Matt Beleskey and the risks of NHL free agency
Four years ago Matt Beleskey came out of nowhere to score 22 goals for the Anaheim Ducks.
It was a perfectly time breakout season because it just so happened to take place in what was a contract year for Beleskey and made him one of the top free agents on the open market the following summer. Not only was he a big forward that could play a tough, physical game, but now there was some offensive production to go along with it. He was the type of player that general managers were going to love.
He ended up signing a five-year, $19 million contract with the Boston Bruins.
On Monday, with still two-and-a-half years left on the deal at $3.8 million per season, he was placed on waivers.
Clearly, things have not gone as either side had planned.
Since signing that contract with the Bruins, Beleskey has not been able to consistently match that production from his final year in Anaheim. He came close to it in his first year, but things have rapidly declined in the two years since.
This season has been especially tough for Beleskey as he has yet to record a point in the 14 games he has played.
Given how much is remaining on Beleskey’s contract, as well as his lack of production the past two seasons, it seems highly unlikely that anyone will claim him, opening the door for him to perhaps be sent to Providence of the American Hockey League once he clears.
Beleskey’s situation in Boston does give us another reminder to the risks of free agency and signing players to long-term contracts off of what amounts to one big season.
Had he been able to repeat his 2013-14 performance, or at least come close to it, his $3.9 million salary cap hit would have been a perfectly reasonable deal for that level of production and play.
But the issue was always whether or not he was going to be able to repeat it, and there were a lot of red flags that he probably would not be able to.
Prior to his 22 goal season with the Ducks (which came in only 65 games) he had only once scored more than 10 goals in a singe season and never scored more than 11.
His breakout season with the Ducks was the result of a career-high 15.2 percent shooting percentage Based on that he was a clear candidate for a significant regression and there was a significant amount of risk with such a long-term contract. It’s one of those areas where analytics can play a big role in helping to avoid a costly mistake and why they can be a great complement for scouting and the eye test. When you have a player that performs that far above his normal career levels it’s worth taking an extra look at that to determine if it’s something that can be repeated or if it’s something that was simply a one year outlier.
In Beleskey’s case, it is becoming increasingly clear that one year in Anaheim was an outlier.
The problem with free agency is that by the time players hit the open market they are often times in one of two situations: They are either past their peaks years of production and teams end up getting into bidding wars and paying top dollar for players that have already played their best hockey for somebody else, or they are players in Beleskey’s situation that had a well-timed career year that may not be repeated.