having just three NHL seasons under his belt is a bit alarming.

Overrated: Erik Cole, Montreal Canadiens

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    Again, I have to question the priorities of the Montreal Canadiens. The team had some talented players to retain, yet they gave Erik Cole $18 million over the next four seasons.

    Cole is a reliable two-way forward on the second or third line but does not warrant that kind of price tag.

Underrated: Jaromir Jagr, Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Flyers have caught more flack this offseason than any team in the NHL and rightfully so. Anytime a team blows up its core a year after going to the Stanley Cup Finals, questions are going to surface.

    However, one signing that received more criticism than it should have was the inking of Jaromir Jagr. The deal is a low risk, one-year contract worth just over $3 million. The Flyers had to replace Ville Leino and did so with a cheaper alternative.

    Not to mention, Jagr has the upside to put up 60 to 70 points, despite being removed from the league for a few seasons. This could turn out to be a solid signing for Holmgren.

Underrated: Tyler Kennedy, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Some of the best signings each offseason fly under the radar. Tyler Kennedy falls under that category.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins recognized an excellent role player on their roster who hasn't yet reached his full potential and signed him to a team friendly deal. That's how business is done in the NHL.

Underrated: Alex Tanguay, Calgary Flames

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    Plenty of people think that handing Alex Tanguay over $3 million was irresponsable. However, the Tanguay had an excellent season for the Calgary Flames and fits in nicely with the group that is in place.

    Calgary is attempting to rebuild on the fly, so signing Tanguay made sense for the team in the short term.

Underrated: Sami Salo, Vancouver Canucks

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    Christian Ehrhoff stole the headlines with his lucrative 10-year contract, but Sami Salo made the most sense for the Vancouver Canucks going forward.

    His one year $2 million contract is an excellent bargain for an experienced rearguard.

Underrated: Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes

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    Facing significant financial issues and a potential relocation, the Phoenix Coyotes could no afford to lock up Ilya Bryzgalov to a long-term contract.

    Instead, the team nabbed Mike Smith to a short term deal with a minimal cap hit. Smith performed well in the postseason for the Tampa Bay Lightning, so there is some upside in this signing for Phoenix.