2013 NHL Free Agency: Finding Value in an Uninspiring Market

Greg Fiume

The free agent crop for 2013 is mediocre at best. Where can the Dallas Stars find the best bang for their buck in their quest to improve via free agency?

The Stars need help all up and down the lineup. An obvious venue down which the Stars can go to find help is the free agency path. Free agency has a few characteristics regardless of the year or roster of talent available. The main characteristic, and the one that causes the most angry diatribes every year, is that whomever is available is going to get paid significantly more than they appear to be worth.

This group of available players is a combination of mediocre to average players looking to get paid, and ex-Dallas Stars who seem unlikely to return. Among the ex-Stars who seem unlikely to return are centers Derek Roy and Mike Ribeiro. Brenden Morrow, Jaromir Jagr, and Michael Ryder all seem unlikely to return on the wing.

Adam Pardy is also a free agent.

Several players are looking to get paid well beyond what they are worth. Stephen Weiss leads the pack. Someone is going to pay him well. Reportedly he is seeking an AAV of six million per year for four years. Weiss has played minutes sightly more difficult than average over the past three years as a whole. In that time he has been a mediocre (at best) possession player and anywhere from replacement level to slightly above average offensively.

The main argument in favor of Weiss is that he has had little talent around him in his career, but that isn't nearly enough justification for the payment he is seeking. You don't pay someone 24 million dollars hoping that they will turn into a good player. Plus, if you want to spend that much money on a risk, why not just try to bring Ribeiro back? Other overrated players seeking to rake in the dough: Nathan Horton, Andrew Ference, Jarome Iginla, and Valteri Filppula.

There are several players close to hitting the market that could make positive contributions to a young team gunning for the playoffs. No one in this group should reach ridiculous levels of overpayment, and they should give a solid return on investment.

Centers

  • Saku Koivu - Koivu's best days are behind him, but during his time with the Ducks he has been a very solid tough minute-taking second line center. He isn't going to score the way he did in the past, but he has enough offense left in the tank to significantly improve the Stars second line.
  • Matt Cullen - Cullen is one of the more overlooked players in the sport. Over the past two seasons he has won 54% of the faceoffs he has taken. The Wild have used him as a defensive zone faceoff ace while Mikko Koivu faces the top competition usually. In his career Cullen has averaged a point every other game which would be more than respectable for a Stars team desperate for help up the middle. His 2.69 points/60 would have led the Stars last season.
  • Tyler Bozak - Bozak is a guy who could potentially make some cash this offseason, but he definitely shouldn't get near the Weiss-lunacy. Statistically, he isn't much different from Cullen. Both players would fill a similar role for the Stars, but Bozak would be a more appealing option for a team like the Stars who are looking for long term fits. If Bozak's price stays in the four million range over a reasonable number of years then he could be a very enticing option for a team in need of depth.
  • Boyd Gordon - Gordon is arguably the top defensive forward available on the market. TheCoyotes dumped a ton of defensive zone starts in his lap against incredibly difficult average competition. Despite that he was still a positive possession player compared to his peers. Gordon led the Coyotes in penalty killing time per game. He also won 57% of his faceoffs over the past two seasons. If the Stars are able to build a checking line around Gordon and someone like Cody Eakin they could be in business defensively.
  • Wingers

      • Pascal Dupuis - Dupuis has been an underrated piece of the Penguins machine in recent years. The 34 year old winger brings a solid two way game that would greatly benefit the Stars. Given that he seems likely to re-sign with the Penguins dedicating much space to him is a bit pointless, but Dupuis would add another layer of solid two way play to a forward corps still in need of solid two way players.
      • Dustin Penner - Dustin Penner loves pancakes, and he has a funny Twitter account. He also is still pretty good at hockey. He shouldn't command a very big salary, but he should be able to give the Stars what they hoped they would get from Erik Cole. He can forecheck down the lineup, and he has a solid track record as a possessor of the puck. The Stars desperately need depth scoring. Penner's track record could lend itself very well to being a Stars target.
      • Bryan Bickell - Bickell is making himself some money this offseason, but he already made himself some money with his regular season work over the previous three seasons. He isn't an elite player, but he has proven that he can score in a depth role. The Hawks depth has allowed Bickell to play relatively pressure free role. His 2.30 points/60 last year would have made him the Stars most effective even strength scorer. Over the past three years Bickell has produced 2.01 points/60. That isn't to say that Bickell would come in and produce at Jamie Benn's level, but there is reason to believe that Bickell could come in and provide the Stars with solid depth scoring if he were willing to sign a reasonable deal in the 2.5 million per year range for three to four years.
      • David Clarkson - I would be a little shocked if Clarkson isn't a Stars target. He knows how to play in a system that emphasizes defense. He has a history of scoring goals at a reasonable rate, averaging 19 every 82 games.He was the top possession player on a solid Devils team last year. The biggest drawback with Clarkson is his propensity to take penalties. The Stars have been working to get their penalty issues under control, and a player like Clarkson would seem to go against that goal. But, then again he is a right handed right winger. The Stars have very few right-handers in the organization. That fact alone should make him a target.
      • Raffi Torres - No one really likes Torres. but he is actually a pretty useful player. Torres crosses the line repeatedly in his efforts to play with an edge. He does play with an edge though. He can skate. and most importantly Torres does offer depth scoring. Would the Stars be willing to put up with his shenanigans to add some depth scoring? Perhaps, but he should be a backup plan to the others on this list.

      Defensemen

        • Ron Hainsey - Hainsey had a very solid season as a member of the Winnipeg Jets. He took a heavy defensive load in 2013 and did an admirable job. He brings the veterany-ness the Stars seem to be targeting. The Stars have a lot of young depth on defense, but the addition of a player like Hainsey would allow the Stars to loosen the pressure on someone like Brenden Dillon. A shutdown pair of Stephane Robidas and Hainsey could potentially be very beneficial for the Stars. Hainsey would also provide a big boost to the Stars penalty killing.
        • The list isn't sexy, but the sexiest acquisitions aren't always the most prudent acquisitions. The Stars have a significant number of holes with legitimate solutions available to them via free agency. Without that one big guy available the Stars best plan of action is to fill as many secondary holes as possible with reasonable deals. If the Stars can come out of this with a depth winger and at least a center they will be doing well for themselves. Any number of combinations of the aforementioned players could accomplish this task. The Stars would be wise to stick to a similar group of players instead of going all Pegula with the money burning a hole in their pocket.


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