Mar 062012
 

It seems these days not a day goes by that there isn’t something about the mediocre Toronto Maple Leafs that’s making the headlines. 

At first blush, the signing of Mikhail Grabovski to a five year, $27.5 million contract seems rather ludicrous. We’re talking about high-end salary for a streaky scorer that’s never put up 30-goals or 60 points.

 But is the contract really that far out of whack? Let’s do this arbitration-style, and look at some comparables.

Comparable #1: The 2004 NHL Entry Draft – Part 1

Grabovski was drafted 150th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. There were 30 centres selected prior to that, although only 19 have made the NHL, and only nine have played 240+ games (the rough equivalent of three NHL seasons):

PlayerDraftedSalary Cap HitGPPPPG+/-PIM
Evgeni Malkin2nd$8.7 M4104991.2237406
David Krejci63rd$5.25 M3592600.7258128
Mikhail Grabovski150th$5.5 M3041950.6410188
Travis Zajac20th$3.89 M4162520.6137126
Brandon Dubinsky60th$4.2 M3772050.5422446
Dave Bolland32nd$3.375 M2841480.5232181
Tyler Kennedy99th$2 M3091460.4730162
Rostislav Olesz7th$3.125 M3551320.37-10118
Torrey Mitchell126th$1.367 M263700.2713137

Clearly Malkin remains the best centre taken in the draft. Grabovski though is in the running for second-best (with Krejci, Zajac and Dubinsky).

Comparable #2: The 2004 NHL Entry Draft – Part 2

When you take all players from this entry draft into consideration, there are a group of players who have played a similar number of games to Grabovski: 

PlayerDraftedSalary Cap HitGPPPPG+/-PIM
Blake Wheeler5th$2.55 M3091810.5954188
Blake Comeau47th$2.5 M3061320.43-49159
Tyler Kennedy99th$2 M3091460.4730162
Kris Versteeg134th$3.083 M3091960.6315185
Mikhail Grabovski150th$5.5 M3041950.6410188
Troy Brouwer214th$2.35 M3031320.44-1214

Clearly from the above table Kris Versteeg’s career production is the most similar to Grabovski’s. Furthermore, just like Grabovski, Versteeg’s career-to-date is without a 30-goal or 60-point season.

Comparable #3: What Does Cap Geek Say?

A search function on Cap Geek  gives the user the chance to find comparable salary cap hits for any player. These are the centres Cap Geek selects as Mikhail Grabovski’s salary comparables:

PlayerAgeSalary Cap HitGPPPPG+/-PIM
Ryan Getzlaf26$5.325 M4974600.9364481
John Tavares21$5.5 M2271840.81-3397
Jason Pominville29$5.3 M5254170.7941155
Mike Richards26$5.75 M5103830.7543458
Jeff Carter27$5.27 M5043700.7341302
Patrick Sharp30$5.9 M5523710.6759375
Tomas Plekanec29$5 M5353530.6613322
Mikhail Grabovski28$5.5 M3041950.6410188
Ryan Kesler27$5 M5453320.6152487
Shawn Horcoff33$5.5 M7494330.58-43479

It’s an interesting list. The Horcoff contract is widely regarded as a huge albatross for the Oilers. He’s also the oldest centre on this list, with the most experience (and least production).  Kesler has fewer points per game than Grabovski, although he plays a far more well-rounded style (physical, defensive-minded, good on faceoffs) than the Leafs player. In fact, many of the players on this list bring “more to the table” than Grabovski does on a nightly basis.

With his new contract, Grabovski is effectively being paid to produce the type of offense consistent with a first-line player. Yet most of the comparable centres on this list produce more offense than he does.

The majority of players on this list have also played around 500 games, or roughly two more seasons than Grabovski has. While it seems logical to pay a player like Tavares this kind of salary early in his career (he’s an elite talent that the Islanders have locked-up long term), Grabovski is 28-years old. The player he will be is the player he is right now.

And the player he is right now looks like a player who doesn’t necessarily fit in with this group.

