When word came out that David Bolland was skating with the team and practicing on the third line, people had reason to be incredibly excited. Bolland, after all is a good hockey player. Specifically, he is better than the players who fill his place during times of injury. As such, this should theoretically make the Leafs a better hockey team as a whole when he is in the lineup.
There was one lingering concern as he recovered from his ankle laceration, however. Were the Leafs going to take the plunge on an extension without a long look at his post-recovery play? After all, this the same team who gave John-Michael Liles a long term deal while still recovering from a pretty serious concussion, and David Bolland is the same player who will now have to play with a special skate for the rest of his life. To make matters worse, they have exactly fifteen games to work with when evaluating his time with the blue and white.
So when months passed with nothing more than whispers, all was good in the world. But with his return imminent, the rumour mill is buzzing yet again. Bob McKenzie was on That’s Hockey yesterday, and mentioned that Bolland will be looking for as much as David Clarkson money, but more likely something in the range of 4.5 to 5 million dollars. Some think this is fair, using terms such as “heart and soul of the team” (has played 15 games in Toronto) and “knows how to win” (supporting piece on modern day dynasty). I wanted to see if it was.
EDIT: Sportsnet is now reporting that he is seeking 7-8 years at 5 million per.
Whenever a contract extension rumour comes about, I like to use historical precedent to see if see if it makes sense in any way, shape or form. I did this with Carl Gunnarsson, Phil Kessel, and Dion Phaneuf on here, along with Blake Wheeler on JetsNation. So far, it hasn’t failed me.
With that said, I did a look for centres who make in between 4.5-5.5 million dollars, were coming up on on unrestricted free agency (RFA’s have way less leverage and take lower salaries) before signing, were between 25 and 29 in their contract years, and signed 3+ year deals. I found eight players in the Salary Cap Era. To make it more fun, they all happen to have 5 or 6 year deals, which works considering the whispers of long term commitment. They are as follows:
|David Bolland||2013/14||27||? X 5||5|
|Stephen Weiss||2012/13||29||5 x 4.9||5.42|
|Valtteri Filppula||2012/13||28||5 x 5||5.53|
|Brooks Laich||2010/11||27||6 x 4.5||4.98|
|David Backes||2009/10||25||5 x 4.5||5.39|
|Tomas Plekanec||2009/10||27||6 x 5||5.99|
|Shawn Horcoff||2007/08||29||6 x 5.5||6.9|
|Mike Ribeiro||2007/08||27||5 x 5||6.27|
|David Legwand||2006/07||26||6 x 4.5||6.36|
|Mikhail Grabovski||2011/12||28||5 x 5.5||5.571|
- Players who signed their contracts a while back have a steep adjustment for inflation. Unsurprisingly, the $6M+ players also happen to be the best offensive players.
- Weiss and Filppula are the only two of the bunch to sign to new teams in their contracts, which likely explains the bidding wars that got them both into this class despite their poor contact years.
- Weiss and Bolland’s time missed means I will also use 2012/13 in the tables below. Since Bolland missed time with injuries last year as well, I mixed in his playoff stats for the production and “real time” tables.
To compare these players contract year’s more accurately, I adjust everybody’s minutes to 1640 over 82 games, which is an average of 20 minutes per game. It’s a lot like the “per 60” stats you see on the likes of Extra Skater and Hockey Analysis, but it looks cleaner and gives you a season-based look while still providing the level playing field.
That is more along the lines of a top line centre than it is someone in Bolland’s current position on the team, but there’s a reason why I stuck with that number in this case.
Ice Time / Zone Starts
First off, it’s important to consider the role that these guys all play. Every single player who received a payday in this range played at least a minute and change more than Bolland per game over their contract year, and in the case of everybody other than Filppula and Grabovski, two minutes or more.
|David Bolland||2012/13 P||12:25||0:16||0:49||13:30||33.6|
A key contributor to this is special teams usage. Bolland has played less than three minutes a game in non-ES situations, most of it being on the penalty kill (where he was used much more sparingly in Chicago). He’s the only player to not play two minutes on one (if not both) of the two units a night. Not everybody can be vintage Shawn Horcoff (6:57 combined!), but he comes off as less essential to his team’s core in this situation.
As well, Bolland’s usage is much less offensive zone based this season and in last years playoffs. Rarely do you commit so heavily to a produce who spends so much time away from a scoring opportunity, and rarely does that player produce at a solid level for more than a short burst. Usage was one of the reasons many were skeptical of the on-the-list Grabovski’s buyout last season. Having an guy in your bottom six who integrates both shutdown and offensive elements into his game is great, but this salary range is historically and sensibly for offense-oriented players who eat up ice time in all situations.
