Friday, July 31, 2009

At The Margins

We remember from whatever rudimentary economics training we had a little bit about efficient markets. According to wikipedia, "[F]inancial markets are "informationally efficient", or that prices on traded assets (e.g., stocks, bonds, or property) already reflect all known information, and instantly change to reflect new information." The NHL would be as close to efficient as possible if there were no entry draft, and every player was only given a one-year contract each season. Obviously this is not the case - multi-year contracts queer the deal. The NHL is therefore far from an efficient market - players who should be in the NHL sometimes are not, and vice versa.

There are approximately 60 players who are still unrestricted free agents who were NHL regulars for the past few seasons. Of these, 10 or 15 are likely to retire - their age is advanced and there probably won't be a contract out there for them. Others were somewhat capable players seemingly being squeezed by the fact that teams only have $100,000 more in cap room than they did last season.

We will be very interested to see what happens to these five players:

RW Mike Grier
RW Rob Niedermayer
D Martin Skoula
D Christian Backman
C Mike Comrie

There was no hypothesis or test run to determine these five players - merely intuition. All five are at an interesting point in their career.

The Right Wings

RWs Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer are quite similar - both played in the Pacific Division last season, and both are regarded as top penalty killers - Niedermayer was 16th among forwards, Grier 53rd in PK TOI per game. Both are 34 years old, born within a month of one another. Grier has received around 16 minutes of ice per game, Niedermayer 17, in the last three seasons. Both are on the cusp of being liabilities at that much usage - and both will likely have to settle for contracts in the $900,000 to $1,200,000 range.

The Defensemen

Ds Martin Skoula and Christian Backman were drafted around the middle of the first round; Skoula played 20:41/G for the 2000-01 Cup-winning Avalanche at age 21, although his usage was scaled heavily back in the playoffs. Billed as an offensive D when he entered the league, Skoula has a decent number of goals and assists, but last year received almost no power play time for the Wild. He is a defenseman that does a lot of things okay, but nothing particularly well, and has not fulfilled the promise he once showed.

Christian Backman's ice time has dropped from 24:49/game with the horrid 2005-06 Blues to 15:39 with last season's Blue Jackets. He was used on the power play, but not much. He has skills, but a penchant for giveaways, and he managed only 7 points.

Both of these players are not old - they are each 29, to turn 30 during the season. There's enough time for them to presumably turn their careers around a bit. Normally, these guys would get contracts from a team who knows they're 1st round guys and see the talent they have, but again, they will likely have to settle for contracts at $1,000,000 or less and it's hard to imagine those deals will be multi-year.

The Malcontent

Mike Comrie has been on 5 different teams, he's scored 30 goals twice, and he's represented Canada 3 times at the World Championships, and he'll be 29 when the season opens. He's still looking for work - his problems are his defensive commitment and toughness. Will he be willing to sign a $1 million contract with someone who hopes to harness his potential?


The old saying goes, a leopard cannot change its spots, but NHL free agency has always involved a lot of spot-changing and wishcasting. This year, there's an excess of players available - teams are warier of making long-term commitments and aren't just going to sign a guy because he's played 500 NHL games before. They're going to test out their younger players to see if they've got the mettle to survive in the NHL. It might take until October for the phone to ring with a contract offer for these players - are they willing to fend off offers from foreign leagues until then?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

addenda to the previous post

Forgot Todd Marchant and Donald Brashear on that list, for the Ducks and Rangers, respectively.

Really been digging the work that Vic Ferrari and company are doing. We don't claim to understand all of it and much of contradicts what we might think, but it's very interesting.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A List Of The Aged

That pesky over 35 clause in the CBA hasn't really nabbed anyone since Vladimir Malakhov's untimely departure from the NHL (which departure is shrouded in mystery). Let's revisit what that clause essentially states: Any player who signs a multi-year contract over the age of 35 (as of June 30th of the year that contract goes into effect), his contract is considered to count against the salary cap in the 2nd and any subsequent years, regardless of whether or not he is retired or active, unless he is put on Long-Term Injured Reserve.

Blogger seems to have shrunk the image, but you can click on it to enlarge.

Philadelphia, Ottawa, New Jersey, and Detroit seem the worst off here. Detroit has two players who had awful seasons on the cap for 2 more seasons. Philadelphia has Ian Laperriere likely dragging down their team or their cap, not to mention the horrible possibility of Chris Pronger getting injured and playing at a sub-par level. New Jersey has the Brian Rolston contract which began horribly and may never recover. Ottawa's contracts are to skill players who have showed few signs of declining, but could at any moment.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Martin Biron Might Actually Be A Genius (Of Sorts)

Martin Biron thought he was going to be one of the most sought-after goalies in free agency. Word got around that he was demanding $5 million per season on a multi-year contract. Biron looked at goalies like Evgeni Nabokov, Cristobal Huet, Ilya Bryzgalov, and the other host of overpaid goalies in the NHL and said, "Why can't this be me?"

But on July 21st, Biron looked like a complete idiot. His hubris had probably cost him a deal with Edmonton, and besides that, few people were looking for a big-time, big-money goalie. Biron was a man without a home, and beyond that, nowhere to possibly make his home. Everyone had at least one goalie who they could call a starter, some had two. Regardless, we are skeptical that this was the only offer on the table for Martin Biron - we even think that Biron might have turned down higher offers that were made recently. Why would he do that?

