Pension Plan Puppets
March 07 2012 01:31AM
Yesterday, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Mikhail Grabovski to a five year deal at an annual cap hit of $5.5M. As Chemmy noted, cries of 'massive overpayment!' were quick to the lips of many an ignorant fan and mittenstringer. There were however a couple of good takes on the deal from the media and one popular comparison of cap hits that could use a lot more examination after the jump.
Elliotte Friedman's 30 Thoughts recognized that had the Leafs not signed Grabovski that they would have had to either promote Nazem Kadri or Joe Colborne to a major role in their first full NHL seasons (good player development) or they would have had to dip into a pretty bare UFA market where they would invariably significantly overpay. Take a look at this summer's upcoming UFA class and try to find a centre that would fill Grabovski's shoes at his price tag or lower. I won't hold my breath while you look.
Greg Brady offered up 27.5 thoughts on the deal and the Leafs' cap situation and nails the head on a lot of them. Among the ones he got right: the Leafs have real cap issues that they will need to address (they can be easily addressed with some testicular fortitude by Burke), that Grabbo's three year RFA deal at $2.9M each was a great bargain, that comparing RFA deals to UFA deals is embarrassing, and that complaints about him being paid more than Kessel are just stupid.
As soon as the deal came out, people were looking to make comparisons to other signed deals. Cap Geek tweeted a link to a comparison of 20 comparable cap hits that was immediately seized upon. "Ha! Look! Grabovski makes more than Ryan Kesler!" or some variation thereof made a lot of appearances on twitter.
|Name||Age at Signing||1st Yr of Deal||Status||Team||Length|
|Mike Ribeiro ******||27||2008-09||UFA||DAL||5|
|Martin St. Louis||35||2011-12||UFA||TBL||4|
|Ryan Kesler *****||25||2010-11||RFA||VAN||6|
|Jeff Carter **||26||2011-12||RFA||LAK||11|
|David Krejci ***||24||2012-13||RFA||BOS||3|
I've edited this table to include the age at which the contracts were signed as well as the players' status at that time. I don't expect the average fan to understand the importance of a players' contractual status to negotiations. The vast majority of fans just want to enjoy watching the sport and do not care to expand their knowledge beyond the superficial. That's their prerogative and it'll cause them a lot less stress. What is a problem though is when 'professionals' that are paid to provide their insight also fail to take this into account. Doug MacLean fell prey to this simplistic (and who is really surprised?) understanding of things. He won't be alone.
However, maybe he just has never had it explained to him? Based on his work in Columbus it is entirely possible. The Cliff Notes version is that an RFA (as Nikolai Kulemin will find out) has minimal leverage. The only way to come close to a bidding war is if the player signs an offer sheet. The first problem is that he needs to find a GM that is willing to break the unwritten rule preventing such gauche behaviour. The second is that he'll then have to play in Edmonton. He can go to arbitration in certain cases but then he lays his fate at the feet of an arbitrator and his case may not turn out to be as strong as he'd like. Or, he can run off to Russia I guess. Meanwhile, a UFA has a massive amount of leverage. If they wait until July 1 then they could have 30 teams vying for their services. There is a gamble that they will wait too long to sign but if you're looking for $5M+ then you can be pretty safe that someone will sign you. Especially if you see that the UFA class is thinner than the Leafs' playoff hopes.
Recent Point Production
This table shows the point production over the previous two full seasons to signing their deal in the summer.
|Name||PPG 2 years prior||Rk|
|Martin St. Louis||1.18||1|
|Jeff Carter **||0.93||4|
|David Krejci ***||0.78||11|
|Mike Ribeiro ******||0.69||16|
|Ryan Kesler *****||0.59||20|
- * Tavares signed his deal after the second season of his Entry Level Contract. Garth Snow takes a lot of flak but this deal was well-timed and a good piece of work.
- ** Carter signed November 13, 2010 in the third season of his Entry Level Contract at the beginning of a 30-36-66 80GP season.
- *** Krejci is interesting because he actually signed December 2, 2011 in year two of a three year second contract. GMs are decrying the death of the second contract but Chiarelli did a good job of bringing Krejci along. The contract was signed during a 17-29-46 61GP season.
- **** Signed August 3, 2011 after year three of four year second deal.
- ***** Signed March 19, 2010 in year three of three year second deal. Kesler signed it towards the end of a 25-50-75 82GP season.
- ****** Signed January 8, 2008 in the middle of a one year RFA deal. Ribeiro was in the middle of a 27-56-83 76GP season.
Disclaimer: I used Grabovski's year to date numbers but if I used the two previous full seasons he'd have been at 0.66 points per game which would put him on par with Tomas Plekanec. Of the comparable deals, Grabovski's in the bottom quarter of the comparables that were pulled. However, these deals were signed at different times and under different caps. How would they look if they were normalized, so to speak, based on the percentage of the cap that they represented when the deals were signed. Before we get to that, a quick reminder of what the cap hits have been:
The 2012-13 figure is based on an estimate that Pierre LeBrun suggested after discussions with GMs. The upcoming CBA is obviously the elephant in the room. There is no guarantee that the cap will not be reduced however I'll proceed on that assumption because otherwise there's no post!
Cap Hit Percentage
|Name||PPG 2 years prior||Rk||Cap Hit||Cap 1st Year/%||2012-13 $||Rk|
|Mike Ribeiro ******||0.69||16||$5,000,000||8.82%||$6,040,564||10|
|Martin St. Louis||1.18||1||$5,625,000||8.75%||$5,992,418||13|
|Ryan Kesler *****||0.59||20||$5,000,000||8.42%||$5,765,993||17|
|Jeff Carter **||0.93||4||$5,272,727||8.20%||$5,617,135||18|
|David Krejci ***||0.78||11||$5,250,000||7.66%||$5,250,000||21|
As you can see, Grabovski comes in with the lowest cap hit as a percentage of the cap in the year that the deal begins. If we remove the RFAs then Grabbo is the cheapest cap hit by that metric. Among the UFAs on the above list, Grabovski signed at the average age as the rest of the players (28 years) and scores below the average points per game (0.74 v 0.86). However, he also comes in at almost a $1M less than the average cap hit ($5.5M v. $6.4M). Now, the interesting part is if you compare Grabbo's numbers as a percentage of the averages. In both cases, his figures represent 86% of the average of the sample group. Hard to see how that translates into an overpayment but with Maple Leafs Derangement Syndrome you cannot always figure out the logic.
Now, this is simply the group that was selected by Cap Geek and spread by fans. I would be interested in looking at a more robust set of comparables based on metrics such as recent production, ice time, and some advanced stats but these are the ones that were presented. But for now, it's hard to say that Brian Burke did anything other than lock down a key cog at the going rate. Hopefully this is a harbinger of what is to come of Burke's work this summer.