On Tuesday night in Columbus, Sam Gagner slunk down the ice in the shootout, threw down a few fakes and fired a puck five-hole on Los Angeles Kings netminder Petr Budaj. Gagner’s goal helped stretch the Blue Jackets’ winning stream to 10 games, and he’s been a somewhat impactful player over that stretch.
The shootout tally was his second of the year, and that in and of itself is helpful to the Blue Jackets, but Gagner has been a fantastic pickup for more than just his shootout specialization. Through 29 games, he has 13 goals and 23 points, is on pace to surpass his previous career-best point total by 15 and during this 10-game winning streak, Gagner has chipped in six goals and 11 points.
And Columbus is getting all of that for the paltry sum of $650,000.
When it comes to good value, signings don’t get much better than that, but not every team has been so lucky, not even when it comes to throwing money around to land the so-called big fish in the free agency pond.
Here are five significant free agent signings who have yet to pay dividends:
5. Dan Hamhuis, Dallas Stars — Two-years, $7.5 million
It was heralded as a smart signing by the Stars: a team in need of defense landed arguably one of the best defenders available. It was a move that made sense, seemed to fill the holes made by the losses of Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers and could have potentially been one that made the Stars, a team that struggled defensively, a more legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
It really hasn’t worked out at all, though.
Hamhuis, a legitimate big-minute defender during his time with the Vancouver Canucks, has been a healthy scratch twice, has sometimes been used in a third-pairing role and his average ice time has dropped by nearly two minutes. He’s starting to see increased ice time, so there’s still time for it to work out, but it’s been rocky at times to start the campaign.
4. Joe Colborne, Colorado Avalanche — Two-years, $5 million
Colborne isn’t someone who many will consider a significant off-season signing, but he was paid handsomely on a two-year free-agent deal with the Avalanche. It made some semblance of sense. The big-bodied center was coming off of his best statistical season — a 19-goal, 44-point year — and was about to enter the prime years of his career as a 26-year-old.
Instead of continuing to score at that pace, though, Colborne has managed just three goals and four points in 25 games, seen relegation to the fourth line and made a healthy scratch three times in the past four weeks.
It’s not purely a Colborne problem as everyone in Colorado is struggling, but the Avalanche expected more from their biggest splash in the free agent market.
3. Dale Weise, Philadelphia Flyers — Four years, $9.4 million
Unlike other players on the list, it’s not the money that makes this deal hurt the Flyers, it’s the term. Four years is a long time to be paying Weise if he’s not going to contribute offensively, and he hasn’t been near the level he was during the early part of 2015-16 with the Montreal Canadiens.
In the early going of the past campaign, he netted 14 goals and 26 points in 56 games with the Habs. His production fell off a cliff as he failed to find a fit with the Chicago Blackhawks post-trade deadline — he scored one goal and two points in 19 games, playoffs included — and that has carried over to Philadelphia. In 29 games, he has managed just two goals and four points, and coach Dave Hakstol has scratched Weise twice this year.
2. Mikkel Boedker, San Jose Sharks — Four years, $16 million
The Arizona Coyotes didn’t really receive a massive return for Boedker. At the end of the day, the only real piece of the deal that has remained in the desert is prospect Kyle Wood, and it’s still too early to tell if he’s going to make the deal worth it.
That said, the early production from Boedker this season doesn’t make it seem like the Coyotes made a poor choice by letting the 27-year-old winger walk. He signed the richest contract of his career to join the Sharks in the off-season, and through 33 games he has only netted two goals and six points.
His production is made worse by the fact he’s often skating in the bottom-six. That’s not what the Sharks picked him up for, and it is looking like an unfortunate signing for a team who could have used some added scoring punch if they hope to return to the Stanley Cup final.
1. Andrew Ladd, New York Islanders — Seven years, $38.5 million
The Islanders chose to replace Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen by inking the veteran Ladd to a big-money deal that would certainly bring them a player with some valuable playoff experience. However, Ladd has had an almost unthinkably tough time thus far in New York, failing to offer much aside from his experience.
Ladd started out the year with just one point — an assist — in his first 12 games, which he followed up with goals in back-to-back games in early November that made it look as if he was turning things around. Another 10-game goalless drought, over which time he managed two assists, has Ladd right back where he started, though.
Over 32 games, he has only managed four goals and seven points, and Ladd is on pace for 10 goals and 18 points. That would be his worst full-season total ever. Oof.
More than half a season remains for Ladd to hit his stride, so there’s still hope yet, but as of right now the deal simply hasn’t worked out for either side.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.