Goaltending is much different bird than other positions because there's much less room at the margins. A team that 'doesn't need' a particular forward or defenseman can still sign him and push out the worst guy on their team. But there's only 60 goalie jobs in the NHL, and most teams already have most of those positions filled by players they're unwilling to boot out. Furthermore, the starting goalie usually gets between 2/3rds and 4/5ths of the ice time, rendering a backup largely ceremonial. It leads to an oversupply of goalies wherein the market for them in trade totally shrinks - a team might want Martin Biron and might want to trade their current starter, but where can he be traded and for what? This all is obvious, but it's a preamble to the next statement.

The goaltending market is so oversatured that it is now determined by the UFA goalies around the league. Edmonton had Roloson, they acquired Khabibulin. The Avalanche had Andrew Raycroft, now they have Craig Anderson. The Panthers replaced Craig Anderson with Scott Clemmensen. The Devils, Clemmensen's old team, replaced him (and Kevin Weekes) with Yann Danis, who came from the Islanders. The Islanders replaced Danis and Joey McDonald with Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron.

So who's on the goaltending carousel next year that might make it prudent for Biron to re-join the fray once again next July?

Anaheim: Hiller
Dallas: Turco
Nashville: Rinne
Philadelphia: Emery
St. Louis: Mason
San Jose: Nabokov
Toronto: Toskala
Vancouver: Luongo
Washington: Theodore

Not all these teams will be destitute if their starter leaves, but some of them will no doubt be looking for high-priced assistance. But how can Martin Biron put his name back into the hat, playing on the Islanders, where he's sure to split time with Dwayne Roloson? Easy answer: That's not where he'll be all season.

Lemma/Digression On One-Year Contracts And Their Value

In July of 2007, Brad Stuart mysteriously signed a one-year deal with the LA Kings. The deal didn't make much sense - the Kings weren't going anywhere, why bother? Stuart claimed LA was his off-season home, which was true, but why only one year? That question would be answered when the Kings shipped him off at the trade deadline to the Red Wings for a 2nd round pick. The Kings had obviously intended to do this if things went poorly for them that season - Stuart helped the Wings to a Stanley Cup, then managed himself a 4 year/3.75M per deal that now looks terrible, a rare mis-step for Detroit.

Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Ramblings

Martin Biron signed on Long Island for 1 year because he will, wihout a doubt, get traded before the trading deadline. It is just a question of where. Philadelphia might need goaltending. Detroit might need a starter if Osgood is once again faltering. San Jose may want to usurp Nabokov if his play slips. Washington could still be interested. All four of these teams are almost locks to make the playoffs, all of them have decent goalies signed, but all of them may need a goalie come playoff time. Rather than sign with one team, possibly get squeezed out into a backup role, and therefore have no leverage when it comes to free agency next season, Biron essentially signed with all four by taking the Islanders. He's hoping that he gets a chance with a Cup contender - if he does, and he can take them all the way, his value will go through the roof. It's perhaps not the play he would've wanted, but it works for all sides - Biron will get a big contract next off-season, and the Islanders probably get a 2nd round pick for a player they will only end up paying around $1 million to.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On How The Rich Get Richer

We can't find a source for this, but we read once that John D. Rockefeller actually became wealthier during the Great Depression. Essentially, his competitors went broke and he bought up their distressed assets; since everyone else was broke, he could buy them for incredibly cheap.

Similar things are true about a falling salary cap environment. The wealthier teams can afford to stash contracts in the minor leagues, thereby enabling them to have freedom to make riskier movements - their mistakes are simply not as costly. In times of rising salary cap environments, wealthy teams can sign big-ticket contracts because those contracts increase in worth as the salary cap increases - i.e. they cost less of a percentage of the cap. As the cap increases, ostensibly the number of teams who can spend up to it decreases, and the wealthier teams are once again in the running for the top free agents. The rich win both ways. Shocking, really.

We have spoken at length here about how we think the salary cap is going to fall to between 50 and 53 million dollars next season. There are a number of teams who've already committed that much money or more. With estimated RFA contracts, here's those teams:

What unites these teams? They're either big-market teams or Canadian teams. Clearly they are not as worried about the falling salary cap as others. Let's look at some ways rich teams can use this crisis to their advantage - We'll use the Rangers as an example, because they have been the most brazenly defiant team this 0ff-season:

1. Hiding Contracts In the Minors

The CBA realizes that wealthy teams might do this - teams are only allowed to go 10% over the salary cap between July 1 and the end of training camp. The Rangers cannot therefore grab up every bad contract they want to. If the salary cap is between 50 and 53 million, the Rangers could have between 55 and 58.3 million dollars on their cap before the season starts.

2. Using Injured Reserve

Let's say Marian Gaborik gets hurt. Shocking, really. The Rangers are now permitted to replace his cap number until he returns from injury. The Rangers could then trade for or call up salary equal to Gaborik's. With basically every team having a bad salary on their books, the Rangers can wheel and deal with the assets they've got, using the minor leagues to hide their worst contracts while hopefully acquiring better ones.

3. Using Emergency Recall

We tried to make sense of this in the CBA - emergency recall is a procedure a team can use when they have less than the 18 skaters necessary to play, they can call up a player without subjective him to waivers - once the emergency is over, the player has to be immediately returned to the minors (or be subject to waivers). The Devils had Scott Clemmensen on 'emergency recall' for several months while Martin Brodeur was injured this season. The Rangers could use this to avoid subjecting high-priced contracts to re-entry waivers, where the Rangers and the player's new team each pay half of the salary.

4. Playoffs?! You kiddin' me?

When the playoffs begin, the salary cap no longer applies. We'll repeat this, you might've had something crazy in your ears: When the playoffs begin, the salary cap no longer applies. A gambling team can therefore hide bad contracts in the minors, then resuscitate them for the playoffs. The Rangers are almost certainly going to waive Wade Redden next season unless he picks up his performance - but were they to suffer injury, or were they to think that Redden is their man in the post-season - in he goes.


