Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers finally signed his contract. His $8.5 million a year will make him the highest paid player on the team this year. In his career, he’s put up a solid .717 points per game in his 191 regular season games. Drafted in 2014, he’s a very, very good comparable to the Boston Bruins David Pastrnak who was also taken in the first round, has played 172 regular season games.

Pastrnak, despite coming into his first professional year after a serious shoulder injury, and being suspended two games, has produced .715 points per game, and more goals, and goals per game than Draisaitl. On the surface you could give them identical contracts and call it a day, the Boston Bruins have the cap space, they certainly should aim to keep him, and keep him happy. The problem isn’t this year’s cap space. Next year is where it get’s dicey.

Chara will be out of contract July 1, and if he plays this season as well as he did last, he’ll deserve another, and he’s not the biggest worry as he can likely be resigned at the same rate. Assuming the cap remains the same, the team would have 15 players signed for July 1, 2018, and have just over $12.6 million to fill the minutes of the unsigned players which will include a backup goalie, Chara, Vatrano, Spooner and a few others, the year after that McAvoy, Carlo, JFK, and McQuaid are all due new deals.

If they sign Pastrnak to the $8.5 a year Draisaitl got, or even a little more if they avoid the three years of no movement clause and no trade clause at the backend of the Oiler’s center’s deal, they need to lose one of the big contracts. A lot of people will point immediately at Backes, or Beleskey, and they are short sighted. You need to consider who will want them, and give you any thing at all for them. Realistically, they need to either work a deal with one of the eight teams Tuukka Rask can moved to this year, or 15 next year. David Krejci is unmoveable without serious persuasion.

There are several key questions the Boston Bruins front office has to ask before they take whatever their next step is:

  • What is the value of David Pastrnak to the Boston Bruins now, three years from now, and five years from now?
  • What will the deal we offer to him mean to other players in the system moving forward?
  • What impact will deals like this have on our own salary cap?
  • How will it affect the process when the CBA is up for renewal or replacement after five more seasons?

For me, I think Draisaitl is overpaid on a small sample size. Yes he’s been very good, and downright impressive in his one playoff appearance, but I think the contract is probably about $1.5 million high, as of his current production. When you get to second  (or later) contracts you’re either fearcasting or dreamcasting what the player will be over the course of the contract. For Pasta who had an all star, year one can hope very high, maybe even a fifty goal season in the next four or five. But you can also look at how effectively he was smothered in the week or two after he hit the 30 goal mark, and of course that draft year injury and worry about the low end of the number.

Based on current market trends, he’s likely to sign for somewhere within $250,000-$400,000 of Draisaitl depending on what he end up with for NMC’s or NTCs. If they force him into a lesser contract, I think it would be a very bad precedent for their relationship with him, and any other young talent that breaks out during their entry level deal.

Listen to next week’s Two Man ForeCheck as I’m sure myself and @TheOffWing will get into more on this topic.

The New York Rangers have six players signed beyond the 2013-2014 season. That does not include a goaltender, and does include one center who many consider a buyout candidate if he doesn’t return to all star status this year. As of right now, it also does not include Derek Stepan who has been their best forward over the last two years. For Rangers fans, this should be a cause for something slightly stronger than concern.

Two years ago the Rangers were in the Eastern Conference finals, they were beaten by the New Jersey Devils. That was the high water mark for recent Rangers history. Glen Sather who just celebrated his 69th birthday, has been at the helm since June of 2000. In that team we’ve seen lockouts, new CBAs the retirement of an entire era of greats, and not a single cup win.

Without sugar-coating it; Glen Sather has specialized in paying the wrong players huge amounts to come to New York and fail in the Rangers system and scapegoating coaches. Sather’s early years included finishing out of the playoffs with the aid of Pavel Bure, Mark Messier, and other highly paid players. Of all the coaches he’s booted, John Torterella had the best winning percentage, and Sather’s own 2003-2004 season in which he turned in a .428 winning percentage as coach was the worst. Tom Renney was a victim of Sather’s questionable decision making as well.

