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.


  1. As a Hawks fan I disagree with your conclusion-Bolland is certainly viewed as the second line center of the future, and I see him being around the value of Staal. I think in time this will be viewed as a good deal for the Hawks. He was most definitely the #1 priority RFA this year, with Barker right behind him. There will be plenty of movable contracts if it comes down to clearing space for the big three in 2010.

  2. if it's true that the hawks plan to move him up to the second line at some point, this makes more sense, as it means he'll be playing with hossa or kane and will likely see his goals and assists rise considerably.

    i hadn't considered the hawks would move patrick sharp in a trade, but in this center-starved NHL, sharp might fetch a decent amount in return even though everyone knows the hawks have to make a trade.

    i certainly don't see it as likely that they move dave bolland even if he does have a down year - that was more of a rhetorical comment by me (basically that the hawks have to move someone next year)

    anyway, glad for the comment.

  3. Wanted to follow up on this as I love your site and would be interested in working on this sort of thing at some point in the future-
    Hawks definitely look at Bolland as a 2nd liner, and really at the end of this season he was the second line center. Yes, he was generally on the checking line, but since Pahlsson is clearly a 3rd liner (and now Madden) then this makes him second line center by necessity. Since Ladd-Bolland-Havlat was likely the Hawks' best line last year, matching up against top lines with a big +/- and solid point production, I think Dave will turn out to be worth it and will eventually really pick up his offensive game as well. Dude couldn't finish to save his life last year, and while he'll never see 1st unit PP time ahead of Toews, Kane, Sharp, Hossa (damn that is solid, excited for the season already), I would not be surprised if he improves the offensive game since his final year in London he was a huge scorer and continually has shown improvement as his hands catch up with his head.

    Sharp would get a nice return, although he isn't really a center and I would rather not move him. Looking at what the Hawks will do, it seems like there will be a TON of options some of which are obviously too dumb to consider.

    If I were GM, which unfortunately I am not, I would do something like this:
    Keep Toews and Keith at any cost. Perhaps Bowman will actually negotiate, rather than accept a somewhat inflated offer since these guys want to stay Hawks and locking down a long-term deal would make it a desirable place to play for years. If there's a chance Toews would sign a ~12 year deal (which allows for the <35 rule, which I'm sure will be long gone by then so who cares I'd do 15ish) at a reasonable hit, LOCK IT DOWN. Can he really turn down 15/75? I certainly couldn't, provided I liked Chicago which most seem to. Keith for something like 8-10 years sounds good to me. He is a workout fiend and expect he'll be good for a loooong time.

    Kane, I could take or leave personally. If he is more expensive than Toews, and we can't cut cap elsewhere, I would take a trade for him. This is unlikely due to marketing, especially since he's American. Which I understand, and am ok with, but this means...

    Versteeg is redundant as a small dangler- while he plays more D than Kane, he makes a lot of bad errors due to his flashy play and I doubt he can cut down on them while still making sick moves, so his ceiling is 2nd line i think. I trade him either now or next summer.


    Ladd may not fit under the cap, although I love him and would take him before Buff to fill that spot, hopefully he'll sign in the 2.5 range? (expired after this year)

    Then the Hawks have Beach, Aliu, Buff, and two of these with a 3rd line center should be solid- all in all they will probably get rid of two out of Versteeg, Buff, Sharp, and Ladd and still have good depth- will this be enough to keep Toews/Keith/Kane? I think so, especially since Sopel will def. be dumped as well. Look forward to more discussion on the site.

  4. "[Bolland] couldn't finish to save his life."

    I find this interesting, as Bolland had a 17.1 shooting percentage, which was 13th in the NHL. Your claim makes me think he was shooting high and wide often, but certainly among the shots Bolland put on net, he was one of the best at scoring on them.

    Re: Toews and the 35 year old rule - the 35 year old rule only applies to contracts signed when the player is 35, it would not apply to Toews. I think super long term contracts are risky, and the Hawks already have one - making it two or three does not seem like a great idea. One never knows what the future holds - the DiPietro contract seemed like a great idea (to me anyway, when it was first signed), but now it looks awful.

    Trading Kane is an interesting idea that almost certainly has to be entertained. However, Kane won't be arbitration-eligible (Toews also isn't), and the Hawks will probably hold his feet to the fire, giving him a qualifying offer of around 1 million.

    I will definitely be discussing the Hawks situation in depth here at a later date. I think Campbell being traded is a possibility as well.

  5. Actually Bolland usually shot from close range, as a result of either a breakaway or a sick Havlat pass- he missed some wide open nets and on breakaways most people expected him to stuff it directly into the goalie. So I think his high shooting pct. and low shots/game is more a result of only taking shots that were relatively easy. Andrew Ladd shoots an absurd amount of shots as he crosses the blue line just to get the puck on net, so these two fit together pretty well. Ladd automatically fires it towards the goal whenever possible (which is not a bad thing to do I guess) so there was a lot around the goal to pick up and not many perimeter or slot shots for Bolland, since Havlat was dominating out there. We'll see how he continues to adapt, should be interesting.

  6. Interesting to see some of these comments...NOW.