If these teams are willing to kick one big-ticket contract to the curb, they have the possibility of scooping up UFA assets that the poorer teams, most of whom are not far away from the $50 million threshold themselves, will not be able to afford. The 2010-11 off-season is shaping up to be a very interesting one indeed.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Problems With Time On Ice

We have stated numerous times that we are not statisticians. Perhaps we should have been, but that's a lament best left aside. On this blog, we do not necessarily seek answers, but merely pose questions - questions that are still, we think, nevertheless instructive. We recall the joke at many higher-end colleges - 'I know how it works in practice, but how does it work in theory?' - this is more the attitude that this entry will take.

One of the largest problems we think that hockey statistics face is the problem of ice time. Regular hockey statistics are in terms of counting numbers, e.g. goals, assists, what have you. This misses the mark somewhat - a player who scores a certain amount of points in 12 minutes of ice time per game is almost certainly more valuable than one who scores the same amount in 20 minutes of ice time. So then, perhaps, we go to rates, as Behind The Net has done - Goals For (While On Ice)/60 minutes and Goals Against (While On Ice)/60 minutes. Almost all advanced statistics across sports are rate statistics, and these are no different. While they are certainly an improvement over nothing, there's still problems with treating all minutes the same, and they are as follows:

1. Level Of Competition

Whereas in baseball a batter (generally) faces the same defense each at-bat in a particular game, a hockey player may face a completely different set of players against him on any given shift. This problem explodes further when one considers that each player on a team may face different players on any given shift. This does not happen in football or baseball, generally - essentially, a player on a 4th line may rarely or never face a good line against him.

2. Quality of Linemates

A hockey player may have a different set of linemates throughout the season - ergo his stats may rise and fall depending on who he's playing with. Since this can change so often throughout a season, we cannot just throw this away as meaningless. Warren Young is the classic hockey example of being raised up by playing with great players - a career minor leaguer, Young got a chance to play with Mario Lemieux and led the league in shooting percentage on his way to a 40 goal season. He earned a lucrative deal with Detroit, where he flamed out - Young would only play 2 more full seasons in the NHL. Behind The Net has developed statistics for these two concepts, but they merely sort players in terms of how strong their competition is and how strong their teammates are - it has no meaning outside of that context, no coefficient to adjust other statistics by.

3. Denigrating the Strongest?

Some players are given much more ice time than others - how do we adjust for that? For example, Alex Ovechkin averaged 22:03 in even strength plus power play ice time, the highest in the league. Therefore, relative to every other forward in the league, his rate stats would be downgraded. But is there not some benefit to being able to play 22 minutes a game at forward? With a rate statistic, we are unfairly penalizing Ovechkin for being such a tremendous athlete that is he is capable of that much ice time - sure, there may be players capable of putting up similar rates to Ovechkin, but they're unlikely to be able to receive the amount of ice time he does.

4. Leverage

The last problem is a problem of leverage, a concept that sabermetricians in baseball created to deal with relief pitchers and their usage. Some pitchers are routinely brought in with runners on base and are expected to put out the fire - others are only used when the team has a large lead or a large deficit. So we ask: How valuable were the player's minutes? A 4th line player might receive 13 minutes a game in a complete blowout, skewing his time on ice upwards, but would they be any more valuable than his normal 6 or 7? Furthermore, a tremendous scoring player might be left off the ice in the last 3 minutes when his team is ahead because he is a poor defensive player. We would have to come up with a way to quantify how valuable minutes are, likely looking at offensive and defensive zone faceoffs in the third period or overtime of close games.

Once again, we have no solutions for these problems, we are merely a gadfly. We have not even discussed just how much variance there is in a given season, which can also inject whatever statistics could come out of such an exploration with a great deal of uncertainty. It should still be instructive for general managers to observe these four items when considering a player for a team, however - buying a low-leverage player who got an inordinate number of shifts with excellent linemates is a good way to lose one's job.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Marian Gaborik - Arglebargle or Fooferah?

The Rangers are doing something quite astounding. This is their team at the end of the 2008 season, when they defeated the Devils in five games, only to lose to the Penguins in 5:



Not only have they undergone serious changes this off-season, but players that have come and gone since then include: Derek Morris, Nikolai Antropov, Markus Naslund, Dmitri Kalinin, Nikolai Zherdev (probably), Aaron Voros (probably), Dan Fritsche and Lauri Korpikoski.

Here is what the Rangers look like now, with Rangers who've been there for more than 14 months highlighted in Blue:




(Note: Avery doesn't count, as he left the team then returned)

It's an astounding trick, that Glen Sather has managed to turn over his roster significantly in all 4 years since the lockout, and yet in this cobbling together and breaking apart, we see no significant improvement. Let's at least look at Marian Gaborik - we really do have no idea what to expect from this new Rangers team. Let's see what Expected Goals has to say about the Slovakian wonder.