Wade Redden is perhaps the best example of players who were paid well beyond their ability to produce in New York, but he’s just one name on a long, long list. Scott Gomez was signed to a contract that may have been more responsible than any other for owners wanting limits to contract terms. Marian Gaborik is another of the standout examples of talented players who for whatever reason are unsuited to life in the Big Apple. Brad Richards has yet to flourish in the Garden, Rick Nash who was the most sought after trade piece for more than a year, didn’t silence his critics with a rather anemic post season this year, it is hard to to put him into the success category for Sather.

In terms of reliability and durability, the two best players signed to the New York Rangers after this season are Ryan McDonagh and Carl Hagelin. The two are fierce competitors, undeniably talented, and yet I doubt they’d make a top 10 list at their positions if the NHL’s head scouts are polled, certainly they would not if you poll the media.

While the cap is certainly a consideration when it comes to who is and isn’t signed, leaving 75% of your roster unsigned is a sign of one of three things; 1:  someone seeking leverage for their own contract extension,  2: someone contemplating massive turnover or 3: something that bears no resemblance to competence.

This is an occasional feature that will take a look at multiple issues, each in 100 words or less.

Blake Wheeler’s new contract with the Jets makes him the teams highest paid forward. Overall, this isn’t a bad deal. Its the first major deal under the new CBA for the team, and Wheeler has over the last two seasons put up good numbers, and stayed healthy. The soon to be 27 year old has missed just five games in his five seasons. With the Cap likely going up again in 2014-15, the only real question is will Wheelers recent roll in scoring keep turning into the post season (should the Jets ever get there).

Billy Jaffe the busiest man in hockey broadcast took time out to coach Team USA at the Maccabiah tournament in Israel. After smooth sailing in the preliminary rounds the boys ran into a tough team Canada and came home with the Silver.

Two hockey personalities recently got contract extensions. Joel Quenneville got a three year extension. Dave Nonis got a five year deal. In case you’re wondering the the good deal belongs to the coach of the Chicago Blackhawks who won two Stanley Cup’s in four years. The deal means the Blackhawks get to keep the bench boss three more years. The deal no one with any sense understands is the one belonging to the guy who’s first major moves were to smash flat a playoff team that only needed tweaking to become a contender.

Colby Armstrong who has played for the Montreal Canadiens, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Atlanta Thrashers is taking what will at least be a break from his NHL career. Armstrong who was traded from Pittsburgh in the wake of a night out on the town with Sidney Crosby, is known for strong two way play and is off to play in Sweden for Vaxjo.

The Winnipeg Jets are in a tough position when it comes to their restricted free agents. On one hand they just were not a playoff team in the Eastern Conference even with everyone of them in uniform. On the other hand some of them were pretty productive last season, one even having a career year. On the third hand with the Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets promoted to the Eastern Conference the west is likely to be a lot easier sailing than they had it last season. And on the gripping hand, with the cap coming down and uncertainty about how well the market will support the team in this its third season in town with the team finishing out side the playoffs each of the previous two years spending a lot might not be wise. Of the 21 players to elect salary arbitration this summer, a quarter of them were Jets, and two have now reached a deal prior to their hearing.

Of the remaining three, we have Blake Wheeler who has been second and then first on the team in scoring over the last two seasons. Bryan Little an average center, Zach Bogosian a solid defenseman. All three were first round picks. Bogosian and Little are home grown products for the transplanted Atlanta Thrashers. Blake Wheeler declined to sign with the Phoenix Coyotes and upon completing his college career at the University of Minnesota was signed as a free agent and sent to the then Thrashers with Mark Stuart as part of the deal that sent Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik to Boston. Last year after a brief stop in Europe during the lockout Wheeler turned in his best career numbers with a .854 ppg. His career number is notably at .623 which includes his time with the much more defensive minded Bruins where he received less ice time. In the two years he and the team have been in Winnipeg his ppg is .820, over the same period of time Matt Duchene was a .676 per game, barely higher than Wheeler’s career number and far lower than the comparative time. Duchene’s new deal was five years at six million.

For Bogosian, the numbers that matter are pretty plain to see. He’s averaged over 23 minutes a night for the last three seasons. On any team in the league that’s a top two or three defenseman slot. Over the last three seasons he’s been able to finish in the offensive zone at least as often as he finished there. Essentially he both gets the puck out of his zone, and keeps it move forward. Better still, there’s been a solid progression. In the 2010-11 season he started and finished in the offensive zone the same percentage of the time, during the 2011-12 campaign he was a best among all regulars with the second highest increase in offensive zone finishes over starts.  The 2012-13 adventure saw him double the previous years gains, and again finish behind only Ron Hainsey.

