NHL Free Agents 2015: The Most Overrated Players Available

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistJune 18, 2015

NHL Free Agents 2015: The Most Overrated Players Available

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Now that the Chicago Blackhawks have been declared the supreme heroes of the 2015 NHL playoffs, teams around the league are turning their respective attentions in earnest to the improvements they can make to their rosters during the offseason.

    In recent years, we've seen draft picks and other young players make immediate impacts in NHL lineups, but veterans who can be signed as unrestricted free agents are the more proven commodities.

    Imagine what the fireworks would've been like over the next couple of weeks had Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane not signed those big contract extensions last summer and decided to test the market on July 1? Instead, a motley mix of aging talents and younger underachievers headline this year's UFA class.

    They may not be among the league's best players, but with plenty of teams looking to upgrade, some hefty contracts are sure to be signed—and some will probably be regretted.

    Here's a look at six of this year's high-profile free agents who could become liabilities for the teams that are able to sign them.

6. Mike Ribeiro

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Age: 35

    Previous Contract: One year, $1.05 million

    Recent History: After the notoriously frugal Arizona Coyotes elected to buy out three years and $17.5 million of a contract signed just one year previously, the Nashville Predators took a chance on the troubled center with a "prove-it" deal that paid off in spades.

    Mike Ribeiro put his off-ice issues behind him, detailed by Sarah Kwak of Sports Illustrated, and became the offensive engine that powered the Predators back into the playoffs after a two-year absence.

    Market Value: Ribeiro mustered up an excellent bounce-back season when it looked like his NHL prospects had all but dried up. Now, he'll be looking to get paid. At age 35, he'll probably want a four-year deal.

    At season's end, Adam Vingan of the Tennessean reported that both Ribeiro and Nashville general manager David Poile were looking to continue the fruitful relationship, but any team should exercise caution before handing the keys to the kingdom to the veteran center.

    Thirty-five years old and a wiry 177 pounds, Ribeiro's physical decline can't be too far away—and his gusto could wane once he gets another fat contract in his pocket. 

    Buyer beware on Ribeiro—whether that is Poile or a general manager from another team who's willing to outbid him.

5. Justin Williams

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    Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 33

    Previous Contract: Four years, $14.6 million, cap hit $3.65 million

    Recent History: With two Stanley Cups in three years and a Conn Smythe Trophy win, as playoff MVP in 2014, Justin Williams became a clutch role player for the Los Angeles Kings years after he hoisted his first Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.

    Williams hasn't scored more than 60 points in the regular season since 2006-07, but his outstanding postseason production has become his calling card.

    Market Value: Missing the playoffs in 2014-15 won't have made much of a dent in Williams' market value. He'll bring leadership and experience wherever he ends up, as well as that dazzling playoff scoring touch.

    Since they became a championship team, the Kings have worked hard to keep their core players in the fold. There aren't many examples in the field of what happens when a Los Angeles forward leaves the nest. Dustin Penner didn't have much success when he moved on after being part of the 2012 Stanley Cup group, but his career was already in decline.

    Williams' suitors will likely offer big money and a five-year term. They'll need to be confident their team can get deep into the playoffs before they even get a chance to realize a meaningful return on their investment.

4. Cody Franson

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Previous Contract: One year, $3.3 million

    Recent History: Though Cody Franson was a young, emerging defenseman, the Toronto Maple Leafs elected to sign him to three consecutive one-year contracts until he hit unrestricted free agency.

    On February 15, Toronto traded Franson and Mike Santorelli to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Nashville's first-round draft pick, plus forwards Olli Jokinen and Brendan Leipsic.

    Franson's return to the team that drafted him did not go well. He was used sparingly by coach Peter Laviolette, even after workhorse defenseman Shea Weber was injured in Game 2 of Nashville's first-round playoff series against Chicago.

    With just four points in 23 regular-season games and two assists in five playoff games, Franson did little to improve his prospects.

    Market Value: Franson may not have played his best hockey last season, but he's a 6'5", right-shooting defenseman in the prime of his career—and those qualities command big bucks.

    With a career high of 33 points in 2013-14, Franson won't match last year's biggest earner—the $40.25 million Matt Niskanen commanded from Washington over seven years after a breakout 46-point season. However, Franson's numbers won't be too far off, though—either in money or length.

    If Franson continues to perform like he did after his trade to Nashville, the team that signs him will spend years rueing its commitment to his potential.

