5 NHL Free Agents That Will Be Overvalued This Offseason

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistJuly 13, 2021

5 NHL Free Agents That Will Be Overvalued This Offseason

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    The 2021 NHL free-agent period begins at noon ET on Wednesday, July 28. Despite the salary cap expected to remain at $81.5 million for 2021-22, players who are eligible to become unrestricted free agents will still hope to cash in.

    A flurry of signings usually occurs during the opening days of free agency as general managers attempt to outbid each other to land the best available talent. That can sometimes result in players getting contracts worth more than their actual worth.

    Recent examples include the Florida Panthers signing goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year, $70 million contract, the Nashville Predators inking center Matt Duchene to a seven-year, $56 million deal and the Vancouver Canucks inking defenseman Tyler Myers to a five-year, $30 million contract. Their performances since signing those contracts haven't matched what they're being paid.

    Those contracts were signed before COVID-19 led to two shortened seasons affecting league revenue and the salary cap. Even under a flattened salary cap, however, some general managers could succumb to auction fever in the free-agent market.

    Here's a look at five players likely to be overvalued in this summer's free-agent market and why that could happen. Feel free to express your views on this in the comments section.

Phillip Danault, Montreal Canadiens

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    Phillip Danault played a crucial role in the underdog Montreal Canadiens' surprising march to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. Centering their shutdown line, he was their top penalty-killing forward and faceoff specialist.

    Prior to this season, Danault had a well-earned reputation for his two-way play, reaching or exceeding 40 points three times from 2016-17 to 2019-20. However, the 28-year-old center's offensive numbers dropped this season to just 24 points in 53 games. He also managed just four points in 22 postseason games.

    Danault's strong defensive play could earn him a substantial raise from the Canadiens or another club via free agency. He's completing a three-year contract worth an annual cap hit of $3.08 million. The question is, how much is he truly worth?

    On Feb. 19, the Montreal Gazette's Stu Cowan reported the Canadiens offered Danault a six-year, $30-million contract last fall. That's comparable to what two-way center Jean-Gabriel Pageau earns with the New York Islanders. Danault, however, rejected that offer.

    The decline in Danault's scoring should be a red flag for teams interested in his two-way abilities. Nevertheless, his defensive play in this year's postseason could still draw lucrative offers. On July 9, the Toronto Sun's Michael Traikos speculated he could get around $5.5 million annually.

Tyson Barrie, Edmonton Oilers

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    Traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs by the Colorado Avalanche in the summer of 2019, Tyson Barrie struggled with his new club. Coming off a five-year contract last summer with an annual average value of $5.5 million, he signed a one-year, $3.75 million deal with the Edmonton Oilers.

    That bet on himself paid off well. After seeing his points dip to 39 in 70 games last season in Toronto, the 29-year-old Barrie's production rose to 48 in 56 contests this year. He finished third among Oilers scorers and was the leading point-producer among NHL defensemen.

    Barrie's gaudy offensive numbers can overshadow his ordinary game in his own zone. In his June 12 review of his performance with the Oilers, the Edmonton Journal's Bruce McCurdy pointed out his defensive shortcomings were on display most nights.

    While Barrie has indicated he'd like to stay in Edmonton, he could price himself out of their market. On May 13, TSN's Darren Dreger reported the blueliner seeks a five- or six-year contract. That could send him to the open market.

    If Barrie values term over dollars, a team might be able to land him to a multiyear deal worth around $5 million. His offensive stats, however, could push his value to $6 million annually.

Chris Driedger, Florida Panthers

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    After bouncing between the minors and the NHL since 2014-15 as a backup goaltender, Chris Driedger emerged this season as a full-time NHL player. Appearing in 23 games with the Florida Panthers, the 27-year-old sported a record of 14 wins, six losses and three overtime losses, with a 2.07 goals-against average, a .927 save percentage and three shutouts.

    Driedger also put up better stats this season than Florida starter Sergei Bobrovsky. However, the Panthers have promoted top prospect Spencer Knight into their goalie rotation. Driedger is expected to hit the open market on July 28, where he could land a big increase over his recently completed two-year, $1.7 million contract.

    Teams seeking help between the pipes could find Driedger's strong numbers enticing. On July 8, TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported teams are calling the Panthers about acquiring his rights before July 28. He also wondered if the Seattle Kraken would be interested in selecting Driedger in the upcoming expansion draft.

    The problem, however, is Driedger's limited body of NHL work. He's appeared in just 38 total games with the Panthers and Ottawa Senators. While he performed well this season, there's a danger in investing too much for too long on a goalie who still hasn't fully established himself as a reliable starter.

    In a normal offseason, Driedger could be in line for a two- or three-year deal worth up to $3 million annually. This summer's free-agent market, however, is thin on talented goalies and could get thinner if Tuukka Rask re-signs with the Boston Bruins and Philipp Grubauer stays with the Colorado Avalanche. That could put Driedger in a position to secure a multiyear deal worth over $4.5 million per season.

Zach Hyman, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    An energetic and versatile forward, Zach Hyman worked his way onto the Toronto Maple Leafs top line alongside superstars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. The 29-year-old's solid two-way game will draw considerable interest if he hits the open market on July 28.

    Hyman's completing a four-year contract with an annual average value of $2.25 million. Given his style of play, an ideal comparable would be Tyler Toffoli, who turned 29 on April 24. He inked a four-year deal last fall with the Montreal Canadiens worth $4.25 million annually.

    On April 20, TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported half-a-dozen NHL executives believed Hyman could get between $4.5 million and $5.5 million. LeBrun believes the winger's agent could attempt to compare his client to Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher, who's earning $6.5 million per season.

    Gallagher, however, has six seasons with 40-plus points on his resume, including two with over 30 goals and 50 points. He's also among the Canadiens' leaders as an alternate captain. Hyman hasn't reached those stats or level of leadership with the Leafs.

    The Hyman camp will have difficulty finding teams willing to pay their client a salary similar to Gallagher's. However, they could convince an NHL GM to pay him between $5.5 million and $6 million. It won't be the Leafs if he hopes to stay in Toronto. They have $72.1 million invested in 17 players for 2021-22.

Kyle Palmieri, New York Islanders

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    The 2020-21 regular season wasn't a good one for Kyle Palmieri. A five-time 20-plus goal scorer, the 30-year-old winger managed just eight goals and 17 points with the New Jersey Devils. Shipped to the New York Islanders at the trade deadline, Palmieri had just two goals and four points in 17 regular-season games with his new club.

    During the playoffs, however, Palmieri regained his scoring form. Skating on the third line with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and former Devils teammate Travis Zajac, he scored seven times to tie Brock Nelson as the Islanders' leading goal scorer. He was also among the top-10 in this postseason's goal-scoring leaders.

    A hard-working forward who can skate on either wing, Palmieri's performance in this postseason may have salvaged his stock in the free-agent market. His agent will attempt to sell that effort as proof his client's regular-season numbers were an aberration, the result of playing with a low-scoring rebuilding club in New Jersey.

    Palmieri is completing a five-year deal with an annual average value of $4.65 million. Entering unrestricted free agency for the first time, it's his best chance of landing a significant pay raise on a long-term deal. Given his age, that could mean at most a five-year contract. He's also at the stage in his career where his best seasons could be behind him.

    The decline in his regular-season numbers this season should be cause for concern. That bounce-back effort in the postseason might not be a true indication that he'll return to form with a better club. Still, playoff contenders seeking second or third line scoring depth could be swayed by his playoff effort into paying him over $5.5 million per season.

    Stats via NHL.com. Salary info via Cap Friendly