Sens extend notable, established NHL forward Clarke MacArthur…does that sound sarcastic? I’m being serious

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Pictured here with Chris Neil

Hot on the heels of locking up essential 11th defenceman Mark Borowiecki, the Senators announced (and by Senators I mean Eugene Melnyk on a conference call talking about something else) that they’ve signed Clarke MacArthur to a five year deal paying him less than $5MM a year.

I don’t think there’s much in the way of analysis needed here: it’s just an awesome signing all around. When you look at what NHL salaries are doing, and what they’re likely to do in the next few seasons, this is great value for a top six forward with great possession numbers who you know can play in your lineup. With Kyle Turris’ high value contract they’ve got 2/3rds of a top line locked down for about $8MM. So let’s take a moment and applaud management for a well negotiated deal.

MacArthur was heading to UFA status in a market where someone like Mikhail Grabovski – also an effective possession forward – gets $5MM a year. So he might have left money on the table here. But keep in mind that this is a player who wanted to stay in the area (I think that’s how Ottawa signed him to that first high value deal in the first place), and a player who, inexplicably, hasn’t really stuck anywhere. I don’t think MacArthur was treated like a core player in Buffalo, Atlanta, or Toronto. In Ottawa he played a career high in ice time (17:38 a game; his career average is 15:24), was trusted to play on the top line, and now he’s got the term to go along with it. He rewarded the team’s trust in him by signing for less.

So THIS is what they mean when they say “the deal has got to work for both sides.”

I’ve seen a couple of blogs talk about how players decline as they hit their 30s, and I think that’s fair. MacArthur also had a 15.1% shooting percentage last year, so I don’t think you’re going to see him light it up this season, or any season soon. (Or, as Melnyk put it, “tear up the ice” which…what?) But MacArthur is in that sweet spot of being a core player on a reasonable deal and yet not being considered a star. The expectations will always be just right for him. Put up 40-50 points; be defensively responsible; and don’t make too much money. The fans will never turn on you this way.

Judging by the fan poll over on Silverseven, you guys like the deal a whole lot. As of today a whopping 95% of the almost 600 people who’ve voted like the deal.

One wonders who’s next. I think when you have a whole host of pending UFAs, one contract can be a sign of others soon to come. It’s a signal that the team will spend to keep its core together. I’m going to guess the team finds a way to get Methot under contract, Anderson looks at the ridiculous goalie market and opts to sign cheaply to back up Lehner, and the Ryan contract goes quite a bit longer. I hope I’m wrong about that last one.

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Sens extend notable, established NHL defenceman Mark Borowiecki for three more years

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“You DO look like a Ninja Turtle!”

Yesterday Ottawa very quietly announced that they’ve made Mark Borowiecki a multi-millionaire.

21 NHL games played. 1 point. -2. About 70 penalty minutes. He has a Fenwick For percentage of 46%. (Yost has a good graph here. Basically Borowiecki is barely a replacement level defenceman, and already 25 years old.) He has little experience, little room to grow, and thus no leverage.

Better lock that guy up!

Seriously, this is bizarre, but still accords with the kind of team Ottawa tends to be. Ottawa locks up their young guys early, gives them relatively low contracts on the off-chance that they’ll reach their ceiling and provide value. It’s the kind of thing poor teams do, what poor teams have to do, to gain a competitive edge. The same logic was employed to lock up Jared Cowen, who’d never been a top four defenseman, on the premise that he would become one anyway, and Colin Greening, on the off-chance that he would continue to score goals and be able to play anywhere in the lineup. Sometimes it doesn’t work out.

And sometimes, as with Turris and Anderson, it does. When you get a player at value, it usually more than pays for when the bet doesn’t quite pan out. If Borowiecki turns into our sparkly new Matt Carkner, well, look at what Carkner signed for on Long Island. Borowiecki receives an extremely modest $100,000 raise every year, and will play about 10 minutes a night to show leadership / get punched in the face.

Furthermore, Borowiecki has paid his dues in the Ottawa organization. 185 AHL games, most of which spent as a leader on a competitive team. Maybe it sends a signal to the prospects that if you play the game the way management wants and you work hard enough, you’ll be rewarded.

Or maybe it sends the signal that the team values pugnacity and grit over skill. The bigger issue remains Ottawa’s decision to lock up all of these mediocre defensemen – it’s death by a thousand paper cuts. A bottom half of Borowiecki, Gryba, Phillips, Wiercioch and Cowen does not currently inspire fear. It doesn’t make much sense to give multi-year deals to bottom-half players. These guys are eminently available on the free agent market. How does Joe Corvo get a one year deal, and Borowiecki three?

