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THN's top 25 unrestricted free agents

Free agency opens tomorrow, and THN breaks down which players offer the best value and which players you should hope your favorite team stays away from. While there may not be many big-name players available on July 1, one good signing -- or one bad signing -- could change a team's fate for the upcoming campaign.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

It’s July 1st and your phone beeps. It’s a Twitter notification. ___________ (insert your favorite team here) has just signed Player X. At first there’s excitement, because Player X is awesome (and also mysterious), but then comes the dread: ‘how much did this cost?’ Once you find out the cost, then comes the inevitable, ‘is he worth it?’ And that’s the most important question to ask during the free agent frenzy. Luckily for you, we here at THN have the answer. We compared every UFA contract signed over the past two seasons under the new CBA (as well as new extensions that kicked in during that time frame) to a player’s value, measured in wins above replacement (an all-in-one stat

developed by war-on-ice.com), to get a sense of how much that value is worth.

WAR tends to fluctuate every season, so in order get a stable estimate of true talent going forward we used WAR (prorated to 82 games) in the three seasons prior to signing the contract, weighted those seasons accordingly, and then adjusted for a likely age-based decline. Keep in mind that the projected value is for year one of the contract only and it will likely drop as a player gets older, which means the contract will get worse as the player ages. It’s also important to split forwards and defensemen here because the two accrue wins at very different rates. (Goalies were ignored because they’re strange beings that nobody really understands).

Now that we have a baseline for how much a player should be paid, we can see how much this year’s crop should get based on their projected value. We can then compare that to expected market value thanks to this recent study (http://puckplusplus.com/2015/06/28/predicting-free-agent-salaries/) to gauge which players will likely be over- or undervalued. Below you’ll find the top 25 free agents available based on a list that was curated by THN associate editor Matt Larkin along with relevant numbers and their expected value.

Here are a few guys who stand out from that list based on the numbers:

Potentially Undervalued

Paul Martin: A one-win D-man is hard to find and Martin has essentially done it for three years straight despite the low point totals. The WAR value is, admittedly, a little crazy here, but he’s well worth at least market value. The big concern is that he already seems to be in decline, but on a short-term deal he’ll be a terrific top-4 addition.

Eric Fehr: He’s only expected to get around $2.7 million thanks to low boxcars, but it would be a steal based on what he brings to the table. Possession is down this year, but he’s been a positive player for most of his career.

Jiri Tlusty: He’s still only 26 and is just two seasons removed from an almost 0.8 points-per-game campaign so he could blossom in the right situation as he was under-utilized in Carolina. He’s top five in possession among the top guys available.

Could Go Either Way

Matt Beleskey: Had a phenomenal season, but it was way above his career norm, which means he’ll likely regress next season. On one hand, players with his numbers have received contracts in the neighbourhood of $3.5 million which would be a great deal – and at 26, don’t expect a David Clarkson-like fall either. But on the other hand, he’s already turned down a very fair $4 million per season from the Ducks.

Michael Frolik: He’s had consistently solid point totals and great possession rates that have led to some decent WAR numbers, but it’s getting to the point where he was so undervalued that he becomes overvalued in a second. A team that falls too hard for him will likely overpay handsomely for his services.

Potentially Overvalued

Martin St. Louis: Has stayed at a consistent WAR pace even into his late 30’s, but his play in the playoffs makes it seem like that will likely change as an age-based drop-off is inevitable. He’ll likely be one of the highest paid forwards, too.

Chris Stewart: His tremendous fall from grace over the past couple of seasons makes it difficult to understand why he’s so coveted, but he’s still young enough to turn it around. Regardless, he’s likely not worth the risk.

Antoine Vermette: He’s been in a steady decline for a few years now and is now posting poor possession with iffy point totals to go with it. He likely only provides marginal value at this point and isn’t worth anywhere near the price tag he’ll fetch.

Stay Away From

Francois Beauchemin: Whether it was just one poor season that was plagued by injuries that’s dragging him down, or a sign of things to come, it’s probably best to just stay away from the 34-year-old rearguard who will likely fetch more than $4 million per season.

Drew Stafford: The only player on the list who’s been below replacement level every season. The 43 points in 70 games is nice, sure, but there’s another side of the game that Stafford struggles with and that brings his overall value way down.

[Editor's Note: The Winnipeg Jets and Drew Stafford, the 16th ranked player on the UFA list, agreed to a two-year, $8.7 million contract Tuesday afternoon.]

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

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