Best and Worst NHL Free Agency Pick Ups at Midseason

Free agency is all about commitment to the unknown. You know how a player has played previously and that’s exactly what you are paying him for. But you have no idea how he’s going to mesh with your team and no idea how he’ll perform over the years of the contract. All you can hope for is that he makes the difference you paid for him to make. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

We’re at the halfway mark of the season and making any definitive decisions on these contracts is unfair at this point. Especially since early on, some of these players would have flipped position. They could still change their fate, maybe not for the season, but for the rest of their contract.

You might notice that the list is dominated by forwards. This wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t a very strong crop for defencemen and I didn’t feel any goaltending signings have made enough difference to hit the list. The impact can also be easier seen by the forwards numbers. These players have for the most part been signed to score. There also seems to be a lot of Eastern Conference names on the list but that’s because the East was certainly the busiest conference over the summer. Factors in how good or bad the signing is not just in the numbers, but on-ice performance, if they have made a difference for the team and how much the contract is an anchor or wings.


Top 5 Free Agency Pick Ups

5. Dustin Penner (Anaheim Ducks)

Penner certainly looked like a risk for the Anaheim Ducks. The former Duck put up only 37 points in his three seasons with the Kings and was often criticized for lazy play in the regular season. He did however bring it in the 2011-2012 Cup run, which is why the Ducks took a chance on him again. So far, Penner has put up 10 goals and 14 assists in 35 games and sports an impressive +17. All that for only a two million dollar contract. It’s tough to say if the 31 year old is going to keep up the production, especially in a future season but he’s certainly working hard right now for a contract extension.

4. Clark MacArthur (Ottawa Senators)

MacArthur was considered a defensive liability in Toronto, which is why signing him seemed like an afterthought to a lot of teams. But MacArthur has proven his numbers in Toronto weren’t a fluke and didn’t have to move far to do it. Ottawa did have to agree to some no trading clauses but there’s no point to move him anyway, currently sporting 33 points in 44 games. Ottawa also lucks out on getting him with a two year deal. If he keeps this pace up, he could certainly hit his numbers from 2010-2011.

3. Mikhail Grabovski (Washington Capitals)

Another former Leaf, Grabovski was bought out by Dave Nonis, who felt he wasn’t worth four more years at a $5.5M cap hit. Okay. Washington on the other hand felt $3M was more than acceptable to replace Mike Ribeiro (who is doing fine in Phoenix without the Capitals). Capitals fans were originally on the fence about letting Ribeiro go, but Grabovski has provided the kind of defensive play down the middle Washington has been hoping for, along with 30 points in 40 games. Unfortunately, his contract had “rental” written all over it, which means if they want to keep him longer, they might have to think about the sort of commitment Toronto made and backed out on. Had they believed in him more, this could have been ranked higher than it is.

2. Mason Raymond (Toronto Maple Leafs)

Toronto had a particularly ugly free agency period, but they certainly nailed this one out of the park. Raymond has been a revelation for the Leafs, adding secondary scoring with 27 points in 44 games. At only one year he’s rental but at only one million dollars? Raymond has it in him to hit 50 points and at only 28, has a lot more in him. A big reason this isn’t first? Signing Raymond only replaces MacArthur.

1. Jaromir Jagr (New Jersey Devils)

Oh Jagr. You’re the ultimate rental in the NHL. You delivered a haul for the Stars when you were traded to Boston and at 35 points and a +12, Jagr is showing there’s still a lot of power in those legs. Signing Jagr and Michael Ryder has got the Devils looking a lot better than people pegged them at the start of the year. Two million bucks with a two million dollar bonus is certainly a sweet spot for a legend like Jaromir. Better yet, once the trade deadline comes around, the Devils can make even more of an investment in letting him go to a contender. He’s the gift that keeps on giving.


Top 5 Worst Free Agency Pick Ups

5. Daniel Briere (Montreal Canadiens)

It’s hard to put a definitive opinion on Briere’s time in Montreal so far. He has been treated a lot like a throwaway signing by head coach Michel Therrien, instead of a highly skilled veteran with some of the best play in high pressure situations in the league. Briere has certainly shown some degradation in his play but he’s also shown some fire when given the chance. That said, 13 points in 32 games just isn’t good enough, even on only a two year commitment. Habs fans who defended the signing are praying he turns it up in the post-season, otherwise it’s $9 million well wasted.

4. Vincent Lecavalier (Philadelphia Flyers)

Lecavalier certainly has the best numbers of anyone on the list and in the first 25 games, he looked more like one of the best acquisitions of the summer. But Lecavalier is an often injured 33 year old and 10 of those seven points came in the first 13 games. 7 points in 20 following games doesn’t look so good. He’s also been playing injured, which is a bad sign since the Flyers signed him for five years. Five years at a $4.5M commitment each year on a guy who is either hurt or plays hurt every year? It’s like the Flyers couldn’t get over the feeling of having a big star not playing for them. Say hi to Chris Pronger on the injured reserve, Vinny.

3. Stephen Weiss (Detroit Red Wings)

When Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman decided to look to Detroit for a new center, it seems like Detroit decided to look to a different team in Florida for a replacement of Filppula. They came up with Stephen Weiss, a former two time 60 point center who had a little bit of injury issues last season. Well this year is no different, having been out since December 10. But that’s no excuse when you’ve only put up two goals and two assists. Weiss has been a failure in Detroit, and that’s a failure holding a five year deal at $4.9M per season. (EDITOR NOTE: No compulsory buyouts for players signed post lockout.)

2. Ryane Clowe (New Jersey Devils)

There isn’t much to say about this debacle of a signing. Clowe is a good player when he’s healthy and his size was dazzling for a lot of teams. But we’re talking a guy being given a NO MOVEMENT CLAUSE for being a big body who has only scored 24 goals in his best year. When the Sharks traded him to the New York Rangers, he had zero goals. On the Rangers, he only scored three more and scored two of them in his first game in New York. He hasn’t scored since April 19, especially since he’s been out hurt. Oh yeah, he also costs $4.85M per season. At least GM Lou Lammorello can point to the Ryder and Jagr signings to prove he isn’t crazy.

1. David Clarkson (Toronto Maple Leafs)

Oh Toronto. I don’t mean to abuse you. I liked the Mason Raymond pick up and heck, I even liked you picking up Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings (even if you tossed more money at the Kings than you should have in getting him) but a seven year commitment to David Clarkson at $5.25M per season for a player that scored 30 goals once and aside from that year, hasn’t scored more than 17 goals? Really? Was this really the guy who should have replaced Mikhail Grabovski’s salary? Was this really the guy that fit right to the Randy Carlyle system? Did you already produce all of the marketing/advertising to christen him as “David Wendel Clarkson”, so desperate to bring a good ol’ Toronto boy into town? I’ve heard some argue he’s already worth his money after jumping off the bench to protect Phil Kessel. Try saying that when he’s 32 years old, is only half way through his contract and if you buy him out, you’re paying for it. To his credit, he still tries hard on the ice. It’s just in all of the wrong ways. Nobody made a longer commitment to a more questionable player. Leaf fans better pray he turns it around. At this point, becoming a 15 goal scorer would be considered a blessing.


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