Weirder is the timing of this extension. With high priority negotiations like Ryan, MacArthur, Methot and maybe even Anderson underway, Ottawa manages to squeeze in the time to extend a guy who isn’t likely to do anything this season to increase his leverage. I mean, whatever – way to be proactive, guys. But they pretty much just made the guy untradeable.

And I’m not trying to read too much into it (like, does the Borowiecki extension mean that Methot negotiations aren’t going well? That Gryba or someone else is about to be traded?).Or the fact that we just locked up a player who’s like a Chris Neil for the back end. Gotta get those quality penalty minutes throughout the lineup. But it’s weird. And as the summer of hockey analytics continues to roll out, seeing your favorite team make a totally weird move like this feels like we’re heading in the opposite direction.

Sens retire one of only three nice jerseys they’ve ever had after wearing it, what, twice?

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The story is here, courtesy of Icethetics. (Scroll dooooooown.)

Apparently Ottawa won’t wear its off-white version of the heritage jersey in the 2014-2015 season. The word “retire” was even used. I think they wore it twice: during the heritage classic and once more, against Montreal.

As much as this summer has been an Ottawa sports pessimists’ wet dream due to financial issues, the departure of Jason Spezza, and the return of losing football to the capital, this – and I don’t want to seem hysterical here – is the worst thing since the Great Depression.

Why? I don’t need to tell you that Ottawa’s jerseys have had a propensity to suck. They’ve sucked for years. Other than the original jersey…

ALEXANDRE DAIGLE SENATORS

Player: unknown

…Ottawa hasn’t had a jersey you could be remotely excited about. It’s been on an Atlanta Thrashers level of quality, really. Check out Chet Sellers’ Summer of Disappointment post for Puck Daddy for all of the morbid details pertaining to the Senagoth / Starfleet uniform.

The 3D redesign isn’t horrible, I guess, so much as generic, and cheesy, and antiseptic, and soulless and aaaaarggh it’s horrible it’s so horrible. We’re not even getting into SNES with flying squirrel armpits. Man, our jerseys have been teeeeeerible. The team could have gone shirtless like the gladiator with mic problems and it would have been an improvement.

So it was with some excitement that Ottawa went from having, hands down, one of the stupidest uniforms in the league to….maybe, one of the best? Top ten at least? Maybe even top five if you eliminate original six bias? (C’mon the Habs are a C with an H in it. Boston is a B.)

The black heritage jersey was so good that we all took it for granted that eventually a white one would be introduced. And then the white one was so good we all took it for granted that they’d be our new primary jerseys, and our third jersey could be, you know, whatever who cares. (If there’s a god they bring back those originals, though they be cursed with a pirate curse.)

So it is equally surprising to hear…no? We’re going to head into the season with, yet again, the 3D SenHead? I know the NHL’s policy on new uniforms is fairly draconian and requires much synergistic coordination, so let’s hope this decision has more to do with timing and less to do with introducing yet another jersey.

Because I think we can all agree that if the Senators’ marketing department plans on introducing yet another jersey, that there is greater potential for yet another overdesigned, cartoonish, What Dads Think Their Kids Think Might Be Cool jersey than there is yet another knock-it-out-of-the-park good design.

Dudes: you’re sitting on gold here. You did it. You got to the finish line. You introduced jerseys that absolutely everyone – EVERYONE – likes. Just wear them!

What is the most money a team should spend on a single player?

NOTE: Due to a sorting error in my spreadsheet, I had the incorrect median EVP/60. Post corrected.

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Handsome Shrek

It probably goes without saying that, in a cap league, a team’s allocation of money goes a long way toward ensuring depth. This goes doubly for poor teams with less money to spend.

It seems that the approach of most NHL teams has been to identify and lock up their core players, complementing them with a rotating cast of young players on ELCs, free agent veterans, and reclamation projects. This has led to situations where pending free agents, having delivered as core players, reap massive deals taking up huge percentages of the cap. In many cases, high-end draft picks are given huge, long-term deals on the basis of potential alone.

What’s interesting to me is how the perception of a player’s above-averageness is transformed from a relative salary-to-production scale to a less tangible premium. Every point (or point of possession) above the league average that a player produces costs more than a point toward the average.

The question isn’t whether a player like Jonathan Toews is worth $10.5 million, because that’s what any team with the means would pay Toews to play for them. In the strictest sense, a player is worth what the market will pay him. The question is whether any above average player is worth paying a premium for.

It’s not hard to see this applied to Bobby Ryan. If he gets paid north of $7 million by Ottawa, it will be in part because he’s good, in part because he’s a core player, and in part because Ottawa gave up a lot to get him and doesn’t have any other option. But if you question the underlying logic of why teams pay a premium for anyone, then what else could Ottawa do with that money?