Bolland hasn’t been one of those in the NHL, and after failing to excel when placed with Patrick Kane and a mixture of Patrick Sharp and other wingers, fell further down Chicago’s minutes chart. If it happens in Toronto, it’ll likely be a forced attempt with a low probability of success.
So, as I mentioned in the previous section, Bolland doesn’t get a lot of time to produce. But if we adjusted everybody’s totals, how would he fare?
As it turns out, even while playing 92% of his even strength minutes with Patrick Kane last year’s Bolland doesn’t turn out so hot compared to his peers. He shoots less than a lot of them, hits the back of the net a little more, and as such keeps up in terms of goal scoring, but his assist numbers trail everybody but a broken Weiss and a struggling Filppula (who had much better numbers in the previous year, and has performed well through 56 games this year).
This year’s Bolland is slightly in most regards, except for plus/minus (irrelevant but included just because), and goals. The goals, of course, are up because of a crazy 22.2% shooting percentage, the highest of his career. With a pace of 181 shots, it’s not like he’s pulling a Tyler Bozak and only shooting when he thinks he has an easy goal, either. Either he has learned how to be the best sniper of our generation, or he’s getting lucky. I’ll go with the latter; Ribeiro scored 27 in his contract year and hasn’t hit 20 since, despite continuing to be a very good playmaker.
Unless you’re absolutely desperate, I’d want at least a 50-55 point pace from a $5M centre, in a way that looks sustainable. This is really Bolland’s first go at the first part, while lacking the second. This is a concern to me.
Also known as “pretty much the worst things ever”, Real Time Statistics are stats that are often brought up to boost up role players, despite their subjective nature. Some arenas are better at counting giveaways. Some arenas consider a slight brushing a hit. They’re very unpredictable, but a large difference between players could be worth noting at times. Here’s what they show in Bolland’s case:
There’s a lean towards being at least decent at the draw, but a few of these players had weak years, so I won’t consider it an essential. I don’t even know if I consider being good at faceoffs an essential in any centre; a nice touch, but not significant enough in changing the course long-term to care. That said, Bolland will never be confused for Yanic Perreault and is probably the worst at it on this list.
Bolland’s hit numbers seem to be higher than everybody elses in both uniforms, and his shot block totals are pretty pedestrian. There’s debate over if giveaways and takeaways are as bad and good as they sound (since taking away the puck means you didn’t have it), but you can see that he’s at least instigating changes in possession a lot when you add the two up.
Basically, the only thing here that really shines for him is throwing the body around, which sounds like the same reason the Leafs were interested in David Clarkson, so I don’t know how much I’d be bragging about that.
None of these “over 82 games” stats matter if Bolland can’t get close to 82 games. Sure enough, he’s missed 20 games (or equivalent in the case of 2013) in five of seven seasons, and that’s pretty concerning. Just look at his injury history:
|11/4/2013||Left ankle injury, injured reserve. (45+ Games)|
|4/24/2013||Groin, day-to-day. (8 Games)|
|4/6/2013||Foot injury, day-to-day. (4 Games)|
|2/24/2013||Upper body injury, day-to-day. (5 Games)|
|2/2/2013||Right leg injury, day-to-day. (1 Game)|
|4/5/2012||Upper body injury, day-to-day. (2 Games)|
|11/10/2011||Foot injury, day-to-day. (3 Games)|
|10/7/2011||Upper body injury, day-to-day. (1 Game)|
|3/26/2011||Concussion, sidelined indefinitely. (17 Games)|
|12/13/2010||Upper body injury, day-to-day. (1 Game)|
|10/30/2010||Rib injury, day-to-day. (4 Games)|
|3/25/2010||Flu, day-to-day. (1 Game)|
|11/6/2009||Back injury, day-to-day. (41 Games)|
|10/7/2009||Back injury, day-to-day. (1 Game)|
|4/1/2009||Foot injury, day-to-day. (1 Game)|
|3/2/2008||Hip flexor, day-to-day. (1 Game)|
|12/26/2007||Broken finger, sidelined indefinitely. (15 Games)|
That’s pretty concerning, if you ask me. There are five separate injuries that caused missed time in 2013 alone, to go with one in 2012, two in 2011, two and a flu in 2010, three in 2009, and one each in 2008 and 2007. He’s hurt his feet multiple times, his right leg once, and now has a severe, life altering injury involving his left ankle.