A quick look at his On Ice Save Percentage might lead you to believe he’s a defensive liability, but keep in mind he plays as much as three minutes of shorthanded ice time a night, and the teams goaltending isn’t spectacular. Some of the players who play a similar amount of time shorthanded are Bryan Allen formerly of the Carolina Hurricanes and now of the Anahiem Ducks, Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers, Johnny Boychuk of the Boston Bruins, the Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber, and Vancouver Canuck Kevin Bieksa. When look at last season’s points totals, Bogosion kept company with Matt Niskanen Lubomir Vishnovski, and Dan Girardi while playing less games than any of them.

Over the past three seasons, Bryan Little has finished above fifty percent in faceoffs just once. That pleasant occurrence was this past season. Among NHL Centers he finished tied for the bottom of the top 30 with Vincent Lecavalier, and Mike Richards. Not elite company offensively, but not the bottom of the barrel by any stretch of the imagination. In terms of Time On Ice Little did play a huge number of minutes, finishing 10th among NHL centers playing well more than better known names like Sedin, Toews, Thornton, and Krejci. His powerplay time puts him in the top half of the NHL’s centers, but the teams powerplay finished an embarrassing 30th. For the “fancy stats” he does finish in the offensive zone more than he starts there by a very solid margin of almost 9%, he takes very few penalties and draws them better than most of his Winnipeg Jets forward teammates.

 Salary wise nailing down where any of these guys lands is difficult. Little plays top end minutes and can get the puck to where it is supposed to be, Bogosian’s stats are murky to interpret, and Wheeler has clearly found his game in Winnipeg. At 25 years old heading into the season Little has accumulated six seasons and 404 regular season games of experience. He’s about he same age David Krejci was when his current deal was signed, Duchene at 22 signed a deal that will kick in when he’s 23 for $6m per, Tyler Bozak who is two years older and a bit less productive inked for $4.2 a year under the current CBA. A fair range for Little is $4.5-5.6 average annual value depending on length of deal, signing bonuses, and things like no trade or no movement clauses.

Blake Wheeler is harder to nail down. Yes last year was a career year and he did indeed finish ninth overall in scoring for right wings on a team that was 16th in scoring for the year. A lot of the guys he finished ahead of are or should be household names, Jordan Eberle, Jarome Iginla, Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Simmonds, and Bobby Ryan. Two seasons ago he finished 15th among right wings, meaning he might have the staying power to finish in the top 15-20 right wings in scoring for the next several years. Comparable contracts of players in that range are Jason Pominville, Bobby Ryan, Nathan Horton and Jakub Voracek. Again we’re looking at a range of $4.5-5.6 AAV.

Bogosion is probably the guy who will have the most brutal arbitration session if it comes to that. Hammering out the stats you can make a case in a certain light that he’s an elite defenseman, you can equally make the case he’s a liability, the truth per usual, likes somewhere between those two. Defensemen who bring a similar toolkit to the rink include Johhny Boychuk, Kevin Bieksa, and Brent Seabrook. When you weigh in all the stats and the eyeball test you come to a range of anything from $4.4m as a low ball figure to a $5.8 as a long term deal if you expect him to keep progressing.

This is a semi-regular feature that will run until I get bored. This feature will highlight a player on track for a much better season than recent history indicates. 

When the Collective Bargaining Agreement was still a matter of speculation, one of the things that nearly everyone thought was a give was the much ballyhooed “penalty free buyout”, because as we all know the best way to teach responsibility is by having a handy stack of get out of jail free cards free for the taking. Three names topped the list of probable buyouts. Rick “10 Games and Bust” DiPietro, Scott “I Score Yearly” Gomez and Wade “The  Seven Million Dollar AHL Defensemen” Redden. To the bemusement of many, DiPietro is the only one who was not bought out.

After being bought out the speculation in most quarters was that the 35 year old blue liner would head to Europe, retire or possibly get a job in someones farm system. Unless last years 109 point totaling, St Louis Blues count as someones farm team, Wade Redden has done a bit better than just finding another seat on the bus.

