Friday, May 18, 2007

For Dennis: One More Reason to Hate the Pronger Trade

Before I get started, a tip of the hat to Erik and Todd who as Red Wing fans came by and gave their valued perspectives in the comments section of "By Way of Example". Thanks for stopping by! (but mostly, "Stay classy.")

When it comes to projecting an Oiler roster for 2007/2008 I consistently come up with the same problem. When all of the Oilers’ committed salaries are added up, I can’t find enough money left in the $45M budget to buy upgrades I honestly think would make Edmonton an above average team. I’m not going to lie – it shocks me more than a little bit to think the 6th worst team in the NHL this season has too much tied up in payroll to significantly improve itself via free agency.

Just to prove that I’m not BSing you, here’s Edmonton’s best lineup under contract for 2007/2008 (including RFAs), with numbers from NHLnumbers.com:

Assuming a roster of 23 players with 14F, 7D, and 2G Edmonton will be paying $31.144M in actual dollars (not cap value) with all of Torres, Winchester, Mikhnov, Greene, Grebeshkov, Roy, and Deslauriers to sign. If you assume a $1M average salary (with Torres and Greene probably being above but the others being below that mark) it bumps Edmonton’s payroll to $38.144M with a bare bones roster. Keep this $38M number in mind.

Even if all of the hoopla is true and Edmonton will spend $45M on their roster this season that leaves approximately $7M to ideally pick up a high-end forward and a high-end defenseman. Even when you consider the approximately $1.75M that you shave off the NHL budget by those players bumping depth back down into the AHL you are still looking at $9M maximum for these two players.
Can you find a top-flight UFA forward for less than $6M on this summer’s open market? The tradeoff is going to have to happen somewhere and a free agent haul of A. Markov/M. York or S. Gomez/D. Tjarnqvist is far more likely than getting the best of both worlds.

So where is all the money being wasted?

To answer this question I looked at the extreme example of bang-for-the-buck that is the Anaheim Ducks roster. For nearly an identical $38M in actual dollars paid Anaheim has built a team that looks an awful lot like a Stanley Cup contender for now and the foreseeable future.
Even with 2 Norris Trophy winners and a very high scoring Teemu Selanne Anaheim has a deep roster and money to burn. How?

I will ignore goaltending because they are paying very close to what Edmonton is for very similar results. However when you scan the chart and find that Anaheim pays just $3M for perhaps the best checking line in the NHL or that they’ve somehow got perhaps the best defenseman in the league signed for just $6.25M you can’t help but feel a little jealous.

Going further, having two defensemen of the Pronger/Niedermayer caliber allows Anaheim to pay a tiny sum for the rest of its defense corps. O’Donnell, Beauchemin, Huskins and DiPenta all have very clear roles that they play to expected levels and generally give the expected return (with bonus offense from Mr. Beauchemin) given their salary.

All this said, the Pronger contract savings (relative to market value) and intelligent use of money on the back end pale in comparison to the value the Ducks get up front.

First off, you’ve got Teemu Selanne signed for just under $4M. For the amount of offense he brings that is definitely below what he could get as a UFA. To fill out that line you’ve got McDonald who is priced fairly and then Kunitz whose $1M RFA contract is a steal for the 60 pts he put up. You’ve got the aforementioned elite checking line for just $3M, and you’ve got Marchant who can babysit or play just about anywhere on the roster for the non-bargain $2.47M. Then boom: there’s Getzlaf, Perry, and Penner - a combined $147 pts - for less than $2M.

To summarize, it’s clear that Anaheim has savings up and down their current roster and it comes in many forms. There’s “hometown” discount in the form of Selanne, the excellent contract of Pronger, a series of kids who are grossly outperforming their RFA contracts and there simply aren’t any players you can legitimately say are overpaid.

So which hurts Edmonton the most? Is it a lack of high-level youth on cheap RFA contracts? The waste of money on overpriced mid-level talent? The absence of one elite player whose contract is clearly below market value? One way or another it’s hard to imagine a significant fix coming this off-season without Kevin Lowe pulling one hell of a rabbit out of one hell of a hat.

