Four undervalued UFAs who could be bargains when free agency opens
Thanks to the expansion draft, there has been a lot of player movement since the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup three weeks ago. There will be many more once unrestricted free agency opens on Wednesday.
The list of big names in the pending UFA is long and includes players like Alex Ovechkin, Dougie Hamilton, Gabriel Landeskog, Philipp Grubauer, Phillip Danault, and more.
As they do every year, teams will be paying too much to acquire certain players – it’s called the silly season for a reason. However, finding undervalued assets is also possible in unrestricted free agency and the teams that can do so will gain a competitive advantage in the flat cap world we live in.
With that in mind, here are four players the market may currently undervalue that should hit free agency without restriction.
Previous contract: Four years, $ 5.3 million AAV
At 30, Tomas Tatar finds himself at an interesting moment in his career. Tatar scored 30 points in 50 games for the Montreal Canadiens last season. The year before, he had 61 points in 68 games. Since his first full season in the NHL in 2013-14, Tatar has been a lock in scoring at a rate of 20-25 goals. This is the good news. Bad is twice in the past four years, with two different teams, Tatar has been in the press box as his club competed for the Stanley Cup.
Tatar was a good scratch for much of the Vegas Golden Knights’ run to the Cup Final in 2017-18 and the same thing happened last season with the Habs. So the question research teams should be asking themselves is whether Tatar is worth the risk with its perceived value likely to be less than its real value. Tatar, alongside Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher, has formed one of the best 5v5 lines in the NHL in recent years, consistently outperforming the opponent.
Tatar is a skilled playmaker, able to bring the puck to his teammates in contested scoring zones. Last season, Tatar made 51.7% of his passes in the even-matched slot, which ranked 19th out of 320 forwards with at least five attempts every 60 minutes.
Tatar is able to buy time and space to make games by beating defenders one on one at a high rate. Evenly matched, Tatar was ranked 47th among forwards qualified for open ice kicks by 60 minutes – games in which a skater beats a defender on open ice. An efficient puck remover, Tatar placed 98th in the controlled zone entry and helped generate high-rate scoring chances for the Canadians when he entered the offensive zone with the puck. Montreal produced scoring opportunities on 31.5 percent of entries for Tatar, who placed 38th among all forwards.
Tatar is a gifted offensive player, but is not the one to impact the game defensively. The right fit will be key for him and the team he signs with next season. In terms of value, a four or five year contract at $ 4-5 million per season seems appropriate for Tatar, but due to his recent playoff struggles / inactivity, there is a possibility that he will end up being an asset. undervalued.
Previous contract: Two years, AAV $ 737,500
Remember when Carter Verhaeghe signed a two-year, $ 2 million contract last offseason? A year later, this is one of the best non-entry-level value contracts in the NHL. While not quite as quick or as gifted offensively, Michael Bunting has some of the same traits as Verhaeghe and could be a steal this offseason.
Fourth-round pick for the Arizona Coyotes in 2014, Bunting scored 10 goals in 21 games with them last season. This, after averaging nearly a point per game with the Tucson Roadrunners in the AHL over the previous two seasons.
Bunting has shown a willingness and ability to reach in front of the net and produce shots on goal, especially from the inside lunge, a diamond-shaped area in front of the end zone where around half of all goals are scored. . Players who produce shots from here at a high rate usually score a lot of goals. Auston Matthews has dominated the NHL in shots firing inside the lunge by 60 even this season and has scored more goals than anyone else. Bunting was 25th, averaging 3.1 inside lunge shots for 60. His peers in that area are William Nylander and Brady Tkachuk.
Bunting likely won’t continue to score at a half-goal per game rate throughout his NHL career, but if he can generate high-risk shots at the rate he’s been doing this season, he will be. a goalscorer who is worth it. on your list.
Bunting also proved to be an effective front-stopper for the Coyotes last season. Among forwards with at least 200 evenly played minutes, Bunting ranked 60th in dump recoveries, scoring 5.6. Only five players averaged more puck wins in the offensive zone than Bunting, who averaged 8.3. His comparables here: Ross Colton and Jordan Staal.
Listed at 5-11, 197 pounds, Bunting is shorter than average, but he’s a smart player who gets in good position with and away from the puck. If Bunting can be a disruptive player away from the puck while still scoring 12 to 18 goals per season, he will be a value on his next contract.
A smart player with a nose for the net, Bunting is a tenacious player worth betting on.
Previous contract: Two years, $ 1.5 million AAV
Do you know who should want a smooth skating defenseman who makes a good first pass and who is responsible with the puck? All NHL teams. That’s what Mike Reilly is. No, he’s not a perfect defender, but the good outweighs the bad with Reilly.
Reilly part-time last season with the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins. In 55 games, Reilly scored 0 goals and 27 assists. He played well in Ottawa and kept his momentum going in his last 15 games of the season with the Bruins. An efficient puck mover, Reilly ranked in the top 50 among qualified defensemen in controlled zone entries and exits every 60 minutes evenly.
Reilly also had an excellent first pass out of the defensive zone. Last season, he completed 28.5 passes per 60 minutes, which ranks him 27th among qualified defensemen. He completed 75.7% of those passes, the 13th best completion rate in the league.
Plus, Reilly can be trusted to make good decisions with the puck, which is imperative when a third defenseman is on the ice. Reilly has a low turnover rate.
In Boston, Reilly played mostly on the Bruins’ third defensive pair, although he spent more than 50 minutes with Connor Clifton, Kevan Miller and Brandon Carlo. Regardless of his partner, the Bruins posted expected goals for a rate north of 60 percent with Reilly on the ice.
It remains to be seen if Reilly takes another career step forward and manages more minutes against tougher competition. However, he has shown that he can be an effective third pair defenseman who can play both on the power play and on the penalty kill. If a team is looking to add a smart and skillful depth defender, Reilly is a solid option.
Previous contract: Three years, $ 3 million AAV
After spending the past three seasons with the Red Wings, Bernier is currently owned by the Carolina Hurricanes following a trade that saw Alex Nedeljkovic shipped to Detroit. With the Red Wings in rebuild mode, Bernier’s solid play has gone under the radar for the past two seasons.
Bernier posted a .914 save percentage in 2021, ranking 17th among 47 goalies with at least 20 games played. Bernier was 15th in above-average goals saved, which takes the quality of the shots into account to determine the difference between his actual goals-against-average and the number of goals he had to allow based on the shots. shots he faced. Every 60 minutes, Bernier saved the Red Wings 0.10 goal above expectations, which placed him between Tuukka Rask (0.13) and trophy finalist Vezina Philipp Grubauer (0.07).
Bernier has finished in the top 35 in save percentage, high risk save percentage and above average goals in each of the past two seasons. At 32, Bernier’s days as the No.1 goaltender on a contending team are likely behind him, but as a save or squad option his recent play suggests he may still perform at a high level.