If your allotment of cap space is $70 million, that gives you $3.5 million per player, per position. That’s a convenient breakdown; some articles peg the average salary of an NHL player at $2.4 million, and that was two years ago, when the cap was lower, so for the purposes of this article we’ll assume it’s about a million higher. (If anyone has a spreadsheet of all of the salaries in the NHL that allows for a quick average on the cap hit, please hit the comments section.)

One might imagine a team populated by $3.5 million players being decent, but would it be good enough to win a championship? To even make the playoffs? Let’s assume that every player making that amount was worth the money – this would be a team of Clarke MacArthurs, not Derek Engellends. What about then?

The thinking goes that you need a game-breaker: someone who can be relied upon to produce above the league average. In the absence of a hockey equivalent to baseball’s WAR stat – wins above replacement, or what a player produces relative to what someone else might have produced in their place – we’re left with imperfect measures of value. We have league average salary, league average and median point production, and league average and median possession metrics. It’s a bit like hitting the broad side of a barn with a tank shell and calling yourself a marksman.

Let’s look at Alex Ovechkin. I got some heat in the comments of my Worst Contracts post for calling him one-dimensional and not worth the money.

Alex Ovechkin – 2013-2014

Cap hit – $9,538, 462

EVP/60 – 1.74

Corsi For – 49.3%

Corsi Relative – +2.5%

NHL – 2013-2014

Cap hit – $3,500,000

EVP/60 – 1.29 (median)

Corsi For – 50.14% (average) 50.5% (median)

Corsi Relative – 0.08% (average) +3.0% (median)

 

So if the median even-strength-point-per-60-minutes is 1.29 and the average cap hit $3,500,000, you have a relative value of $2,713,178 for every averaged point-per-60. Similarly, if the median Corsi For is 50.14%, you should pay $69,805 for every positive point of Corsi For. In 2013-2014, Ovechkin received $5,481,874 for every averaged EVP/60 and $193,477 for every point of CF.

It’s an admittedly limited scope. We’re looking at point production here, not exclusively goal production, which is what Ovechkin is known for (especially powerplay goal production). You’d also have to account for other, non-performance factors: how much swag does Ovechkin sell? How many season tickets? Does a team full of league average players produce the same kind of brand loyalty as a team with a superstar and a bunch of role players? There are a lot of moving parts.

But the fundamental question remains: does it ever make sense to pay a premium for an individual player? Ovechkin is a generational talent, but is paid such an extreme premium that you have to wonder if he, or anyone, is worth it.

How about other superstar players? Ryan Getzlaf had the best EVP/60 at 3.12, and makes $8,250,000 per year, working out to $2,644,230 per average EVP/60. So, if you’re literally the best player in the league in this category, then you deliver value.

This isn’t necessarily stupid; being above average means being exceptional. A player who produces higher than average should be paid more for every point they produce above the average. However, the question remains: is it worth it to pay someone $8.25 million to produce above the average, or to use the savings to ensure higher rates of production further down the lineup, where you might have, before, only had the resources to spend league minimum on some plugs?

An interesting analysis would be to look at all of those players who are only slightly above league median and average in terms of point and possession production and see what sort of premium they receive. I suspect it’s highly variable, but that across the league teams pay their core talent a premium in order to lock them up long-term. Eric Staal’s contract is terrible. Kyle Okposo’s is great. But generally speaking, teams tie their identity to a group, and then are forced to overpay them.

So, what’s the alternative? Could a team actually populate a roster with $3.5MM players who produce 1.29 EVP/60 and 50.14% CF? Would anyone buy tickets to see a team like that?

It’s slim pickings on the free agent market, and those pickings would be made especially slim by the insistence of players that they go to teams who have star players because they’re perceived to be better. An easier method would be to draft and develop above-average players, only to trade them when they’re due their big payday for a package of average performers on average salaries.

What would Edmonton look like if it had traded Eberle, Hall, and Nugent-Hopkins for packages of value players instead of giving them $6 million a year each? They wouldn’t have high end players, but then they’d also not have Luke Gadzic at $800,000 or Matt Hendricks at $1.850 million in their bottom six. I guess the Oakland As and Tampa Bay Rays have been doing this forever, so much so that their fans don’t raise a stink when they trade away a star player just before his big payday.

The interesting thing is that the 2014-2015 Ottawa Senators are about as close as we’ll get to testing this theory. Outside of a few stinker contracts (Cowen, Greening, Neil) and one particularly high-paying one (Karlsson) the team is made up of players making league average salaries or less and producing at league average or more. If they spent to the cap, but on players in that $3.5 million / 1.29 EVP/60 / 50.5% CF range, it’s not hard to imagine them on the right side of the bubble.