With 10 percent of the season gone he’s got as many goals as Pavel Datsyuk or Daniel Sedin. He’s done this on a bit less ice time than either of them, and in a league he hasn’t played in for nearly three years. He’s picked up two goals, and two blocked shots in addition to a pair of goals in the three games of his NHL return.

Having left the NHL for the Connecticut Whale just with just seven games to go to make him a 1000 game man, the 2005-6 NHL +/- Award Winner must have doubted he’d ever make it. All things being equal, February 5th in front of his new home town crowd in St Louis will mark his 1000th game. If Lloydminster Saskatchewan has a happier native sun this week I’m not sure who he is.

Having been an observer of the National Hockey League for decades I’ve come to acknowledge several truths. The first is that I adore hockey. The second is that the NHL owners don’t give a damn about individual fans. The third is that collectively they are the 30 (ish) worst billionaire businessmen on the planet. Last of the great truths is that being an NHL fan is like being in an abusive relationship; they withhold attention, make arbitrary changes to how things are done, and trample all over your livelihood, friendships and pleasure activities on the smallest whim.

The biggest issue, as Ive said all along in this lockout is an owner versus owner issue.  It is soluble. It just isn’t fixable by bludgeoning the fans and players to death. Both the big owners and small owners do have points about he revenue sharing issues in the NHL. Yes the Toronto, Montreal, Boston, and other older and traditional market teams are propping up a lot  of the league. On the other hand, without the teams in Florida,  California, Ohio, and Texas getting a national television deal in the USA would be impossible. That TV deal, and the advertising revenue that go with it are vital to the league.

Both contraction which the ill informed argue for all the time, and mass relocation are undesirable, and unworkable. Once you take those two options off the table, and factor in reducing the burden on the top revenue earning teams the answer becomes obvious: Expand.

The expansion fees could be used to help get teams like the Islanders out of their current arena mess and into a new arena that will actually generate revenue. Likewise a low interested ten or so year loan to the Devils that got them not just out of financial peril, but gave them a cushion potentially gives you two more viable teams in a major market. The Coyotes may or may not be beyond fixing, but for damn sure owning their own arena would be a giant leap forward. With a wave of expansion, properly conducted little to no money would come out of the NHL’ owners doing the best pockets, and they’d end up with well placed teams long term to help generate revenue reducing their burden eight, twelve and twenty years from now.

Where is the best place for the new teams? If we start with two waves of two teams, say Quebec City and somewhere in the Greater Toronto Area, they like Winnipeg will have four or five years of strong attendance just for showing up, regardless of how bad the teams are. Seattle is another city likely to have a firm fan base as long as it appears the owners have clue one about how to build (and market) a team. Portland Oregon also shows some potential. Then markets like; Salt Lake City which has an NBA team, but no other major sport. Milwaukee, and Indianapolis have marks in their favor, as do Saskatchewan and possibly even a second Chicago area team. Teams in places like the GTA, and Quebec city are likely to end up in the top 10/12 for revenue.

Given that the top ten teams earn roughly $1.5billion a year,  If after year four in existence those teams are earning 15% below the average off the current top ten, those 12 teams alone will be generating almost 2 billion a year, that’s almost 65% of the current leagues income. Seattle and wherever the fourth team landed might do roughly 12% below that, which is still another quarter billion. And that doesn’t even factor in higher income from teams like the Islanders getting better arenas or better arena deals.

The NHL Owners are set to end the greatest financial era of the NHL as a whole has seen in the modern era. They are doing that despite knowing the consequences. They earned money hand over fist despite an world wide economic recession. There are no grounds, other than greed, on which to base this lockout. Money is important, teams need it not just for day to day maintenance, or for covering the costs of new or upgraded practice facilities, and to compensate the owners for their work and investment, but to take care of the future.

Closing the door to players, denying millions of fans across the globe their addiction, that’s not taking care of the future. The owners claim, the NHL doesn’t need and shouldn’t have contracts longer than five years. Yet 9 of the last 150 contracts on CapGeek.com are for six years or longer. Among those signing long deals are Tyler Seguin in Boston, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall in Edmonton, Shea Weber in Nashville, John Carlson in Washington, Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell in Phily, and one or two others. Of them all, Simmonds is the least well known, and even he’s gotten some traction. How in the world do these deals, combined with the ownership statements convince anyone the NHL Owners are negotiating in good faith?

