While winners and losers of free agency can’t be determined until the puck is dropped come October, advanced statistics can help us discover which teams have improved the most – or the least – through off-season acquisitions. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be another down year for the Buffalo Sabres.
It’s been nearly two weeks since free agency opened and most of the big fish have landed, which means it’s time to evaluate the winners and losers of free agency. There’s still some great players out there that can help teams, but the bulk of signings have already been made so right now is a perfect time to see how each team has done so far. Usually, grading a team’s offseason in July is a fool’s errand because a lot of things will change during the season, but with recent advances in hockey analytics, it’s possible to get a reasonable estimation. Just like our post before free agency began, we used wins above replacement from war-on-ice.com over the last three seasons to project what a player will do next season. Using our off-season movement tracker, we looked at who’s in and who’s out for each team and added up their WAR totals to get wins added (or lost) from this offseason. Of course, wins aren’t everything in the offseason, especially in a salary cap league. The value of the wins added is important too. With that in mind, here’s all 30 teams’ wins added compared to how much salary they added. Above the red line means a team got less for their money, while below means teams got more.
(Keep in mind that WAR is generally skewed towards forwards and goalies so a team that added a big-time D-man, like Calgary, won’t look as great as they should here).
Here’s a closer look at three winners and three losers based on that during this offseason.
Buffalo Sabres In:
Ryan O’Reilly, Jack Eichel, David Legwand, Robin Lehner, Jamie McGinn Out:
Mikhail Grigorenko, Cody Hodgson, Nikita Zadorov, Anders Lindback
4.41 wins added Finding a first line center is something that some teams spend years searching for. Buffalo added two within the span of one hour. Adding Ryan O’Reilly and Jack Eichel to your franchise is a big deal and it stabilizes the Sabres down the middle for years to come. Replacing Anders Lindback with Robin Lehner is a huge plus too. Despite all these great moves, it’s still likely the Sabres are awful for at least one more season, but it’s still a big step in the right direction.
San Jose In:
Joel Ward, Paul Martin, Martin Jones Out:
Antti Niemi, Matt Irwin, John Scott
3.30 wins added The Sharks lost and added a notable player at each position, and in doing so, made an upgrade at each one. At forward they turned one of the worst players in the league (Scott) into a serviceable one (Ward). On defense they lost a cheap, good defender in Irwin, but there’s little doubt Martin is an upgrade. And in net they added Jones who has a tiny resume, but decent potential to be better than an aging, below-replacement-level Niemi. All that adds up to an extra three wins which should push the Sharks back into the playoffs, and it only cost just over $5 million, too.
Nick Spaling, P.A. Parenteau, Daniel Winnik, Mark Arcobello, Matt Hunwick, Martin Marincin, Shawn Matthias Out:
1.87 wins added In past years, you’d be more likely to find Toronto on the other side of this list, but new management means business. The Kessel trade return was pretty medicore, sure, but they’ve passed free agency with flying colours. They went after undervalued players like P.A. Parenteau and Mark Arcobello and signed them to cheap, one-year deals. It’s a brilliant low-risk strategy that means they can resign for more if they prove themselves in a larger role (a la Daniel Winnik), or they can be flipped at the deadline for draft picks. That’s big for a rebuilding team that already has 11 draft picks for next year.
Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes
Brad Richardson, Zbynek Michalek, Anders Lindback, Antoine Vermette, Steve Downie, Boyd Gordon, Nicklas Grossmann, John Scott Out:
John Moore, Mark Arcobello, Lauri Korpikoski, Sam Gagner
1.97 wins lost It’s hard to give a losing grade to a team that’s clearly rebuilding, but when you look at what Arizona has done this offseason, it’s hard to justify. The Coyotes added eight new bodies to the lineup and between them they stand to lose 1.75 wins (though much of that is from Lindback and Scott alone), which isn’t so bad until you realize that those eight players cost almost $18 million. The four players they cut come in at $8.5 million and are another 0.22 wins lost. That’s almost $10 million extra spent on two lost wins, which is impressively bad.
St. Louis In:
Kyle Brodziak, Troy Brouwer Out:
T.J. Oshie, Barret Jackman, Zbynek Michalek
1.59 wins lost Has anyone figured out why the Blues traded T.J. Oshie for Troy Brouwer? Because if it really was for size, than the Blues haven’t been paying attention. That team in their division that’s always winning Cups? They weren’t built on size and that won’t be how you beat them either. Oshie is a terrific player who’s gotten a bit overrated lately, yes, but the Blues are getting a lot less in Brouwer for only $500,000 in savings. They aren’t any closer to the Cup after that trade.
Mark Bartkowski, Brandon Prust Out:
Zack Kassian, Eddie Lack, Shawn Matthias, Brad Richardson, Kevin Bieksa
1.92 wins lost There’s a key theme here among the offseason losers and it’s “what are you doing?” Here’s what the Canucks did. They traded a decent player and a draft pick for a worse player who costs more. Their only signing was a below-replacement level defensemen. They traded their popular goalie who stole the starting job for magic beans (again). And they let go one of their most efficient scorers on a per-minute basis who was one of the few assets left from one of their star goalie-for-magic beans trades. All those shenanigans means the Canucks lost about two wins in talent this offseason which is probably enough to push them out of the playoffs.
Colorado Avalanche, Anaheim Ducks Here’s a complete look at how every team did this offseason based on WAR and how much money they spent in the process.