On Thursday, LWOS broke down the 10 WORST signings in this year’s NHL free agency period. In today’s article, we move away from the deals that made some general managers look like amateurs and move onto the moves that made certain general managers look like absolute geniuses.
Whether they took a hometown discount to save their team some money, became a value-type signing or just inked a deal that made sense for both sides, here are the 10 BEST NHL contracts of this year’s Free Agent frenzy:
10. Marcel Goc, Pittsburgh Penguins [1 year, $1.2 million]
The list starts off with a fabulous value signing by the Pittsburgh Penguins. By bringing back the German, Goc continues his role as the 4th line center who kills penalties and wins important face-offs. Last year, in his 12 games with the Penguins, Goc played close to 40% of the short-handed minutes logged by the team. Expect that to go up near the 50% mark, maybe passing it too, in the coming season. Goc has always been reliable in the face-off dot, going 57% when taking draws for the Penguins. He avoids getting hit quite efficiently and can use his own mass to knock down opposing players. Goc is a sturdy 4th liner that you can count on for 5-on-5 play and penalty killing duties.
9. Vernon Fiddler, Dallas Stars [2 Years, $1.25 million AAV]
Another value signing that sees a player stick with his team, Fiddler is back to play on the 4th line in Dallas. Another reliable penalty killer, Fiddler plays a decimal below 40% of his team’s short-handed minutes and logs overall about 13 minutes a game. Fiddler produced 23 points last season, including 6 goals and averaged 6 shots per 60 minutes played over the course of 76 games. In the games he played, Fiddler completed 210 passes that set-up for a shot on goal and 10 of his 17 assists were primary. He isn’t overly physical but he gets the job done in a limited role and provides a smidgen of offense.
8. Manny Malhotra, Montreal Canadiens [1 year, $850k]
This signing, the first of the free agent frenzy, came through almost the moment the clock struck noon. After news earlier revealed the Canadiens were releasing center Ryan White to be a UFA, they picked Malholtra up for a one-year deal that is under a million. Even if he’s not in the line-up on a regular basis, does it matter? Malholtra is an excellent face-off guy, logging close to or over 60% in every year he’s played. Last year, he played close to twice as much on the penalty kill as he did at even strength, but that’s what the Habs need. A stable center for the PK and a guy to take defensive zone face-offs. Both these areas can relieve center Tomas Plekanec of playing more than he should.
7. Brad Richards, Chicago Blackhawks [1 year, $2 million]
At first, Blackhawks fans were dumbfounded by this signing. Why would they need Richards? He’s slow, can’t produce like he used to and he looks to be almost done. Then the contract terms were revealed, and Blackhawks fans did a full 180. At $2 million for just one year, you can’t ask for much better than that. Even if Richards loses his legs like he did with the Rangers and puts up just 50 points or a little less, that’s an absolute steal of a deal. It’s a very low risk, high reward situation without any long-term commitment. It gives the Blackhawks some depth down the middle, and gives a chance for Richards to feel less pressure and not have to worry about living up to a giant contract. Both sides can benefit from this.
6. Matt Moulson, Buffalo Sabres [5 years, $5 million AAV]
It was a little odd to everyone when Matt Moulson went back to the team that traded him away last season but it shouldn’t be too surprising given that Moulson enjoyed his time in Buffalo. Upon being traded to the Sabres in a deal that saw Thomas Vanek go to the New York Islanders, owner Terry Pegula and his wife reached out to Moulson. Apparently that rubbed off well on Moulson and he felt comfortable from that point on. With three 30-goal seasons under his belt, Moulson will bring an offensive punch to a team that made a few good moves to shore up the defensive side of their game by bringing in ex-Habs Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges. Moulson’s tools will be greatly appreciated on the powerplay, where he is used to seeing roughly 60% each year.
