Free Agency and The Devils Part 2: Can the Devils find value in the defensive free agent market?

First of all I would like to apologize for my horrific tables in the first part of this story.   I will take my rookie author mulligan and promise not to make that mistake again. 

In the second part of this story I was going to touch upon the GVT and subsequent GVS ratings of potential 2010 free agent targets for the Devils in 2010.  I was going to have small sections on both defensemen and center, at the time the Devils' two biggest needs.  Then on Saturday my article took a different turn with the trade for Jason Arnott.  I talked about Arnott's GVT/GVS last year in Nashville here, so I won't go into that in this article  Since there is no need to talk about centers (I was starting to get a little too excited about Tomas Plekanec) I will focus on the defense.  Please note that I will only focus on Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA) as opposed to Restricted Free Agents (RFA). 

I put Paul Martin on the list after the jump because while he is still Devils' property we are two weeks away from free agency and he might be testing the market.  It's not certain right now if the Devils will be getting a home town discount from Martin.  We do know however, that Martin is General Manager Lou Lamoriello's top priority right now.   I speculated in my audition post that Martin may command $5.25MM-$5.75MM in salary considering the market for defensemen and how the current top defensemen are paid.  After the jump I will take some of the top defensemen per NHL.com, supplement them with a few of my own and also add some players who have already signed contracts to get an idea of the market value of some of the players.

 

Let's start with Paul Martin.  The Devils FA defenseman who was waiting until the Devils hired a coach to talk contract, is the number 1 priority of the team right.  To look at Martin's GVT/GVS I used Martin's 2008-2009 GVT number of 8.9 as a reference point since his time missed due to injury wouldn't work favorably with GVT/GVS.  Martin's GVS of -3.1 was slightly lower (I had a guess of about +3 or +4 for him) than I expected but still productive in overall GVT with an 8.9.   If Martin is signed for $5.5MM -which is what I believe he will get on the open market- he will need to generate a GVT of 15 to break even and have a GVS of 0.  

Anton Volchenkov is a personal favorite of mine.  I like his physical style and his willingness to block shots. Read this interview with Puck Daddy and tell me you don't want him.  You can't, I won't believe it.    Volchenkov is a defensive defenseman and is similar to Rob Scuderi in the sense that his GVTs will never be out of this world high (he has never had a GVT of over 10 in his career) but he will always be a steady performer providing value for his team.  The question becomes how much is that value worth?  It should be $2.5MM-$3.5MM but on the open market we all know he will get excess of $4MM.   Is he worth it in relation to his GVT/GVS? Not really, however there will be a few teams out there that are in need of his skills (Pittsburgh, Washington) that will surely drive up his salary.  

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Out of the table above, three potential unrestricted free agents have signed contracts and they are Marek Zidlicky, Adrian Aucoin and Dennis Seidenberg.  What did all three of these players have in common?  They were part of a select group of defensemen within my sample that had a positive GVS.  As you can see out of the 24 UFA I analyzed, only 8 had a positive GVS.  Zidlicky, Aucoin and Seidenberg have all been locked up by their respective clubs before the free agency period opened for similar salary.   Zidlicky gained $500,000 per season, Aucoin took $250,000 less to stay in Phoenix and Seidenberg got an even $1MM more to stay in Boston.  If all three are to play at the same level as 2009-2010 they would still be GVS friendly.   Aucoin would actually gain GVS value while Zidlicky and Seidenberg would be almost even.  Zidlicky's deal at the back end might be more egregious because of his age and the fact that he will more than likely top out at a 10 or 11 GVT based upon his last few seasons.  Aucoin has been steady in the past few years and only has a two year deal, while Seidenberg is only 28 and should be able to sustain a GVT value through the live of his contract that he remains at least GVS neutral.

Other defensemen who posted a positive GVS  that we can rule out signing with the Devils include future hated rival  Dan Hamhuis at 1.2 GVS.  Assuming he gets at least a $1MM raise per year (probably more than that) he will be in the -2/-3 GVS range unless he starts raising his game a few levels in Philadelphia (and we all hope he doesn't do that).  Mark Eaton (not to be confused with the former Utah Jazz center) also had a positive GVS and should find a comparable salary either with Pittsburgh or another team.  I would prefer just resigning the Devils version of Eaton, also known as Mike Mottau, as Eaton plays a similar game.

On the other side of the GVS coin there were a lot of high salary players who underperformed.  Let's assume the Devils resign Paul Martin.  If they do you can rule out anyone asking for or commanding more than a $4MM salary, as it just won't fit right now despite the 5% raise in salary cap.  While Lou Lamoriello has hinted at other moves, I don't see much flexibility in moving salary to acquire another top defenseman if Martin is resigned.  Utilizing that parameter we can rule out possible signing:

Scott Niedermayer-Unless he wants another cup run with Rob at a discount, assuming Rob Niedermayer resigns. Additionally he just retired per Chere.

Andy Sutton-Surprisingly not that effective of a GVT, although he did play on the Islanders so that is never really helpful.  Would we really consider him anything more than a Bryce Salvador/Colin White type?  He has never posted higher than a 7.7 GVT in any one year in his career and it would be hard to predict a surge at this point of his career.

Anton Volchenkov-It hurts to write this, as I really like his style of play, but I don't see the Devils giving him the long term deal he wants.  Maybe if things fall through with Martin, Lou makes a run at him, but I have my doubts.

Zbynek Michalek-Called in some places the ‘poor man's Volchenkov' he is likely to command similar salary numbers to Volchenkov as whoever loses out on the Volchenkov sweepstakes (Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Washington) could possibly overpay for him.  Should he sign a deal for $3MM or upwards of that he will likely be a GVS neutral type of player as he has not posted a GVT higher than 6.8 in a year and that was in his first full year in the league.

