The paradox in UFA compensation

Statistics show restricted free agents tend to be more valuable than UFAs

Updated: August 5, 2011, 1:40 PM ET
By Alvin Chang | ESPN Insider

Earlier this summer, the Buffalo Sabres realized they needed a big push to become a championship-caliber team. Instead of signing just one or two mid-level players, they brought in three highly paid guys whose cap hits total almost $13 million.

Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino were signed as unrestricted free agents, which means the Sabres essentially had to outbid other suitors. Meanwhile, the Sabres traded for Robyn Regehr.

Although his original contract was signed when he was a restricted free agent, the Calgary Flames -- his former team -- had to buy out four years of Regehr's UFA years, which cost $4.02 million a season.

In other words, when it comes to all three of these players, the Sabres are probably overpaying them.

But you almost have to pay more for players who are eligible for unrestricted free agency. That is why, for years, analysts have said it's crucial to build through the draft. Because when you draft your own team, your core can be built of young players who are eligible only for entry-level or restricted deals. And those guys can't explore the open market, which lowers their price.

So it's no secret that UFAs are not good values. But exactly how much are teams overpaying for them?

Turns out it's quite a lot.