Loading scores...
Patrice Bergeron
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Hockey Analytics

NHL ANALYTICS: FREE AGENT FRENZY

by Gus Katsaros
Updated On: February 24, 2022, 1:54 am ET

Editor’s Note: Now, all our premium tools for Fantasy, DFS and Betting are included in one subscription at one low price. Customers can subscribe to NBC Sports EDGE+ monthly for $9.99. Click here to learn more!

With the stagnant nature of growth hampered by COVID and economic challenges, teams entering into the trade deadline season may want to look beyond the immediate availability of free agents and find players with at least a year or more of term. Cost certainty and setting budgets early would be beneficial overall, but even more son with the impact of the last two seasons still fresh.

During the second intermission of the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, Elliotte Friedman speculated that the Toronto Maple Leafs may be involved in negotiations with the Canucks for J.T. Miller. Miller has an additional season in his current contract for $5.25 million before becoming an unrestricted free agent at the age of 29.

To gauge the free agent market over the next two or three seasons, I put together this interactive Tableau viz to visualize the free agent classes as the NHL heads into important days leading up to the NHL trade deadline. The endeavor was to provide an indication of actual cap hit in relation to salary – with contracts flexibility allowing for creative account of paying out real dollars versus the cap hit.

Interactivity doesn’t really come together properly here, but users can play with the inputs by clicking on the link above and changing the parameters. Screen shots below will show what that output looks like.

For an indication of what the next two or three free agent classes looks like, we can focus through the lens of this bubble chart. The yellow bubbles indicate the cluster of players leading up to the six million dollar cap hit, with the white bubbles showing next season’s class, clustered similarly in the middle range. The white bubble to the far right, is actually two players, Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews who signed identical contracts, in 2014 for a cap hit of $10.5 million. The payout on those contracts will be less than $8 million and could potentially spearhead a move out of Chicago at some point if the money (and cap hit) can be normalized.

fas_dark.png

 

 

The darker bubbles signify the 2023-24 free agent class, showing a similar cluster of cap hits and salaries as in 2021-22 and next season, but with a few individual bubbles to the far right. Players like, Auston Matthews with the $11.6 million cap hit, and $10.4 salary. We’ll expand on the Leafs shortly. Anze Kopitar is the bubble between Matthews and the beginning of the clustering of players – another player to watch as he ages and the Kings continue to tinker for the future. Both players are up for renewal in the same off season – the summer of 2024.

all.png

 

In the viz, players are identified by team logo, and hovering over each player will reveal their name and vitals. For 2021-22, the 34-year-old, Claude Giroux is an interesting player with the potential to be moved from the Flyers and can be a major addition to an already powerful club heading into the playoffs. The Flyers standout has a cap hit that is lower than his real dollars salary and is likely to be moving on from Philadelphia altogether and we can maybe catch an early glimpse in silks colored other than orange and black.

Individually, the season’s free agent classes are broken down like this below. The breadth is wider in 2021-22 and 2023-24 with a smaller cluster of free agents in 2022-23 – the middle chart but the expectation is that this will change once the off season is completed in June 2022. More one year contracts will likely be added to further congest the players available.

every_season.png

 

From this, if we filter on the scorching hot Calgary Flames we can see the challenges they are up against heading towards the NHL trade deadline. Their momentum this season warranted a trade for Tyler Toffoli indicates a team going all in, capitalizing on excellent goaltending from Jakob Markstrom, and the blossoming of Oliver Kylington to take advantage of a potent Calgary forward group.

At the end of the season, they’ll have to answer for their success by paying out Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane and Kylington, while making a decision on the unrestricted Johnny Gaudreau.

flames_every_season.png

 

Once they’ve sorted out that group of players, they’ll have to make decisions on the likes of Elias Lindholm, Christopher Tanev, Mikael Backlund, Noah Hanifin and Dillon Dube as an RFA (restricted free agent) in 2023-24 which even though is a couple of seasons away could have a planning impact if the Flames fizzle in the off season. It’s likely Cup or Bust come this spring.

Spread over the next couple of seasons will be key players vying for free agency that will impact the Minnesota Wild. Kevin Fiala and Alex Goligoski can potentially hit the unrestricted market at the end of this season.

minnesota.png

 

They’ll have to make decisions on Ryan Hartman, Marcus Foligno and Mats Zuccarello as unrestricted free agents in a couple of seasons.

The App is Back! Don’t forget to download the NBC Sports EDGE app to receive real-time player news, mobile alerts and track your favorite players. Plus, now you can check out articles and player cards. Get it here!

Toronto has a few difficult questions to answer in a couple of seasons when Auston Matthews comes up for resigning in 2023-24, along with the currently reasonable contract for William Nylander. Both will likely garner raises, with Nylander likely demanding compensation more commensurate of his recent contributions. Recent injury trouble for Jake Muzzin might make the decision easier than expected, although a proper replacement will be required to fill in that roster spot. I think it’s the spot for Timothy Liljegren to inherit, but with the state of the Leafs trying to be more competitive in the playoffs, there wouldn’t be any surprise to see any other players airlifted in for quicker support.

leafs.png

 

The Boston Bruins are in the unenviable position of having to decide on what to do with an NHL superstar in Patrice Bergeron. The stalwart forward is up for renewal at the end of the season and could be weird seeing him dressing in other team’s colors. They will also have to deal with David Pastrnak in the near future so we could see the complexion of the Bruins altered after the end of 2021-22.

boston.png

 

 

The young and vibrant Carolina Hurricanes will have a few free agents to address at the end of 2021-22, and then Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen come up for renewal in 2023-24. There’s a window for the Hurricanes, and this renewal could by potentially impacted by increases for both players.

 

carolina.png

 

With the initial success wearing off in Vegas, the recent expansion team’s magnificent run from inception will have to address Jonathan Marchessault at the end of 2021-22 – or earlier if there’s interest at the trade deadline, and some other key players in 2022-23 and 2023-24 will alter the complexion of the Golden Knights.

vegas.png

The uncertainty of the next couple of seasons is starting to work its way through the league after siphoning off the 2020-21 season and previous summer’s playoffs due to the lack of fans. With HRR (hockey related revenue) so closely tied to the salary cap ceiling and lower thresholds, unless the NHL returns to consistent full capacity teams will have to make difficult economic decisions come the opening of free agency. Teams looking to add at this deadline may be more willing to deal for certain costs, rather than straight talent or to address a perceived weakness in the roster.

It should make for an interesting trade deadline.

Gus Katsaros
Gus Katsaros is the Pro Scouting Coordinator with McKeen’s Hockey, publishers of industry leading scouting and fantasy guide, the McKeen’s Annual Hockey Pool Yearbook. He also contributes to popular blog MapleLeafsHotStove.com ... he can be followed on Twitter @KatsHockey