NHL.com goes Behind the Numbers to examine trends during the offseason. Today, a look at some unrestricted free agents who are expected to be in secondary roles but could make a big impact according to underlying statistics.
The free agent market opens Oct. 9 and Behind the Numbers has identified two forwards, two defensemen and two goalies who could each add depth to a new team and excel in a bigger role if given the opportunity.
The 37-year-old began this season with the Los Angeles Kings but was placed on unconditional waivers and had his contract terminated on Dec. 17. He signed a one-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 3, and then was acquired by the Washington Capitals in a trade on Feb. 23. He finished the season with 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists) in 46 games, but his underlying statistics were much stronger. He had positive puck possession metrics, with an SAT of plus-56 in 22 games with the Canadiens, and a plus-15 SAT in seven games with the Capitals. Kovalchuk averaged 2.10 points per 60 minutes, which ranked seventh on Washington, after averaging 1.45 points per 60 with Montreal. He skated mostly in a third-line role with the Capitals and did not have a spot on their top power-play unit, but Kovalchuk did average 2:48 per game on the Kings’ power play. Considering his puck possession and points per 60 statistics, Kovalchuk can still be a productive third-line forward who can also contribute on the man-advantage.
Namestnikov, who will turn 28 on Nov. 22, played for three teams this season. He started with the New York Rangers, was acquired by the Ottawa Senators in a trade on Oct. 7 and then was traded to the Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 24. Namestnikov finished the regular season with 31 points (17 goals, 14 assists) in 65 games and scored five points (four goals, one assist) in 12 postseason games for Colorado. His underlying numbers may suggest he’s capable of even more production after finishing second among Avalanche skaters in points per 60 (2.56) in nine regular-season games, trailing only Nathan MacKinnon (2.87). Namestnikov’s points per 60 average also carried over to the postseason, where he finished sixth among Colorado skaters at 2.34, behind Andre Burakovsky (5.21), Joonas Donskoi (3.23), MacKinnon (3.23), Mikko Rantanen (2.96) and J.T. Compher (2.43). Namestnikov also led the Avalanche in power-play goals per 60 (15.45), suggesting he could make an impact on the man-advantage if he receives a bump from the 52 seconds he averaged on Colorado’s power play during the regular season.
The 30-year-old scored 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) in 64 games this season and four points (one goal, three assists) in 10 postseason games with the Calgary Flames. Brodie was second on Calgary in average ice time (21:01) over the past two regular seasons, behind defenseman Mark Giordano (24:05), and his plus-389 SAT was third over the same span behind Giordano (plus-487) and forward Matthew Tkachuk (plus-396). Brodie helped generate shot attempts when the Flames were behind in games with a plus-75 SAT this season, which was third behind defenseman Rasmus Andersson (plus-79) and Giordano (plus-78). He also played a role on the penalty kill, averaging 1:39 per game to help Calgary tie for eighth in the League with the Chicago Blackhawks (82.1 percent). Brodie’s positive puck possession metrics at 5-on-5 and his ability to contribute on the penalty kill make him one of the better statistical options who could potentially become an unrestricted free agent.
The 27-year-old scored 10 assists in 49 games with the Senators and was held without a point in 10 games after being acquired by the Winnipeg Jets in a trade on Feb. 18. Despite not producing offensively, DeMelo helped drive puck possession with a plus-19 SAT with the Jets during the regular season, which ranked eighth on the team. He also led the Senators with a plus-68 SAT, and averaged 2:22 of ice time per game on the penalty kill with Ottawa and 1:53 per game with Winnipeg. DeMelo is unlikely to contribute much offensively, but his positive puck possession statistics and his ability to log minutes on the penalty kill make him a viable option.
The 34-year-old was 16-9-4 with a 2.74 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in 31 regular-season games (28 starts) with the New York Islanders and was 2-2-0 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in four postseason games. Over the past two seasons, Greiss is tied for seventh in save percentage (.921) with Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Jaroslav Halak of the Boston Bruins, and among those to play at least 20 games, he is fourth in even-strength save percentage (.930) over the same span, behind Anton Khudobin of the Dallas Stars (.936), Tuukka Rask of the Bruins (.931) and Ben Bishop of the Stars (.931). Greiss has thrived in a timeshare situation over the past two seasons, making him a solid choice for teams looking to split their goalie starts.
The 35-year-old was 16-20-3 with a 2.77 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 40 regular-season games (39 starts) with the Blackhawks, and 4-5 with a 3.31 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in the postseason. Crawford’s .917 save percentage during the regular season was tied for 15th with Vasilevskiy and Mikko Koskinen of the Edmonton Oilers, and among those to play at least 20 games, his .926 even-strength save percentage was tied for eighth with Linus Ullmark of the Buffalo Sabres and Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Crawford has historically been a starter, but has excelled with a lesser workload over the past three seasons due to various injury concerns, making him among the better secondary options this offseason.