Monday, August 3, 2009

Are there any good free agent contracts?

There's been no end to the griping since July 1 about some of the contracts Habs GM Bob Gainey handed out, and it appears most of the negative press has been aimed at Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri.

Throw in the acquisition of the Scott Gomez contract, and there are more than a few out there who believe Gainey has gone completely bonkers.

I'm not one to argue, but if you want to think Gainey has lost his marbles, then it should be because of his plan to have so many key players hit unrestricted free agency at the same time, and not necessarily the contracts he either acquired or signed to replace those departed components.

There's a reason why everyone in hockey not named Glen Sather knows that a team is not built through free agency or trades, but rather by good drafting and development. The free agent market is supposed to be used to plug holes, or add that one final piece to a near-completed puzzle. It is not the ideal way to completely rebuild a team, as Gainey has done here.

The primary reason for that? The unrestricted free agent market almost always leads to buyer remorse, the only question is how long will it be before that sets in.

Gomez signed his gargantuan seven-year, $51.5 million deal with Sather's Rangers two years ago, and he's already been shipped out of town. Paul Holmgren in Philadelphia would love to do the same with Daniel Brière, but he'd have to find a pretty desperate man to take that contract off his hands, like Sather did.

So, just how bad are these supposedly horrible deals for Cammalleri and Gionta? To figure that out, they need to be looked at in context.

I pulled up the 15 richest contracts signed by UFA forwards who switched teams since the summer of 2006, because players generally give their own team a bit of a discount when they re-sign. Then, I averaged out their stats from the three years prior to signing that contract on a per game basis so as not to unduly penalize an injury-plagued season, but also added the average number of games they played over those three seasons. The final factor was their age when they signed.

Here's what it looks like, in descending order of $$ value:

Marian Gaborik, New York Rangers, 2009
27 years old
$7.5 million x 5 years
47.3 GP, .646 GPG, .56 APG, 1.206 PPG

Scott Gomez, New York Rangers, 2007
27 years old
$7.357 million X 7 years
78 GP, .253 GPG, .657 APG, .910 PPG

Chris Drury, New York Rangers, 2007
30 years old
$7.05 million X 5 years
78 GP, .363 GPG, .447 APG, .810 PPG

Daniel Brière, Philadelphia Flyers, 2007
29 years old
$6.5 million X 8 years
70.3 GP, .420 GPG, .640 APG, 1.06 PPG

Ryan Smyth, Colorado Avalanche, 2007
31 years old
$6.25 million X 5 years
76 GP, .423 GPG, .430 APG, .853 PPG

Mike Cammalleri, Montreal Canadiens, 2009
27 years old
$6 million X 5 years
75 GP, .400 GPG, .513 APG, .913 PPG

Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks, 2009
30 years old
$5.233 million X 12 years
76 GP, .487 GPG, .543 APG, 1.03 PPG

Brian Rolston, New Jersey Devils, 2008
35 years old
$5.062 million X 4 years
80.3 GP, .397 GPG, .440 APG, .837 PPG

Martin Havlat, Minnesota Wild, 2009
28 years old
$5 million X 6 years
57.3 GP, .367 GPG, .550 APG, .917 PPG

Brian Gionta, Montreal Canadiens, 2009
30 years old
$5 million X 5 years
75 GP, .307 GPG, .397 APG, .704 PPG

Marc Savard, Boston Bruins, 2006
29 years old
$5 million X 4 years
64.7 GP, .337 GPG, .687 APG, 1.024 PPG

Alex Kovalev, Ottawa Senators, 2009
36 years old
$5 million X 2 years
77.7 GP, .337 GPG, .500 APG, .837 PPG

Kristian Huselius, Columbus Blue Jackets, 2008
29 years old
$4.75 million X 4 years
80 GP, .330 GPG, .463 APG, .793 PPG