LW Marian Gaborik

Age: 27 (28 in Feb. 2010)
Contract Status: Signed through 2013-14
Cap Hit: $7.5M
Discipline: Medium-Low? (T-9th in NHL among RW in minor penalties in 2007-08)
Durability: Low (Lost 121 games to injury in last 4 seasons)
Time On Ice: Very High (5th among RW in 2008-09)

Expected Goals: 44

The question is - can we expect 44 goals out of Marian Gaborik, even assuming he plays an 82 game spread, given the offensive talent that surrounds him? Of course, Minnesota was not exactly brimming with talent either, but they did have some decent passers in Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Given that so many of the current Rangers are of a shoot-first mindset, Gaborik prominent among them, will Gaborik's style be hampered by the current Rangers makeup? We don't think so - we are willing to stand by what Expected Goals tells us. Expected Goals thinks that Gaborik's shots per game will increase to 4.23, but that his shooting percentage will decrease to 12.3%. We shall see if the shoot-first mentality among the other Rangers will decrease both his S/G and shooting percentage - this may occur if Gaborik's linemates insist on shooting the puck themselves instead of trying to set him up, and because Gaborik is no longer receiving juicy setups, his shooting percentage will decrease as well. That said, it's difficult to bet that his Expected Goals is anything less than 35 even in that scenario - Gaborik will be expected to lead the way for the 2009-10 Rangers.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Anatomy of a Contract - RW Marian Hossa, D Jay Bouwmeester

We chose to examine these two contracts together because they both reveal something about the current state of the NHL. During free agency in a rising salary cap environment, one team is often capable of substantially outbidding the others - players certainly have taken less to go certain places (Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski, as two examples), but this tends to be the exception. In a falling salary cap environment, teams have to be warier about how they distribute their money, and the exceptional offer may never come along. It therefore falls to other preferences - do I want to take less money to be on a winning team? Do I want to play closer to home?

Marian Hossa's contract is an example of one signed by a player who wants to 'win'. He'll be playing for an exceptionally young team that went to the Conference Finals - Hossa signed a 12 year, 62.8 million dollar deal. While highly reputable hockey people such as sundstrom at contended that Hossa would get below 7.5 million/season in his contract, it is still surprising that Marian signed up for such a low figure - of course, it is not really a low figure at all, as Hossa will be paid 7.9 million over the first 8 seasons of the deal. It would be surprising if a team like the New York Rangers did not offer more. However, the Blackhawks are much closer to a Stanley Cup than the Rangers, and Hossa has gotten tantalizingly close to lifting Lord Stanley the last two years.

Jay Bouwmeester's contract is similar - there is no front-loading, but Bouwmeester will be playing in his home province of Alberta. He never made it to the market, but it is difficult to imagine that he would not have received offers higher than $6.6 million over five years. In taking a hometown discount, he gives the Flames a better chance at collecting the players they need to win.

There are lots of other contracts that appear to be of this sort - Saku Koivu and John Madden's come to mind - where players chose either comfort or winning over dollars. Expect more of these contracts in the coming weeks, as there are still some solid free agents lurking in the shadows. GMs around the league had best be aware of all these possible enticements - they can certainly be the difference between signing a player and watching him go elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Ryan Smyth Trade - Cellar Dwellers Exchange Players, Promise To Meet At Bottom of Standings

The title is perhaps a bit snarky, but considering the Avs finished last in their conference and the Kings next to last, it is still fitting.

Kings Receive:

LW Ryan Smyth

Colorado Receives:

D Kyle Quincey
D Tom Priessing
5th Round Pick in 2010

Kings' Take

LW Ryan Smyth

Age: 33 (34 in February 2010)
Contract Status: Signed through 2011-12
Cap Hit: $6.25 million
Durability: Medium-Low
Discipline: Medium-Low (26 minors, T-21st among LW)
Ice Time: Very High (5th among LW)

Expected Goals: 33

Smyth presents an interesting paradox for Expected Goals - he recorded the highest S/G of his career last season, while recording a below-average shooting percentage. His 2007-08 season, his first with the Avs, was similar. This suggests that with the injuries to Joe Sakic and Paul Stastny, Smyth was expected to be the leader of the Avs' offense. It should be interesting to see how all these things intersect - the fact that Smyth's shooting % the first two post-lockout years was around 16.5%, and was 9.4% his two seasons in Colorado, his aging, and the fact that he is going to a team where he will have more talented offensive players around him. Smyth's shooting percentage has declined like other power play mavens such as Jonathan Cheechoo and Brian Gionta - it will be interesting if it can rise up once again.

His expected goals are somewhat immaterial, as they are in an 82 game season - Smyth has played one of these since 2001-02. Regardless, Smyth is a supposed leader and will be a strong veteran voice on a team that lacks them.

Colorado's Take

D Kyle Quincey

Age: 23 (24 in August)
Contract Status: Signed through 2009-10, RFA
Cap Hit: $525,000
Durability: Unknown
Discipline: Medium-Low (41st among D in Minor Penalties)
Time On Ice: Medium (90th among D)

Quincey is the jewel of this deal - picked up by the Kings on waivers, he went on to quarterback their power play, scoring 38 points in the process. His cap hit is insanely low until next season, so Colorado may not be his final stop - a team may well dump valuable assets on the Avs to have such an excellent contract.

D Tom Preissing

Age: 30 (31 in December)
Contract Status: Signed through 2010-11, UFA
Cap Hit: $2.75M
Durability: Medium-Low
Discipline: Very High
Time On Ice: Low (178th among Defensemen)

Preissing was a +40 with 38 points for the 2007 Senators, but the market was not exactly fooled by it - he signed a 4 year, 11 million dollar contract with the Los Angeles Kings, where he proceeded to not be very good. Preissing takes very few minor penalties, surely a feather in his cap, but he appears to provide little value beyond that - he isn't a first-rate power play quarterback, and his ice time indicates he has little value in penalty-killing.

Salary Cap Motivations

Los Angeles

The Kings made a great trade, in theory. They got rid of Tom Preissing's useless contract in a trade for an ostensible asset, something GMs dream about. They sold high on Kyle Quincey, a player whom they picked up for free but who would no doubt cost significant money next off-season when he is arbitration-eligible, and who blocks several young defenseman the Kings will have joining their ranks soon. Instead of waiting for this eventuality, the Kings struck first. It's also worth noting that Quincey's NHL season was much better than any of his AHL seasons statistically, something which screams fluke. Unfortunately, when a team gives up these sorts of assets, what they get back in return can't often be a large boon - while Smyth fills a large hole on their top line, his contract runs through 2012, when Smyth will be 36. 'Power forwards' rarely have a good end to their career, so it is possible that Smyth's $6.25M cap hit will be a large liability two seasons hence.


