2019 Best Free Agent Signings: The Central Division

The offseason drags on but honestly, hockey keeps cranking on. We take a look back at a couple of the best free-agent signings from the Central Division. It’s always best to take some time away to get a better perspective on anything involving dollar amounts. Anyway, here is where heaping praise on general managers is not frowned upon.

When combing through the signings, this was the division that was the most clear-cut. Let’s take a look at two players — Robin Lehner and Joe Pavelski.

Robin Lehner — G — Signed UFA with Chicago (1 year, $5 million)

This seems like more of a risk than it is in reality. Lehner played on a New York Islanders team that improved leaps and bounds defensively from the season before. However, some of those gaudy numbers are not possible without the breakout season from Lehner. The goaltender finished top-five in the All-Star rankings, helped win the Jennings Trophy, and finished third in the race for the Vezina Trophy.

Many expected a longer-termed pact but in the end, Lehner circled back to Chicago on a one-year contract. Now, this was a raise from the $1.5 million he made for the New York Islanders in 2018-19.

Here is a bit more from PuckPedia.

Again, it boggles the mind that Lou Lamoriello and the Islanders could not get a deal done with Lehner. Maybe, in time, more will be known about what happened. However, something is fishy and remains so.

Lehner’s numbers drive upward because of preservation. He only played in 46 games last season but to be fair, a few other goalies were in that 46-54 game range that most would not expect — Ben Bishop is a glaring example here.

First, it is not easy to bounce back the way Lehner did. When one considers his battle with mental illness, the goaltender overcame so much already. Then, the level Lehner performed at last season which was incredibly consistent.

There is probably no way he comes in with a 2.13 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. However, Lehner improves Chicago’s goaltending by a solid margin. Plus, if Corey Crawford goes down to injury, Lehner can play a run of games without any hesitation.

If Chicago finishes high in the Central Division, Lehner will be a big reason for that.

Joe Pavelski — C, RW — Signed UFA with Dallas (3 years, $7 million AAV)

While the price tag seems steep, the Dallas Stars gained a natural-born leader in the ilk of Mike Modano. There is one other red flag and that would be age. However, Pavelski has made it a career of defying the aging process much like his former teammate (Joe Thornton) did.

His minutes stayed around 19 minutes a night and Pavelski enjoyed a career-best 20.2% shooting percentage. Shooting over 20% presents is not sustainable but Pavelski averaged barely 2.5 shots per game (lowest since his rookie year).

PuckPedia has a little more on the right-winger here.

Pavelski averaged 2.01 points per 60 playing tougher minutes than most forwards his age. His low center of gravity and body strength makes him difficult to play against. Now, his true calling card is his ability to deflect pucks and work on the power play.

Dallas moves up in its chances of winning the Central Division with this move for multiple reasons. The Stars signed a player who can win crucial face-offs (Pavelski has a 55% career percentage from the dots). Also, the forward can play on the first or second line and becomes an instant mainstay on an already top power-play unit.

The upside on the forward becomes his ability to play a good two-way game. He always seems to finish around the top 10 or 20 in Selke award voting. Furthermore, his possession numbers relative to the team mostly are in the plus territory. Finally, his durability helps in a tough Pacific Division. Pavelski missed just eight games in the past eight seasons.

Dallas becomes one of the favorites to win the Central Division with this move.