Thursday, August 27, 2009

Trades That Should Happen

Things have been slow around the NHL - we've wanted to do a best signings list/worst signings, but there's still too many players available to do anything like that. Training camp opens in fifteen days, so we imagine those players will ink sometime, but days continue going by without much action.

We do, however, sense there are some teams with some excess players at one position and deficiencies at another.

Here's a little list:

Vancouver: How Many Forwards Do You Need?

Vancouver currently has 16 forwards that could make the big squad. We suspect that if Michal Grabner or Sergei Shirokov impress in camp that some of them could be headed elsewhere. Vancouver is also in need of a defenseman, although it's been reported that they are interested in Mathieu Schneider - Schneider arrived in the NHL before Rob Schneider arrived on SNL. Hint: That means he's old.

New Jersey's Defense Surplus

The Devils currently have 9 players on their roster who played in 20 or more NHL games next season. While dispatching one is far from necessary - at least two should make it through waivers - it certainly couldn't hurt for a team that looks devoid of depth at center.

Duck Pate

The Anaheim Ducks currently have 13 forwards on one-way contracts, and one on a two-way deal (Bobby Ryan) who won't be going to the minors any time soon - certainly just the right amount with which to run an NHL team. However, if anyone from their minor league system impresses, that's one player that can be shuffled off. The Ducks still have some backline depth issues, although most of their young players are defensemen.

Logjam On The St. Lawrence

Montreal only has 7 D under contract for this season, but the promising Yanick Weber is in Hamilton awaiting his NHL opportunity. If any one of the 7 falters, Montreal may look to dispose of him to bring up Weber. Ryan O'Byrne and Josh Gorges should probably rent, not buy.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Salary Increases For First-Time UFAs

As promised, here is the chart for first time Unrestricted Free Agents. It includes only players who were 27 or younger who are Group III Free Agents. Bouwmeester is not 27 but earned his free agency with 7 years of service time. These are players who have never had a contract year where they would have been UFA the previous July - that would've have muddled the picture.

As we can see, even with Kurtis Foster's aberration included - his injury troubles have made it unclear whether he can be an effective NHL player - the average increase was still above 50%. This is coming in a year of almost no salary cap increase. We did not even include Johnny Oduya's contract which was signed on June 30 - his pay increased nearly sixfold.

Essentially, RFAs on 2nd contracts are 50% cheaper than UFAs, and players on entry-level contracts are far cheaper than that. It's a young man's game now; clubs need solid entry-level players in order to compete.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Arbitration Awards

We were thinking about how much money is saved by having an arbitration-eligible player versus an unrestricted free agent. The best way to measure this would be to look at players who went to arbitration, then became unrestricted free agents, and compare the arbitration award to the current salary. Unfortunately, we are not succeeding at finding lists for 2005 or 2006 arbitration awards, but we did find one on TSN for 2007.

So we whipped up this handy-dandy chart. The first two columns are pretty self-explanatory - that's what the player got paid per season in arbitration, the second is what he made the year after that - 4 of them were UFA, Hunter was not but signed a deal well into his UFA years. Column 3 is the % increase between the two. Column 4 is a bit trickier - we cannot just compare salaries across the board between years. We have to remember that the salary cap increased over this time - it was $50.1 million in 2007-08. Further compounding this issue is the fact that the salary cap cannot be mentioned in arbitration hearings. We decided to use the % increase between 2007-08 and 2008-09 plus half the % increase between 2006-07 and 2007-08, figuring there to be some lag between arbitration awards and salary cap increases.

As you can see, of these 5, their salaries increased by 55% on average when they became UFA eligible. We don't think this is a strong enough sample - we intend to search out all players who had their first UFA contract this year or last year to see what the average increase is there.

Coming Next: 2008-09 First Time UFA Salary Increases.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Last Year's Top Twenty Scorers - How Will They Fare?

We have spoken here about Expected Goals before - a quick and dirty way of predicting how much a player will score next season. Mostly for fun, we conjured up this list, to see how far right or wrong Expected Goals will be.

This chart is fairly self-explanatory - the Exp Shooting % is the player's averaged shooting percentage over the last 4 seasons. Expected Shots/Game are his Shots/Game averaged over the last four seasons. Coefficient is an unscientific way of indicating that most of these players should expect to increase their shots/game next year versus the average of their last four seasons. We should have done this by averaging their previous two seasons, then adding half the difference + some arbitrary coefficient by age, but we did not do that. Anyway, it shall be interesting to see how the season shakes out for these twenty players:

Alex Ovechkin is 7 goals ahead of everyone else, and we didn't even think that his SOG increase from last season is sustainable.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The One Year Deal - Good Idea?

The last 8 UFA contracts signed by definite NHL players have been 1 year deals. The implication is that it's 1 year deals all the way down - anyone who wants to play in the NHL next year and isn't already signed, be prepared to rent an apartment instead of buying a house.

The reasons for teams wanting to sign one-year deals are simple:

1. If the contract goes bad, there's no extra years to worry about.
2. The team may have cheaper alternatives coming up in the minor league system.

From the player's perspective, the logic is probably more like this:

1. It may be the only kind of deal being offered to him.
2. If his performance increases, it may be advantageous to him to have only signed for 1 year.

