Friday, July 16, 2010

Gauthier vindicated by Koivu deal?

While spending much of the last season trying to figure out a price point for Tomas Plekanec as he put up crazy numbers while serving as one of the league's top penalty killers, I always figured Minnesota's Mikko Koivu would be a pretty strong comparable.

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:

Mikko Koivu
Age 27
Regular Season
362 GP - 79G - 176A - 255pts - plus-10 - 0.70 ppg

11GP - 5G - 1A - 6pts - minus-1 - 0.55 ppg

Tomas Plekanec
Age 27
Regular Season
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.


Olivier said...

Aaaah, advanced stats.

You do a much better job than me explaining them... I guess that's why you are a journalist and I a dweeb writning a blog on the internet.

Say, looking at these, made me think about our resident albatross, Scott Gomez.

PK: 2.03 minutes a game, +/- better when on the ice

Corsi relative: +10.5 (first on the team)

Quality of competition 0,075

Quality of teammates 0,351 (more on that later)

1.97 points / 60 minutes.

Not bad, uh? The thing here is, Zone Starts. That is, how many faceoffs does a player attends in the offensive and the defensive zones? You get more starts in the defensive zone, all of the other metrics go down with it, of course.

So there, % of faceoffs attended to in the offensive zone:

Gomez: 55.6% (!)
Koivu: 51.3
Plekanec: 44.3(!!!)

Oh, and I'm too lazy to type them here, but the older Koivu certainly doesn't look like any of these three has anything on him when you look at those numbers.

I think we are bound to think such and such player is criminally overpaid simply because we had a 6+ millions guy playing for us for 4-4.5 for so long.

Francois Simard said...

Gauthier would already have someone in mind? Let me guess. Another ex-buddy from Ottawa?

Kamal Panesar said...

Wow, ouststanding analysis, Arpon! It's true that stats can sometimes make people's heads spin, but I tend to eat them up!

While I too felt that Plek $5 Mil per was about 500K-$1 mil off of what he should be earning, your analysis is compelling.

At the end of the day, Plek would be an excellent 2nd line center to the Habs real 1st line center—a position that is not currently filled.

Part of the reason that Habs are having to do such majoy cap-gymnastics is because of the albatross that is Gomez's contract.

But alas...

Again, great piece!

Arpon Basu said...

I too was surprised when I saw Gomez's numbers in each of the categories I looked at for Plekanec. And it's his Corsi numbers that really make Plekanec's relative Corsi look worse than it really is. Koivu doesn't have another offensive line that raises the bar so high on his team, which makes his relative number so good. And by the way, I didn't list them here but I looked at Kesler's numbers, and he basically blows both of them out of the water in most categories.

V said...

Thanks for running the numbers Arpon... and I wonder if part of the difference between the relative salaries of some players can be simply explained by the aesthetics of their game.

There is something about the way some players play - power, grace and elegance are three attributes that come to mind - that makes them look better than others and better than their numbers. Think Jean Belliveau compared to Phil Esposito.

From watching Koivu, Gomez, Plekanec and Carter a number of times (the four you refer to) there is something about the way the first two play that is more 'striking' than the other two.

I know stats and the circumstances related to the timing of contract negotiations are the two most important factors in determing salary. And my assessment of the above players is completely subjective (others may not agree).

But if studies have determined that business salaries are correlated to qualities like height and attractiveness - higher salaried people tend to be taller and more attractive than lower salaried people - why couldn't the same overtly subjective factors influence salary negotiations in hockey.

MathMan said...

Arpon: if you were surprised by Gomez's stats, go back to and have a look to see how much Corsi he's *lost* by joining the Canadiens!

Gomez has been Captain Corsi for years -- he had fantastic numbers with the Rangers, and his relative Corsi has always been huge. Some of it has to do with zone starts and his tendency to chuck the puck, sure, but he still needs to have the puck in the O-zone to get those Corsi plusses. He is a very strong even-strength player.

Montreal is a Corsi blackhole (I suspect due to style of play) so his numbers took a nosedive, but he's still head and shoulders above everyone else on the team. Arpon, you make a good point that having a line headed up by Gomez and getting favorable zone starts will crank everyone else's relative Corsi down.