Looking at all these lists, it’s clear Grabovski will be overpaid at $5.5 million per season.

Toronto’s desperate for a number one centre. Now they’ve got a player who can’t play like one, but certainly gets paid like one.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Speaking of the Leafs, Grabovski’s now paid more than Phil Kessel, the Leafs top scorer. That can’t sit well with Kessel, who’s carried the team’s offense this season. It also gets the Spidey-senses tingling – maybe there could be a Rick Nash for Phil Kessel trade in the off-season after all.
  • From a few weeks ago, here’s the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle on what Grabovski is worth.
  • Final Leafs note – Randy Carlyle will bring necessary structure to the Toronto Maple Leafs. But let’s not forget Ducks players grew to hate their coach, and dressing room issues were a large part of the last two years in Anaheim. It would not be a surprise to see, at the end of the day, that Ron Wilson will have coached more Leaf games than Randy Carlyle.
  • I lied about it being the final Leafs note. This happened today on Toronto radio. Must bring back warm memories for Vancouver sports radio listeners.
  • Rumoured complaints by the Senators, Canucks and Maple Leafs about Ron Maclean and Don Cherry are just another reason why it’s easy to believe the CBC is getting out of the hockey business after their contract runs out.
  • So Sidney Crosby’s head is clear and it looks like he might be ready to go for the playoffs. Except that the playoffs are played at a faster, more physical pace than the regular season. In everyone’s rush to get Crosby back on the ice, isn’t it in his best interests to take as much time off as possible and start fresh for the 2012-13 season?
  • The Globe and Mail selects the 2014 Men’s Olympic Hockey Team so Steve Yzerman doesn’t have to.
  • Interesting news that Canada currently sits fourth in the world hockey rankings. Here are the top-10 rankings in descending order: Russia; Finland; Sweden; Canada; Czech Republic; United States; Switzerland; Germany; Norway; Slovakia.
  • Dobber writes a personal note to George McPhee and Ted Leonsis that sounds similar to what was said in this space a few weeks ago.
  • Not making too big a deal about this, but Tim Thomas’s numbers in 2012 aren’t at their usual level of excellence (11-9, 2.66 goals against, .909 save percentage). With Tuukka Rask out and Marty Turco signed, the Bruins have to hope that Thomas finds his old form in time for the playoffs.
  • Grant Clitsome on playing in Winnipeg: “The hardest thing to adjust to was having to shout at your teammates as you can’t hear them with how loud the crowd is.”
  • In case you missed it, a breakdown of each team’s height, weight and age post-trade deadline.
  • A nice analysis on Fear the Fin about the San Jose Sharks recent slide.
  • Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts.
Jan 092011
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Team Russia wins gold at 2011 World Junior Hockey Championships

The National Hockey League (NHL) is the world’s best hockey league.

The question is, how much longer will it be the only destination for the world’s best players?

The European invasion of the late 1970s, followed by the fall of Russian Communism in the late 1980s, opened the door for the world’s best to earn a substantial income playing NHL hockey.

The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) certainly didn’t look like it would threaten this fact when it launched in 2008. Sure, the oil money that backed the league was significant, but a generation of Russian players were raised to look West for money and hockey fame.

Malkin. Ovechkin. Kovalchuk. These players were exposed to the NHL through scouts, agents and their national heroes, who all played overseas. There was no way they would abandon their NHL dreams to play in the new KHL.

Thus, the KHL launched as a league featuring well-paid players that were too old, too slow, or too borderline for the NHL.

However, two-plus years since the KHL launched, Commissioner Alexander Medvedev and the Russian Hockey Federation have put a plan in place to ensure the KHL can evolve into a true NHL competitor.

That plan? Shutdown the Russian hockey pipeline to North America, and play politics with the national team.

First, by refusing to sign a transfer agreement with the NHL, North American interest in the best young Russian hockey players has cooled. Young talent is an investment, and without a transfer agreement in place there’s no guarentee an NHL team will see their investment ever pay off.

