The free agent crop on defense isn’t as strong as in past years. However, the 2017 expansion draft has created a unique opportunity. With Vegas looking to deal players for picks, they have a bunch of defensemen who could be available as well. We took a quick look at 6 intriguing names (both good and bad) who teams in need of blueline help are sure to consider.
Below we highlight the 3 year average PMF for each defensemen mapped against the quality of competition (QoC) they faced. For QoC we took the average opponent corsi weighted by ice time against and adjusted with PT/60 from the forwards they faced.
Karl Alzner (28, LHD)
We did a full write up on Karl Alzner (link here). While Alzner brings grit, experience, and leadership, he struggled immensely as a puck mover in 2016/17. His 3-year PMF of -2.42 is extremely weak by league standard (an average 3rd pairing puck mover might be in the -1 to 0 range). While he did face the toughest QoC and start most shifts in the defensive zone, teams should be fully aware of his significant shortcomings as a possession driver come July 1.
Kevin Shattenkirk (28, RHD)
Shattenkirk posted strong possession numbers (3-year average PMF of +1.25) while facing decent (2nd line) QoC. In addition to his ability to drive possession and move the puck 5v5, Shattenkirk can QB a powerplay and bring value there, too. Shattenkirk is an offensive defensemen (started 37% of shifts in the offensive zone) who likely slots into most teams as a strong 2nd pairing puck mover (with potential to play top pairing minutes).
Dmitry Kulikov (26, LHD)
Still only 26, Kulikov remains an interesting option for teams. While he wasn’t great as a puck mover, he did play top-4 minutes for Buffalo (~21 min/game in 2016/17) against solid QoC. If he can regain his form from 2 years ago (still only 26), he would make a serviceable 3rd pairing defenseman with potential to move up.
Cody Franson (29, RHD)
Franson may be one of the sneakiest targets in the 2017 free agent class. He’s coming off a 2-year contract with a cap hit of just above $3M per season. While he didn’t play top line minutes (averaged 18 min/game in 2016/17), Franson played a solid defensive game against good QoC. He started 35% of shifts in the defensive zone (vs only 31% in the o-zone) and still scored a 3-year avg PMF of +3.16. Those are strong numbers. Let’s dive into that impact:
WITH Franson on the ice, Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel had Corsi For % of 55.9% and 52.5%, respectively.
WITHOUT Franson on the ice, those numbers drop to 46.1% and 45.3%, respectively.
If he can be obtained at a reasonable cap hit, Franson can be a very solid 2nd/3rd pairing guy.
Vegas Golden Knights
Nate Schmidt (25, LHD)
Schmidt is a young, solid defenseman who Vegas took from Washington in the expansion draft. While he played in a sheltered role (36% O-Zone starts vs 27% D-Zone starts), Schmidt posted solid possession numbers over the past 3 seasons (PMF +0.65). Most notably, he showed strong improvement from 2015/16 (PMF -0.50) to 2016/17 (+0.99), and even played a solid role in Washington’s playoff run. Still only 25, if Schmidt can continue to improve, he can be a strong 3rd pairing guy with upside.
Brayden McNabb (26, LHD)
McNabb, another young defenseman taken in the expansion draft (from Los Angeles), is another interesting player. While he was highly sheltered in Los Angeles (36% offensive zone starts vs 27% defensive zone starts, weak average QoC over 3-year period), he still posted an extremely impressive PMF of +2.00. While he battled injuries in 2016/17, he played alongside Doughty for most of 2015/16 as Doughty went on to win the Norris trophy. Like Schmidt, what’s perhaps most intriguing about McNabb is his recent progression:
Keep in mind that McNabb’s strong PMF numbers come in a sheltered role against weak QoC. This chart by no means suggests McNabb is a day 1 top pairing defensemen. Rather, it highlights McNabb’s strong puck movement ability to date and steady progress over the past 3 years. While he’s been sheltered in Los Angeles to date, he can readily slot in as a strong 3rd pairing with upside to continue developing into a steady top 4 defenseman.
This year’s UFA class of defensemen is not as strong as those in the past. However, rather than overpay or go after a declining asset, teams may be better off targeting an under the radar player (e.g., Franson) or trying to pry an emerging player from Vegas (e.g., Schmidt, McNabb). As the clock ticks to July 1, time will tell.