Ryan Malone, Tampa Bay Lightning, 2008
29 years old
$4.5 million X 7 years
72.7 GP, .297 GPG, .277 APG, .574 PPG

Jason Arnott, Nashville Predators, 2006
31 years old
$4.5 million X 5 years
75.3 GP, .230 GPG, .453 APG, .683 PPG

The first thing that jumped out to me, after laughing over the fact the Rangers had the top three players on the list, is how the overwhelming majority of these contracts are now headaches for their respective teams. Two of the top five players here (Gomez and Smyth) were traded this summer, and Holmgren would love to shed Brière's contract and I have no doubt Sather would jump at moving Drury in spite of the intangibles he brings to the table.

I would say there are only two contracts on the list, aside from those signed this summer, that represent good value - Savard and Arnott. But both of those were signed under a far lower salary cap than we have today, one that doesn't look like it will continue skyrocketing, at least not at the same pace.

But, if you accept this as the reality of the UFA market, I would have to say that Cammalleri's contract is just about where it should be based on his consistent level of production over the past three seasons, his durability and his age. That's not to say it won't turn out to be a millstone, but his deal is a product of the system, so it should be judged that way.

Gionta, on the other hand, appears to be grossly overpaid based on his production. Of the 15 players on the list, only Arnott and Malone were less productive going into their new contracts than Gionta has been over the past three seasons. Except Arnott and Malone are at the bottom of the list, and Gionta's closer to the middle.

I realize that Gainey was trying to reunite him with Gomez in the hopes they could recapture the magic of 2005-06, when they both put up career years, but that shouldn't be a factor in how much Gionta gets paid.

With Gionta's steady decline in production in the three seasons since then, you would have to believe Gainey could have saved a pretty significant amount of money in signing Gionta, say $1 million per season or so.

Considering how tight the Habs are with the salary cap this season, that $1 million would come in pretty handy right about now.


Anonymous said...

Is the only criteria for evaluating a players value their point production or are other factors important, i.e. attitude in the room, defensive ability, suitability to a particular playing style or system, etc.

I am having some trouble drawing the same conclusions you do from the analysis you have presented. Thanks anyway.

Yves said...

Great article Arpon.

2 contracts I have a bit of a hard time with are Gionta and Gomez.

But since July first I have less of a problem with the Gomez trade because Cammalleri did mention him as a factor in coming to Montreal.

Gionta is getting paid a bit much.

But I guess time will tell how this all plays out.

Maybe a change of scenery and reunion, is just what the doctor ordered for both Gomez and Gionta.

Let's hope.

Arpon Basu said...

There are definitely other factors that go into free agent contracts, but I would argue that the guys being paid this kind of money are expected to produce statistically. In the case of guys like Drury and Smyth, you could argue they're being paid for leadership and/or grit, but generally speaking you don't give $6 million to role players.

Paul said...

If we restrict our analysis to the Habs, then I believe the money question becomes secondary, while remaining very important. I think it is clear that Gainey decided to accommodate the coaching style of Martin--he chose a coach before signing players. Gomez and Gionta thrived together in a system very much like that for which Martin is known. Cammalleri is simply among the best that were available on free agent day--certainly the least injury prone (which seems to have been a major factor in Gainey's selections).

Did Gainey pay too much? Probably. But I don't think any of his signings were the worst in terms of overpaying. Gaborik and Havlat are far worse signings--not in money per year, but in length of term.

In any event, IF the team gels, then no one will be talking too much about the money. IF it doesn't, the references to salaries will swamp actual hockey analysis in most of the media. On that you can rely.

blockersave93 said...

Let's not run anybody out of town before thay have played a game. The problem of the review of numbers is thay usually don't transition to the new situation in free-agency, for better or worse! Gomez's contract tapers over the next several years (8.0 this and next season, 7.5 in 11/12, 5.5 in 12/13, 4.5 in 13/14).