Secondly, Russians are leveraging international competition – the type of hockey most of their youngsters dream of playing – to promote and reward KHL players.

Our first glimpse of this as North Americans was during the 2010 Winter Games. The 2010 Russian Olympic Hockey team had nine KHL’ers on it. Anyone who watched the tournament saw that those players received some favourable ice-time from coach Viacheslav Bykov, with rather mixed results.

The 2011 Russian Junior team invited seven Canadian Junior Hockey League players to camp, but only kept one for the tournament – goalie Igor Bobkov. Every other player on the roster was from the KHL. The result? A shocking gold medal victory.

It’s pretty easy to see that this type of protectionism could eventually lead a new generation of Russian hockey players to choose the KHL over the NHL.

Which means the day will soon come that all of the world’s best players aren’t playing in the NHL.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Interesting spreadsheet by the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle about the average age, height and weight of NHL teams. Biggest surprise? Perhaps that Florida is the 7th oldest team.
  • One reason why the Blue Jackets have fallen on hard times of late – their defence, which played so well through the first quarter of the season, has really fallen back to earth.
  • A lot of talk in Toronto about how Mikhail Grabovski has come into his own this year. The biggest difference? He’s hitting the net more than he ever has before with his laser shot.
  • A 9-3 loss to Toronto is a reminder that Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec was once considered too inconsistent to be a number one goalie.
  • The acquisitions of both Dwayne Roloson and Jamie Langenbrunner confirm that, despite financial issues for each franchise, both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars are gunning for the playoffs Of the two players, expect Roloson to have the biggest immediate impact. The Lightning don’t give up nearly as many shots as the Islanders did, and Roloson, despite his age, has fewer miles on him than most 41-year old goalies.
  • All discussion that Lagenbrunner could replace Brad Richards if he bolts the Stars as a UFA is ridiculous. Langenbrunner at this stage is a complimentary, veteran presence. He’s not a top-six guy.
  • Word out of Edmonton is Shawn Horcoff is ahead of schedule to return from his knee injury.
Dec 112010
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Bob Gainey, Montreal Canadiens

It’s hard to imagine Bob Gainey laughing.

A Google image search confirms even smiles are hard-fought, often-lost battles in the corners of his mouth.

Yet Bob Gainey has a lot to smile and laugh about.

This Montreal Canadiens team – a team he essentially re-built in the summer of 2009, then handed off to current GM Pierre Gauthier – is a pretty good one.

Making things all-the-more sweet is that Gainey essentially built this team in the face of constant criticism. Critics said his team was too small; that it wasn’t French enough; that Jacques Martin couldn’t coach offense; and that Carey Price could never find permanent success. Gainey said thank you very much, weathered the media storm and built a quick, counter-attack team full of character.

Today, this is a team that believes in each other, its system, and its coaching staff. They honour the great teams of Montreal’s past through their sacrifice, resilience and tempo of play. Mike Cammalleri’s Cup contender assertion is simply another indication that there’s a confidence amongst Habs players that hasn’t existed in some time.

Whether Cammy’s right or not remains to be seen. The team could use another game-breaker, and the loss of Andrei Markov is a significant one.

But there are some championship qualities to be found here if one looks closely enough.

