Ryan Dadoun

In The Crease

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Best & Worst FA Signings

Friday, July 15, 2011

Now that the bulk of free agent activity has subsided let's take a look at the top five best and worst signings of the off-season to date.

The Bad

5. Brooks Laich

Contract: six years/$27 million
Annual Cap Hit: $4.5 million cap hit

At the time of writing, the Capitals are hovering at the cap ceiling and it's because of contracts like Laich's. It's not that Laich is a bad player. He gets 50-60 points a season, is physical, and an all-around decent second liner. He's just not worth a $4.5 million cap hit.
Secondary scoring is important, but the Capitals could have survived without Laich. They could have rolled the dice on someone in the bargain bin – if not this year than next – and been fine. On the other hand, this is one of those cases where I don't really mind the length of the contract. Six years seems like a long time for a secondary player, but he's only 28 and has played in 73 or more games in each of the last six seasons. If you're going to hand out a long-term but still not heavily frontloaded contract to someone, it might as well be a player like Laich. If the annual salary was about $1 million lower, this contract wouldn't even be on my radar.

Unfortunately, it only gets worse…

4. Jaromir Jagr

Contract: one year/$3.3 million
Annual Cap Hit: $3.3 million

Obviously, the risk is minimized by it being just a one-year deal, but I still have trouble believing that Jagr will live up to this contract. Previous NHL players who have attempted to make the jump back to North America after even a year in the KHL have failed to impress and they weren't nearly as old or as far removed from the NHL.

Yes, Jagr's a five-time Art Ross Trophy winner and yes, we witnessed some ageless wonders last season like Teemu Selanne and Nicklas Lidstrom, but Lidstrom and Selanne weren't attempting to return to the NHL after a three-year absence. In the KHL, Jagr has been good, but his numbers aren't awe inspiring. Jagr had 51 points in 49 games last season, which might be more impressive if Jiri Hudler didn't post 54 points in 54 KHL contests in 2009-10 before recording 37 points with Detroit last season. It might have helped Jagr's case if Nikita Filatov – who is still struggling to earn a roster spot in the NHL – wasn't also close to a point-per-game player during his KHL stint in 2009-10.
That being said, the worst part about this contract is the fact that it was the Philadelphia Flyers that signed him. The Flyers had to make tough sacrifices and bold trades to stay under the cap in order to sign goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, and then they turn around and overpay for Jaromir Jagr?

Look for him to get about 30-40 points this season, or about half the points of Jeff Carter, whose cap hit is about $2 million more.

3. James Wisniewski

Contract: six years/$33 million
Annual Cap Hit: $5.5 million

I get the feeling I dislike this contract less than other people. I agree $33 million is a lot of money for a player who has only really had one great season, but at least that season was in 2010-11. At least he's not being paid for his now distant successes like some of the others on this list. However, I can't deny this is a big gamble.

The annual salary only makes sense if he can consistently reach the 50-point marker from this point onward, but what really bothers me about this contract is its length. Let's say 2010-11 was not a breakout season, but a fluke. Let's say the 20-30 points he produced in 2007-08 to 2009-10 is a better indication of his talent and that in 2011-12, he's going to fall back down to Earth. In that scenario, the Columbus Blue Jackets – a team that can't really afford to be wasting money – will be forced to try and work around his massive contract for the next six years.
This is just one of those contracts where the risk is too high.

2. Ed Jovanovski

Contract: four years/$16.5 million
Annual Cap Hit: $4.125 million

Here's the thing about Florida: I get they had to overpay players. Under normal circumstances, Panthers GM Dale Tallon would have had to overpay veterans to agree to come to a market that hasn't made the playoffs in a decade, but on top of that, Florida had to find a way to get above the league floor. So my problem with Jovanovski's contract isn't really the cap hit – although it's still very bad – it's the length. Jovanovski is 35 and he's missed significant chunks of the last two seasons. He's coming off a career-worst 14 point campaign. Where's the sense in giving him a four year contract?

Of all the bad contracts handed out this summer, Jovanovski might end up giving the least return per dollar over the life of it. If it wasn't for the fact that Florida needed to sign bad contracts, I might have called it the summer's worst deal. Then again, maybe not because there is one huge albatross out there…

1. Andrei Markov

Contract: three years/$17.25 million
Annual Cap Hit: $5.75 million

I don't think I can properly emphasize how absurd I find this contract without giving you an example of how this would look in reverse. Let's say Markov didn't get hurt in either of the last two seasons and let's say Montreal had won the Stanley Cup in 2008-09 (just go with it), but finished last in the Eastern Conference in 2009-10 and 2010-11. Then they asked Markov to sign for a huge discount under the assumption that the Canadiens will win the Stanley Cup every season over the life of his contract.