They get rid of one bad deal, pick up a great one (for this season), and are forced to take on a poor one as well. Preissing's deal expires in 2011, and with the Avs having 3 UFA defenders in 2010, all of whom should be sent away by the trade deadline, it is nice to have a player who can at least eat up some minutes on the backline. With Quincey, Preissing, Liles, and Hannan, the Avs have four NHL veterans signed through next season. The Avs also save $3 million this season, money which is no doubt valuable for a team going nowhere to weather the poor attendance surely coming.

Final Thoughts

The Kings pick up a piece to help them contend for the playoffs, but who may impinge on their Stanley Cup hopes three seasons down the road. The Avs get cheaper and younger.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Chris Pronger Contract - Brilliance or Folly?

It is sometimes stunning what kind of errors can be made by NHL front offices. In 2001, the New Jersey Devils forgot to send contracts to Brian Rafalski and John Madden, making them both unrestricted free agents. This off-season, the Blackhawks sent qualifying offers through the mail to several key players, a violation of protocol that forced their hand into signing both Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker to long-term contracts. That stupidity was followed up by perhaps a greater one, as we'll see.

Chris Pronger signed a 7 year, 35 million dollar extension with the Philadelphia Flyers this past week. At first, we thought this typical grand guignol Flyers behavior - the horror show put on the ice by Pronger would soon rival the horror show off the ice as Chris Pronger and his contract aged. A famous clause in the CBA, 50.2.a.iv, states the following: 'All Player Salary and Bonuses earned in a League Year by a Player who is in the second or later year of a multi-year SPC which was signed when the player was 35 or older (as of June 30 prior to the League Year in which the SPC is to be effective), regardless of whether, or where, the player is playing...'. Lou Lamoriello was famously forced to give up a 1st round draft pick to move Vladimir Malakhov's dead money off his cap. Chris Pronger is right now 34 years of age, but he turns 35 on October 10th, therefore this clause is invoked, as the contract he signed does not go into effect until July 1, 2010.

However, as we looked at with the Detroit Red Wings a few whiffens past, the Flyers frontloaded this deal. The contract is structured such that Pronger gets paid (in millions) - 7.6, 7.6, 7.2, 7, 4, .525, .525. Essentially, he's going to play for the Flyers for five years, and then he's going to be a burden on the Flyers' salary cap for 2 seasons, costing them 5 million dollars to not play for them. Dumb, typical Flyers move, like signing a 92 year old Kjell Samuelsson type stuff - just no appreciation for the future.

Then, we reconsidered. Imagine this scenario - Chris Pronger is 40 years old, his wife tires of the Pat's vs. Geno's debate, he begins to have remorse about everyone he's maimed, and so he 'retires' - then the Flyers trade his cap hit to some team in the year 2015. While we cannot predict what the economic climate of the US and Canada will be that far in advance, we can predict that somewhere, some NHL owner will have gotten himself in too deep in buying a franchise, and will be desperate to cut costs somewhere. Enter Chris Pronger's contract - it counts for $5 million on the cap, but Pronger won't have to be paid a red cent. It's the perfect asset for a perpetually broke team struggling to reach the salary floor, which is set around $39 million this season, and will likely be closer to $45 million 5 years hence. Therefore, the Flyers win in two ways - one, Pronger's cap hit is lower than it would be for a player making $7 million, and two, they get to fob off this Pronger contract as a legitimate asset once his playing career is over. It's brilliant and forward-thinking.

The next day, we learn this:

"According to the NHL, the [Pronger contract will count against the cap regardless of whether he retires]. The seven-year, $35 million extension Pronger agreed to on Tuesday doesn't commence until after June 30, 2010. Pronger will be 35 at that point and any remaining salary will remain on the cap.

The Flyers disagree and interpret the CBA language governing the "over 35" clause differently."

There's no other possible way to interpret that language than how it is interpreted above. If Slavoj Zizek, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Saul Kripke sat around in a room debating that passage, they'd come up with the same meaning. In other words, the Flyers goofed - they forgot that it didn't matter when the player was signed, it mattered when his contract went into effect. This rule was to put in place to safeguard against this very scenario - a team signing an aging player for a front-loaded contract with years on it that neither side intended on honoring. Now it looks like the Flyers, rather than anticipating Pronger being an asset, anticipate him being a liability, and it may cost them a valued asset to expunge this error.

The lesson is: do not overestimate people's capacity for creativity and reasonable thinking. A lot of times what looks like an oversight is in fact an oversight. We like imagining the look on Holmgren's face as some obscure bean counter situation in the lowest dungeon of the Wachovia Center unfurls the parchment upon which the CBA is inscribed to the relevant passage, both eager to impress the great Overlord and afraid of the result as he reads aloud 50.2.a.iv. That scene surely beats the one we are trying to forestall ourselves from imagining - Chris Pronger holding the Stanley Cup as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Note On Expected Goals

Expected Goals has popped up around here lately - it's something devised in-house and can be brutally wrong, but it gives at least a guideline of what to expect of new players on new teams.