14 Comments:

Blogger Earl Sleek said...

Good post, Showerhead.

Just to clarify one thing, Selanne's contract has a bunch of performance bonuses built into it (though damn if Burke will tell us what they are or what they are worth); this I think only can happen for a UFA above 35 years old signing a one-year contract.

You gotta assume, though, that he's hitting those bonuses both in terms of individual counting numbers and the team's playoff success, and I've heard the resulting salary number could be in the $6M range.

Even so, it's a great deal for Anaheim--those bonuses are pretty happily paid if met, happily ignored if not. The only real downside (and it's not really a downside to the Ducks, as they don't spend near the cap) is that I think the highest possible salary figure gets applied against the cap until it is reasonable that he will not be achieving the bonus triggers.

I probably should be reading more CBA to figure this out, but that's the idiot's version, at least.

Everything else you got is pretty spot-on. There's some raises coming next year (Pahlsson and Beauchemin are getting an extra mil apiece, for starters, and the kids will get raises at some point), but that is probably offset by the reality that Anaheim probably doesn't get to retain both Giguere and Teemu next year, unless they really want to "hometown" it together.

5/18/2007 10:47 am  
Blogger SweatyO said...

Christ, it would have been nice to have Getzlaf at 715K this season instead of Lupul on the first year of a three-year, 7 million dollar deal, eh?

Fuck you Kevin Lowe for bending over to Brian Burke. You deserve to be fired for not being able to see who the best young forward on the Ducks was (by far) and insisting on his inclusion in the return for your franchise player.

Fuck you Brian Burke for doing it.

Fuck you EIG for the simple possibility that someone stuck their nose into the negotiations with Anaheim and gave a directive from on-high that Lupul should be part of the return for CFP. And yes, there is enough reason to be suspicious of this.

Until we get Brad Richards for Shawn Horcoff and Steve Staios, I am going to be one unhappy Oiler fan (and yes, that is exactly the sort of trade I'd be looking to make, alongside shipping Lupul and other assets to Philly to try and land Pitkanen, thus leaving money to target Hannan and Hartnell in the UFA market....)

5/18/2007 12:17 pm  
Blogger RiversQ said...

Selanne's performance bonus has been published in several places and it's apparently $2.25MM, which puts him at $6MM. Still worth it of course.

Is it a lack of high-level youth on cheap RFA contracts?
Yes. This is the biggest problem.

The waste of money on overpriced mid-level talent?
I really don't think so. These things can add up of course, but while Edmonton may have Pisani and Moreau signed to deals that are about $500K too high, Anaheim's got the same thing with Marchant and Niedermayer. Neither of those guys get better results than Moreau or Pisani.

You could point to Staios I suppose, but he's head and shoulders better than every Anaheim dman not named Pronger or Niedermayer. Personally, I'd rather have one elite dman and a good top four than what Anaheim has right now.

The absence of one elite player whose contract is clearly below market value?

Hmm, I think that's going to be Hemsky this year. $3.6MM ($4.1MM cap hit) is going to be a heck of a deal for what he's capable of doing on the PP and the fairly impressive ES results he has obtained thus far.

I'll add one more: The absence of 1-2 additional elite players signed to near-market contracts.

5/18/2007 12:28 pm  
Blogger PDO said...

Solution to said problem:

Trade Lupul for futures (Lupul and the 6th for the 1st and 31st? Throwing shit at the wall...) and sign one of Dvorak or Johnson for $1,000,000 to replace him. That contract is the biggest stumbling block for the Oilers right now, as it's a sizable cap hit for a black hole of results.

5/18/2007 9:44 pm  
Blogger Black Dog said...

RiversQ hits the nail on the head - issue #1 is the biggest one. Look at the Oilers last season. Hemsky, Torres, Pisani, Stoll, Moreau, maybe Horcoff (his salary escapes me) were all making around a million a year or less. The bang for the buck they got from those guys - incredible.

