10 best NHL analytics free agent signings

The signing of ex-Canuck Shawn Matthias is consistent with other short-term deals by the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

In an odd year for free agency, most teams that went to the market seeking players came away with pretty good value for money spent. Even the overpayments were limited in terms of dollars and years as clubs faced tough salary cap realities and free agents were forced to compromise as a result.

Still, some teams did a little better than others, particularly from an analytics perspective. Looking at the enhanced stats, the following 10 contracts represent exceptional free agent value for the money required to sign these players.

RW Justin Williams, Capitals: Two years, $3.25 million cap hit. Williams is a pretty good scorer, and may do more in that regard outside of the ultra-defensive Kings’ system, but he’s a minor deity in terms of advanced stats. He plays tough competition and yet his teams consistently dominate the possession numbers when he’s on the ice.

C/LW Shawn Matthias, Maple Leafs: One year, $2.3 million cap hit. Matthias can line up at either centre or the wing, and was one of the youngest players in free agency. He’s been a reasonably good scorer and an effective two-way presence in tough minutes over the past few seasons.

F Daniel Winnik, Maple Leafs: Two years, $2.25 million cap hit. The versatile Winnik adds value in terms of his size and his penalty-killing acumen, but he’s most impressive at even-strength. Winnik has scored at a second-line rate for most of the past three seasons, while handling primarily defensive minutes. He’s also done so while generally outpacing his teams’ shot metric averages.

RW Chris Stewart, Ducks: One year, $1.7 million cap hit. Stewart has never been an analytics darling, but he’s big and physical and can score. He had a lovely run with the Blues in 2012-13 and rebounded in a big way following his trade to Minnesota. If he can come close to the form he showed with the Wild (2.19 points/hour, 53.8% Corsi), Anaheim will be laughing.

RW P-A Parenteau, Maple Leafs: One year, $1.5 million cap hit. Parenteau has been a solid possession player for ages, and he scores at an impressive clip at even-strength. He’s coming off a bad shooting percentage year and some atrocious usage in Montreal, but he’s all of two seasons removed from a near-point-per-game run with Colorado and is a great bounce-back candidate.

LW Viktor Stalberg, Rangers: One year, $1.1 million cap hit. Stalberg’s reputation was skewered by one terrible year in Nashville, but there’s lots to like. He scored better than 2.0 points/hour at evens last season and has done so in three of the past four years—that’s a ridiculous clip for any forward and particularly so given Stalberg’s size and salary.

C Kyle Brodziak, Blues: One year, $900,000 cap hit. Brodziak’s an interesting player, and one who looks pretty good once context is considered. He scored 1.53 points/hour last season at evens (fringe second-line numbers or good third-line numbers) while taking on a brutal diet of defensive zone minutes. He could be a solid third-line forward at virtually no cost.

LD/RD Paul Martin, Sharks: Four years, $4.85 million cap hit. Martin was a No. 1 defenceman last season. He played against tough competition, scored at a respectable clip and outpaced the team averages by both scoring chances and the shot metrics. He’s in his twilight years, but he’s only getting paid at a second-pairing rate.

RD Zbynek Michalek, Coyotes: Two years, $3.2 million cap hit. Michalek’s great skill is that he can handle tough minutes. Over the past three years, he’s tied for sixth among NHL defencemen (min. 1,000 minutes) in terms of quality of competition based on opponent ice-time. He’s also started out in the defensive zone far more frequently than the offensive zone. Despite this, he consistently outperforms his teammates by every shot metric.

G Thomas Greiss, Islanders: Two years, $1.5 million cap hit. The Islanders’ new backup goalie fares extremely well by a new metric called adjusted save percentage, which aims to compensate somewhat for shot quality by allowing for shot location in its calculation. Over his (rather short) career, Greiss has posted middle-tier starter numbers on average. At worst, he’ll be a competent and reasonably-priced backup, and he could be more than that.

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