Cammalleri is the best gamble that was available on the open market by a long shot with his age and productivity. He looks like the real deal and has learned how to play at the NHL level with a superstar, now he is out on his own. As we all know, without Gomez, there wouldn't be a Cammalleri Montreal uniform.

Gionta's highlight reel speaks for itself. He is small, but works the front of the net. Pair him up with a shooter and he can claim plenty of rebounds and dirty goals. When was the last time we had a player that drove the net like Gionta? Maybe John Leclaire? Even if he only pots mid 20's, he may open the ice up by going to the net with speed.

The media will keep harping on the contracts, but we don't get to keep the money from this year if we didn't use it. Do we try and win from October till March by spending a bunch of money, or save some money to make a big move at the deadline and push ourselves into the playoffs, but lose a bunch of games in the process...

Arpon Basu said...

Thanks for the comment.
It's true that Gomez's contract is front-loaded, but I'm only talking about cap implications here, which is all that matters to fans. And as far as the cap is concerned, Gomez counts $7.357 mil per year. Frankly, do any of us care how much these players cost in real dollars?
The whole point of looking into this for me was to see if these contracts were foolhardy in a cap world as far as handicapping the team now and in the future. Cammalleri's contract looks pretty sound, at least when compared to the other UFA transfers, while Gionta's doesn't. That's all I'm saying, not running anyone out of town. It's not Gionta's fault he signed that contract. Wouldn't you?

Anonymous said...

Agree about the money... it's important and just being used as another stick by people who want to self-flagellate or beat BG.

Let's wait until December to begin evaluating this situation... that's when we'll know whether the last 3 years of performance - regardless of the factors used - are a good predictor of performance for the upcoming year without having to guess about it.

Arpon... I agree you don't give 6 million to role players. That's my point I guess... these guys are not being brought her solely based on ability to score goals and get assits. The guys BG shipped out almost brought those things in equal measure. The hope is they bring lots of other tangible and intangible attributes that have considerable value... and we should know that because we have just had 82 games of hockey without those attributes.

Let's keep in mind... BG decided this team as constituted was lacking in discipline and heart and he set out to change that quickly. He had limited options and if this team succeeds, no one will be concerned with cap space or the relative value of contracts.

Thanks so much for responding to my post by the way... very much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Once again, we cant judge anything BG has done until midway through the season. I mean even our "team" last year, was not really a team. They were clearly a divided group, and I do not buy the argument that top flight teams are necessarily built through drafting, and team building. Unfortunately, the habs did not have the luxury of Malkins, crosbys and ovechkins, and we didnt get lucky like detroit did with zetterberg and datsyuk (yes, thats right, they got LUCKY. If detroit actually thought at the time that datsyuk and zetterberg would pan out to be what they are today, they would have drafted them higher). Columbus has been building a team through drafting, and they have one playoff berth. THe coyotes as well, and they have never made the playoffs. There are many ways to build a contending team and only one way to measure success, WINS. IF this edition of the habs WIN, then who cares how bob gainey built them or how much money he spent.

pfhabs said...


-very insightful piece...interesting that clubs acquire UFAs based on their evaluation of what these players will do in the future but pay them on what they did in the past...makes the grand assumption that circumstances on the new club are the same as the original club and history will repeat itself at least in statistical production.

-I guess that's why Bob's current plan/actions are seen as an "experiment" by some and a "gamble" by others..all to be played out next year---I give it 20/25 games and you should have a good feeling by then

-as for last year's version having no heart I find it interesting that anyone would claim Saku and Komisarek had no heart nor discipline....if one was to play the devil's discipline was chiefly demonstrated by the K boys and Price...I think they are still employed in Montreal.

