Except Koivu was still a ways away from his date with unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2011, so the lone remaining player - at least in my eyes - was Vancouver's Ryan Kesler. And as it turned out, Plekanec got the exact same six-year, $30 million contract Kesler did.
But then the Wild went and blew the doors off both of those deals by signing Koivu to a seven-year, $47.25 million contract on Thursday night, a whopping $6.75 million cap hit for a player who has never topped his output of 22 goals and 71 points of the past season.
Mike Gillis must be really smiling these days, because of the three players mentioned here he has the one with the most upside. Kesler is the youngest of the three at 25, he had the best numbers of the three with 25 goals and 75 points, and he has the most size of the three (granted, by only two pounds over Koivu) at 6-foot-2, 202 pounds.
But in light of what Koivu just received, I would think Pierre Gauthier has to be pretty happy with himself for locking up Plekanec at $5 million a season.
The Minnesota Star Tribune's Michael Russo reported in the immediate aftermath of breaking Koivu's contract signing that both he and Wild GM Chuck Fletcher agreed that Koivu could fetch $7 million a season on the open market next summer.
With the CBA entering it's final season in 2011 and Donald Fehr about to take over the reins of the player's union, I'm not entirely sure Koivu could have fetched that much in that environment of uncertainty. But his value, in my eyes, is not far from that neighbourhood, maybe one or two blocks away.
So if that's the case, where would Plekanec's value had been on the open market, or Kesler's for that matter? Definitely north of $5 million a season, despite the cries of shock and dismay coming from some corners of the hockey media like HNIC's Elliotte Friedman and the Globe and Mail's James Mirtle, just to name a couple.
When a follower on Twitter mentioned to Russo just after he broke the Koivu signing that Plekanec was as good if not better than him, Russo's response was, "Give me a break man. I just coughed up a lung." ESPN's EJ Hradek quickly backed him up by writing, "Mikko Koivu much better than Tomas Plekanec...Period."
Oh really? Much better? Why exactly?
Here's what the straight numbers say:
362 GP - 79G - 176A - 255pts - plus-10 - 0.70 ppg
11GP - 5G - 1A - 6pts - minus-1 - 0.55 ppg
393 GP - 103G - 151A - 254pts - plus-25 - 0.65 ppg
40GP - 8G - 16A - 24pts - minus-8 - 0.60 ppg
Pretty similar, wouldn't you say? But when dealing with all-around players like these, the normal statistics don't really suffice. Which is why we're lucky we live in an age where you can delve a little deeper into a player's value to a team.
For instance, both Koivu and Plekanec are their respective team's primary penalty killers at the centre position, with Koivu logging 2:10 in SH ice time per game last season and Plekanec playing 2:44 per game. The advanced statistics found at the exhaustive web site of Gabe Desjardins Behind the Net show that when Plekanec was on the ice in a penalty kill situation, his team was better off than if he wasn't. Whereas when Koivu was on the ice, his team had a worse plus/minus than when he was on the bench.
A lot of factors can go into a stat like that, namely the strength of your goalie, your fellow penalty killers and also the efficiency of the first power play units in the two conferences. But stats are stats, and they do paint a picture, as limited as that picture may be.
Some other hockeymetric aficionados count on the Corsi rating to serve as the ultimate judge of a player's value. In basic terms, the Corsi rating counts how many shot attempts (which counts shots on goal, shots that were blocked and shots that missed the net) your team has versus the attempts of the opposing team while you are on the ice. To that you can add the Relative Corsi rating, which compares a player's on-ice rating to when he is off the ice. In this category, Koivu wins big with a plus-12.5, while Plekanec is at minus-2.3.
Of course, a lot of factors go into that number as well, such as how strong (or weak) the other lines are on your team, how good your linemates are and how often you face the opposing team's best defenders.
To figure things like that out, Desjardins blesses us with quality of competition and quality of teammates stats, and in both these areas we see that Plekanec faced tougher opponents with weaker teammates than Koivu did, all the while producing at a near equal rate all season.
Plekanec's quality of competition rating last season was 0.069, which sounds minuscule but is actually quite high. In fact, among NHL centres who played at least 20 games, Plekanec ranked 16th in quality of competition. Koivu, meanwhile, ranked 90th among centres with a 0.007 rating. Inversely, Plekanec had a quality of teammates rating of 0.166, while Koivu's was 0.205. Yet, in spite of this apparent disadvantage for Plekanec, he produced 2.07 points per 60 minutes of ice time, just a shade underneath Koivu's 2.09 points.
However, the whole point of this exercise - which I hope has not given you a headache - is not to slag Koivu or the Wild for handing him that contract. In fact, I commend Fletcher for locking up a core player who is just entering his prime, has improved his point per game totals in each of his five seasons and who has a unique skill set in the NHL. As a big, young, strong player who covers every inch of the ice and would have been entering a contract year, he probably deserves the money and could very well have gotten it on the open market (though, again, I doubt it just because of the labour circumstances).
I just feel it needs to be reiterated how good the Plekanec contract really is when compared to Koivu's and that, as unbelievable as it may sound, $5 million a year for one of the rare do-it-all centres in the NHL is very fair, if not a bargain. Even though I didn't think so a few months ago.
I also wanted to touch briefly on some of the other Habs news to emerge Thursday, led by the apparent candidacy of Julien Brisebois to become Steve Yzerman's assistant in Tampa Bay. The Canadiens resident capologist, Brisebois was a busy boy as the Canadiens had to walk a tightrope all season to give them the wiggle room that allowed them to add Dominic Moore prior to the Olympic break.
Losing him would hurt, especially since Gauthier has never before been the head man in a cap world until now. Brisebois has an encyclopedic knowledge of the CBA. Whenever I had a question about some convoluted process such as Long Term Injury Relief or bonus overage or anything like that, Brisebois always had a quick answer that he could shoot off the top of his head. It was impressive, even though he could have been totally pulling my leg and I wouldn't have known the difference.
But as painful as a potential Brisebois departure would be, I don't know if a capologist is impossible to replace, especially seeing as RDS is reporting Gauthier already has someone in mind.
Alexander Avtsin also signed a three-year entry-level contract with the team Thursday, which makes his desire to play in North America official. I would have to think he will be bound for Hamilton eventually, but it adds some depth in an area where the team really needs some - scoring wingers with size. If Andrei Kostitsyn or Benoit Pouliot don't work out and are shipped out of here at season's end, what's in the cupboard? Max Pacioretty and not a whole lot else. The tantalizing potential of Avtsin, who was prolific as a junior in Russia, could prove to a be a wild card down the road, or maybe even as soon as this season. Kind of like Sergei Kostit... Oh, never mind.
And finally, congratulations goes out to Andrei Markov, who will officially become a Canadian citizen on Friday. I guess he finally figured that since half his pay cheque goes to the government, may as well be a citizen, right?
Can't say I blame him.