Here’s a chart of percentage of games played by our subjects in the three years prior to signing, and years after (if applicable).
|3Y Prior||2Y Prior||C-Year||Year After||2Y After||3Y After|
With the exception of Weiss (signed by a desperate Detroit on an open market) and Horcoff (who was a glaring mistake of a signing by the Oilers), everybody in this range stayed largely healthy going into their deals, particularly in their contract years. Those guys have stayed relatively consistent to their past, including Weiss continuing to struggle this year and Horcoff’s knee once again failing on him a few years later.
Where Are They Now?
- Stephen Weiss looks like a disaster in Detroit, scoring just four points in 26 games. His contract is only better than David Clarkson’s based on length.
- Valtteri Filppula has rebounded from a bad year with the Red Wings and looks to be doing well as Tampa Bay’s temporary number one centre while Steven Stamkos recovers from his leg injury. That said, I’d expect his numbers to slip once the goal scoring phenom returns.
- Brooks Laich hasn’t scored more than 41 points since being signed, and missed most of last season. He’s on pace for less than 20 points this year.
- David Backes scored 62 points in the following year, and that remains his career high, though he’s still a core member of the St. Louis Blues who hasn’t missed a game since day 1 of his new contract.
- After scoring 70, Tomas Plekanec hasn’t hit 60 points since. In fact, he now looks to be a 50 point guy, likely to fall down the depth chart as Alex Galchenyuk develops and David Desharnais, well, exists.
- Shawn Horcoff hasn’t scored 40 points since 2008/09 and was dumped by the Edmonton Oilers last season.
- Mike Ribeiro finished off his contract as a consistent 60-70 point guy, but never shot at close to 25% ever again. Overall, I think he was the biggest success of this bunch, but when you consider cap inflation, that isn’t surprising.
- David Legwand’s 63 point year was his first and last above 55, though he’s looked pretty solid this season. No matter what the case, he’s Nashville’s first ever draft pick and I don’t think they’re losing sleep at him making a bit too much in the first few years.
- Mikhail Grabovski was essentially run out of town by means of questionable usage by the Toronto Maple Leafs, who used their compliance buyout on him after just one season. He signed with the Washington Capitals on a 1 year deal and has produced at about the same pace as he was when he played for Toronto.
What’s Your Point?
So, those are the numbers. David Bolland, for all intents and purposes, is not a centre that you commit $5 million to long term. He hasn’t produced enough on a long term basis, doesn’t play enough, doesn’t do as many of the overrated “little things” as you think he does, and is terribly unhealthy.
Does this mean that I want Bolland gone as soon as possible? Absolutely not. Beyond the fact that I’m curious to see how he plays when he returns (which should be this week), he was a very effective super third liner for this team. He’s been a more physical, less face-offy version what I was claiming Tyler Bozak could be to many teams in the summer, though he’s still doing his thing on the top line. Plus he’s a local boy, and while I think that has absolutely nothing to do with a team’s success, I still think it’s cool to see a player live out his dreams.
I also don’t think it’s worth shopping him at the trade deadline. Whether you feel the Leafs are in a good long term position to compete for the Stanley Cup or not, they’re definitely in the playoff picture. If this is his only year here, I’d rather see him play it out and help the team secure a playoff spot and do their best once there than take a few scraps in exchange for making an opponent better. His value is higher with Toronto than it is elsewhere until it becomes time to talk contract.
In an ideal world, I’d be content with signing Bolland for what he’s making now for no more than three years, and giving him a raise if he’ll take a single year. It makes things complicated with Peter Holland waiting to return to the team, but would be solid from an asset management perspective with limited chance to blow up in Toronto’s face.
But long term? I’m not sold. The “Medium 3” of Bozak, Kadri, and Bolland will add up to too much money to not have a top-end talent (results wise) in the bunch once all signed, and if one had to be traded after #63 gets locked up, it would likely be Kadri, who appears to be the best player of the bunch. I’m a big fan of committing to star power (hence my approval of the mammoth deals for Kessel and Phaneuf), but middle-ground type players come around a lot more often and shouldn’t have potential to handicap you in the long run.
In other words, get Toronto’s top men on lowering David’s expectations. Nonis. Leiweke. The Phil. Drake. Anybody in MLSE, really. Because if the Leafs take the plunge for what’s currently being talked about, it’s not likely to end well.