-on another point re dollars and term Gaborik has a 5 yr deal and Havlat 6 years...not much difference from Gomez, Cammelleri and Gionta who all have 5 years to go..perhaps the author meant Hossa

-comparing stats before and after the big payday may have brought more interesting stats but could not have included Gionta & Cammelleri. although Gomez has not succeeded post cashing in nor has Drury just to name two

-on the notion that money and amounts are not important I agree if you don't use it its not like it gets rolled over into next year but its fooling oneself to think you can ride the cap upper limit and succeed..anyone see or hear the current troubles Chicago, Philadelphia, Rangers (even with santa Bob's help) Sharks and others are having trying to better their teams given their lofty cap position. Chicago is over the cap now and next year Teows and Kane are RFAs---a good young team saddled before they get out of the gate

-finally don't see any Detroit Red Wings on that list, nor Ducks, nor Peguins...perhaps another lesson learned in that

-all to be revealed this fall..hope the faithful have reason to be as positive come January

Paul said...

Havlat and Gaborik have HORRIBLE contracts owing to their well established injury history. Committing 5 and 6 years to them is far more irresponsible than committing to that time frame with players who have no injury history to speak of.

I think 5 year contracts should be the maximum allowable term (though that will not fly, apparently) and I prefer 3 year contracts as an ideal (long enough to provide some security to the player and short enough to avoid "sit on your assitis" becoming a problem for too long). However, I would gladly sign a Gionta or a Cammalleri for 5 years, even at inflated prices, over the same term for Havlat or Gaborik. Those two should never get more than a 2 year deal.

pfhabs said...


-agree that in recent history Gaborik and Havlat have been paper mache for their respective clubs and long term for them is a big risk

-on the other hand unless Gionta reverts to his production of 3 years ago (when he was surrounded by much more proven talent than the CH will muster this year) both Gaborik and Havlat are dynamic and skilled enough to produce in 50 games what Gionta will in 80+

-for the same money I'd take Gaborik or Havlat and hope for good health...kinda like having Kovalev for 50 games at his peak but not because he suffered any physical "injury"

Paul said...

I would pay Havlat or Gaborik more than Gionta on a per year basis--I simply would not risk a lengthy contract with either of them.

As for the signings themselves, if considered individually, I find Cammalleri and Spacek, along with Mara and may be Moen, to be good pick-ups. Gill is too expensive, as is Gionta. Gomez should not have cost McDonaugh (if another body was needed. And I was not keen on Martin as coach.

However, if I look at all the acquisitions since June as a whole, I see a somewhat different picture. Gainey, in my opinion, made two philosophical choices that coloured the rest of his decisions. He decided to "blow up" the team and he decided to make injury history a major criterion.

"Blowing up" the team means you need an experienced, disciplined and extremely organized coach. That explains Martin as his choice. He may be boring, but he is an ideal short to medium term (3-4 years) choice in terms of being organized, etc. Martin emphasizes two-way hockey--he's no run and gun coach.

Who fits the mould--Gomez and Gionta. They were successful in a system almost identical to that of Martin. They are also hardly ever injured. Gionta also brings heart and intensity--a la Martin St. Louis. Gomez is a healthier, younger Koivu in terms of hockey talent (not in terms of heart--but you can't have everything ;) ).

You need offence--best option this year was the Sedins. Not available. Next best in terms of talent, Gaborik, Hossa and Havlat, then Cammalleri. Hossa seemed unlikely to come. Gaborik and Havlat unhealthy risks. Cammalleri is a slight notch in talent below the other three but only slight--and he's healthy. A very good signing.

Spacek is a younger, cheaper Schneider. A good signing, if unspectacular.

Komisarek is not coming back. Some size is needed. Gill, relative to his reputation, was impressive in the playoffs. Still think the Habs could have done better here, but I can live with him. Costs too much, but some of that is buying the "winning experience".

Mara brings some size, is a better puck handler and passer than Komisarek, though not as physical. Lose some physicality, but a better balance of skills. Plus he's cheaper and it's a short contract. No problems with that.

Moen is Kostopoulos writ large. To me, a bit of an improvement and he has "winning experience". Not too costly in money or term. Also fits into a Martin type system.