3. Antoine Vermette

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Age: 32

    Previous Contract: Five years, $18.75 million, cap hit $3.75 million

    Recent History: After a career spent in relatively low-wattage markets such as Ottawa, Columbus and Phoenix, Antoine Vermette stepped into the spotlight when the Chicago Blackhawks acquired him from the Arizona Coyotes for help at center during the playoffs in exchange for defensive prospect Klas Dahlbeck and a first-round draft pick.

    Initially, Vermette looked like a bust, posting just three points in 19 regular-season games and getting scratched from the lineup by Chicago coach Joel Quenneville three times during the playoffs.

    His future value exploded, however, when he bounced back from his scratch for Game 3 of the Western Conference Final with the game-winning goal in Game 4, then added two more game-winners in a tight Stanley Cup Final series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Market Value: Vermette has suddenly vaulted himself from a workmanlike two-way center into a clutch playoff performer who's barely a notch below Justin Williams.

    Vermette will be able to choose his next home and, at 32, will likely be looking for another five-year term to match his last contract. This one could be valued closer to $5 million a year.

    The team that signs Vermette should expect to see flashes of greatness but also the same inconsistency that plagued him during his short stint in Chicago.

2. Mike Green

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Age: 29

    Previous Contract: Three years, $18.25 million, cap hit $6.083 million

    Recent History: Earlier in his career, Mike Green was a surefire offensive threat for the Washington Capitals. At his peak, he scored 31 goals in 2008-09, following that up with 76 points the next season—a number that would have tied him with Jiri Hudler for eighth overall in this year's NHL scoring race, a full 10 points ahead of top defenseman Erik Karlsson. 

    The first two years of Green's most recent contract were dark, with both his offensive and defensive contributions to the Capitals in question. Last season, he rebounded to post a respectable 45 points in a diminished role after expensive free agents Niskanen and Brooks Orpik were brought in to help shore up the blue line.

    Market Value: At $6.083 million, Green holds the highest current cap hit of any player going into free agency. He probably won't match that number in his next deal, but he's the most tantalizing offensive option for a team looking for a triggerman for its power play.

    Green's defense is suspect, and it doesn't appear that he'll be capable of returning to the top-pairing form that he displayed in his mid-20s. Green will get his new team some goals, but his coach will need to be prepared to live with some mistakes along the way.

    Nevertheless, expect Green to sign for a minimum deal of five years at $5 million per season. A bidding war could push those numbers even higher.

1. Devan Dubnyk

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    Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 29

    Previous Contract: One year, $800,000

    Recent History: Dubnyk signed with the Arizona Coyotes to be backup to Mike Smith as a free agent on July 1, 2014. During his forgettable 2013-14 season, he'd been shuffled from the Edmonton Oilers to the Nashville Predators, then on to the Montreal Canadiens organization, where he only saw action with their minor-league affiliate in Hamilton.

    After outplaying a struggling Smith in Arizona during the first half of 2014-15, Dubnyk was acquired by a desperate Minnesota Wild team on January 14 in exchange for a third-round draft pick.

    In 39 starts with the Wild, Dubnyk played the best hockey of his career, posting a career-high save percentage of .936 along with a 1.78 goals-against average and a 27-9-2 record that ultimately earned the Wild the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

    After upsetting the St. Louis Blues, the Wild were swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Dubnyk was rewarded for his bounce-back season with nominations for both the Vezina and Masterton Trophies.

    Market Value: That Vezina nomination is a big deal. Dubnyk's competitors for the best goalie award, Carey Price and Pekka Rinne, carry cap hits of $6.5 million and $7 million a year respectively.

    Given the success of the partnership in Minnesota, it makes sense for the Wild to try to re-sign Dubnyk. ESPN's Pierre LeBrun warns that other teams might be willing to offer more money than what the Wild will have available in their current salary-cap situation.

    Any team that signs Dubnyk to a fat multi-year deal runs the risk that, when the clock strikes midnight, he'll turn back into the goaltender he was during five seasons in Edmonton, where his goals-against average was a pedestrian 2.88 and his save percentage was .910, per Hockey Reference.

    After his late-season surge, Ottawa Senators' upstart Andrew Hammond earned himself a three-year deal with a cap hit of $1.35 million per season. Dubnyk has been around the NHL a lot longer, but his situation is not too dissimilar. Anything north of $3 million and three years will be an overpayment.

    Unless otherwise noted, stats and trade details are courtesy of HockeyDB. Contract information from General Fanager.

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