Plekanec does fantastic work in very, very tough circumstances. The sort of thing that, IMO, should make us take a second look at the performance of his wingers, too, namely Cammalleri and, especially, the much-derided elder Kostitsyn. Andrei put up perfectly reasonable 5-on-5 numbers while being tacked on to Pleky's tough minutes, including sub-50% zone starts. He had the highest Qualcomp of the team last year, too. He does well with tough minutes and doesn't break the bank -- a valuable skillset that's being underapreciated, IMO, with all the criticism he's constantly the target of.

Habtastic said...

Another stat that is crucial is face-off % and to a lesser degree, hits.
Koivu is the best of the three at 56.9% and Kessler is close at 55.1%, but Pleks is way down at 49%.
As for hits, I don't know the stats, but I imagine the order and differential is probably about the same.
This is why I would argue that Pleks is probably worth about 4.5 mil at most, but gets 5 because of taxes and a lack of quality UFA centers.
Tremendous blogs, btw. Please don't stop producing them.

Anonymous said...

Has no revelance to Koivu deal. Plekanec had to be signed and was. The other move is what may end Gauthier/Gainey's career here. Trading Halak away! Tradijng that wrong goalie away WHEN they didn't FIRST sign Carey Price.

Anonymous said...

I just have to say two things...and I may be crazy but that is beside the point :)

1) Great reading as always and really good breakdown with proof and stats to back up your points, refreshing compared to the garbage posted on blogs, etc now on the internet. Even I can write a blog now!

2) I love the changes and could not be happier with the state of the Canadiens right now. I'm trying to balance out all the people that want Gauthier's head for making emotional moves that had to be done. This is the most talent the Habs have had in years, and I mean years. I can see Eller as our front line center with Cammy and Avtsin and Gomez running the second line where he should be, with Pleks as our shut down third line center and a Boyd type as 4th line center - wow. We have big strong scoring wingers (not counting Leblanc and Kristo) coming and puck moving defencmen on the way. This is a great time to be a habs fan. Let the Gomez contract go, stop fretting over St Louis's goalie and look at what we have! Oh yeah, we have a 22 yr old goalie who was the 5th overall pick not long ago, that has won a world championship and an AHL title already too!

Arpon Basu said...

@Habtastic Yes, FO% is an important stat and Pleks had a bad year after starting out strong. But hits will never be an important stat because it varies so much from building to building. Just look at NHL hits stats and compare players totals at home and on road. The discrepancy is striking.

jkr said... reports that the LAST year of this deal pays Koivu 9 million. Aren't these deals supposed to go down as the players ages & performance declines. The guy will be impossible to trade.

Olivier said...

Arpon: the Plekanec signing was looked at from a stat-heavy perspective here:

A good complement to what you brought up here.

pmk said...

maybe the koivu sheds the pleks deal in a positive light. Maybe.

but any positive we quickly be lost after he signs price for 3.5 mil (0.25 more than halak). nice. wow de he screw the pooch on that one!

Arpon Basu said...

@jkr - it appears the salary structure for the Koivu deal is largely based on the threat of a lockout, as Michael Russo writes in his analysis this morning. But yes, that will be a tough contract to trade, even though I doubt they will ever want to.

@Olivier - That's a far more exhaustive look than what I have here. I've got to admit, I don't fully get GVT, but Pleks does pretty well there as well. And Koivu's GVT/$M based on his cap hit two years from now would be 2.31, far lower than Plekanec's 2.92.

@pmk - As always, you hit it right on the head. The Price contract still decides all, and the way he's gone about it I think Gauthier will be paying him more than he bargained for. But I don't think it will go as high as Halak's deal

Anonymous said...

Mikko's contract is actually 5.4M a year plus bonuses every other year except there is double bonus on last year of contract.

jkr said...

Thanks for replying Arpon but how does a GM make a deal based on the possibilty of a lockout? What if it doesn't happen? Maybe I'm missing something but that doesn't make sense to me.

McPhee said...

Good on you Arpon, too many people have harped on Pierre Gauthier for the Plekanec contract, but I continue to believe that measured against others, especially this new Koivu deal, Plekanec is a steal. People forget how effective Plekanec is as a defensive player as well.

Also, not sure if anyone else would find this funny, but I did:

Someone is running an ex-Leaf for the name on a new Toronto condominum - and the ex-Leaf is Garry Valk. How cool is that?