So, taken as a whole, Gainey's signings make more sense than they do individually--especially with Martin in the equation. Will it work? Who knows? But one thing is for sure. I don't think I'll have to listen to Ron, Ron, Ronald get on Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob's case for "dormir au volant".

pfhabs said...

Paul you make a lot of good points mais comme on dit en francais on verra..2 nagging items for me

1. treatment of Koivu who has been heart, soul and production for an endless stream of mediocre teams since 93. Captain Bob should have done better

2. the incessant denigrating of Komaserik from every corner of CH nation. not a fighter and takes on everyone physically including Lucic a much tougher guy while Laraque weaves his philosophy. how much of what we saw at the end was due to a shredded shoulder on the mend and a badly damaged psyche ? it seems free shots at a guy who was behind the bench because of his teammates' respect for him is deriguer

-2 captains one current and potentially 1 future just tossed in a flurry of moves made over days that Bob would not have even contemplated in his last 6 years...such a turnaround in philosophy by the GM smacks of desperation for me

-in the end it is what it is and if it works out life will be worth living again for most fans and if it flops Geoff Molson is a new owner with no reason to maintain an old regime

Paul said...

I do think Koivu deserved at least an offer. I would have liked to have seen him in this new set of players. And Komisarek has been the object of much unfairness. It's rather embarrassing, actually. On that point I agree.

I'm not sure I would qualify Gainey's moves as "desperate"--to me desperation lacks any semblance of a plan and his acquisitions make sense enough (within the constraints of what was available and his apparent focus on Martin's system and having healthy players) to support the idea that he has a plan. What remains to be seen is whether it is a good plan. The jury should at least wait until late Jan. to make a judgement (unless there is a catastrophically horrible start to the season).

pfhabs said...


-agree he has a new plan but the methodology with with it was constructed belies the previous MO of steady Eddy, methodical to almost being painful, lock step movements. it is a completely new page in the book of Bob's doesn't fit the previous profile and given its the reaction to last year's second half I chose the word desperation...its perhaps just semantics

Paul said...

Well, it is often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Perhaps Gainey concluded that his usual, slower methodology was not suited for solving what he sees as the problem. But, true to his nature, he enacts a plan rather than simply throwing a tantrum and gathering players with no regard to how they might fit together.

Arpon Basu said...

I'm loving this discussion guys. Paul, I think you hit the nail on the head when it came to Gainey's plan, he wanted durable players who will fit in under Martin. The one thing I think you omitted was his desire to get younger up front and more experienced (or older, depending on your agenda) on the back end. I think he managed to do that considering what was available. The one other things I would have done in his shoes would be to buy out Laraque when he had the chance, but perhaps he will wake up this year and understand his role again.

pfhabs said...

Paul & Arpon with all the D acquisitions do either of you see Weber or later in the year Subban getting any time in Montreal this year ?

Arpon Basu said...

PF - That's going to be tough, barring a trade. Markov, Hamrlik, Spacek, Mara, Gill and Gorges look pretty solid as the top six right now, and I don't think the Habs will want either Weber or Subban sitting in the press box. Besides, I don't know if Subban is ready to make the jump right away. I think the new acquisitions also pretty much guarantee O'Byrne will be the 7th guy, and may find himself in Hamilton for simple cap reasons.

Paul said...

I agree. Without a trade, there is little room for either Subban or Weber. I suspect Gainey is trying to "unload" Hamrlik but realizes it is an unlikely option. Unless that happens, Weber and Subban will have to be patient. I think Hamrlik can be traded next year much more easily (only one year left on his contract by then and some team will likely take a flier on him) and Mara may not be back. That opens 1-2 spots. But for this season, barring injury or an unlikely trade, I think the youngsters are better off getting 20-25 minutes/game in Hamilton than riding the pressbox bench in Montreal.

And Arpon, you make a very good point about a more experienced D.