General Managers will be free to offer contracts to UFAs on Wednesday and anytime there are bidding wars, there are overpays. With a flat salary cap, avoiding contracts with lots of term and money for players likely to underperform them is critical. This is difficult to do in unrestricted free agency when managers need to walk the tightrope of doing what they can to improve their team without overpaying for assets.
Whether it’s aging curves, regression candidates, or simply players whose production has not matched their cap hit in the past, there are always ‘buyer beware’ candidates teams should be wary of. This doesn’t mean the players aren’t worth signing, it simply means what they have done in the past is not likely to continue at the same rate going forward. With that in mind, here are some examples of ‘buyer beware’ players set to become unrestricted free agents.
Wennberg enjoyed a resurgent season with the Florida Panthers in 2020-21. After scoring 15 goals combined in his past three seasons, Wennberg broke out with 17 goals in 2021. A first-round pick of Columbus' in 2013, Wennberg has historically been more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. However, among available unrestricted free agents, Wennberg ranked fourth in goals last season. The question then becomes, was he scoring at a sustainable rate and one we can expect to continue going forward?
Wennberg’s career shooting percentage was 9.8 per cent entering this past season and he had never finished a season with a shooting percentage above 12 per cent. His shooting percentage spiked to 20.7 per cent with the Panthers. That is a red flag, but only the first step in determining if Wennberg should be expected to outperform league average shooting percentages.
Did Wennberg create higher quality shots on net? If he did, he might be able to continue at a higher than average shooting percentage, even if cracking 20 per cent again is an unrealistic goal. Wennberg’s expected goals total this past season, based on shot quantity and quality, was 10.4, not including empty-net goals. As mentioned, he scored 17 goals, 15 if you take out empty-netters. This means Wennberg outscored his non-empty net goal expected total by 4.6.
Some players routinely outscore their expected goals total, which is based on league average goal probability on the type of shots the player took. No player outperformed his expected goal total more than Auston Matthews, who led the NHL in goals last season. However, this is not a sign that Matthews is due to regress as he consistently outperforms his expected goal total each year. He is an elite scorer whose shot is well above average. Wennberg does not have the same historical sample of outperforming his expected goal total, in fact, quite the opposite.
Wennberg has underperformed his expected goal total in recent years, scoring at a rate lower than average relative to the shots he put on net. Here is a look at Wennberg’s goal and expected goal totals from last season compared to the two previous, not including empty-net goals.
Wennberg played mainly with Aleksander Barkov and Patric Hornqvist in Florida and benefited from playing with strong players on a high-scoring team. Based on his shots and shot types from last season, a 14-15 per cent shooting percentage for Wennberg would have been sustainable. That’s still well above average and above his career average in Columbus. It’s also still well below the nearly 21 per cent he actually shot.
Wennberg is a good playmaking forward who has shown he can score goals when he decides to shoot the puck. If a team, including Florida, signs him to a contract with an expectation he will continue to score at the 25-goal pace he scored at this past season they will likely be in for a rude awakening.
A Vezina Trophy finalist on a ‘buyer beware’ list? Ya, that’s right. By no means are we suggesting Grubauer isn’t an above-average goalie. He has proved he is. What we are saying is that using traditional stats like goals-against average, save percentage, and wins to evaluate goaltending performance, as most general managers and agents do, only accounts for part of the equation. Grubauer was a good goalie on a great team -- not only great offensively but defensively as well.
This past season, the Avalanche finished third in goals against and first in expected goals against. No team allowed fewer scoring chances, slot shots, inner slot shots, or rush chances than Colorado. No goalie faced an easier workload, in terms of expected goals against, than Grubauer.