Commentary

An early look at which free-agent signings are paying off

Updated: November 4, 2008, 6:57 PM ET
By Jay Feaster | Special to ESPN.com

Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault recently compared the performance of his star forwards, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, to that of the stock market, a dizzying roller-coaster ride of returns on any given day. (For the record, he noted that he expects plenty of upside from the twins as the season rolls on.)

It's too early (teams have played 10 to 14 games) to start predicting season-long trends, but even at this young stage of the season, some teams appear to have experienced a solid return on their unrestricted free-agent investments from this past summer. Others, meanwhile, are waiting for their UFA acquisitions to rebound.

In looking at the UFA performers to date, I included those who signed their contracts this past summer, even if they were acquired via trade in the days or weeks before July 1, the first day of the NHL's free-agency period. My methodology is simple. I look at the player's 2008-09 average annual value cap hit (AAV), then look at his relative productivity and his team's standing.

Here are my advancers and decliners, in reverse order, with statistics through Monday:

Advancers

10. Marian Hossa, Detroit Red Wings
• Stat lines:
$7.45 million AAV; 12 games played, 6 goals, 9 assists, 15 points, plus-7.
• Although better values on a points-per-dollar basis exist on this list, it is tough to argue with one of the league's top scorers. The fact that he has posted such impressive numbers and Detroit (8-2-2) sits fourth in the NHL validates the Red Wings' investment.

9. Cory Stillman, Florida Panthers
• Stat lines:
$3.533 million AAV; 11 GP, 5 G, 4 A, 9 PTS, plus-3.
• Stillman is off to a great start in South Florida. In addition to his productivity, he has brought veteran leadership and a Stanley Cup champion's attitude to an up-and-coming team. He will help this group learn how to win consistently.

8. Vaclav Prospal, Tampa Bay Lightning
• Stat lines:
$3.5 million AAV; 10 GP, 2 G, 6 A, 8 PTS, plus-6.
• Prospal is an emotional player who makes Tampa Bay's top line click. His commitment to two-way play, as evidenced by his plus-6 rating, has helped the Lightning rebound from a slow start.

7. Miroslav Satan, Pittsburgh Penguins
• Stat lines:
$3.5 million AAV; 12 GP, 6 G, 4 A, 10 PTS, plus-2.
• It's one thing to play with a great center (Sidney Crosby); it's another to be able to finish what that center sets up for you. Four of Satan's six goals have come on the power play.

6. Michael Cammalleri, Calgary Flames
• Stat lines:
$3.35 million AAV; 12 GP, 4 G, 8 A, 12 PTS, even.
• Always a talented player, Cammalleri seems to be playing with an extra jump in his step in Calgary. He's tied for the team lead in scoring, and his plus/minus is tops among the club's three leading scorers.

5. Andrew Brunette, Minnesota Wild
• Stat lines:
$2.333 million AAV; 10 GP, 4 G, 4 A, 8 PTS, minus-1.
• Who says you can't go home again? Brunette has helped Minnesota roll to a 7-2-1 start and overcome the absence of the injured Marian Gaborik.

4. Antti Miettinen, Minnesota Wild
• Stat lines:
$2.333 million AAV; 10 GP, 6 G, 5 A, 11 PTS, minus-2.
• GM Doug Risebrough gets the daily double with this one. Miettinen, who had 34 points last season, already has almost one-third as many points through this season's first 10 games.

3. Todd Bertuzzi, Calgary Flames
• Stat lines:
$1.95 million AAV; 11 GP, 6 G, 2 A, 8 PTS, minus-7.
• The only negative is his plus/minus, but a poor overall start by the Flames impacted those numbers. Big Bert is tied for 11th in the NHL in goal scoring, and the team is back on track, too.

2. Aaron Voros, New York Rangers
• Stat lines:
$1 million AAV; 14 GP, 5 G, 4 A, 9 PTS, even.
• The Rangers are the top team in the NHL, and Voros is a big part of their success. He can score goals and plays with an edge, and his chemistry with linemates Brandon Dubinsky and Nikolai Zherdev is outstanding.