Sergei Gonchar-Will want at least $5MM a year and there is always the possibility of the KHL offering up a huge deal to bring him to Russia.  Also, as I write this there are unconfirmed reports that Gonchar has had his rights traded to the San Jose Sharks.

OK, assuming Martin does resign who should the Devils or who could the Devils target that could provide positive values in both GVT and GVS?  Before that speculation, I also want to present the idea that much like the trade for Jason Arnott, another defenseman could be signed for a short term deal to allow for Alexander Urbom or Matt Corrente to step up into a first pairing role, similar to how Arnott will be holding the second line center position for Jacob Josefson or Adam Henrique.  To fill a similar role the Devils should be looking for a player who provides a 6+ GVT (replacing at least Mottau and equivalent to Bryce Salvador) and will not command a long term deal.  So we are looking for a productive, yet cheap player.  Who isn't!   Let's look at the possibilities out there:

Jordan Leopold- Took a vicious hit in the playoffs from Andy Sutton and the concussion history is a bit scary to commit to him for more than a year or two.  He can move the puck, which the Devils need so he is seemingly a good fit as a productive, potentially cheap player.  If the Devils can sign him for $2.5MM for two years it could give them the defensive flexibility they need.  Is he a true top 4 defenseman?  He is solid enough so that a pairing with Salvador would keep him away from other team's top lines where his defense could be exposed.  Where will he potentially go? Well, if community members at PensBurgh have anything to say about it the Penguins will resign Leopold. 

Kurtis Foster-Numbers look great GVT/GVS wise, but he is a power play specialist and if John MacLean keeps the 4 forward power play setup there is little reason to sign him.  If the Devils were going to go down the road of a defensive PP specialist I'd rather go (gasp) for Marc-Andre Bergeron.

Derek Morris-Considering he is still participating in Coyotes fan events, I have a feeling that he will be staying in Phoenix. 

Henrik Tallinder-Paired with rookie Tyler Myers the GVT/GVS was sufficient but this write up from Die by the Blade makes me reluctant for the Devils to pursue him.

Pavel Kubina-At 33, he might get a 3 or 4 year offer but I hope one of those offers isn't from the Devils.  He was productive in Atlanta and before that in Toronto and Tampa Bay, but if he wants anywhere close to his current salary of $5MM the Devils shouldn't even enter the discussion.  His GVT seems to be hovering around 8.3 for the past few years with a few high years (11.8 in 07-08) and low years (6.3 in 06-07) mixed in.

Kim Johnsson-Traded to Chicago at the deadline to provide the Blackhawks with a quality player this year and some cap relief next year.   He didn't help that much for Chicago's cup run as he had a concussion that sidelined him throughout the end of the regular season and the playoffs.  At 34, if he is cleared to play he might be worth a one year deal at $3MM. He can provide value at a contract from $3MM-$3.5MM as he has been steady with his GVT ratings for his entire career, but anything over that wouldn't be a smart investment based on previous year's numbers and injury concerns.

Tomas Kaberle (wild card)-  It's not an article about a potential defensemen acquisition without Kaberle is it?  The Devils would have to trade for Kaberle and unless Lou can work some magic over Burke the price tag for Kaberle would probably be too much.   Plus, with trading our second round pick for Arnott I would be reluctant to include any picks this year or next limiting our trading assets.  That said, he is still productive and cost effective for one year at $4.25MM.

My vote?  I would love to see Volchenkov in a Devils uniform but that is unlikely to happen.  So I think the best bet, if they are healthy, would be to target either Jordan Leopold or Kim Johnsson.  Leopold would be the preferred choice mainly because of youth and upside. Both players might be willing to sign one year deals to prove their injuries are behind them, not hurting the cap in 2011-12 and beyond.

For a great analysis on free agency and the Devils defense please read or re-read John's article from last month.

Now, the summary above was focused on who to acquire should the Devils re-sign Martin.  What if he doesn't resign?  Not having a #1 defenseman would be something Devils fans have not seen in a long time and I would have to guess that the Devils might be forced to pay more than they would like for a Kubina or make a trade to steady the defense.  It's not a situation I like to imagine, but the closer we get to July 1st without Martin signed makes me much more nervous.  

Also, I had promised in Part 2 to look at the 2009-2010 Devils GVT/GVS but rather than rehash the information, community member FrankG929 went ahead and posted a great summary of the Devils 2009-2010 GVT/GVS here, and as we all could have guessed, with his low salary and performance Zach Parise was tops on the Devils last year in both GVT and GVS.  I suggest you definitely take a look at that to see the team's GVT/GVS value from last year.  Frank even adds in GVC (Goals Versus Cap Hit) a variation of GVS that measures GVT against the actual cap hit instead of the player's salary.  The only issue I have with GVC is that the way current deals are structured (front loaded and minimal salary on the backend) it gives a player with a long term deal more of an opportunity to ‘earn' his money than GVS does.  

As an aside, I have been putting together some ideas for a better way to incorporate salary, GVT, positional value and cap hit into a statistical measurement tool.  I have failed miserably so far, but if I do come up with something the readers at ILWT will be the first to know!

As per a request in the comments section about Part 1, I will be working on a piece that looks at the post lockout free agency history of the Devils in the context of comparable free agent signings by other teams and also how our former players performed once they signed a big contract somewhere else.  I can't wait to write the Scott Gomez section. 

So what does everyone think about Part 2?  Should the Devils break the bank (and go up against the cap) for a guy like Volchenkov or Michalek?  Should they focus on a stop-gap guy like Morris or Leopold?   

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