Winnipeg Jets Free Agency: Part Three – Free Agent Options

The Winnipeg Jets are entering 2015’s free agency and they have some holes to fill.

While free agency is no longer a place you can build a team, it is still a location where smart General Managers can efficiently supplement their core, pushing the team to the next level.

The Jets currently have about 54 million assigned for 2015, and Mark Chipman estimates the Jets to be about a third-quartile team in spending. After making the playoffs last season for the first time since the franchise’s move to Canada, the Jets will be looking to contend for a second time.

Let’s take a look at some external options the Jets have for filling up their roster through free agency.

In the last article of our series, we looked at internal options for the Jets’ roster holes.

Of course, there is risk through depending on internal replacement. Maybe the rookies are not NHL ready yet and should not be gifted a role. Maybe negotiations with potential returning players fall a part, leaving you with nothing.

While there are internal options for the Jets, it would be best to look at what are some options in free agency that may be an upgrade or stopgap for internal options.

Fourth-Line Centre

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All numbers except age are for the last three season’s combined and from WAR-on-Ice.

Every once in a while a team will find a Mathieu Perreault in free agency. Young, talented, and under-appreciated players who were lost due to payroll restraints do not come that often though.

For the most part, free agency is about getting low-risk players who may be a tad undervalued and still provide value to the team.

If the Jets are looking for a fourth line player, Daniel Winnik, Torrey Mitchell, and Marcel Goc offer potential value in a fourth line role. While they are not strong enough players to perform in a team’s top-six, they can provide value taking defensive responsibilities and eating minutes while the team’s more offensively-gifted players rest.

All three players cost comparably to Chris Thorburn, while providing more on-ice value than the Jets depth forward.

The Jets primarily use the fourth line for defensive zone starts, and all three of these players are accustomed to taking more than the lion’s share of defensive zone face offs.

Despite their heavy defensive usage, all three end up with a relative Corsi percentage much greater than their heavily negative relative zone start percentage. dCorsi suggests that all three of them are performing well above average for their deployment as well. Their total impact on goal differentials estimated by GAR is above that of a replacement level forward, despite GAR not accounting for their usage.

Winnik is the best of the bunch with scoring more third line rates than fourth, and he’s likely the most expensive as well. He recently came off a very inexpensive contract where Winnik performed exceptionally well in Toronto. He boosted up his value and became a coveted player at the trade deadline, but then fell back to underrated while playing in Pittsburgh.

While Winnik has played as a centre previously, lately he has mostly played wing. If the Jets do not have faith in Winnik’s centre ability, or want a cheaper alternative, Mitchell and Goc are also affordable depth forwards.

Wingers

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All numbers except age are for the last three season’s combined and from WAR-on-Ice.

There is some legitimate value that can be found in free agency for wingers.

While Jiri Tlusty struggled to score as a Jet, he is the most coveted of the bunch due to his youth and history with strong ability to score. In terms of shot metrics he is the weakest link, although he is not too shabby there. If the Jets are looking for a sheltered scorer, Tlusty would be ideal, although they already have one in Drew Stafford.

Sean Bergenheim is a strong winger that fell out of favour of his previous team for not meeting expectations. This is a common trend for under appreciated players; expectations were raised too high and the disappointment of them not attaining that value causes them to become undervalued. Bergenheim can take defensive zone starts while still coming ahead. He does not score well enough for a top-six role, but still outpaces the average third-line forward.

The former Jet Eric Fehr also has some value. Like Bergenheim, Fehr has come ahead under tough minutes and has scored above average for a third-line forward. He is not one you want to keep in your top-six as a mainstay, but he is a player who can fill in short term with injuries.

Erik Condra may be the most under appreciated of the bunch. Very few respect Condra as much as the hockey analytics crowd. Condra barely scores above average for a fourth-line forward, but has an exceptional talent in tilting the ice in his team’s favour. Condra is also an exception for fourth line players, with his scoring chance numbers being superior to his Corsi numbers, suggesting some shot quality skill there as well.

Martin Erat may come as the most expensive player of the bunch, due to coming off of a 4.5 AAV contract. With his performance, he should be expecting a pay decrease, but how much remains to be seen.

David Moss has been an almost identical performer to Condra, with similar strengths and weaknesses, although GAR estimates him to be a bit of a weaker link.

Lee Stempniak is familiar to Jet fans. Most do not think much of Stempniak’s scoring ability, but truth is he does score above the average third line rate. He is not as strong of a shot metric player as most of the list aside from Jiri Tlusty, but provides value in all areas. His GAR is slightly skewed due to an one time, heavily negative season in 2013-14.

David Booth is our final player on the list. The forward is not the goal scorer that he once was. In fact, he is the lowest point scorer per minute on the list. Still, Booth is a player that tilts the play in his team’s favour, which is conductive of outscoring opponents.

Final Thoughts

Free agency is famous for GMs looking to hit home-runs, signing players to inflated contracts who never meet their expectations, and then are ultimately disappointed.

There is however a great deal of value in support players available this year.

While the list of players above is far from the sexy “top-UFA” attractions most media sites are discussing, these players offer the greatest bargain for your worth in free agency.

This is perfect for the Jets. The Jets have most of their top-nine forward core filled, and there is a chance that Nikolaj Ehlers and Alex Burmistrov may fill in the final spots.

The Jets would be wise using players like these to fill in the bottom of their roster. These players could play exceptionally well despite taking defensive zone starts, while offering above average scoring and an ability to move up to the third-line if needed.