I’m not exactly Mr. Merry Sunshine when it comes to Darryl Sutter’s performance as GM since the Phaneuf trade, but he got one matter so absolutely correct it seems only fair to examine it. In the run-up to free agency, Sutter noted that a team could find 10 goal scorers for 600K in August, which was a comment on Eric Nystrom’s status. Nystrom signed for a bit more than that in Minnesota, of course, securing a 1.4M x 3 year deal from Chuck Fletcher on the very first day of the free agent period. That’s more than Curtis Glencross or David Moss, and although Moss has his detractors, he’s played decently against middling comp the last few years. Nystrom has never played anything but the stiffs, and has never accomplished anything of note along the way. I though it was a bad deal from the get-go.
It hasn’t exactly improved with age either, but rather than simply re-hash this matter from a Flames’ POV, I wanted to look at what the general market for UFA forwards of his ilk was, and still is. What follows is a review of the UFA forward contracts since the Nystrom deal that had a salary range of 1.4M to 900k, or a 500k downward range from Ny’s deal. I’ll also look at two specific players that are still on the loose.
There weren’t that many deals signed in that price range, to be honest. A few guys like Higgins got a bit more money, and are much better players, but in the range I was looking for, there have only been 5 UFA forward contracts finalized since Nystrom’s. In reverse order of signing, they are:
Doug Weight: NYI, 1 year, 1,150,000 including bonuses
Doug Weight got a "leadership" contract from the Islanders Tuesday, inking a one year deal to act as a mentor for the younger players on a rebuilding squad. He spent his 36 games last season playing the bottom end of other teams’ rosters, and managed to get out-shot in the process, although he did have a 42.0 ZS% working against him. He’s pretty much done as a worthwhile player, IMO, and Eric Nystrom might end up being be better at actually playing hockey, but that’s not why they signed him.
Clarke MacArthur: TOR, 1 year, 1,100,000
MacArthur, along with Antti Niemi, were the summer’s poster children representing the changing attitude towards arbitration awards. Atlanta made the proper choice when they walked from his award, and the Leafs paid a fair price for a player of his ilk. What he has been, at least through about 200 games at the NHL level, is a player that scores a goal about once every 5 games. He and Nystrom make for an interesting comparison, frankly. They’ve both played just over 200 NHL games, and both have really become full timers in the last two years. MacArthur has faced better competition, shot at a consistently high percentage, and managed analogous possession numbers along the way. The only place where Nystrom has looked better is the EV SV % in back of him, and I’m not sure he has anything to do with that. MacArthur is also 2 1/2 years younger than Nystrom, so the chances of him improving his defensive play are still there, and he’s pretty clearly better as an offensive threat.
Raffi Torres: VAN, 1 year, 1,000,000
Torres is an interesting player, mostly because he has some worthwhile history as a productive winger at EV, but he hasn’t been anything special that last two years. He’s played competition not much better than Nystrom, and hasn’t really been an out-shooter. He had a 53.5 ZS % last year as well, so it wasn’t like he was starting up against the wall every shift. Torres has never really been the same reckless player since the Williams hit and the ACL injury, IMO, so I’m not surprised the market for him was a bit barren. The goaltending behind him has been pretty shaky the last two seasons, though, and since he’s now a Canuck, I’m sure he’ll finish the season with a 105 PDO number as we curse his luck 😉 He’s not great, not openly awful, and a million bucks isn’t a bad gamble by the Canucks for one year on the off-chance he has a flash back to 2006.
John Madden: MIN, 1 year, 1,250,000 including bonuses
John Madden had a very good year in 09/10, even if it wasn’t entirely obvious. He was an out-shooter with the Hawks, and while I know that there’s some team effect at play, since the Hawks were better at that than any other club, Madden’s 37.1 ZS% would normally put anyone in the hole, irrespective of surroundings. Joel Quenneville used the veteran pivot as a second center in the defensive zone on a regular basis, so Madden actually faced a pretty high competition level last year as well. He’s still a very useful player, and on a one year basis has every chance of being better at doing what wins games than Nystrom.
Dominic Moore: TBL, 2 years, 1,100,000 per season
Moore has the only multi-year contract among the group, as Steve Yzerman’s nose for value this summer lead him to ink the center through next season. Moore played middling comp in Florida and Montreal, and his relative out-shooting numbers are decent enough considering a) how lousy Florida and Montreal were at out-shooting in the collective, and b) his 42.1 ZS%. He’s been asked to do more than Nystrom has since entering the league, and he’s been pretty productive for a guy whose been a 7.1% shooter over his career. He’s actually a useful player that can play 3rd line minutes, and is cheap enough that if he was your 4th line center, you wouldn’t blanch.
There are two other players that I’ll mention in passing. I don’t really want to rehash the Nigel Dawes thing too much, but as I mentioned in the Tweet I posted at the top of this article, he’s been a better player than Nystrom and he’s younger. Some team will get a very nice player for the league minimum or thereabouts when he’s signed. The other player that isn’t signed as of yet, and who might well fall in to this sort of salary range is Ruslan Fedotenko. He had one of those years where his +/- had not much to do with him, and everything to do with the sucktacular goaltending behind him, frankly, and I suspect that he still has a bit left in the tank. He also shot around 7% after a career of being a 13% shooter, which might make one think he could be due for a correction this season. He’s not as great as people might have made him out to be after the ’04 playoffs, but he isn’t bad at all, and certainly better than Eric Nystrom will ever be. If a team has a million or so left for a winger, he might work out.
The strange thing about looking at this stuff really wasn’t even so much about Eric Nystrom’s deal, but about how the UFA market has changed in the last two years for players that aren’t slam-dunk top-sixers. Even if you look outside the proscribed range I established, there haven’t been many wild overpays as the summer has progressed. That’s also in keeping with how last summer rolled out, which is maybe why Ny’s deal caught my attention, since it was clear to anyone not snoozing that cheap help for your team’s bottom six would be available to the patient teams. Kudos to Nystrom’s agent and all that, but I think Chuck Fletcher jumped the gun with this deal, and I’m very glad Darryl Sutter didn’t match it. It’s not the worst deal made this summer, obviously, since nothing will match the Boogaard contract, possibly ever. What Nystrom’s deal does appear to be is a poor read of the market, and a contract that his history suggests he has very little chance of outplaying.