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Three up and three down: Pending NHL free agents

17 April 2016: St. Louis Blues Right Wing David Backes (42) [3502] in the third period of action during the Game three of the first round of the NHL Playoffs between the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues at the United Center, in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

Every year, there is an NHL player heading to free agency that benefits from overreactions to small sample sizes in the postseason and receives larger offers than they would otherwise.

Think of this as the Ville Leino effect. Leino turned a 21 point postseason surge into a “clutch player” label, helping him receive a six-year, $27 million contract from the Buffalo Sabres. Of course there can be a reverse-Leino, a situation in which a player performs poorly in the postseason, lowering his value in the upcoming offseason.

Let’s take a look at three players that have helped their stock, and three players that have harmed their stock this offseason.

Three Up

Jason Demers/Alex Goligoski/Kris Russell, Dallas Stars

In an odd situation, half of the Dallas Stars’ backend find themselves set for free agency this offseason. Rather than singling out one as being particularly positive, all three deserve appreciation for their performance thus far.

All three of the defensemen are positive possession players this postseason, while each has individually shown potentially interested teams reason to pounce in free agency.

Jason Demers leads the trio in even strength Goals For percentage, being on the ice for nine goals for and only two goals against thus far.

Alex Goligoski leads the three in Corsi For percentage with an outstanding 63.1%, despite playing against the oppositions top players.

Kris Russell went into his Dallas Stars tenure labeled a possession void that could only block shots, but thus far he has continued his strong end of the season play to the positive mark of a 53.3 Corsi For percentage, and aiding the Stars’ penalty kill in allowing only five power-play goals against this postseason. Russell has played in a sheltered role, but if NHL teams are willing to overlook that he could be in for a large payday.

Kyle Okposo, New York Islanders

While John Tavares has led the way for the Islanders this postseason, his right-hand man has been with him every step of the way. Okposo has remained a constant alongside Tavares even when New York switched off between Ryan Strome, Nikolay Kulemin, and Alan Quine as the third forward.

Okposo has remained a possession positive in addition to tallying seven points in eight games, including six points in five Islanders wins. With the Islanders struggling to find secondary scoring, Okposo’s importance in Brooklyn has never been more evident.

David Backes, St. Louis Blues

Backes is a peculiar case because statistically he hasn’t performed up to expectations, but by the eye test he will certainly garner applause from NHL front offices.

Backes is a negative possession player and has only scored two points at even strength, but the “intangibles” have been off the charts this postseason. Nearly ever Blues game has included clips of Backes hitting opponents into submission, something many have pointed to as a reason the Blues were able to finally get past the Chicago Blackhawks.

Backes’ overtime goal in Game 1 of that series and then again yesterday in Game 2 against the Stars have helped pave the way, but more importantly to those in charge, his captaincy of the team that finally got over the hump should be enough reason for a team to make a misguided leap.

April 19, 2016: Detroit Red Wings forward Brad Richards (17) fires a slapshot on goal during Game 4 of the NHL Eastern Conference First Round series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Detroit Red Wings played at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. Tampa Bay defeated Detroit 3-2. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)

Three Down

Brad Richards, Detroit Red Wings

Richards had a fine regular season and wasn’t a poor possession player by any means against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the aging veteran showed that the speed of the NHL postseason may have finally caught up to him.

He didn’t manage a point in 5-on-5 play in the first round, and his Goals For percentage of 16.7 percent was the worst of his playoff career. Detroit only scored once while Richards was on the ice at even strength, as the soon to be 36-year-old looked out of place in a shellacking by Tampa Bay.

Richards’ poor postseason performance led to his being bought out by the Rangers in 2014, so this poor performance could cost him some money again.

Matt Martin, New York Islanders

One third of the “best fourth line in hockey”, Martin has struggled to get his game going. His hitting did little-to-nothing against the Florida Panthers, and against the speedy and possession-minded Lightning it hasn’t translated well.

Through eight games, Martin has failed to tally a point, while posting a brutal 41.2 Corsi For percentage. He hasn’t yet been on the ice for an even-strength goal, as the normally fantastic fourth line has struggled in the postseason, something every NHL executive will take into account.

Roman Polak, San Jose Shark

Polak is a similar case to Kris Russell with the opposite result. As the San Jose Sharks push through the NHL playoffs, Polak continues to serve as a negative amongst a team of positives. Polak has not tallied a point, continuing to serve as a misnamed “defensive defenseman.” Polak has not seen major minutes or been given major responsibilities, taking away the opportunity for him to prove that he has more in the tank than as a checking defenseman.

Stats via War-On-Ice


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