How Are The Biggest Free Agent Signings Of The Offseason Working-Out So Far?

Image courtesy of MapleLeafsCentral.com.

Now that a sizeable chunk of this NHL season is completed, it seems like a good time to see how some of the most high-profile UFA signings of the last offseason are panning-out. I’m going to analyse the numbers for the big-money signings, and in my next post I’ll take a look at how some of the value signings are performing by comparison.

I’ve selected the 10 largest contracts in terms of total salary over the duration of the deal, but have excluded players re-signing with the same team.

The following table shows the 10 players, organised by largest total salary to lowest. I’ve also included the details about the contract as well as each player’s current age:

DATE NAME POS FROM TO Total Years Avg/Yr Age
Jul-05 Nathan Horton RW Boston Columbus $37.1M 7 $5.30M 28
Jul-05 David Clarkson RW New Jersey Toronto $36.75M 7 $5.25M 29
Jul-05 Valtteri Filppula LW Detroit Tampa Bay $25M 5 $5.00M 29
Jul-05 Stephen Weiss C Florida Detroit $24.5M 5 $4.90M 30
Jul-05 Ryane Clowe LW NY Rangers New Jersey $24.25M 5 $4.85M 31
Jul-02 Vincent Lecavalier C Tampa Bay Philadelphia $22.5M 5 $4.50M 33
Jul-05 Mike Ribeiro C Washington Phoenix $22M 4 $5.50M 33
Jul-05 Rob Scuderi D Los Angeles Pittsburgh $13.5M 4 $3.38M 35
Jul-05 Andrew Ference D Boston Edmonton $13M 4 $3.25M 34
Jul-05 Viktor Stalberg LW Chicago Nashville $12M 4 $3.00M 27
  • Something that jumps out at me here is how old most of these players are. Teams seem to have no problem handing out lengthy, big money contracts to players who will be in their mid-to-late thirties by the time those deals finish.
  • Aside from the huge risks of cap recapture penalties if these players retire early, there is also the obvious risk of their play declining as they get older. None of these players are elite talents or big stars and therefore the likelihood of them being effective in this league right into their late thirties is somewhat slim.
  • Research has shown that goalscorers usually have their best days before they turn 30 and then decline steeply after that. It’s harder to account for how role players and defencemen perform after that age, but, judging by the large amount of ex-stars and NHL regulars who end up outside the league or being bought-out by the time they hit their mid-to-late thirties, signing these players to a lot of money is a massive risk to take for a GM .

—————————————————————–

Nathan Horton

Image courtesy of Concord Monitor.

The most expensive signing of the offseason was ex-Panthers and Bruins winger, Nathan Horton who, after a hot run of scoring during the Bruins march to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2013, cashed-in and signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets. This signing was particularly risky because Horton needed immediate surgery to repair a damaged shoulder he sustained during the Cup Finals. The Blue Jackets knew this upon signing him and obviously decided that they were fine with him missing the first half of the season and coming back 100%.

-Here are his basic stats:

GP G A P S/Sh% Career Sh% PP PIM TOI/G PP TOI/G SH TOI/G
6 2 2 4 11/18.2% 15.1% 2 2 16:40 2:20 0:00
  • Horton has only played 6 games so far since coming back from injury, but he has managed to score a few points and log some pretty significant ice time, including a lot of powerplay minutes, which should erase any doubts about his short-term health.
  • He has 2 goals, but is shooting 18.2% so I would not expect that to continue unless he starts generating more shots.

 

-Here are his possession and usage numbers:

CF% 12-13 CF% CF% Rel 12-13 Corsi Rel O/D St% Tot Tm% QoC Tot Tm% QoT
48.2% 56.8% -0.1% +3.7% 59.6% 29.2% 30.6%
  • His relative Corsi is just below evens, but his career numbers suggest that he should be able to drive possession well for the Blue Jackets over time.
  • He’ seeing a lot of offensive zone starts so far and pretty tough competition.

*

David Clarkson

Image courtesy of gannett-cdn.com.

In what has become the most talked about signing of the offseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed 29 year old David Clarkson to a big money, 7 year contract. Giving that kind of money and term to a guy who has only passed 40 points once in his career is just one of several decisions that has many Leafs writers and fans calling for Dave Nonis to be fired from his role as GM.

-Here are his basic stats:

GP G A P S/Sh% Career Sh% PP PIM TOI/G PP TOI/G SH TOI/G
34 3 5 8 66/4.5% 10.2% 1 51 16:16 1:31 0:00
  • This deal is looking bad and it’s only year 1. Clarkson has scored just 8 points in 34 games. Yikes!
  • In his favour, Clarkson is shooting well below his career Sh%.
  • There have been some complaints from Leafs MSM guys that Clarkson doesn’t get enough chances on the powerplay, but his 1:31 PP TOI/G suggests that isn’t true.

