The Most Overrated and Underrated NHL Free Agents Still Available

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistJuly 7, 2016

The Most Overrated and Underrated NHL Free Agents Still Available

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The cupboards are just about bare when it comes to opportunities for NHL teams to shore up their rosters with unrestricted free agents.

    Sportsnet Stats reported NHL general managers set a single-day record on July 1, dishing out $616.2 million worth of contracts to 129 players. That includes some players who will be in the minors next season, but considering the total active rosters for all 30 NHL teams is only 690 players during the regular season, it's a mind-blowing amount of work to get done in a 24-hour period.

    The bottom line is that, less than one week later, there aren't many options available for teams that have salary-cap space available and are still looking to plug holes. 

    Here's a look at the most overrated and underrated unrestricted free agents who are still on the market. Players were selected based on their past performances and projections moving forward.

Overrated: Kris Russell

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Previous Contract Status: Two-year contract with cap hit of $2.6 million per season. Signed with the Calgary Flames, who moved him to the Dallas Stars at the 2016 trade deadline.

    2015-16 Stats:

    • With Flames: 51 GP, 4 G, 11 A
    • With Stars: 11 GP, 0 G, 4 A

             

    Why He's Overrated

    Back in February, TSN's Bob McKenzie suggested the Flames would need to move Kris Russell at the trade deadline because he'd be looking for a new contract this summer that would rival Jeff Petry of the Montreal Canadiens (five years at $5.5 million) or Jared Spurgeon of the Minnesota Wild (three years at $5.2 million).

    The Dallas Stars paid handsomely to acquire Russell from the Flames at the deadline, giving up defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka, prospect Brett Pollock and what turned out to be a second-round draft pick, as the Stars didn't advance past the second round of the playoffs.

    Back in November of 2015, Jonathan Willis of Sportsnet warned that Russell's advanced statistics are poor. Some blamed him for the Stars' second-round playoff loss to the St. Louis Blues, including Derek Neumeier of Defending Big D, and the Stars made no effort to re-sign him after the playoffs.

    On July 4, TSN's Darren Dreger reported "a few teams" were still in the hunt for Russell's services. If his agent, Allain Roy, is using this time to conduct a bidding war, the winner could end up being sorely disappointed by the outcome.

Underrated: Matt Carle

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    Previous Contract Status: The Tampa Bay Lightning bought out the last two years of Carle's six-year contract, which he signed as an unrestricted free agent during the summer of 2012. It carried a cap hit of $5.5 million.

    2015-16 Stats: 64 GP, 2 G, 7 A

           

    Why He's Underrated

    With the Tampa Bay Lightning desperate for cap space to re-sign Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and others, general manager Steve Yzerman made the decision to cut ties with Matt Carle, now an expensive third-pairing defenseman with a $5.5 million cap hit. 

    Carle's not a bruising presence, and with his 32nd birthday around the corner in September, his agility isn't what it once was. But his coach, Jon Cooper, still leaned on him in the playoffs. Carle now has an impressive 127 games of postseason experience on his resume—tied with "Mr. Game 7" Justin Williams, who is three years older.

    That kind of experience and steady play on the left side would make Carle a solid acquisition on a low-cost, short-term contract for a budget team that's looking to shore up its blue line.

Overrated: Radim Vrbata

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    Derek Leung/Getty Images

    Age: 35

    Previous Contract Status: Two-year contract with a cap hit of $5 million per season. Signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Vancouver Canucks during the summer of 2014.

    2015-16 Stats: 63 GP, 13 G, 14 A

              

    Why He's Overrated 

    Inconsistency, thy name is Radim Vrbata.

    A pure goal scorer, Vrbata is good when he's on his game. Canucks general manager Jim Benning got excellent return on the first year of the $10 million contract he handed out two years ago. Vrbata led his team with 31 goals in 2014-15 and was named the team MVP and most exciting player, per Vancouver's official website.

    But Vrbata's production dried up, especially in the second half of last season. He scored just three goals after Jan. 1 and spent 17 of the last 23 games of the season on the shelf with a lower-body injury.

    Vrbata is skilled enough that he should still be able to produce, and at 35, he's a child compared to his 44-year-old Czech countryman, Jaromir Jagr. But any team that offers up more than a one-year deal will need to be prepared to take the bad with the good when it comes to Vrbata.

Underrated: Dominic Moore

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    Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images

    Age: 35

    Previous Contract Status: Two-year contract with a cap hit of $1.5 million per season. Signed as an unrestricted free agent with the New York Rangers during the summer of 2014.

    2015-16 Stats: 80 GP, 6 G, 9 A

              

    Why He's Underrated

    At the end of the 2013-14 season, Dominic Moore was awarded the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication to hockey. Moore had missed the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season following the death of his wife, Katie, due to liver cancer in January of 2013, per NHL.com.

    Moore returned to hockey on a one-year contract with the Rangers and was an integral part of the team's run to the Stanley Cup Final. For that, he earned the best contract of his journeyman career—two years at a total of $3 million.

    In his Masterton season, Moore scored 18 points, averaged 11:44 of ice time and won 54.6 percent of his faceoffs. He got a new contract and a raise.

    Last season, Moore scored 15 points, averaged 13:18 of ice time and won 55.3 percent of his faceoffs. So far, the Rangers have made no indication that they plan to bring him back.

    Moore will turn 36 in August, but his game hasn't changed. If he wants to keep playing hockey, he'll be his usual reliable self in a checking role for another team next season.

Overrated: Jiri Hudler

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Age: 32

    Previous Contract Status: Four-year contract with cap hit of $4 million per season. Signed with the Calgary Flames, who moved him to the Florida Panthers at the 2016 trade deadline.

    2015-16 Stats:

    • With Flames: 53 GP, 10 G, 25 A
    • With Panthers: 19 GP, 6 G, 5 A

             

    Why He's Overrated

    Jiri Hudler changed the narrative of his career when he scored a career-high 31 goals and finished tied for eighth in NHL scoring in 2014-15. Hudler proved to be a perfect right wing for the Flames' breakout stars, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, and helped vault the Flames to an unexpected playoff spot.

    But Hudler's 76-point campaign was a wild outlier in a career that has seen his better seasons typically tail off in the 50-point range. He may have ridden the coattails of a pair of young linemates whose supreme talents were catching the rest of the league by surprise.

    After he was traded, Hudler was unable to find his groove in the playoffs with the Panthers, managing just a single assist in six postseason games. General managers must take care not to overstate what they're expecting Hudler to bring to their top-six mix.

Underrated: Matt Cullen

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Age: 39

    Previous Contract Status: One-year contract with a cap hit of $800,000. Signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Pittsburgh Penguins during the summer of 2015.

    2015-16 Stats: 82 GP, 16 G, 16 A

             

    Why He's Underrated

    One of the best value signings of the last offseason, Matt Cullen wasn't signed to a contract by the Penguins until August 6 of 2015. Even then, his $800,000 salary wasn't far above the league minimum.

    The Penguins didn't catch fire until the midpoint of the season, but Cullen was a fourth-line anchor down the middle from day one. His 16 goals were his best total since 2009-10, and his 55.7 percent success rate on faceoffs was good enough to rank him 17th in the league among players who had taken at least 400 faceoffs.

    Add in two game-winning goals in the playoffs and the second Stanley Cup of his career, and it was a dream season for Cullen—but not one that looks all that much different from the journeyman's work that he has done throughout his career.

    Cullen's turning 40 in November, but he still skates well—especially considering his age. A savvy general manager could go as far as to give Cullen a raise for next season and offer him a two-year term.

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com. Salary information from General Fanager.

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