And those are qualities Bob Gainey brought to the team before he stepped away.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • You would think the return of Mario Lemieux to the ice, even if it’s for an alumni game, would be exciting. But does anyone else remember how boring the Oilers-Habs alumni game was in the original Heritage Classic? After the initial player introductions and the magic of playing outdoors subsided, all we were left with was rusty retirees scrimmaging duly. Anyways, the Penguins and Capitals alumni are squaring off the day before the 2011 NHL Winter Classic. With Paul Coffey, Bill Guerin, Ron Francis and Bryan Trottier all playing, put your money on the Pittsburgh home team.
  • Puck Daddy reports 23 busloads of “Nordiques Nation” fans are making the trip from Quebec to New York to see the Islanders host the Atlanta Thrashers.
  • It will be interesting to see how losing Mark Stuart for 4-6 weeks will impact the Boston Bruins. He’s an underrated blueliner.
  • Yet another reason why the Leafs are struggling. Tomas Kaberle’s next goal will be his first of the year. If he’s not contributing offense, he’s not contributing anything.
  • The Buffalo Sabres are alive and well after a slow start to the year. One reason: Thomas Vanek’s found his A-game.
  • Speaking of the Sabres, Shaone Morrisonn is out for awhile with concussion symptoms. This is another opportunity for Chris Butler to show he belongs.
  • Word in Chicago is that injured players Marian Hossa, Fernando Pisani and Patrick Kane could all be back sooner than expected. To possibly fill the void until they return, the Blackhawks have signed former Canuck Ryan Johnson to a tryout contract.
  • Speaking of the ‘Hawks, why did they sign Marty Turco again? Corey Crawford is two wins away from tying the team record for most consecutive wins by a goaltender.
  • Slowly but surely, David Booth is coming around for the Florida Panthers. The thing is, for a team dedicated to rebuilding, is it smart to make a player with a history of concussions a franchise centerpiece?
  • No surprises here: the oft-injured Kari Lehtonen is having back trouble in Dallas. Good thing for them Andrew Raycroft has played pretty well this year.
  • Matt Duchene has created a Twitter account to generate interest in the team. Not to be cynical, but there’s a 50% chance that’s code for “meeting girls on road trips.”
  • Quietly, Jeff Woywitka has been a solid, defensive presence for the Dallas Stars.
  • If ever there was a time for Edmonton’s Sam Gagner to take the next step forward and demonstrate he can be an elite player in the NHL, it’s now, with Shawn Horcoff out for an extended period.
  • Excuse me, Part 1: What type of goal was that again, Craig Laughlin?
  • Excuse me, Part 2: Remember, you can’t actually buy waffles at the Air Canada Centre. You have to smuggle them in. Please let this become a tradition.
  • In honour of CBC’s 3D coverage this weekend, Down Goes Brown provides a technology guide for hockey fans.
  • Why the Ottawa Senators are a mess, reason #346: Tough to move under-performing, over-priced veterans in today’s salary cap era. Even if the team can find a buyer for Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Gonchar isn’t going anywhere soon.
  • The loss of Andy McDonald (concussion) probably kills the St. Louis Blues chances of making the playoffs. Reports suggest the team is looking to salvage the season through a trade, with Travis Zajac, Stephen Weiss and Matt Moulson the potential targets.
Oct 152010
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Lou Lamoriello, New Jersey Devils

Photo credit: nj.com

Steve Simmons wrote earlier this week that the salary cap was hurting the league’s best players by forcing them play with AHL-level grinders.

Noting how the cap has forced the New Jersey Devils to play with 15, 16 players, Dave Hodge argues in his latest Hodgemail that the salary cap should be abolished.

Even before the season started, hockey writers were using the salary cap to suggest dynasties aren’t possible in today’s era.

Just so we’re clear, this salary cap criticism? It’s pure hogwash.

The problem isn’t the salary cap. The problem is the league’s General Managers.

Since almost the beginning of its existence, NHL front offices have been littered with ex-players who “understood the code” or “had respect for the game’s institutions.” These were individuals who could identify talent and knew what it took to play professional hockey. It’s been an old boys club – a fraternity – of likeminded, proud men for a long time.

These men also generally share the following traits: little education, business background or financial experience. Up until the 1980s, the absence of these qualities really didn’t matter, since the NHLPA was powerless, and NHL salaries were controlled. But the salary escalation of the 1990s, and now the salary cap, has made managing the “money game” an increasingly vital part of the GMs portfolio.

Today’s GMs have to be smart. They have to creatively work the salary numbers, follow two-, three- and five-year salary plans, and identify players who can provide greater value than they’re being compensated for.

