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Five free agents who should be signed with caution

Signing season has a tendency to get out of control and the annual arms race sees some teams hand out contracts that blow up in their faces. Getting into bidding wars for these five players or overpaying for their services could be a disaster.

At some point this off-season, it seems certain the Vancouver Canucks will move on from Loui Eriksson. Likewise, few would be surprised to see the Edmonton Oilers do what they can to move out Milan Lucic. Then there’s some consideration about what to do with Andrew Ladd if you’re the New York Islanders, and the Boston Bruins, with some future free agent concerns, are probably looking at their options with David Backes.

Sitting on the potential-chopping block, however, isn’t the only thing those four high-priced veterans have in common. They also all inked deals with their respective clubs in July 2016 despite a feeling among some heading into that pre-2016-17 campaign signing season that teams looking to sign any of the four should be awfully cautious. To that point, each had been solid producers, but Father Time waits for no one, and age, style of play and an evolving NHL has caught up with each. Eriksson, 33, is nowhere near the scorer he was before landing in Vancouver. Backes, 35, was a healthy scratch at times this season, including in the Stanley Cup final. Ladd, 33, has battled injuries. And Lucic, 31, has been relegated to fourth-line duty.

That said, the cautionary tale that is the 2016 free agency period goes beyond those four, so maybe it’s not fair to single them out. Mikkel Boedker was signed to a four-year deal with the San Jose Sharks that fell flat, and he’s since been moved to the Ottawa Senators. Kyle Okposo has had injury trouble, but even when healthy, he hasn’t lived up to his high-priced deal. Troy Brouwer’s four-year deal with the Calgary Flames was a disaster, too, and he was bought out after two seasons. Not great.

There aren’t many players on the upcoming free agent market who should be approached with the same amount of caution as that 2016 class – particularly in hindsight – should have, which is to say no players who enter this summer with clear big-money bust potential. But there are a few players teams over whom teams should be wary of getting into bidding wars:

Wayne Simmonds, 30, RW
A hot commodity at the past trade deadline, Simmonds had suitors before the Philadelphia Flyers shipped him off to the Nashville Predators for Ryan Hartman and a conditional draft choice. But a series of down seasons culminated with an ugly performance in Music City as Simmonds scored one goal and three points in 17 games with the Predators before falling injured in Game 2 of Nashville’s first-round series.

In the past, Simmonds’ size and scoring touch have been the hallmarks of his game, and while the former isn’t disappearing anytime sooner, the latter has faded fast in recent years. After a career-best 32-goal, 60-point season in 2015-16, Simmonds has since had seasons of 31 goals and 54 points, 24 goals and 46 points and managed just 17 goals and 30 points last season. That’s three consecutive dips in production. That should make any team think twice before paying too handsomely to land Simmonds.

Alex Chiasson, 28, RW
Chiasson falls into the Brouwer category far more than he does a grouping with Lucic or Backes. At no point has Chiasson been considered the star of this free agent class, and he’s a very clear second-tier pickup. However, if you think for one second there isn’t going to be a GM or two or three who kicks the tires on Chiasson, who scored 22 goals and 38 points last season, you’re in for a surprise. Trouble is, the GM who signs Chiasson is probably in for one, too.

Last season, Chiasson’s most common linemates were Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid. Next season, unless he lands back in Edmonton, chances are his most common linemates will not be of the same caliber. Chiasson is likely viewed as a steady middle-six scorer, and he can probably provide some juice to the middle of a lineup, but this past season was his first 20-goal campaign in seven big-league seasons and he had never scored 15 goals in one season prior to the 2018-19 campaign. If anyone pays upwards of $3 million, it’s a deal that they’re going to want to get off the books in short order.

Brandon Tanev, 27, LW
There’s a lot to Tanev’s game that is going to make him a coach’s favorite. He’s fast, he’s physical and he chips in offensively. And on his last pact, that made him the perfect bottom-six player. He earned $1.15 million on a one-year deal with the Winnipeg Jets last season and set himself up for success on the free agent market with a career-best 14 goals and 29 points in 80 games. That is good news for Tanev, who is probably going to get a raise into the $2.5-million or $3-million range.

The concern here is that there’s significant potential for such a signing to turn out similar to the Antoine Roussel or Jay Beagle deal in Vancouver last summer. Tanev has all the same in-your-face elements and is a player who, as the old guard would say, plays the game the right way. But he also has 24 goals and 51 points in 195 career games and had 10 goals in 102 games prior to last season’s 14-goal output. At a certain number, Tanev brings good value. But at the price he’s likely to command? There’s a much bigger chance the word “overpayment” gets thrown around.

Tyler Myers, 29, D
If the league didn’t suffer from a temporary bout of insanity every July 1, then maybe Myers wouldn’t be on this list. Probably he wouldn’t, actually. But do yourself a favor and check in on the scuttlebutt surrounding a possible Myers contract this off-season. Some reports have a potential deal falling in the $7-million range per season. Others are upwards of that. If he came in at $7.5 million, Myers would be tied with Aaron Ekblad as the 11th-highest paid rearguard in the league.

Now, let’s give that some context. Over his past six seasons, Myers has scored at about a 10-goal, 32-point rate. He has averaged 22 minutes per night. But he has not for a second been confused with one of the top-10 defensemen in the NHL. Ignoring every base and advanced metric, consider this: Myers hasn’t received a single vote for the Norris Trophy over that time. Not even a fifth-place nod. There are other, better ways to measure a defenseman’s talent, but that’s indicative of where Myers falls into the hierarchy of NHL rearguards.

Semyon Varlamov, 31, G
In a goaltending market that is headlined by Sergei Bobrovsky, there’s not a lot of spotlight to be shared with the other masked men. That includes Varlamov, who has flown somewhat under the radar as we inch closer to July 1. However, Varlamov is certain to draw interest around the league from teams seeking keepers. The Carolina Hurricanes, for instance, are still without a clear-cut No. 1 netminder. The Flames have yet to ink a starter, and Jon Gillies is the only potential NHL goaltender under contract for next season. The Oilers could use some help in the blue paint, as well. There’s sure to be another suitor or two at some point, as well.

That’s where Varlamov, fresh off a deal that carried a $5.9-million cap hit, comes in. But there should be some concern as it pertains to the former Vezina Trophy runner-up and fourth-place Hart Trophy finisher. Over the past four seasons, consistency hasn’t been his strong suit, injuries have been a near constant and his play has been decidedly mediocre. Granted, he played in Colorado and the Avalanche weren’t known for stingy defense. His name value screams big bucks, but his play hasn’t shown he’s worth it.

(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)

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