Free Agent Bargains Part II: Benoit Pouliot

Originally published June 26, 2014

Last week we pointed out that a team looking for a steal in the free agent market should snap up Radim Vrbata if they could get him for anything like his 2013-14 salary of $3,000,000.

Benoit Pouliot might be an even better buy.

At first glance, Pouliot’s numbers are solid but unexceptional. Over the past three years he’s scored 39 goals and 49 assists playing for the Rangers, Bruins, and Lightning. But those humdrum stats belie some pretty impressive productivity.

Because he played for some deep teams, over those three years Pouliot averaged less than 13 minutes per game. So when we normalize his productivity to account for differences in playing time, we see that he’s actually more productive in 5-on-5 play than almost any other player in this year’s free agent crop, including marquee free agent and 6.6 million dollar man Paul Stastny.

*Jagr is included because he was part of this year’s free agent class, though he re-signed with the Devils soon after the end of the season.

Pouliot stacks up well in terms of production per 60 minutes, but when we also account for the fact that his cap hit last year was only $1.3 million, Pouliot blows the competition out of the water. If we divide salary by the number of goals, assists, and points, we see that the Rangers got about four times as much bang for their buck out of Pouliot last year as the Avalanche got out of Stastny. Pouliot’s goals/assists/points per dollar were also between double and triple those of Jagr and Mr. Rent-A-Disappointment, Thomas Vanek.

Pouliot article graph 2

When we add in the fact that Pouliot is also a solid defensive player (with an average goals for percentage above 60 over past three years) who has developed a physical aspect to his game (a hit differential of +58 in 2013-14), he looks even better relative to some of the uni-dimensional free agents on the market.

All of that should be enough for a team to jump at the chance to sign Pouliot. But to me there’s one other set of statistics that might be even more impressive. A useful tool for assessing a player’s individual contribution to his team’s success is to measure whether other players on his team perform better when playing with him or without him. These statistics are called “WOWYs” (“With Or Without You”). These stats measure whether the player’s performance improves or detracts from the productivity of his teammates, which may provide an indirect measure of aspects of his overall contribution that might not be picked up in point totals or even possession metrics like Corsi or Fenwick.

The final graph shows Pouliot’s WOWYs for Corsi For %, which measures the percentage of shots taken by his team as opposed to the opposition when he’s on the ice.

Remarkably, every single player to play substantial minutes with Pouliot last year had a better Corsi For % when playing with him than they did when playing without him. Some players (e.g., McDonagh or Richards) may have faced tougher opponents when playing with linemates other than Pouliot, and it’s also possible Pouliot just had a lucky year. But guess what? Almost every player Pouliot played with in Boston and Tampa during the two previous seasons also had better Corsi For percentages when playing with Poutliot than when playing ithout him. That tells us this guy is doing something that makes his teammates better.

Pouliot article graph 3

Pouliot came into the NHL as a 4th overall pick in a year in which the 4 other top 5 picks were Sidney Crosby, Bobby Ryan, Jack Johnson, and Carey Price, and other stars such as Anze Kopitar, Paul Stastny, James Neal, and Tuuka Rask were all picked after him.

That’s tough company to keep up with, but at a cap hit of $1,300,000 last season, this is a guy who offers reliable skill at a fraction of the price.

Combine all of that with the possibility that Pouliot may be overlooked by some teams because he had a slightly below average year last year, and there’s a real chance that he’ll be a bargain buy for some smart team.

1 Comment

  1. May 3, 2016    

    We codul've done with that insight early on.

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