Look at Ottawa as another example - Meszaros, Preissing, Emery, Volchenkov, Vermette, Eaves, Kelly, maybe Neil? all making relatively next to nothing and contributing. Of course it helps to have Heatley and Spezza and Phillips all at reasonable rates too but because of that they have Redden at 6+ and Alfie comes in pretty high too.

You HAVE to draft and develop those kids - that is what gives you that window of opportunity. If you have no contributions from the cheap young talent then you're done.

5/19/2007 4:52 pm  
Blogger PDO said...

Blackdog:

What about Detroit? Their bottom 6 is mostly filed with vets who are taking 800k (Maltby, Draper, etc), and their D-corps is pretty similar.

5/19/2007 6:09 pm  
Blogger bodybreak said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/19/2007 8:06 pm  
Blogger bodybreak said...

The Oilers are in a unique sort of a pickle right now. Having come so close to winning it all, it made sense, in theory, to keep the team together. Everyone had their defined role and knew how to carry it out. No one could have predicted the FCP and Smyth depatures that rocked the team to its core. Add to that the myriad of injuries, and it's no wonder this season played out how it did.

What to do next? If $9M is what you've got, make your splash with one big name you're confident in, and use the rest to pick up young guys with potential.

If you try to split the $9M evenly, chances of getting a big name forward AND d are slim. Successful teams, like Anaheim, are those who get contributions from everyone, regardless of salary. You've got to depend on your big name, but you've also got to search out quality bargains that you have faith in to have big seasons, even if the other 29 people doing your job in other cities don't.

For the realists out there, this usually involves planning for the future and then getting lucky when the kid (or even old guy in rarer cases) has an early breakout season.

Anyone familliar with the Montreal Canadiens current goaltending situation can attest to this. They've got Halak and Huet fighting for starts while Aebischer looks pretty expendible this offseason. In the AHL, Yann Denis, a starter who puts up excellent numbers got passed over for Halak and is in danger of the same thing happening with Carey Price.

To go off on a tangent here for a sec, since I know you love the idea of Markhov being an Oiler, D is the worst position depth-wise for the Habs right now, so the only way they'll let him walk to FA is if his doctor's report comes back badly. Either bribe a doctor or you're out of luck ;). Montreal would love to sign a Steve Staios just as much as you'd love Markhov.

Back to the topic at hand -- can the Oilers right the ship? With the high number of MacT sightings across North America during the playoffs, I'm optimistic the Oilers can make some smart off-season moves. After all, about half the players in the Conference finals aren't yet under contract for next year.

5/19/2007 8:17 pm  
Blogger Black Dog said...

pdo - that works too, you're right, I would guess though that the Wings are the exception (cheap vets rather then cheap kids) then the rule

the rest of the final four and San Jose as another example have a plethora of kids making little dough

5/20/2007 8:08 pm  
Blogger Asiaoil said...

To right the ship we must:

1) get rid of Lupul and his contract

2) get rid of Lupul and his contract

3) get rid of Lupul and his contract

4) use Lupul contract dollars, cap space, pick and prospects to trade for one elite forward (Hossa?) and obtain a couple 2nd tier dmen (Zidlicky/Hamrlik?)

5/23/2007 1:38 am  
Blogger Showerhead said...

Earl Sleek: I agree that the best part of Selanne's bonuses are that Anaheim would be happy to pay them if earned and happy to save on them if not earned. The idea of paying a player for actual performance sounds so bloody REASONABLE that were I a GM (and the cap hits were manageable) I'd want half my roster on incentives based contracts. However, I believe that the CBA has stipulations on which categories of player can and can't have contracts structured this way, leaving just entry level players and then players above a certain age to qualify.

sweatyo: quite the crusade you've got going now, eh? :)

RiversQ: fantastic post, by which of course I mean I agree with your assessment 100%. Regarding "one elite defenseman and a good top 4", I am reminded immediately of Pronger/Smith/Staios/Spacek and while I too lean towards that unit I think results are the key indicator in this debate and if Anaheim wins in two weeks no amount of arguing will convince hockey fans to lean the same way.

