Free-agent season is a risky time, as teams open their wallets wide to fill some of the more troublesome holes in their lineups. But some NHL general managers acquire the talent they need with minimum risk, signing proven veterans to short-term deals with minimal cap hits. Every year we try to find the safest signings -- the players most likely to deliver what the team needs and provide the best return on the cap space committed to them.
The system we use is centered on Goals Versus Salary, or GVS, which measures the value of a player's contributions -- offensive, defensive and goaltending -- in terms of goals relative to what a player with the same cap hit would provide over the course of the entire deal. Our expectations for each player are based on an average of their past three seasons, where each season is given twice the predictive weight as the one previous. In this look, we are considering only the unrestricted agents who were signed on or after the July 5 start to the free-agent season, which means that players like Pascal Dupuis, who otherwise easily would have made this list, are left out.
Matt Cooke, LW, Minnesota Wild
3 Years, $2.5M/year | GVS 5.5
NHL teams are starting to learn the importance of an effective third line. The unit can take the pressure off the top lines, unleashing their full offensive power. That's why a few extra dollars spent on the right third-line player, like hard-hitting two-way veteran Cooke, can go a long way.
Zach Parise, for instance, will no doubt continue to be effective with a tough defensive veteran like Cooke handling some of the more blue-collar assignments. Last year, for example, Cooke started the second-fewest shifts in the offensive zone among Penguins forwards and, just like Parise did in Minnesota, faced the second-highest level of competition. Unlike Parise, Cooke is locked down for a reasonable three years and carries a cap hit of just $2.5M per year -- which is easy to move if things don't work out. As it is now, though, he should help alleviate some of the defensive burden from Parise.