2015 NHL Free Agency: Ranking the Best Value Signings So Far
Last summer, Devan Dubnyk's career was at an all-time low. He'd bounced from team to team, posting the worst numbers of his career, and he had gone from incumbent No. 1 NHL goalie to the minor leagues. His contract was up; his future was in doubt.
The Arizona Coyotes decided to take a chance. They signed him to a lowball contract, a one-year deal at $800,000, under a quarter of what he had made the year before.
It was a smashing success. The Coyotes flipped him to Minnesota in midseason for a draft pick thanks to some early success, and that's when Dubnyk really took off. At the end of the year, he received a significant number of votes for several major awards, even finishing ahead of Sidney Crosby in Hart Trophy voting for the NHL MVP.
His success is a good reminder that it sometimes pays to shop around in free agency.
With that in mind, we decided to look at some of the cheap free agents signed on July 1 to find the best bargains. "Cheap" for our purposes means an annual cap hit of no more than $2 million and a term of no more than two seasons. We looked for players who qualified as good bets, in other words capable not just of performing up to their deals but also potentially exceeding them.
Which teams found the most promising free agents without digging deep into their pockets? Read on for our list.
9. Jhonas Enroth, Los Angeles Kings
The Deal: One year, $1.25 million cap hit
2014-15 Stats Line: 50 games, 18-26-2 record, 0.904 save percentage
Summary: One of the NHL's few goalies under six feet tall, Jhonas Enroth has a distinguished record over his 131-game NHL career. His career numbers are reasonably solid, and he found his way into a career-high 50 contests last season. He'll replace Martin Jones as the understudy to Jonathan Quick and should provide the Kings with solid backup work for a low price.
He'd have figured in higher on this list if the Kings had been able to secure him for more than one year at this price, but even on a one-season contract, this was a nice signing.
8. Viktor Tikhonov, Chicago Blackhawks
The Deal: One year, $1.04 million cap hit
2014-15 Stats Line: 49 games, eight goals, 24 points (KHL)
Summary: This is exactly the kind of cheap gamble that makes sense for a Chicago Blackhawks team struggling to get itself on the right side of the NHL salary cap.
Viktor Tikhonov, a third-generation hockey player—both his father and grandfather were also coaches, so he's as blue-blooded a player as can be imagined—is a solid two-way presence. He doesn't have high-end scoring ability, which knocks him down a little on this list, but he's a diligent defensive forward and can chip in at the offensive end of the rink.
If all pans out, he could be a very capable third-liner for the Blackhawks.
7. Matt Hunwick, Toronto Maple Leafs
The Deal: Two years, $1.2 million cap hit
2014-15 Stats Line: 55 games, two goals, 11 points, +5.07 Relative Corsi
Summary: Matt Hunwick was one of the best bargains in the NHL last season, working himself out of the minors and up the Rangers' depth chart. Even at twice last year's $600,000 salary, he's a pretty nice bet.
Hunwick played third-pairing even-strength minutes, getting plenty of shifts in the offensive zone and not too much exposure to opposition stars. Even when we allow for that, though, his underlying numbers were excellent—far above the average posted on a very good team.
If he's nothing more than a reasonable No. 5, he'll be a good buy at this price and might just surprise in an expanded role.
6. Mark Arcobello, Toronto Maple Leafs
The Deal: One year, $1.1 million
2014-15 Stats Line: 77 games, 17 goals, 31 points
Summary: It's pretty hard for an undrafted 5'8" forward to work his way up from the ECHL to the NHL, but Mark Arcobello managed it by doing a little bit of everything.
Despite his frame, he's a surprisingly physical forward, equally willing to take and make a hit. He plays the game with a defensive conscience, wins his share of faceoffs (and is a right shot, which doesn't hurt) and is capable of killing penalties. He's a reasonably good skater, has strong playmaking vision and some decent offensive skills.
Bouncing between four NHL teams, he managed to produce last season. He is one of several cheap, short-term bets made by a bargain-hunting Maple Leafs team on July 1.
5. Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders
The Deal: Two years, $1.5 million cap hit
2014-15 Stats Line: 20 games, 9-6-3 record, 0.908 save percentage
Summary: Thomas Greiss had a bit of an off year in Pittsburgh, but he was still a capable No. 2 to Marc-Andre Fleury. Now, he'll fill the same position behind Jaroslav Halak with the Islanders. Even if he doesn't bounce back to his previous level of play, New York will have a reasonable No. 2. If he performs the way he did in San Jose and Arizona, he may even be able to push Halak for playing time.
Of the goalies signed Wednesday, Greiss may have the most potential, as he posted the best adjusted save percentage numbers over the past three seasons of anyone in the group. He also comes with a bit more risk, however, simply owing to a shorter NHL resume than his peers.
4. Cody Hodgson, Nashville Predators
The Deal: One year, $1.05 million cap hit
2014-15 Stats Line: 78 games, six goals, 13 points
Summary: Cody Hodgson joined the Buffalo Sabres as an impressive young centre with a bright future. During his four seasons with the team, his performance declined to the point that he was discarded despite their desperate need to scrounge up talent wherever it can.
Hodgson, still just 25, conjured impressive seasons not too far in the rear-view mirror. He scored 20 goals in 2013-14 and managed 34 points in just 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. Nashville has taken him in, giving him a shot at rehabilitation.
If it works, the Predators could have a really impressive talent on their hands. If it doesn't, the expenditure involved is so minor that it almost won't matter.
3. Michal Neuvirth, Philadelphia Flyers
The Deal: Two years, $1.625 million cap hit
2014-15 Stats Line: 32 games, 7-20-4, 0.914 save percentage
Summary: Michal Neuvirth is 27 years old and still in the prime of his career. He's spent time as a starting goalie, notably in Washington, and his career numbers suggest he's capable of assuming the No. 1 reins whenever there's a need. Steve Mason had some health problems last year, so this gives Philly some much-needed insurance.
There's also a decent chance that the Flyers will have the option to flip Neuvirth to some team in goalie trouble down the line. His cap hit will certainly be attractive in a trade if they decide to go that route.
2. Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, Toronto Maple Leafs
The Deal: One year, $1.5 million cap hit
2014-15 Stats Line: 56 games, eight goals, 22 points
Summary: The Toronto Maple Leafs are betting $1.5 million that they know something Michel Therrien doesn't. It's a pretty reasonable bet.
Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau ended up in the Montreal coach's doghouse despite some sterling numbers. The Canadiens did a better job both out-shooting and out-creating the opposition when he was on the ice. His five-on-five scoring number wasn't bad, either. At 1.56 points/hour, Parenteau contributed at a pretty average second-line rate—and last season was an off year for him.
There's very little chance Toronto regrets this one. Parenteau's wage isn't high; even if he's bumped to the fourth line, he'll be cheaper than a number of players hired for that role Wednesday. His potential upside as a competent second-line winger is well worth that risk.
1. Viktor Stalberg, New York Rangers
The Deal: One year, $1.1 million cap hit
2014-15 Stats Line: 25 games, two goals, 10 points
Summary: A year from now, we might look back at this as the best signing of free agency.
Viktor Stalberg's presence on the free-agent market takes some explaining. In three of the last four seasons, he's topped 2.0 points/hour at even strength, a feat that only 66 NHL players managed last year. He even did it almost entirely on the back of goals and primary assists.
Unfortunately, the exception was a brutal first season in Nashville. Though he played well in 2014-15, he never really got a fair crack at rehabilitating himself with the organization.
Nashville's loss is likely New York's gain. Just 29 years old, the 6'3", 210-pound Stalberg has a lot of qualities that should make him useful to the Rangers.