Expected Goals is basically:

(Expected Shooting Percentage) * (Expected Shots On Goal)

Expected Shooting Percentage is (Average Shooting Percentage Since Lockout) * (% Difference Between Shooting Percentage Of Old Team and New Team in 2008-09 Season)

Expected Shots on Goal is (Average SOG/Game Since Lockout) * (% Difference Between Shots On Goal of Old Team and New Team in 2008-09 Season) * (% Increase/Decrease Expected As A Result of Aging)

There's lots of adjustments that can and should be made here, but they are quite difficult - they include time on ice adjustments, power play time on ice adjustments, power play strength adjustments, penalty killing time on ice adjustments, strength of expected linemates, and so forth; not adjusting for these things likely skews things between 1-3 goals either way (but could vary things as much as 5-10 goals in extreme cases). Regardless, it's a reasonable ballpark metric, and is certainly more instructional than looking simply at the past.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Anatomy of an RFA Contract - C Dave Bolland

It can be quite frustrating for a more passionate observer when less-informed fans discuss NHL contracts. This is no slight on the less informed - it is no surprise that they are either not interested or unaware of the minutiae of NHL contracts, because rarely do articles about the NHL speak in this fashion - this sort of analysis is too often absent. Regardless, when discussing an RFA contract, one should ask three relevant questions - then a follow-up:

1: Was the player arbitration-eligible?

2: How many (if any) UFA years did the contract signed extend through?

3: What are comparable RFA players around the league making?

Obviously, the second question should be asked much less awkwardly than it is asked here. Let us examine the contract of Dave Bolland, who signed for 16.875 million dollars over five years with the Blackhawks.

Was the player arbitration eligible?

Answer: No. Bolland signed an entry-level contract in 2007 age the age of 19 (or 20), and had 3 years of pro experience - a player who signs an entry-level contract between the ages of 18 and 20 needs to have 4 years of pro experience before opting for arbitration.

We ask this question because arbitration allows for a player to be paid more - players without arbitration eligibility essentially have no bargaining power. Their only recourse is to sign an offer sheet with another team (or in another league) - otherwise, it is basically 'take it or leave it' from their team's GM.

How many UFA years does this contract extend through?

Answer: One. Assuming UFA rules stay the same after the next CBA is signed, Bolland would have been eligible to be unrestricted in July 2013 - this contract extends through July 2014.

We ask this question because RFA players are cheaper than UFA players - signing a player through UFA years keeps his price down.

What are comparable players around the league making?

Answer: This is more difficult to say. Jordan Staal's contract no doubt had a hand in this - Staal is making $4M/season until 2013. Joe Pavelski signed a 2 year, 3.275 million dollar deal as a non-arbitration eligible player in 2008 - his next contract will likely pay him between 3.5 and 4.5 million dollars a season.

The fourth question is one that shouldn't necessarily be germane but becomes so:

Will the player get better during the course of the contract?

Answer: The Blackhawks have to hope so, and are certainly counting on it. Bolland had 1.37 Shots On Goal Per Game (hereafter S/G) last season - if he continues that rate, he is unlikely to score more than 20 goals a season. The good news for the Hawks is that Bolland did not receive much power play time - if he does next season, expect his S/G and goals to rise. The Hawks have to be hoping his S/G rises to around 2 - around 2, and Bolland should be expected to score between 16 and 24 goals a season in a normal year, and closer to 30 in an abnormal year (like this past one). Bolland already appears to be an excellent assist man, as he averages close to 1 every 3 games, so his normal season may look like 20 goals and 30 assists, an excellent output for a third line center.

Did the Hawks make a good deal?

Answer: Almost certainly not. They ate up 3 arbitration-eligible years, a UFA year, and an arbitration-ineligible year. They must have very high hopes indeed and worry that a 60 point season for Bolland would mean a favorable comparison to a contract like Jordan Staal's. But with a career S/G of 1.33 so far, it is unlikely that Bolland has such a large offensive output. It is hard to predict what the NHL landscape will look like in July 2014 when Bolland is an unrestricted free agent, but it's hard to imagine him getting offers well above $5 million per season if he ever makes it there, so basically all the money saved in season 5 of the deal (by paying RFA instead of UFA prices) equals the money squandered in season 1 by signing him to this long-term deal. The Hawks would likely have been better served to try to sign Bolland to a deal not unlike that of Joe Pavelski's - there's not enough NHL information to conclude that Bolland will certainly be with 3.375M per season, and with the Hawks being in enormous salary cap trouble in 2010-11, Bolland may be first on the chopping block if he does not produce.

Monday, July 6, 2009

State of The Blog Address 2

After doing some thinking on the matter, I've decided to reconsider breaking down 100+ signings. I feel it would be repetitive and therefore ultimately not that interesting. Rather than shove out content, assembly-line style, I think there should be more of a focus on asking questions that I'm not sure I have the answer to, instead of pretending I have the answers to things which I don't.

Therefore, I will be going piecemeal around the league, dipping into RFAs, UFAs, and basically whatever strikes my fancy.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Scott Gomez Trade - Acquiring a True Anchorage

Montreal Acquires:

C Scott Gomez
LW Tom Pyatt
D Michael Busto

The New York Rangers Acquire:

LW/C Chris Higgins
D Pavel Valentenko
D Ryan McDonagh
D Doug Janik

Montreal's Take

C Scott Gomez

Age: 29 (30 in December)
Contract Status: Signed through 2013/14
Cap Hit: $7.357 M
Expected Goals: 18
Discipline: Low (T-9th among C with 30 Minors)
Physicality: Medium-Low

Scott Gomez's Corsi number is insanely high, likely one of the highest in the league at 323. The reason for this is simple - Gomez is not a traditional 'passer'. Looking around the league at players like Doug Weight and Adam Oates, they tended to average around 2 to 2.5 shots per game. Gomez is averaging 3+ post-lockout - last season Gomez was 16th in the league in shots on goal, 4th among centers. The downside is that many of Gomez's shots are very low-percentage shots or are attempts for his wingers to score on rebounds off his shots. Gomez therefore needs a very specific sort of player to play with him - he is far removed from his days of setting up Alexander Mogilny off one-timers at the top of the slot. With Montreal acquiring Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta for his wings, these players are well-suited to helping Gomez - Gionta was on Gomez's wing for 3 of his best seasons. Gomez may return to being a 20 goal 50 point type of player.