5. Dominic Moore, New York Rangers [2 years, $1.5 million AAV]
The best value signing of this year’s free agent period goes to the New York Rangers, who brought back fan favorite and league-wide loved Dominic Moore. Moore’s services on the penalty kill and inside the face-off circle (54%) were much appreciated by both the team and the fans, but what was applauded the most was his tenacity and heart. Moore never gives up on a play, fights hard in corners and is a decent puck possession guy to boot. He won’t provide much offense to the Rangers but his hard working attitude rubs off on everyone sitting on the bench. Playing 11-12 minutes a game, you can’t ask for more from a guy like Dominic Moore. Especially when the playoffs roll around and he puts in a couple of goals during a run that sees his team in the Stanley Cup finals.
4. Mikhail Grabovski, New York Islanders [4 years, $5 million AAV]
After spending time with the Washington Capitals on a one-year contract and finishing the season with 35 points in 58 games, a respectable total, Grabovski is back in the money once again. His critics would say that Grabovski is a perimeter player, selfish, lazy, unproductive and deserving of one-year deals only. One year with Washington erased all of that. Grabovski was on the ice for 57.4% of the Capitals production last season and put up 22 assists. While the team didn’t make the playoffs, he did help the Toronto Maple Leafs do so the season before last. He was on the ice for Toronto’s production by a percentage of 41.1%. Take that away, the Maple Leafs are not in the playoffs anymore. A little over 50% in the face-off dot last year, Grabo will likely play in a second-line role with Nikolai Kulemin and either Michael Grabner or Ryan Strome. This also pushes center Frans Nielsen into a much more favorable third-line center position. It’s a signing with a very positive snowball effect that produces size, skill and speed on all four lines. On paper, the Islanders look like a much better team.
3. Anton Stralman, Tampa Bay Lightning [5 years, $4.5 million AAV]
We’ll keep the comparables short this time and just point you in the direction of contracts handed out to Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen (an omission on my part in the previous article, regarding horrible contracts). A friendly cap hit of $4.5 million and 5 years is not a bad term either, as Stralman provides stability and confidence on a Lightning defense that was exposed in last year’s post-season. Whether he is paired with Victor Hedman to complete a defensive duo that could compete for one of the top pairings in the league, or if he is placed on the second pairing to spread out that talent evenly, creating a top-4 that is a force to reckon with, Steve Yzerman addressed an issue that needed resolution. Stralman isn’t offensive in the least bit, but his defensive awareness and his ability to eat minutes (averaging 20 minutes a game in New York) makes him a key component to a defensively inept Lightning team.
2. Radim Vrbata, Vancouver Canucks [2 years, $5 million AAV]
It took a few days, but Radim Vrbata finally put ink to paper and decided to sign with the Vancouver Canucks, a team that was branded as a rebuild group which Ryan Kesler wanted no part of. $5 million is a nice chunk of change but the fact that it is only for 2 years instead of the 4-5 years that many expected, it’s not only acceptable, it’s a great deal. Vrbata will likely play on the Canucks top line with the Sedin twins, which would provide a deadly offensive threat whenever they are on the ice. Vrbata’s usage is based on offensive zone or neutral zone starts and his puck possession in both areas is favorable. Paired with the fact that he could be on a line with a Sedins, who know how to cycle the puck well, Vrbata’s 51-point campaign could be easily surpassed.
1. Christian Ehrhoff, Pittsburgh Penguins [1 year, $4 million]
A deal that shocked the NHL for all the right reasons, Christian Ehrhoff signed on with the Pittsburgh Penguins on a 1-year deal, paying him just $4 million, which was what he was AAV with the Sabres. After requesting to be bought out, signing the same contract from a money perspective but only for a year shows that Ehrhoff wants to prove to a contending team that he can bring it every night. Ehrhoff may not be a franchise defenseman at this stage in his career, but he can still be a force to reckon with. Paired with Olli Maatta on a second pairing and keeping the first pairing of Paul Martin and Kris Letang provides the Penguins with an impressive top-4. To make matters worst, imagine this scenario… Penguins go to the powerplay. Who do they throw out? Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist up front, Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff on the point. That is one deadly looking powerplay. This is a case of the rich getting richer and it also masks the loss of both Orpik and Niskanen.
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