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Dollars per point: Are bargains the Maple Leafs’ path to the Stanley Cup?

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Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
8 months ago
There are pros and cons to nothing happening in hockey at the moment. The cons are that nothing is happening in hockey at the moment and if you are a news junky you will likely have to spend the day analyzing what impact making Connor McDavid’s agent the CEO of the Oilers will have on the league.
The pros are that in the absence of news there is the opportunity to explore concepts like how teams are built and that’s what I recently came across over at The Athletic in an article by Shayna Goldman.The article is about how contending teams have (or have not) relied on entry level contracts in order to be competitive. There are examples of the Lightning having Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov on entry level deals in the past, and more recent examples to the contrary of the Vegas Golden Knights being without an entry level contract on their Stanley Cup roster and the Panthers being limited to Anton Lundell. Last season it was just Bowen Byram on the Avalanche and the year before that Ross Colton on the Lightning. While entry level deals are certainly having the potential to be a means of including over the top talent in the lineup, there are certainly other overachievers to their contracts that can be brought in as well or other ways of managing the cap. Still, following Shayna’s lead I thought I’d look at what bargains exist in the Leafs lineup, post Bunting, and given the dollars spent on the Leafs core, there is an importance to having bargain players.

Potential ELC impacts

It seems only right to start with where the biggest bargains and the biggest potential swing towards upside lies and that is always going to be with entry level contracts. Matthew Knies is the runaway favourite to be the Leafs best bargain this season and in that regard he’ll replace Bunting not only as top six left wing, but the cheapest possible version of that role as well.
Nick Robertson still has the talent to be considered for coming into the Leafs lineup and looking like a steal as well. Injuries and finding a fit for him have been a challenge the past couple of years, but if Robertson has a third of the production his brother does he can be a steal for the Leafs, at least while he finishes up his entry level deal.
Alex Steeves is another option that hasn’t been talked about much but is still on his entry level deal and could be valuable in the bottom six, as could Topi Niemela and Roni Hirvonen if they figure out North American pro hockey quickly.
Others like Nick Abruzzese, Bobby McMann, and (of course) Joseph Woll and Pontus Holmberg aren’t on entry level deals, but still represent largely untested or at least too early too fully assess talent that could also swing wildly in the favour of being massive bargains for the Leafs. Woll and Holmberg already being in that category, but with the potential to be more impactful.

Who are the Leafs best bargains?

Okay, so the methodology here isn’t the best and it’s dollars per point. That is ignoring an awful lot of other important aspects of the game, it’s overvaluing assists, and it’s especially overvaluing secondary assists. It’s also anything but a guarantee that the numbers will be repeated this season. Now that the shortcoming disclaimer is out of the way, out of the players that played in the NHL last year, their median 2022-23 point total to current salary was $120,000 per point. The Leafs have 13 skaters who are under that number. As an interesting note, Connor McDavid’s $/point is $81.7k and the Leafs have 10 skaters under that. That’s not saying that Sam Lafferty and Dylan Gambrell are better players than Connor McDavid, that’s just saying that their costs are managed well and the last thing you want to see is an overpay on depth.
The range on the Leafs is the former Flame defenceman spectrum. Mark Giordano is quite obviously a bargain any way you slice it, but $33.3k per point is near the top of the league. On the other hand TJ Brodie’s $357k per point is looks steep until you remember that he’s here to play defence and does that at a high level.
PlayerAAVGPGPts$ per point
Giordano, Mark$800,00078424$33,333.33
Lafferty, Sam$1,150,000701227$42,592.59
Domi, Max$3,000,000802056$53,571.43
Jarnkrok, Calle$2,100,000732039$53,846.15
Holmberg, Pontus$800,00037513$61,538.46
Gambrell, Dylan$775,00060410$77,500.00
Liljegren, Timothy$1,400,00067618$77,777.78
Timmins, Conor$1,100,00027214$78,571.43
McCabe, Jake$2,000,00076325$80,000.00
Nylander, William$6,962,366824087$80,027.20
Kampf, David$2,400,00082727$88,888.89
Reaves, Ryan$1,350,00073515$90,000.00
Marner, Mitchell$10,903,000803099$110,131.31
Klingberg, John$4,150,000671033$125,757.58
Matthews, Auston$11,640,250744085$136,944.12
Tavares, John$11,000,000803680$137,500.00
Rielly, Morgan$7,500,00065441$182,926.83
Bertuzzi, Tyler$5,500,00050830$183,333.33
Brodie, TJ$5,000,00058214$357,142.86
It’s interesting to see how aligned Auston Matthews and John Tavares are in their numbers. It’s also interesting to see how a Matthews “down year” still falls fairly close to the median points per game in the league and previous years could be interpreted as far better value if we are wanting to put in the work to justify it.
For all the Marner’s contract is bad talk (guilty as charged) his $/point beat the league median, and if the Leafs were paying Ryan Reaves solely for offensive outputs, he is somewhat in line as well.
On a strictly points perspective (which is how you should generally assess him) Max Domi also comes across looking like a steal and while I’ve made outrageous claims about Sam Lafferty possibly being a cap casualty, he makes a much stronger case for being a bottom six bargain player.
The one that always seems to require a bit of additional math to figure out the full story is Tyler Bertuzzi. Let’s assume Bertuzzi has a healthier season and even just plays 70 games scoring at the pace he did last season which wasn’t his best. That modest adjustment is enough to get him to $130k per point which doesn’t seem so bad.
To play off of Shayna’s conclusions in her article if the Leafs want to build around expensive players like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner they need to be smart about where they are spending their money and rely on affordable players and entry level contracts. For the most part they seem to be doing that, but there is still the small matter of if they are getting enough results from that approach.
It’s also very clear to see that how with the combination of low offensive outputs despite top pairing minutes, a tougher time in the playoffs, and a GM who traded him once before and let him walk to free agency does make it seem like TJ Brodie could be the odd man out in Toronto, especially if changing around the blueline is still a priority.
Salary Data via CapFriendly

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