PDO/Blackdog: Yes it appears that Detroit is the exception among the top 4 in that their cheap players are mostly veterans. The one thing that holds constant though is that they are outplaying their contract relative to market value and this is the real need for any high-level team. With this in mind I think the moral of the story still stays with the need to draft, develop, and retain high-level youth because they are the segment of the NHL population you are most likely to successfully play moneypuck with. IE my opinion is that Detroit is an exception worth noting but not worth aiming for in this particular example.

bodybreak: 1) Agreed, Edmonton's current "pickle" is unique and would have to be considered an unpredictable outcome. 2) If $9M is indeed the FA budget then we agree that Edmonton can't expect to pick up elite players both at F and D. However one disagreement I have is that if there was a young player with good potential out there then he wouldn't come cheaply this summer. 3) Good thing Staios isn't a UFA this summer. I don't know what Montreal's plans are but I think my Markov>>>>Souray opinion is either well known by now or will be well known through exhaustive and annoying repetition by the end of summer. 4) No matter how many MacT sightings there are (and I stress that I do believe in his abilities to find players that can help his team) it doesn't change that Edmonton needs more than it can pay to fix via UFA. Barring a Pronger-esque acquisition via trade I see a rebuild more infant than fully mature.

Asia: Personally I'm not a fan of the names you've mentioned but the idea is good. Make it happen!

5/23/2007 2:41 pm  
Blogger bodybreak said...

The $9M thing was based on the estimate in your post. With that money, or whatever amount, I was saying the Oilers should spend most of that on one established big name, and the rest on young guys who aren't necessarily attracting a lot of attenion, but could develop into something special. I wasn't hoping for an overnight fix, but this scenario means you might get a pleasant surprise should someone turn out to be NHL-ready sooner than you think.

(e.g. Halak 0.5M, Streit 0.6M, A Kostitsyn 0.612M). That leaves plenty of money to go after a Selanne, Briere, etc.

Yeah, I forgot about the Staios contract extension again when I wrote that. I was really sick, what can I say.

5/23/2007 10:28 pm  
Blogger Showerhead said...

BB: Yep, I understand that the $9M is my number and you're just running with it. A question about Halak, Streit, and Kostitsyn though: how did they come into Montreal's system? I would expect (though please correct if I'm wrong) that they are Montreal draft picks who have those cheap contracts because they signed them as RFAs. I simply can't believe that there is that <$1M player out there that is likely to pull a Yanic Perrault as an unrestricted free agent.

As far as cheap, speculative contracts and reclamation projects go Edmonton has had mixed results with nearly all of the success coming on defense. Hejda for a 7th rounder and Marc-Andre Bergeron signed as an undrafted free agent come to mind as immediate examples of success while Adam Oates, Jiri Dopita, and this year's Petr Nedved come to mind as examples of failures. I suppose what I'm saying is that I'm not sold that Edmonton necessarily has the pro scouting to make it happen, although I am very curious to see if MacT's inclusion in the player procurement process yields unique results.

One final note is that I think Edmonton does indeed have a ton of cheap speculative contracts. All of the kids would fit under that designation (and trust me there are a lot) and they represent a portion of Edmonton's team that will hopefully be more productive next year.

5/25/2007 12:24 pm  
Blogger Dennis said...

Great stuff, SH. You've taken the ball here and ran with it and you're practically Barry Sanders at this point:)

The whole idea of bang for the buck, or however it's framed these days, is a system the Oilers have played under for years so it's not something that should be new to them. Though as you've pointed out here, it's not something they excelled at this year but as some other cat pointed out, it was a big reason for our run in '06.

So what does this mean? Well it means that this year we'd need to get similar contributions from some of Smid, Grebs or Gilbert on the backend or Thor and MP up front. I don't expect either of those guys to be elite and I don't expect them to be able to make hay against lesser comp like the Ducks PPG. But we'll need something from them plus Stoll getting better and bounceback years from Horc and Raffi. Lupul retiring would be nice too.

With 9 mill to spend, I don't think Drury coming here and we know Markov isn't. Bottom line? This team is missing the playoffs again and it won't be by six points either

5/31/2007 4:16 pm  

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