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Behind The Numbers

Best available unrestricted free agents by category

Look at top UFAs by numbers on power play, faceoffs, drawing penalties, shootout, more

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

The free agent signing period that begins July 1 always is one of the most exciting times on the NHL calendar.

It's no different this year.

Although Steven Stamkos, the expected star of the 2016 class, has decided to remain with the Tampa Bay Lightning, veteran forwards David Backes, Loui Eriksson, Andrew Ladd and Milan Lucic have been drawing plenty of attention as each appears destined for the open market.

But the focus for NHL general managers soon will shift to free agents who contribute in a number of unheralded but nevertheless important ways, like killing penalties, winning faceoffs, drawing penalties and scoring in the shootout.

To provide insight on unrestricted free agents who could help a team in a specific area, 10 categories have been selected for examination. In each case, the statistical leader among expected UFAs has been identified using data from the past three seasons combined (shootout is done by NHL career totals), independent of external factors or potential contractual value.

Video: BOS@FLA: Huberdeau sets up Hudler for one-timer

EVEN-STRENGTH SCORING: Jiri Hudler, RW, Florida Panthers

For teams that need scoring, there's an alternative to breaking the bank in bidding wars for players like Lucic and Eriksson.

At even strength, Hudler led all UFA forwards with 2.19 points per 60 minutes over the past three seasons, according to Hockey Analysis.

Hudler's upside was demonstrated in the 2014-15 season, when his 31 goals and 76 points in 78 games led the Calgary Flames. This season, his playing time was reduced from 18:00 minutes per game in '14-15 to 15:45, he was traded to the Panthers prior to the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline, and he had 16 goals and 46 points in 72 games.

Others: Kyle Okposo, RW, New York Islanders (2.14); Jason Demers, D, Dallas Stars (0.98)

Video: FLA@NYI, Gm3: Nielsen ties it up on the power play

POWER-PLAY SCORING: Frans Nielsen, C, New York Islanders

Over the past three seasons, Stamkos averaged 5.00 points per 60 minutes with the man-advantage. Nielsen is the one UFA forward who can match, and even exceed, that scoring rate, at 5.03.

Over the past three seasons, Nielsen has 58 power-play points in 717:44 of man-advantage time on ice, three fewer than Stamkos has in 701:03.

Others: David Schlemko, D, New Jersey Devils (5.00); Marek Zidlicky, D, New York Islanders (4.40)

Video: TBL@NYI, Gm4: Okposo gives Islanders an early lead

PLAYMAKING: Kyle Okposo, RW, New York Islanders

Over the past three seasons, Okposo set up an estimated 3.01 shots per game, the highest among UFA forwards.

The setup statistic is determined by calculating the percentage of a team's goals for which a player received a primary assist, multiplied by all shots taken when he is on the ice, and broken down by manpower situation.

In more traditional terms, Okposo averaged 0.56 assists per game over the past three seasons, 18th among NHL forwards.

Others: Eric Staal, C, New York Rangers (2.95); Brian Campbell, D, Florida Panthers (1.75); Jason Demers, D, Dallas Stars (1.69)

Video: NJD@TOR: Polak lays out Josefson along the boards

PENALTY-KILLING: Roman Polak, D, San Jose Sharks

Polak leads all UFAs with an average of 2:44 of shorthanded ice time per game over the past three seasons. His ability to reduce shot attempts, scoring chances and goals helped the St. Louis Blues kill 85.7 percent of their penalties in 2013-14, the second-highest percentage in the League behind the Devils (86.4 percent).

Then, Polak helped the Toronto Maple Leafs improve from 78.4 percent in 2013-14 to 80.5 percent in 2014-15. After being traded to San Jose on Feb. 22, Polak helped the Sharks kill 82.5 percent of their penalties in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Others: Dan Hamhuis, D, Vancouver Canucks (2:42); Nicklas Grossmann, D, Arizona Coyotes (2:35); Boyd Gordon, C, Arizona Coyotes (2:42)

Video: PIT@NYR: E. Staal nets his second goal of the game

SHOT ATTEMPTS: Eric Staal, C, New York Rangers

Over the past three seasons, the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers dominated their opponents in shot attempts when Staal on the ice, 3,796-3,127. His shot attempts differential of plus-669 is 20th in the NHL over that time span.

In other terms, the share of all even-strength shot attempts Staal's team took improved from 49.6 percent when he was off the ice to 54.8 percent when he was on it.

Others: Jason Demers, D, Dallas Stars (plus-608)

FACEOFFS: Paul Gaustad, C, Nashville Predators

Winning 1,742 of the 3,069 faceoffs that he took over the past three seasons, Gaustad's 56.8 faceoff winning percentage ranks fourth among the 182 players who took at least 500 draws over that span, behind Vladimir Sobotka (61.9 percent), who played for the Blues from 2010-14 before leaving for the Kontinental Hockey League, Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins (58.6 percent) and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks (56.8 percent).

Gaustad's faceoff success is that much more impressive given that so many of them were taken in the defensive zone and/or while killing penalties.

Others: Boyd Gordon, C, Arizona Coyotes (56.6 percent); Matt Cullen, C, Pittsburgh Penguins (55.9); Dominic Moore, C, New York Rangers (54.8)

Video: DET@TBL: Helm goes five-hole as he falls to the ice

DRAWING PENALTIES: Darren Helm, C, Detroit Red Wings

Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri is the only player who has been more effective at drawing penalties than Helm.

Over the past three seasons, Helm has drawn 64 penalties while taking 21 of his own. When taking his position and ice time in different manpower situations into account, he's worth an extra 23.1 power plays per 82 games.

Other: Frans Nielsen, C, New York Islanders (38 penalties drawn, 13 taken)

SHOOTOUT: Frans Nielsen, C, New York Islanders

Since the shootout was introduced for the 2005-06 season, Nielsen leads the League with 42 goals in 82 attempts.

From a goaltending perspective, Eddie Lack of the Carolina Hurricanes has stopped 33 of 41 shootout attempts, for a save percentage of .805. Among the 44 active goalies who have faced at least 40 shootout attempts, Lack ranks second behind the Islanders' Thomas Greiss (.833).

Others: Radim Vrbata, RW, Vancouver Canucks (41 for 96); Brad Boyes, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs (39 for 88); Jhonas Enroth, G, Los Angeles Kings (.757)

Video: BUF@LAK: Enroth stones Kane from the circle late

HOME-PLATE SAVE PERCENTAGE: Jhonas Enroth, G, Los Angeles Kings

Statistically, the most dangerous shot locations are within the so-called home-plate area, which can be drawn from the goal posts to the faceoff dots, up to the top of the faceoff circles, and directly across.

When considering only shots that were taken inside this home-plate area, Enroth's .837 save percentage over the past three seasons is best among UFA goalies.

Others: Anton Khudobin, G, Anaheim Ducks (.834); Chad Johnson, G, Buffalo Sabres (.833)

Video: BUF@NYR: Johnson's sprawling blocker save on Nash

QUALITY STARTS: Chad Johnson, G, Buffalo Sabres

A quality starts is awarded to a starting goalie in any game when he stops a League-average percentage of shots, independent of how many he faces, or if his team scores enough to win the game.

From this perspective, Johnson leads all UFAs with 48 quality starts in 80 games over the past three seasons. His quality start percentage of 60.0 percent ranks 15th among the 53 goalies to start at least 50 games over that span.

Others: Al Montoya, G, Florida Panthers (57.9 percent); Anton Khudobin, G, Anaheim Ducks (56.2 percent); Eddie Lack, G, Carolina Hurricanes (54.4 percent)

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