Best free-agent bargain buys

Matt Cooke will provide a strong, defense-first presence for Minnesota. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Free-agent season is a risky time, as teams open their wallets wide to fill some of the more troublesome holes in their lineups. But some NHL general managers acquire the talent they need with minimum risk, signing proven veterans to short-term deals with minimal cap hits. Every year we try to find the safest signings -- the players most likely to deliver what the team needs and provide the best return on the cap space committed to them.

The system we use is centered 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. In this look, 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 Pascal Dupuis, who otherwise easily would have made this list, are left out.