Free Agent Profile: Sami Vatanen, Reunion on the Horizon?

Sami Vatanen is a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent and a hot commodity. (Photo via Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Surprise surprise, we are covering another defenseman in our 2020 Free Agent Profile series. Today, we analyze former New Jersey Devil, Sami Vatanen. Though Vatanen is right-handed, he is still a player general manager Tom Fitzgerald should investigate.

Vatanen would fill one of three major offseason needs: a top-two defenseman, a top-six winger, and a backup goalie. If you want to see our last profile on Radko Gudas, it can be found here. Without further ado, here’s Sami Vatanen’s free agent profile.

Player Biography

Height: five-foot-ten 

Weight: 183 pounds

Age: 29

Status: Pending Unrestricted Free Agent

Quick analysis: Sami Vatanen is a top-pairing defenseman who does not generate too much offense. But, holds his own in the defensive end quite well. He doesn’t anchor a defense like a John Carlson-type does, but is a vital piece on the blue-line. 

Brief History

Sami Vatanen was a member of the Anaheim Ducks until 2017. (Photo via Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Sami Vatanen has spent most of his career with the Anaheim Ducks. However, he was expendable in a Ducks’ defensive core that was extremely deep. For this reason, in November of 2017, he was traded to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi, and a conditional third-round pick.

He then spent parts of three seasons with the Devils where he was the top defenseman on an almost non-existent blue-line. In February, he was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in what turned out to be a lopsided deal for the Devils as he has only appeared in a few playoff games for the Hurricanes. His expiring contract was a four-year deal and worth a total of $19,500,000.

Statistics

CF%48.38%
SF%49.5%
HDCF%51.3%
These above statistics are from Vatanen’s time with New Jersey. Statistics courtesy of naturalstattrick.com.

Do not let some of these low numbers deceive you. A lot of it can be chalked up to the team he was playing for. For most of his time with New Jersey, the team was horrendous, so some of these on-ice statistics are actually pretty good.

The Corsi For % (CF%) and Shots For % (SF%) are passable, if not spectacular. What really jumps out is that when Vatanen was on the ice, the Devils controlled over 50% of the high danger chances, which is important.

Analysis

Basically, the Devils were generally better off when Vatanen was on the ice. This is not to say he is the end-all-be-all of defensemen, he may be a top-two blue-liner but as I said before, he cannot solely anchor a defense.

He is a crucial piece who adds extra power to a defensive unit. Vatanen is the type of player that could push a contender over the hump. However, he can also be well-suited to play for a team like the Devils. More on that to follow.

Other Factors

Sami Vatanen has dealt with injuries over the past two seasons. (Photo via Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

One major thing to consider when signing Vatanen is his history with injuries. Over the past few seasons, he has had trouble staying on the ice. He has never played more than 75 games in a season throughout his career. If you’re looking for someone to consistently hold down the blue-line, Vatanen may not be your guy.

Another factor is his age. At 29-years old, Vatanen is not very old, but a long-term contract at his age could be ill-advised. Vatanen is still in his prime, but any contract he signs would be for a win-now or close to win-now kind of team. Vatanen’s age combined with his injury history could significantly lower his value.

The Contract

Overall, Vatanen is a pretty good player who deserves a decent look from every team. That being said, don’t expect a long-term, monster contract.

Dobberhockey.com has Vatanen projected at around $3,500,000 per year, which is reasonable. He could be a solid pickup for contenders with a bit of cap space to spare. Or any teams close to the end of their rebuild with a lot of cap space and a need for veteran leadership.

At the end of the day, there are two options for Vatanen. The first being a shorter-term contract, something in the two-to-three year range as a rental of sorts for a contender. Option number two is a longer contract. In the realm of four-to-five years with a team whose window is just opening.

Will he Fit on the Devils?

This is all well and good but should the Devils sign him?

Normally, I would say no chance but not this time, let me explain. For one thing, New Jersey is in dire need of a top-pairing defenseman who can offer veteran leadership to a very young team. Luckily for the Devils, Sami Vatanen is just that.

His value also may be down due to his injury history, the flat salary cap, and the COVID-19 pandemic tightening revenue strains. This is combined with the fact that this is a good free-agent class, which he does not exactly headline.

These aspects will make him an especially cheap top-two, blue-liner. Signing Vatanen would allow the Devils to address the team’s top-pairing defensive hole while also allowing New Jersey to address other positions of need. For these reasons, I think the New Jersey Devils should investigate signing Sami Vatanen, possibly to a four or five-year deal.

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