Unofficial Leak: The Ottawa Senators Marketing Department’s Short List of Possible 2014-2015 Slogans (and The Accompanying Mid-Game Entertainment For Each)

[All credit here goes to Dusty, who left these in our inbox like that great coworker who leaves a thing of Timbits in the kitchen and doesn't call attention to it because he knows they'll be more delicious if you just find them.]

“Where’s Your RED At?” (A group of local dad-rock journeymen to provide a Sens themed interpretation of the immortal Basement Jaxx party jam.)

“Bringing Out The RED” (in tribute to the classic 1999 Nicolas Cage/Ving Rhames film, the zamboni will be outfitted to look like an ambulance and the harmonica riff from “TB Sheets” will be played when goals are scored)

“Capital Funishment” (Spartacat wears an executioner’s hood, carries an axe. Pretty straight forward stuff, this one writes itself.)

“This Town Needs a REDnema” (to feature a fun ‘between periods’ video of the “Partyman” scene from the 1989 Batman movie, but instead of portraits, the video is edited to look like the Joker is painting over pictures of rival hockey players. It’s a tall order, but I think the Sens’ in-house AV dept. is up for the challenge.)

[As an aside: can we have a conversation about "Batdance?" This is Prince at his trollingest, right? It's seven minutes long. He's dressed as the Joker, but with Two Face makeup on. He starts the song by saying "Get the fuck up!" And despite all of this, he still manages to shoehorn in a legitimately brilliant and sexy part, which is of course the breakdown with the troupe of Vicki Vales. If you think Prince wouldn't be up for being involved in an Ottawa Senators promotional campaign...well, Batdance.]

“Death SENtence” (ignore this one, this was just an early draft of “Capital Funishment”.)

And now, your 2014 All Good Contracts Team

Benn, Jamie »

$5.250MM

Dallas

Seguin, Tyler »

$5.750MM

Dallas

Oshie, T.J. »

$4.175MM

St. Louis

Kane, Evander »

$5.250MM

Winnipeg

Tavares, John »

$5.5MM

New York Islanders

Van Riemsdyk, J. »

$4.25MM

Toronto

Boyes, Brad »

$2.625MM

Florida

Turris, Kyle »

$3.5MM

Ottawa

Stempniak, Lee »

$900,000

New York Rangers

Roussel, Antoine »

$2MM

Dallas

Goc, Marcel »

$1.2MM

Pittsburgh

Moss, David »

$800,000

Arizona

 

Keith, Duncan »

$5.5MM

Chicago

E-Larsson, O. »

$5.5MM

Arizona

McDonagh, Ryan »

$4.7MM

New York Rangers

Shattenkirk, K. »

$4.25MM

St. Louis

Gilbert, Tom »

$2.8MM

Montreal

Volchenkov, Anton »

$1MM

Nashville

 

Neuvirth, Michal »

$2.5MM

Buffalo

Lack, Eddie »

$1.150MM

Vancouver

I thought, as a corollary to last week’s All Bad Contracts Team post, I would take a stab at the best contracts.

Rules:

  • No ELCs. Otherwise it would be too easy to stick half the top five picks from the last five years in a chart and call it a day.
  • I still adhered to the salary cap. This was especially a challenge without ELCs, and explains why I had to leave off guys like David Backes and Johan Franzen, who would be improvements over, like, David Moss. I also think that Erik Karlsson has a great contract, but I was trying to find an extra million, so I picked Ekman-Larsson at a million less.
  • The contact has to represent value. For example, I think Duchene is totally worth $6MM a year, and he’s a pretty good number one center. But I also think he’s being paid fairly.
  • I tried not to include too many deals where the player received what was perceived to be value at the time, and seems low by today’s standards. Were Sidney Crosby up for a new contract now, he’d get Kane / Toews money. But he was only paid slightly below market value at the time.
  • Goaltending is a bit of a mindfuck. In the last few years, starting goaltenders have been getting paid. Rask, Quick, and Crawford are all going to take up about 10% of your cap right away. I’ve long been a proponent of affordable goalies, given that it’s a crapshoot of a position. So, with that in mind, Eddie Lack had pretty good numbers last year, and Neuvirth is a league average goalie making average money. I also considered Anderson at just over $3MM, Jonas Hiller at $4.5MM, and the biggest mindfuck of all, Luongo at only $4.5MM.

These guys in total come in just under the cap at $68.6MM.

Omissions? Protestations? Hit the comments.