-Here are his possession and usage numbers:

CF% 12-13 CF% CF% Rel 12-13 Corsi Rel O/D St% Tot Tm% QoC Tot Tm% QoT
44.2% 61.2% +1.8% +7.6% 36.0% 28.9% 29.8%
  • Something that Clarkson does bring to the table is a proven track record of driving puck possession. But, frankly, his numbers this year are disappointing. He’s a +1.8% relative to his teammates on a possession-deficient Leafs team. While that’s not bad, to be worth the money and term of his contract without scoring goals, he would need to be doing some elite level possession driving.
  • To his credit, he’s playing very tough minutes which probably isn’t helping his search for goalscoring.

*

Valtteri Filppula

Image courtesy of Zimbio.

Weirdly, Filppula didn’t receiver much attention as one of the “must have” UFAs this offseason. He finally left Detroit, the team that drafted him in 2002, and headed for Tampa Bay on a 5 year deal.

-Here are his basic stats:

GP G A P S/Sh% Career Sh% PP PIM TOI/G PP TOI/G SH TOI/G
46 18 18 36 88/20.5% 11.1% 4 10 19:51 3:11 0:55
  • After a somewhat bad year in 2012/13 in terms of production, Filppula is scoring at a nice pace this season.
  • His shooting percentage is much higher than his career percentage, so he’s probably due for some regression over the rest of the season.

-Here are his possession and usage numbers:

CF% 12-13 CF% CF% Rel 12-13 Corsi Rel O/D St% Tot Tm% QoC Tot Tm% QoT
52.6% 55.6% +0.8% +1.9% 49.9% 29.1% 28.6%
  • His puck possession numbers are solid and not wildly different from last year.
  • He plays tough competition, with his zone-starts being pretty even between all zones.

*

Stephen Weiss

Image courtesy of Zimbio.

After years of flying under the radar in Florida and being surrounded by constant trade rumours, Stephen Weiss finally moved on and signed with the Detroit Red Wings on a 5 year contract.

-Here are his basic stats:

GP G A P S/Sh% Career Sh% PP PIM TOI/G PP TOI/G SH TOI/G
26 2 2 4 28/7.1% 10.7% 0 12 14:45 1:29 0:43
  • The injury problems that beset Weiss in 2012/13 seem to have left him a shell of the player he once was. Only 4 points in 26 games is pretty much as bad a way as there is to start a 5 year contract.
  • To make matters worse, it was announced on December 23rd that he would miss 6-8 weeks with a sports hernia injury.

-Here are his possession and usage numbers:

CF% 12-13 CF% CF% Rel 12-13 Corsi Rel O/D St% Tot Tm% QoC Tot Tm% QoT
41.6% 41.7% -10.4% -8.5% 57.7% 28.8% 28.6%
  • There’s no silver lining in his puck possession numbers either. There isn’t much here to provide any encouragement for Weiss turning this around.
  • He plays pretty average minutes, so there’s no excuse in his usage for his poor production.

*

Ryane Clowe

Image courtesy of Zimbio.

After  spending his whole career with the San Jose Sharks, Clowe was dealt to the Rangers at the trade deadline, before becoming a UFA in the offseason. The New Jersey Devils gave the gritty forward a 5 year deal and in hope that the 31 year old could kick-start their struggling offence.

-Here are his basic stats:

GP G A P S/Sh% Career Sh% PP PIM TOI/G PP TOI/G SH TOI/G
16 1 8 9 23/4.3% 10.1% 0 17 15:38 1:56 0:01
  • Clowe has only dressed for 16 games after missing significant time with a concussion.
  • Since his return he has managed 9 points, including 1 goal.
  • It’s probably going to take some time for Clowe to really find his feet, but this isn’t a promising start to a long, expensive contract.

-Here are his possession and usage numbers:

CF% 12-13 CF% CF% Rel 12-13 Corsi Rel O/D St% Tot Tm% QoC Tot Tm% QoT
48.7% 53.2% -7.7% +3.2% 57.0% 28.9% 29.7%
  • He hasn’t found his puck possession game yet, though his numbers from last year suggest he should be able to contribute in that regard.
  • He’s used in a fairly offensive role, with 57% of his shifts starting in the o-zone.

*

Vincent Lecavalier

Image courtesy of Zimbio.

One of the big stories of the offseason was the Tampa Bay Lightning using their compliance buyout to cut ties with long-term servant Vinny Lecavalier. He promptly signed in Philadelphia on a 5 year deal.

-Here are his basic stats:

GP G A P S/Sh% Career Sh% PP PIM TOI/G PP TOI/G SH TOI/G
34 10 9 19 72/13.9% 12.1% 5 23 16:20 2:58 0:03
  • His scoring has been fairly pedestrian so far, with his production down a bit from last season.
  • 5 of his 10 goals have come on the powerplay, suggesting that he isn’t scoring as freely at even-strength.

-Here are his possession and usage numbers:

CF% 12-13 CF% CF% Rel 12-13 Corsi Rel O/D St% Tot Tm% QoC Tot Tm% QoT
44.3% 46.0% -6.8% -0.8% 56.5% 28.3% 29.8%
  • His puck possession numbers are pretty poor, which is underlined by his -6.8% Corsi relative.
  • He plays pretty regular competition with mostly offensive zone starts.

*

Mike Ribeiro

Image courtesy of Zimbio.

After spending just one season with the Washington Capitals, 33 year old Mike Ribeiro signed a 4 year deal in Phoenix.