That's how I feel this contract works. The Canadiens signed Markov under the assumption that his last two years could never be repeated and that he is still a consistent 50-60 point per season player. That might prove to be true, but this contract only makes sense under that best case scenario. You can find examples of this throughout pro sports, where a player has a terrible year or two before his contract expires and a team, seeing his potential, decides to sign him as if those years never happened. Sometimes it works out, but it seems like most bad contracts are born as a result of someone not adequately weighing the possibility that things might not work out perfectly. Let's hope for the Canadiens' sake that Markov ends up making this contract look, well, acceptable, because that's as good as it could possibly look.

Of course with the 2011 market prices being as inflated as they were, you might be tempted to think the best signings were the ones your team didn't make. However, several franchises proved that even in a bad market like this year's, there are deals out there.

The Good

5. Christian Ehrhoff

Contract: 10 years/$40 million
Annual Cap Hit: $4 million

Wait, come back. I'm not going to say Ehrhoff is worth $18 million over a two-year period because frankly, even in this market, I don't think that's true. I'm also not going to tell you he'll be great over the length of his 10 year contract, because again, I don't believe that he will be.

What I will say is that a $4 million annual cap hit for Ehrhoff is a steal, especially after going over some of this year's bad contracts. Yes, it was only accomplished by heavily frontloading the contract and that might displease some fans and NHL personnel, but you can't fault the Sabres for playing within the existing rules. Teams frontload contracts because it works. It allows a superstar like Ehrhoff to get his big payday while avoiding a superstar sized cap hit.
These contracts might not be nearly as effective in the next CBA, but for now, why should teams deny themselves access to a winning formula?

4. Alex Tanguay

Contract: five years/$17.5 million
Annual Cap Hit: $3.5 million

While we can't say we agree with the length of this contract, the cap hit is easy on the eyes. In a year where secondary players were getting $4-5 million annual cap hits, the Flames managed to lock up a player who should be a mainstay on their first line for $3.5 million per season.

Tanguay hasn't been a point-per-game player for a while, but he meshed well with Jarome Iginla last season, which led to him scoring 22 goals and 69 points in 79 contests. We have no trouble seeing him doing that again in 2011-12, but even if he regresses a bit, we still like this contract for Calgary.

3. Simon Gagne

Contract: two years/$7 million
Annual Cap Hit: $3.5 million

In a world where all things were equal, this is the contract Andrei Markov would have gotten. Gagne, like Markov, is a terrific player whose performance was hindered in recent years due to injuries. However, while Markov will be paid under the assumption that he will play in 246 regular season games over the next three years, the Kings actually got a pretty decent discount when they signed Gagne.

At $7 million over the next two seasons, this contract doesn't look that bad even if Gagne spends some time on the sidelines. At the same time, if Gagne stays healthy and returns to his point-per-game form, then Gagne will prove to be one of the biggest steals of the summer. On top of that, this is a great fit for the Kings, who are now looking like a serious playoff contender after nabbing Gagne and Mike Richards this summer.

2. Ian White

Contract: two years/$5.75 million
Cap Hit: $2.875 million

See? It is possible to get great, complementary players without surrendering big chunks of your cap pie. The Detroit Red Wings entered the free agent market with money to burn, but they correctly shied away from the early frenzy. Once things calmed down a bit, they were still able to nab Ian White for two years.
White recorded 38 points in 2009-10, but he ended up with just 26 points last season. That being said, the fact that he played for three teams over the course of the season could have been a contributing factor. We expect White to bounce back in 2011-12, but the important thing is that the contract will still look fine even if he simply repeats last season's performance.

Under normal circumstances we might have called the White signing the steal of the summer, but there was one very unusual signing this year…

1. Tomas Vokoun

Contract: one year/$1.5 million
Annual Cap Hit: $1.5 million

It's not every day you get a star player who had a great contract year to agree to a play for $1.5 million, but that's what happened to the Capitals. Vokoun had a 2.55 GAA and .922 save percentage in 57 starts with Florida last season, but his GAA should go down with the Capitals.

You could argue that this signing doesn't really make Washington that much better, given that Michal Neuvirth was solid last season and Braden Holtby has demonstrated he's ready to serve as a backup goaltender. I would argue the Capitals got a proven veteran goaltender for very little money (in the context of sports contracts). He gives Washington a ton of depth in the goaltending department, he provides Neuvirth with a mentor, he allows for Holtby to spend more time developing in the minors, he performs as well as almost anyone else in the league between the pipes, and then in a year, he's gone.

That's perhaps the best part of this deal from Washington's standpoint. It's not like Philadelphia's situation, where they had a promising young goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky and then essentially abandoned him after 186 subpar playoff minutes by signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year deal. Vokoun's contract will expire at the end of the 2011-12 seaosn, which will allow Washington's two young goaltenders to take over the reins with a little more experience than they would have otherwise had.

Ryan Dadoun is an Associate Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him on Twitter or check out his blog.
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