LW Tom Pyatt/D Michael Busto

Both are minor league depth - Busto played in the ECHL this season, and Pyatt had 37 points in the AHL as a 21/22 year old. Pyatt may have an NHL future, but it's unlikely that it's any more than as a depth winger.

The Rangers' Take

LW/C Chris Higgins

Age: 26 (27 next June)
Contract Status: Unsigned RFA, UFA in July 2010
Cap Hit: N/A
Expected Goals: 27
Discipline: High
Physicality: Medium-High

Higgins had by far the lowest shooting percentage of his career - his shooting percentage has dropped each year since the lockout. It's therefore a tad presumptuous to have his expected goals at 27; an adjustment may have to be made to Expected Goals for it to have any explanatory power. Higgins had little worth to the Habs if he was going to take them to arbitration - he's UFA in a year, and an arbitration price offers a small discount on what a free agent might cost.

D Ryan McDonagh

Age: 20
Contract Status: None; Still in NCAA

McDonagh was considered one of the Habs' top prospects, but he was 4th on his college team in scoring by defensemen - his strength must therefore be defense. Besides defensemen of the Paul Martin ilk who excel quietly at defense, we are prone to presuming that players cannot excel substantially at defense without also being at least competent at offense, especially at the amateur level.

D Pavel Valentenko

Age: 21 (22 in October)
Contract Status: Questionable

'Questionable' is written above because Valentenko defected from his AHL team and joined up with a KHL squad. It's unclear whether Valentenko intends to return to North America.

D Doug Janik

Age: 29 (30 next March)
Contract Status: UFA

We have no idea why Doug Janik was included in this deal - he was traded a day before the Rangers would lose his rights. Janik is a 7th/8th defensemen who could prove adequate for a team looking to save money.

Salary Cap Motivations

Scott Gomez's contract was one of the worst in the NHL when it was signed and that continues today - he has a 7.327 million dollar cap hit and has only scored more than 20 goals once. However, this free agent market is a terrible one for centers, and the Habs' top two centers for much of the season were UFA. The Habs therefore had several Faustian bargains at their disposal - either re-sign Saku Koivu, who is aged and cannot really carry a line at this point, or try to acquire a center, the owner of said center being likely not disposed to get rid of him. It's possible that the Habs knocked on Tampa's door and asked for Vincent Lecavalier - it's possible they knocked on Philly's door and asked for Daniel Briere. The Habs' one asset was salary cap room - they had almost 28 million dollars worth of it coming into this UFA period.

Scott Gomez also has one of the most salary cap favorable contracts in terms of payment. Gomez is owed $33.5 million in cash over the next 5 seasons - that's an average of 6.7 million, on a 7.327 cap hit. Even better for the Habs is the fact that Gomez is only owed 9 million cash spread over the final two seasons of the deal - it would not surprise us at all if Gomez were included in a trade for Vincent Lecavalier in the next 2 or 3 years, or even in the near future.

From the Rangers' perspective, they dispose of a dirty contract, pick up an asset in Higgins, and scrounge up two other assets in McDonagh and Valentenko. The Rangers cleared off salary cap room which they immediately gave to Marian Gaborik - Gaborik lacks the durability of Gomez, but he is the elite-level scorer that the Rangers have lacked since Jaromir Jagr departed. Unfortunately, they are now lacking at center and do not possess the money to remedy that.

Final Thought

Montreal made a very creative deal to get a valuable contract and an asset that simply was not on the market. They likely overpaid for the privilege, however - it is hard to imagine that Glen Sather insisted on McDonagh being in the deal. Scott Gomez tends to be a player who looks better than his results - a few times a season his end-to-end rushes will result in thrilling goals, but they also result in blueline turnovers leading to goals the other way.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Chris Pronger Trade - Great Deal, Or The Greatest Deal?


To Philadelphia:

D Chris Pronger
LW Ryan Dingle

To Anaheim:

RW Joffrey Lupul
D Luca Sbisa
1st round pick in 2009 (21st overall)
1st round pick in 2010

Philadelphia's Take

D Chris Pronger

: 34 (35 in October)
Contract Status: Signed Through 2009-10
Cap Hit: $6.25M
Durability: Medium
Time On Ice: Very High (26:56, 2nd in NHL)
Offensive Ability: High (11 goals, 48 points, 14th in NHL)
Defensive Ability: Medium (Avg QualComp, Avg QualTeam, Avg Corsi Number)
Discipline: Low (39 Minors, 8th in NHL)
Physicality: Medium (78 Hits, 92nd in NHL)

Pronger's low number of hits was surprising, but it appears Anaheim may have been severely undercounted in that department, as their top player was 78th in the league.

LW Ryan Dingle

Summary: Dingle is an organizational player - he is 25 and just completed his first full season in the AHL.

Anaheim's Take

RW Joffrey Lupul

: 25 (26 in September)
Contract Status: Signed Through 2012-13
Cap Hit: $4.25MM
Expected Goals: 25
Discipline: Medium
Physicality: Medium

Lupul's contract compares favorably with Brian Gionta, his closest comparable on the open market this off-season. Lupul has had a strange up-and-down career; his SOG and TOI fluctuate quite wildly for a young player. If he can settle in around 3.3 SOG and a 10.5 shooting percentage, he could flirt with 30 goals most seasons.

