Top 5 riskiest free agents

Horton among those unlikely to live up to lofty new contracts

Updated: July 17, 2013, 12:44 PM ET
By Rob Vollman | Hockey Prospectus

HortonSteve Babineau/NHLI/Getty ImagesWill Nathan Horton be worth his seven-year, $37.1 million contract in Columbus?

Teams sometimes need to take big risks to compete for the Stanley Cup, and free-agent season provides a prime example of that. You can't get something for nothing, so NHL general managers often have to take some calculated gambles on long-term and pricey deals in order to get the talent their team needs. The shrewdest GMs reveal themselves by taking more calculated risks and avoiding the more reckless gambles.

Every year we highlight the riskiest signings -- the players most likely to come up short of the long-term financial investments made in them. This season it was almost exclusively offensive-minded forwards that required risky premiums to acquire.

The system we use to find these riskiest contracts is based on Goals Versus Salary, or GVS, which measures the value of a player's contributions -- offensive, defensive and goaltending, in terms of goals relative to what a player with the same cap hit would provide over the course of the entire deal. Our expectations for each player are based on an average of their past three seasons, where each season is given twice the predictive weight as the one previous. We are considering only the unrestricted agents who were signed on or after the July 5 start to the free-agent season -- which means that players like Flyers signee Mark Streit, who otherwise would have easily made this list, are left out.


Horton

Nathan Horton, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets
7 Years, $5.3M/year | GVS minus-70.2

For the next seven years, the Columbus Blue Jackets will be shelling out a lot of money for a 25-goal, 55-point offense-only winger who, at age 28, will only decline from there. The investment may be worthwhile if Horton teams up with fellow recent arrival Marian Gaborik to repeatedly exceed the 31-goal, 62-point season he posted when he was 21, but will otherwise leave them holding an awfully expensive bag.

Horton's offensive production is really the key to this deal, given that he doesn't kill penalties, is typically among his team's leaders in offensive zone starts and has had an average quality of competition that has ranked no higher than ninth among this team's forwards in four of the past five seasons. Achieving some power play success will be critical for Horton, who has failed to reach three points per 60 minutes with the man advantage in three of the past four seasons, including just 0.7 last year.