-Here are his basic stats:

GP G A P S/Sh% Career Sh% PP PIM TOI/G PP TOI/G SH TOI/G
46 11 21 32 74/14.9% 13.5% 2 22 18:53 3:38 0:14
  • His scoring is  good for a guy his age playing for a team that is typically offensively-challenged.
  • He’s playing a lot of powerplay time but scoring most of his goals at even-strength.

-Here are his possession and usage numbers:

CF% 12-13 CF% CF% Rel 12-13 Corsi Rel O/D St% Tot Tm% QoC Tot Tm% QoT
53.2% 45.3% +3.4 -4.8% 71.5% 28.8% 30.0%
  • Ribeiro’s also having a really good year in terms of puck possession. His numbers have greatly improved since last year.
  • He plays sheltered minutes with a huge percentage of his shifts starting in the offensive zone. This makes it a lot easier for him to put up good numbers.

*

Rob Scuderi

Image courtesy of fansided.com.

In July, the Penguins brought back veteran defenceman Rob Scuderi, a member of their last Stanley Cup winning team who had just left the LA Kings where he won another Cup. The 35 year old signed a 4 year deal.

-Here are his basic stats:

GP G A P S/Sh% Career Sh% PP PIM TOI/G PP TOI/G SH TOI/G
18 0 1 1 15/0.0% 4.3% 0 12 18:57 0:00 2:26
  • Scuderi has missed a lot of games through injuries, which makes his long term outlook in regards to that contract look pretty bleak.
  • Unsurprisingly, he isn’t generating any offence, but is playing fairly heavy minutes including a lot of PK time.

-Here are his possession and usage numbers:

CF% 12-13 CF% CF% Rel 12-13 Corsi Rel O/D St% Tot Tm% QoC Tot Tm% QoT
46.4% 51.0% -4.3% -8.6% 56.1% 29.2% 27.3%
  • Last year, Scuderi was on the puck possession dominant LA Kings, where he posted a Corsi For% of 51%, which is good. But, looking a little closer, relative to his teammates, he was -8.6%, which is pretty terrible.
  • This year he’s -4.3% relative which is better, but still not good.
  • He plays reasonably tough competition, but with a surprisingly high number of offensive zone starts for a guy who is usually considered to be a “shutdown” defenceman.

*

Andrew Ference

Image courtesy of theoilersrig.com.

The Oilers looked to remedy their defensive issues by signing veteran defenceman, Andrew Ference, formerly of the Penguins, Flames and most recently, the Bruins. They signed the 34 year old to a 4 year contract and made him team captain.

-Here are his basic stats:

GP G A P S/Sh% Career Sh% PP PIM TOI/G PP TOI/G SH TOI/G
45 2 8 10 55/3.6% 4.0% 1 49 21:25 0:21 2:49
  • His minutes are fairly low for a guy who is allegedly the team’s best defenceman, suggesting the Oilers split time between the 3 pairings fairly evenly.
  • He’s providing pretty much exactly what one would expect offensively.

-Here are his possession and usage numbers:

CF% 12-13 CF% CF% Rel 12-13 Corsi Rel O/D St% Tot Tm% QoC Tot Tm% QoT
44.2% 52.0% -1.9% -3.4% 48.1% 28.9% 28.7%
  • Ference is noting to write home about in terms of puck possession. His numbers are in-line with last year.
  • He’s plays middling competition with reasonably tough zone starts.

*

Viktor Stalberg

Image courtesy of fansided.com.

Stalberg left Chicago after a somewhat rocky 3 years which culminated in him receiving a Stanley Cup ring. He signed for the Nashville Predators on a 4 year contract.

-Here are his basic stats:

GP G A P S/Sh% Career Sh% PP PIM TOI/G PP TOI/G SH TOI/G
42 6 8 14 80/7.5% 8.7% 0 24 13:27 0:14 0:04
  • Stalberg doesn’t appear to be creating the kind of offence that the Predators so badly need. 14 points in 42 games just isn’t good enough.
  • He left Chicago with a reputation for not being popular with the coaches, and that seems to have carried over to Nashville, judging by his TOI/G which is 10th among Predators forwards.

-Here are his possession and usage numbers:

CF% 12-13 CF% CF% Rel 12-13 Corsi Rel O/D St% Tot Tm% QoC Tot Tm% QoT
48.1% 55.3% +0.5% +1.3% 50.0% 28.0% 29.1%
  • His puck possession numbers are pretty good, as they were last year.
  • He’s used in sheltered minutes against weaker competition, but his zone-starts are evenly split.

—————————————————————–

I think the bottom line here is that forking-out for older players based on the level they are at in the present, and ignoring the fact that they are probably going to sharply decline before the end of that contract, is a bad business strategy. While there is plenty of time left in the contracts I have analysed above, so far they are mostly off to ominous starts. A couple of them look downright disastrous. The production of several of those players could easily be replaced by far cheaper options.

Even as the league saw a spate of compliance buyouts last Summer as teams sought to get rid of terrible contracts, many GMs seem to have not learned their lessons and continue to give players deals that they will never be able to live up to.

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