This is all very simplistic. Obviously Reason #1 for teams and Reason #2 for players are two sides of the same coin. At this point in free agency, there are still players in their legitimate NHL prime waiting for contracts. These players include:

Steve Eminger, Taylor Pyatt, Mike Comrie, Dennis Seidenberg, Alex Tanguay, Manny Malhotra, Dominic Moore

There is almost no danger of these players' play declining in the second year of a contract (Comrie excepted). With the market for these players having collapsed, a smart team would go after these players with multi-year deals - next year's UFA class is shaping up to be even more competitive than this one.

Let's say one of these players signs a one-year contract. Let's say that 20% of the time, he is $500,000 or more valuable than the contract he signs, 70% of the time he is within +/- $500,000 of the contract he signs, and 10% of the time he is below $500,000 in value of the contract he signs. We realize that here we are begging the question - of course one would want to sign this player to a multi-year contract. That is precisely our point.

In free agency, the phenomenon known as the Winner's Curse frequently comes into play. If a free agent merely wishes to go to the place that will pay him the most money for the most years, teams continue bidding until they reach an agreement. The problem is that the team who values him most highly is almost always making a mistake with that valuation. With these free agents, there is likely no 'Winner's Curse' because it is clear that bidding on them has fallen apart. Teams should want to buy as many years of these players as possible - it is probably the players who want 1 year deals, figuring that if they perform well, they'll be heavily in demand next year, and could get contract offers that nearly double the ones they are getting this season.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Free Talent

We here at Hockey On Paper tend to get excited by minor deals - we thought, for example, that the Devils' trade of the rights of non-prospect Tony Romano for non-NHL player Ben Walter in June was a tremendous steal. Little deals are rarely the difference between making the playoffs and missing them, but every year there is some waiver transaction that seems to make a large difference - this past year's would be Rich Peverley to Atlanta and the 'trade' of Jussi Jokinen to Carolina. Furthermore, free talent that performs well can be upgraded - Los Angeles parlayed Kyle Quincey into the centerpiece of the Ryan Smyth deal. There's some intriguing items that may come available for the team willing to dig - players who've been trapped in their team's minor league system and who don't appear to have any roster spot opening up for them this coming season.

1. C/RW Rob Schremp

Putting 'Rob Schremp' into YouTube brings up videos that show off his tremendous stick-handling skills. Yet Schremp has been unable to crack the Oilers' roster, despite decent numbers in the AHL. With the coaching changes in Edmonton this off-season, perhaps Schremp will get a fairer shake, and he may make his way on to Edmonton's roster. If he does not, he is waiver-eligible, and someone short on talent but long on patience could get themselves a 20-30-50 type of player sometime in the future.

2. LW Chris Bourque

The diminutive son of Ray had a point a game last year in the AHL. While the Capitals only have 12 forwards signed for next season, leaving room for Bourque, he may not get the nod over a more versitaile player.

3. C Cal O'Reilly

O'Reilly has some very impressive assist numbers, and from those it's hard to see what's keeping him back from the NHL. Nashville does have a spot for him, and we think it very unlikely that O'Reilly stays off the roster this year, but training camp tends to influence teams more than it should.

4. C Kyle Chipchura

We can't pretend to know what Habs GM Bob Gainey is thinking. We think that Chipchura will certainly make the team and that it's likely that Glen Metropolit will be either a 13th forward or waiver bait, but aliens seem to have taken over his brain.

Unfortunately, all four players will be eligible for arbitration next year, so the savings is short-lived. Regardless, these sorts of players can definitely be an asset for someone next season, and with the salary cap going the way it is, unused, cheap talent becomes more and more valuable.

Monday, August 3, 2009

When The Rich Get Richer

We cannot pretend to know the finances of the KHL. According to this site, the KHL salary cap for the 2009-10 site is 620 million rubles, with one 'franchise player' exception. 620 million rubles is approximately 20 million dollars. We do not know how the KHL makes a profit, or if it does.

Jiri Hudler received a 2 year, 10 million dollar (tax-free) contract in Russia. This is probably equivalent to receiving around $20 million playing hockey here, considering taxes and cost-of-living. However, many players who played in Russia during the lockout of 2004-05 did not like the rigorous practices and more strict discipline that Russian teams tend to have. It remains to be seen whether Hudler will stay in the KHL when his contract is up.

However, the Red Wings got a serious boost when an arbitrator ruled that Jiri Hudler would receive a 2 year, 5.75 million dollar deal if he returns to the NHL. According to BehindTheNet, Hudler was third on the Wings in Goals/60 minutes. In fact, Hudler receives well below average ice time given his skill level - Hudler was 333rd in the NHL in Even Strength Time On Ice for forwards. His even strength shooting percentage was not out of line with the rest of the Red Wings either, shooting a 7.9%. This is a tremendously skilled player.

The Red Wings are lauded for their remarkable ability to find skill players, but that time may be at an end. We are not convinced that of the trio of Leino, Abdelkader, and Helm who so wowed the NHL establishment in the post-season, that the Wings have tremendously skilled players on their hands. Abdelkader may develop into a 2nd line LW, Leino may as well, but their numbers for the AHL squadron were not overly impressive, and according to Hockey's Future, 'Detroit should look to address its top-six depth if at all possible'. We are not casting aspersions on these young players, depth is certianly important, but we do not think these are the next Franzen, Zetterberg, and Datsyuk. The Wings are going to need a skill injection, and now they have a player who just might return to the NHL in two seasons, right when Pavel Datsyuk could be starting his decline, and who might be an NHL star for a very reasonable price.