Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Around the League: 10 UFA Signings who will Outperform their Contract

The general consensus on July 1 was that with a very average talent pool available, many General Managers went overboard, awarding far too generous contracts to only marginal talent. However, there were some deals handed out that day and beyond that we would categorize as belonging to the bargain bin. Thus, today we'll give our picks for 10 UFA contracts around the league that will show to be bargains over the course of this season. Note that this doesn't mean we feel these are the 10 most impactful/best signings, just that they will bring the most value per dollar earned.

10) Sheldon Souray, D, Dallas Stars
1 year, $1.65M

After being bought out by the Edmonton Oilers, it didn't take Sheldon Souray long to find new employment. Now at age 35, certainly Souray's game isn't what it was in Montreal (and even then it had its deficiencies), but comparing it to contracts given out to other aging defensemen, this deal will pay major dividends to the Stars organization. A poor fit in Edmonton led to his playing all of 2010-11 in the AHL, but Souray can bring a lot to an NHL club with his toughness, leadership, and booming point shot. It will be interesting to see how he is used in Dallas, with Stephane Robidas and Alex Goligoski already manning the blueline on the powerplay. Look for a bounce back year from Sheldon to prove that he isn't washed up and his time in Edmonton was simply a bad situation.

9) Zenon Konopka, C, Ottawa Senators
1 year, $700K

Many wanted Konopka with the Habs, myself included, and at this price, he should be a good deal for the Ottawa Senators. Not hugely impactful considering he'll play roughly 10 minutes a night on a fourth line, but an important player who can hit, fight, take face-offs, and kill penalties if needed. If he has a good year in Ottawa, the Sens should be able to draw quite a bit of interest in his services at the trade deadline given that they project to be a non-playoff team this season, and thus the signing should give them a "free" extra draft pick next summer for just $700K. Good value.

8) Matt Gilroy, D, Tampa Bay Lightning
1 year, $1M

It was just 2 years ago in the summer of 2009 that Gilroy was considered a prize college UFA signing by the New York Rangers. New York bench boss John Tortorella is a polarizing character, and playing in the Rangers system may have just been a poor fit for the 6'1" two-way blueliner. Look for a breakout season under Guy Boucher in Tampa as part of a very underrated defense corps on a talented club.

7) Jason Arnott, C, St. Louis Blues
1 year, $2.8M

Like Souray, Arnott's best days are well behind him, but at 36, he is still a far better player than his 24 points in 62 games with the New Jersey Devils last year indicated. For under $3M, depending on the ice and powerplay time he receives on a Blues club filled with offensive forwards, Arnott should top the 50 point mark, making him a great bargain. In St. Louis, he will provide leadership and experience to a young Blues team, but if the youth should struggle, the club should be able to obtain a reasonable asset from a playoff team wanting a 6'5" center with a Stanley Cup ring.

6) Sami Lepisto, D, Chicago Blackhawks
1 year, $750K

I advocated for Montreal to pick up Lepisto after he became a UFA, but in the end one can't fault him for joining a well-restocked Chicago Blackhawks team that had room to spend following the dumping of Brian Campbell's contract on the Florida Panthers. The Finnish defenseman is entering his prime at 26 years of age and while his offensive game hasn't translate at the NHL level, he can play solid minutes with sound play in his own end. While he will be surrounded with other quality defensemen in Chicago, he may surprise and earn a top 4 spot on the blueline if pressed into service, as he is capable of playing upwards of 20 minutes a night.

5) Nicklas Bergfors, RW, Nashville Predators
1 year, $575K

A classic very low risk, potential high reward signing, Bergfors has bounced around the league over the past 2 seasons, with stops in New Jersey, Atlanta, Florida, and now Nashville. Bergfors has shown he's capable of putting up points at the professional level, and the Predators aren't deep in talented offensive forwards (see: last year's team leading scorer, Sergei Kostitsyn) so he will be given a great opportunity to earn an important spot. Plus, as long as he gets powerplay time, he's sure to rack up quite a few helpers with the "pass it to Shea Weber" plan.

4) Jaromir Jagr, RW, Philadelphia Flyers
1 year, $3.3M

A controversial inclusion on the list, no doubt, as many thought the Flyers overpaid in going up to $3.3M to woo Jagr. I will go on record as being a believer that his doubters will be eating crow later this season and that Jagr will have a successful year of 60 or more points. Philadelphia has a lot to justify in terms of their off-season transactions, so they are sure to give Jagr every chance to succeed in trying to prove they made the right decisions. It may also prove to be a great fit since the Flyers have shown they won't tolerate complaining players and off-ice issues, even waiving forward Nikolai Zherdev towards the end of a 16-goal campaign.

3) Simon Gagne, LW, Los Angeles Kings
2 years, $7M

Yes, he's a bit of a risk due to health concerns, but Gagne is a talented sniper who found his game in the playoffs last year scoring 12 points in 15 contests. Twice a 40-goal scorer in Philadelphia, Gagne will be reunited with former Flyer Mike Richards on a Kings team with what has become a scary-looking top 6 up front (Richards, Gagne, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Penner, Dustin Brown, and Justin Williams). Getting back over the 20 goal mark should be a given, and if he can play a full season (which he hasn't since 2008-09, however), 30 is not out of the question, which would make this an awesome steal for Los Angeles.

2) Steve Sullivan, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins
1 year, $1.5M

The diminutive Sullivan has been proving doubters wrong his entire career and after the injury bug struck him again last season, he decided to end his 6 year stint with the Nashville Predators to sign with the Penguins. The 5'9" winger has had success in every city he's played, and which ever center he lines up with in Pittsburgh (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, or Jordan Staal), he should produce beyond the .5 PPG clip he had going last year. At just $1.5M for one season, the Penguins might have added a 20+ goal scorer to give them the offensive depth they sorely lacked when Crosby and Malkin went down last year.

1) Tomas Vokoun, G, Washington Capitals
1 year, $1.5M

The obvious choice as everyone's top signing, Vokoun took well below his true market value to sign with the Washington Capitals in hopes of winning a Stanley Cup. At 35 years of age, the former Habs draft pick has proven he's a top netminder in the league posting save percentages of .920 or better anually on poor Florida Panthers teams. Even after trading Semyon Varlamov, the Capitals will have a logjam in nets this year, and the competition with the young Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth will push Vokoun to be at his best to retain starting duties. While they may have to make a move at some point to manage their salary cap situation, Washington has a deep team and has shored up both their blueline and goaltending, making them an early favourite for a deep playoff run.

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