Just a few short years ago the owners were in a different position, teams like the Penguins were failing. Chicago hadn’t been good in years, the Kings were laughable, the Bruins were just bad, no big involved. League revenue was low because the teams in big markets were at the low ebb. Today that’s not true. The Penguins continue to draw at home and away. Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles have all won Stanley Cups in recent years and the fan bases are well engaged.

That won’t last through a lockout. No one in the world believes that if the NHL loses a season we’re going to get anything close to the quality product we’ve seen in the last season and two post seasons. The Coyotes and Kings leading up to the Stanley Cup final was tense, physical, emotional hockey, The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers having a series long shooting gallery was thrilling to watch. The reason it won’t be as good is players will get out of sync with their teammates. Some players will opt to stay in the KHL or SEL, still more will retire.

Are their some bad deals handed out to NHL players? Absolutely. But the people authorizing those deals have no one to blame but themselves. Some of the NHL’s worst contracts amount to just short of stealing by the players. On the other hand, the simple truth is that those contracts amount to taking some extra pennies from the tray at the store, in comparison locking out for a season is lighting your own wallet on fire.

Dear Owners,

 

You will lose the most. Short term, long term, medium term, it can’t work any other way.  It really is that simple, the playersmight lose a year of pay if they don’t make arrangements to play in another league, for you it isn’t that simple.

Short term:  Owners will lose ticket and advertising sales. You can’t sell tickets to events that aren’t happening, you can’t replace events that should still happen. Worse, the rot of disdain has already set in.

Medium term: Very few of the owners can afford to keep their concession staffs employed and paid for their normal hours without the sales of beer, soda, food, jerseys, tshirts and the rest. This means loss of talent. Loss of talent off the ice means you will have slower, less expert, and less composed staff. Poor staff means less sales when everything finally does open. Not just because things will be slower, but because things will be misplaced, lost, not ordered, and staff synergy will be non existent. Even more than pro-sports, retail and food service staff synergy is critical to performance. There is also the impact on businesses that do business with the NHL and in the arena districts across the continent.

Long term: For prospects who are kept in the CHL, USHL or European leagues a year longer instead of playing in the AHL or NHL this season, there is a loss in development. This isn’t just a loss in development for those prospects who are ready for the jump now it is a loss for the ones behind them. The players in their draft year who should be flying to their limits will be playing behind guys who should be in the big show. The guys who should be breaking into the development league and should be earning eight to twelve minutes a night, might get stuck at a lower level, only play four to six minutes, or not at all. This means less developed players over the next three to five drafts, whichwill translate to lower quality draft picks.Essentially with a lockout, each round’s value slides, half round to a full round in worth. Poorer players means poor ratings, attendance, and concessions.

Note, none of this is about this years on ice product, relationships with players that will drive salaries up even fast than the last lockout due to increased animosity. The current and near future on ice product will recover, mostly.

Stop the Insanity,

 This season, a new era begins. No Lidstrom. It has been a whole generation since this was last true. Even the limited player who was on the ice last year is better than anyone likely to replace him.

Good News

  • Datsyuk is still one of the best players in the NHL.
  • Jimmy Howard has come a long, long way and may earn the right to be called elite this season.
  • Jordin Tootoo will provide some physicality, and likely more skill than some expect.

Bad News

  • The defense is going to be ugly after losing not one but two twenty minute a night guys.
  • Last years penalty kill was not great, with the loss of four minutes among the defensemen, that won’t get better.
  • You can’t avoid asking how healthy key forwards on this team will be

Forecast

High: Bubble, if everything goes right, everyone is healthy, and everyone plays to or above their average, the team will sneak into the seven or eight spot at best, and likely end up at the nine or ten spot.

Low:  If things get ugly on he injury front, or the defense is even worse than I expect, the team will bounce down as low as the 12 spot.

X-Factor

This seasons x-factor in Detroit is the CBA. The possibility of a trade, or a the cap changing and causing mass movement of players is about all the fans in Michigan can pin their hopes on for improving this team this season.