Four NHL free agents to avoid signing

The free agent season is many things. It’s a time when teams can add talent for nothing but dollars and a place where many good teams add key pieces. It represents an opportunity to find undervalued players, players who can contribute to a winning team or players to be flipped for value in just a few months.

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It’s also a time when teams make mistakes that cost them dearly. And even now, there are some obvious candidates for contracts which intelligent teams will avoid.

Matt Beleskey
Even before the madness of July 1 begins, Matt Beleskey is the front-runner for the worst contract of free agency. Anaheim reportedly offered him a four-year front-loaded deal with an average annual value of $4 million; according to Ducks general manager Bob Murray the player “rejected it immediately.”

Beleskey has value because the 27-year-old is a highly physical winger who can also score, as evidenced by his 22 goals this past season. Young guys who can score and hit get overpaid; general managers just can’t seem to help themselves. The red flags on Beleskey are abundant, with the most obvious being his 15.2 shooting percentage in 2014-15, more than 150 percent of his career rate. His career-high in goals prior to this season was 11, his career-high in points just 24.

You’d hope the league has learned since Toronto’s David Clarkson debacle, but something in the six-year, $5 million annual value range for Beleskey wouldn’t be a major shock. It would just be a major overpay.

Johnny Oduya
Oduya will be 34 years old on October 1 and has a lot of incentive to land one final deal with money and term. After a heroic performance in the last two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs, he’ll probably get it, too. Even though he shouldn’t.

Age is an issue for sure, but so is performance. For the second consecutive year, Oduya trailed the Blackhawks’ team average in on-ice scoring chances by a significant amount. His minutes got easier, as his quality of competition average fell and he took more shifts in the offensive end of the rink. He spent more than seven hours with partners other than Niklas Hjalmarsson last season and posted a sub-50 percent Corsi with a 55 percent zone start. In Chicago. Hjalmarsson, on the other hand, played 10 hours without Oduya and saw his performance skyrocket.

The Oduya of old is no more; all that’s left is an old Oduya. He’ll probably get four years in the range of $4 million per season, and whoever gives him that deal is going to bitterly regret it.

Antoine Vermette
The ex-Coyotes centre turns 33 in July, and this summer represents what is probably his last, best chance to get a rich deal at term. Fortunately for Vermette, he’s being weighed against an exceptionally weak UFA class at centre, and after an early stumble in Chicago after the trade deadline he scored some key playoff goals.

Vermette isn’t a bad player, really. He kills penalties, wins faceoffs and he can chip-in offensively. The trouble is that he’s at the age when players tend to decline sharply and as a five-on-five scorer he really can’t afford to. Vermette scored 1.35 points/hour at even strength over the past three seasons, which puts him in a tie for 258th among forwards who played at least 1,000 minutes in that span. Do the math, and that’s a sub-average third-line scoring rate for a centre as he approaches 35 years of age.

He’ll almost certainly get more money than Carl Soderberg did and may get term as well. Something in the range of $5 million a year for the next five seasons wouldn’t be a surprise, but is probably 40 percent above his current actual value, which would decline each year.

Martin St. Louis
St. Louis is the most famous scorer available in free agency and is fresh off a 52-point season in New York. Even at age 40, he’ll be attractive to a team looking for offence because the reality is that there aren’t very many scoring wingers on the market this summer.

St. Louis should score. He ranks No. 25 in the entire NHL in points/hour at even-strength over the past three seasons and had the tiniest of drop-offs in 2014-15. The trouble is that he’s increasingly becoming just an offensive specialist. The Rangers, a very good team that recently appeared in the Stanley Cup final, were actually below 50 percent by scoring chances when St. Louis was on the ice and it’s the second consecutive year that has happened, even as his quality of competition has fallen off.

St. Louis will be looking at a short-term deal, but he’ll get paid on it. Jaromir Jagr’s most recent contract (one year, $3.5 million base salary, $1.9 million in performance bonuses) is a good guess. It’s not clear he can still help a team win games.

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