Free agency has been particularly wild this year. With teams extra wary due to the flat salary cap and in the wake of the Seattle expansion, the deals might not have been as big we had hoped, but I think we’ve still got a good bunch of eye-raisers.
I’ve analyzed every deal made during free agency and assigned grades to the very best of them . . . plus one very bad deal that I do not like at all.
Four years, $2.5M AAV
Poolman, 28, had played up and down the pairs in in Winnipeg’s troubled defensive system last year despite middling (at best) puck-moving skills. But his 6’2″, 200-pound frame and fun name will earn him job security for the next four seasons.
Four years, $3.25M AAV
Ceci has sold his services to Ottawa, Toronto, and Pittsburgh over the last few seasons — the latter two in short spurts. Ceci has at times suffered criticism from quantitative analysts, but his 6’2″, 200-pound frame nonetheless will earn him job security for the next four seasons.
Three years, $3M AAV
Another featured element of Winnipeg’s spotty blue line in 2021, Forbert saw opponents score goals at a higher rate than any other Winnipeg defender. And despite that, Forbort and his 6’4″, 220-pound frame found a way to get job security in Boston for the next three seasons. I would have liked to see him get another year, however, which is why he gets a minus.
Six years, 9.58M AAV
Werenski is one of the best defenders in the NHL, and probably the critical piece to Lumbus’ success in recent seasons. But he’s not immune from adversity. He recently turned 24 and could be exiting his prime years. Plus there’s an implicit ceiling on defender pay around $7 or 8 million per year. But in spite of those challenges, Werenski’s 6’2″, 212-pound frame managed to pull down nearly $10 million a year for six years.
Five years, $9.5M AAV
After completing his record-long contract with hundreds of goals, lots of individual awards, and one Stanley Cup, Ovechkin had a challenge in signing his could-be sunset deal. His contract ended right as Ovechkin hit the 35-and-over threshold, which can make early retirement dangerous for the team. Ovechkin’s somewhat famed resistance to injury has been in question of late, with him missing noticeable time last season. And the pandemic has seized up the league’s revenue stream, making the salary cap virtually flat for the next couple years. And yet, Ovechkin and his 6’3″, 240-pound frame managed to ink a deal that would see him into his 40s and keep him paid among the very best in the league. Plus he negotiated it himself, minimizing the fees he’d otherwise have to pay an agent.
And now, the worst deal of free agency…
Three years, $3.8M AAV
Foligno is the kind of player who is too easy to overlook. He doesn’t score much anymore, but he’s got undeniable skill as a defensive forward. He was a significant part of Columbus’ strong team defense for years despite his meager 6’0″, 211-pound frame, and has earned the respect of the league for it. So I was disappointed to see him sign a modest deal under $4M with the Bruins. That’s Brenden Dillon money, not Nick Foligno money.
Please use the comments below to sound off about which of my grades you agree with and which contracts you automatically adopted the perspective of management instead of labor to analyze.
Headline images: NHL.com
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