1. Alex Auld, Ottawa Senators
• Stat lines:
$1 million AAV; 6 GP, 3-2-1, 2.15 GAA, .931 save percentage.
• Auld's save percentage is fourth in the NHL, and his GAA is fifth. He has been in goal for seven of the Senators' 10 points and has helped right the ship in Ottawa. He's the best UFA value thus far.

Decliners

10. Cristobal Huet, Chicago Blackhawks
• Stat lines:
$5.625 million AAV; 2-2-1, 2.73 GAA, .910 save percentage.
• Although Huet's numbers aren't a train wreck for the salary and term, he needs to be better than .500 and 15th among goalies. His stock isn't underwater, but Nikolai Khabibulin has outplayed him.

9. Bobby Holik, New Jersey Devils
• Stat lines:
$2.5 million AAV; 5 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS, even.
• To be fair, Holik has been sidelined with an injury. But no productivity and an even rating through his first five games won't put the stock on many "buy" lists.

8. Dmitri Kalinin, New York Rangers
• Stat lines:
$2.1 million AAV; 14 GP, 0 G, 4 A, 4 PTS, minus-5.
• In my preseason analysis for ESPN.com, I suggested Kalinin might be the bargain of the UFA class. Not so far. For some reason, he has not looked comfortable. He needs to do more at both ends of the ice.

7. Ruslan Fedotenko, Pittsburgh Penguins
• Stat lines:
$2.25 million AAV; 11 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 3 PTS, even.
• Playing with either Crosby or Evgeni Malkin should mean he would have more points. A playoff hero in Tampa Bay in 2004, Fedotenko has yet to duplicate that postseason success.

6. Jason Williams, Atlanta Thrashers
• Stat lines:
$2.2 million AAV; 11 GP, 2 G, 3 A, 5 PTS, minus-4.
• The start in Atlanta looks a lot like the stock market from the past month, both on macro (overall) and micro (game-to-game) levels. Scoring has been a problem, and the Thrashers need more productivity from Williams.

5. Mike Commodore, Columbus Blue Jackets
• Stat lines:
$3.75 million AAV; 11 GP, 0 G, 4 A, 4 PTS, minus-1.
• Perhaps his stock isn't underwater. Commodore leads the team in hits, ranks third in blocked shots and ice time among blueliners and is a good teammate. However, with the team at 4-6-1, the investment isn't yet generating a sufficient return given his salary.

4. Radim Vrbata, Tampa Bay Lightning
• Stat lines:
$3 million AAV; 5 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 PT, plus-1.
• Although he was out four games with a groin problem, he was a healthy scratch before the injury. And because the Bolts won three of the four games he missed, Vrbata may be hard-pressed to jump right back into the lineup.

3. Brendan Morrison, Anaheim Ducks
• Stat lines:
$2.75 million AAV; 13 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 PT, minus-7.
• Coming back from an injury and trying to mesh with a new team may help to explain Morrison's slow start. Nonetheless, more is expected, and needed, from the veteran forward.

2. Jose Theodore, Washington Capitals
• Stat lines:
$4.5 million AAV; 8 GP, 4-3-0, 3.44 GAA, .877 save percentage.
• Theodore is 36th in the league in GAA and 34th in save percentage. On too many nights, the Caps find themselves in an early hole when the first or second shot against goes into the net. Although they have the firepower to score four goals per game, this is not a recipe for success. I know from experience.

1. Ryan Malone, Tampa Bay Lightning
• Stat lines:
$4.5 million AAV; 10 GP, 2 G, 0 A, 2 PTS, minus-1.
• Stats don't always tell the whole story, and Malone may be such a case. With few exceptions, he has played inspired hockey, and his work ethic has been solid. But Malone, who plays on the second line with future star Steven Stamkos, needs to put up bigger numbers and take some of the offensive pressure off the team's top line.

Jay Feaster served as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning from the 2001-02 season until resigning after last season. He is a contributor to ESPN.com.