Philadelphia had to get rid of this contract, as it was the least valuable in their eyes: youngster Claude Giroux should be able to fill in most of this production for around a 6th of the price.

The problem for Anaheim is that they have 3 legitimate top six RWs and only one LW - either Lupul or Selanne will have to convert to LW, or the team will be going particularly heavy on RWs.

D Luca Sbisa

: 19
Contract Status: RFA, Signed through 2010-11
Cap Hit: $875K

Rather than yammer on about stats, let us simply talk about the fact that Sbisa played 38 games for a playoff team as an 18 year old. There are very few players who've done this in the last 15 years and did not at least become NHL regulars - Steve Eminger is one, David Tanabe another, but both promotions were likely the result of poor management. Sbisa's junior statistics suggest a player who is very capable at the offensive and defensive end - an unremarkable but solid defenseman in the Teppo Numminen mold (albeit with more penalties). Sbisa may not play on Anaheim this year, but he is controlled for at least 6 more seasons, making him an enormous addition to an Anaheim team whose prospects are somewhat weak.

2 1st Round Picks: The Ducks traded the 1st pick they received down and selected C/RW Kyle Palmieri and D Matthew Clark with what they received. The Flyers' pick will likely be 24th or lower next season - it is hard to gauge the strength of a draft a year before, but most reports are that it will not be as strong as this year's.


There are no 'winners' or 'losers' in trades, not in a salary capped league. We can safely say that Anaheim received more than would have been expected. Let's just go over pros and cons for both teams:

Philadelphia Pro: Receive one of the best defensemen in the league for only one asset off their roster, one which they were likely trading anyway. Receive a player whose contract is expiring at the end of the season; Philadelphia has 45.6 million dollars committed to next year's team, with Lupul's deal that's almost 50 million; if the salary cap were set at between 50 and 53 million in 2010-11, the team would be in serious cap trouble. Therefore, Pronger's contract only being for one year is an asset to the Philadelphia organization, and gives them an excellent chance to make a Stanley Cup run.

Philadelphia Con: Trade their best D prospect in Sbisa and give up 2 years worth of 1sts. Philadelphia has some very strong prospects in the minors, but unless Philly drafts particularly well in the later rounds in the next two seasons, that depth is likely to slacken.

Anaheim Pro: Receive an excellent D prospect, a valuable (to them) RW, and a lot of depth and trading chips for the future, for one player who was likely walking at the end of next season regardless. Anaheim now has a ton of assets with which to play around and a lot of salary cap room - suspicion is they won't use it this season, but if the franchise becomes solvent again, it certainly can.

Anaheim Con: Give up legitimate chance at Stanley Cup this season in order to rebuild. 26 minutes a game on defense just got traded, and Anaheim's depth at that position is not particularly strong or NHL-ready at this point.


In all, both sides did a good job getting what they needed out of the other.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Non-Tendered - Discarded Players Can Be An Inexpensive Source of Cheese

As a little refresher on NHL capology and contractology - restricted free agents' rights are retained by extending them a qualifying offer. A qualifying offer (or QO hereafter) must be a 10% raise on the previous contract if that contract is below the NHL average. As a result of the bad economy and salary cap ceiling, teams are choosing now not to give a QO to players who fail to live up to expectations, choosing instead to look elsewhere. Many of them also have handshake agreements to re-sign with their previous team, as Andy Greene, Erik Christensen, and Chris Thorburn have already done. But let's look at the best of the best unqualified players - these players may be coming off the scrapheap to help your team:

Steve Eminger, D - Steve Eminger was inexplicably promoted into the NHL by the Washington Capitals in 2002 as an 18 year old. From there, he languished in Washington, never quite living up to the promise of a player promoted to the NHL as a teenager. Eminger was traded 3 times last season, but his numbers are not terrible - his GA/60M are certainly good for a terrible team like Tampa, where he spent most of his time (averaging 23 minutes a game). Florida has to be interested in retaining Eminger, but teams in need of defense could and have been doing far worse than Eminger.

Brendan Bell, D - Plucked from the Leafs, Bell scored 6 goals in 53 games for the Senators, including 5 power play goals. He will be UFA next year, but Bell has some minor upside as a PP QB. Again, teams can and will do worse.

Jeremy Williams, RW - Williams scored 27 goals in 46 games in the AHL this past season. The knock on him is that he is small and slow, but he certainly has a scoring touch. Some teams insist on spending money on veteran scorers - Williams could provide 15 goals for very cheap.

Joakim Lindstrom, C - Lindstrom had 20 points in 44 games for the Coyotes averaging 15 minutes per game - this after being a point-a-game player in the AHL. One never knows when they will find the next Rich Peverley - he could be a good pickup for a team like Nashville looking to save some $.

Jeff Woywitka, D - Woywitka arrived in St. Louis in the Pronger deal and never quite established himself. He's been a +12 player in the last 3 years, with decent offensive numbers as well - 29 assists in 152 NHL games. With how much money depth defenders are signing for, around $1 million for a gamble on Jeff Woywitka could be a prudent move.

Dan Fritsche RW/C - Fritsche was traded twice last year and never really established himself on either squad. He is still only 23 years old, and while he likely doesn't have any upside as a 2nd line player, he scored 12 goals in 59 games as a 21 year old.

Non-tendered players aren't likely to put a team over the hump for the playoffs or a Stanley Cup - most of them have obvious flaws and there's a reason why they weren't given a QO. They can, however, offer better solutions to some problems than normal UFAs, and teams should be a little more willing to gamble on something that isn't a sure thing.