Thanks to the cap, any mistakes are magnified. (Granted, teams have “capologists,” but with all due respect, they’re not the ones making the final say on any player transaction or contract signings.) The days of trading Player A straight up for Player B have passed. And this is why, in the modern NHL, former “horse-traders” like Darryl Sutter and Glen Sather seem so out-to-lunch. It’s why Lou Lamoriello didn’t address his cap situation through trade or waivers (because, most accurately, it would weaken his club on-ice). It’s also why Kevin Lowe and Bobby Clarke moved up the corporate ladders. The job had passed them by.

There’s a new breed of GM required to navigate NHL waters. Unfortunately, for fans of some teams, league culture is not one that so easily embraces change.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Three games into the season, and Oiler Coach Tom Renney and Captain Shawn Horcoff have both already publicly criticized the length of Taylor Hall’s 50-second shifts. You know what other young star averaged 50-second shifts last year? Patrick Kane. If you’ve got the horses, you’ve got to let them run a bit. Just ask those who coached Gretzky, Lemieux, Crosby, and a host of other extremely talented offensive players. And what does it say about Taylor Hall that both his coach and captain felt the need to talk about this to the press so early in the season?
  • The loss of John Tavares had most people burying the New York Islanders mere days into the regular season. However, Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey have picked up the slack, with Bailey in particular looking at times like a younger version of captain Doug Weight. The Islanders may not be very good, but they’re building something there.
  • All props to John Tortorella for stressing an up-tempo, pressure style for the Rangers. However, the Rangers can’t be taken seriously in the East until their young defense stops playing giveaway with the opposition.
  • Why should Flames and Wild fans worry just three games into the season? Because each team has only scored one goal at even-strength. Remember, teams that can’t score rarely play meaningful games in April and May.
  • Speaking of worried fan bases, there are troubling signs in Ottawa. There’s an APB out for pointless Alex Kovalev, Pascal Leclaire left his last game – surprise, surprise – hurt, and none of their young players have made any sort of impact yet. Corey Clouston is a solid coach, but this team looks more and more in need of a rebuild.
  • Why is Pittsburgh winless at home? It might have something to do with terrible ice. It looks like Crosby and Malkin are stick handling with a tennis ball on grass out there. Shouldn’t the NHL, in efforts to improve its on-ice product, be investing more into technology that keeps ice firm and hard? Call it the Cialis project.
Oct 082010
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux

Photo credit: Pesonen and the Pens

Growing up in the `80s there were two camps: Wayne Gretzky vs. Mario Lemieux. The Great One vs. Mario “Le Magnifique.”

To idolize one was to idolize a “great Canadian” – a small-town Ontario boy who grew up playing on a backyard rink. Wayne? He was humble, hardworking and personified brains over brawn.

To idolize the other was, at least in my neighbourhood, almost traitorous. Mario? He was arrogant and aloof. He didn’t love the game. Yeah he scored that great goal in ’87, but he rarely played for Team Canada. For Pete’s sake, he was a smoker!

Funny how time changes things.

While Mario was saving the franchise that made him an icon, Wayne invested money into the Phoenix Coyotes, a team he had no previous allegiance to.

Today, Mario is a positive force and influential member of the Pittsburgh community. His Mario Lemieux Foundation has raised millions of dollars for medical and cancer research. He’s an active NHL owner, with a seat-at-the-table on decisions that impact professional hockey.

Meanwhile, Wayne has become a bit of a huckster, all activities seemingly weighed against their impact on his brand and bottom line. He’s currently ‘taking time away from the game” in an argument over
money owed by the NHL. Maybe this time away will help him manage his winery or his restaurant.

Yes, as I watched Mario christen CONSOL Energy Centre with water from the old Mellon Arena, I couldn’t help but think how, these days, I wish #99 was a bit more like #66.

******

In the post-lockout NHL, where the game is played at unparalleled speeds and teams have to manage the salary cap, young (cheap) talent is an important commodity.

Opening night rosters around the league are dotted with 18-, 19- and 20-year olds.

But one youngster whose name you won’t see in any lineup is Erik Gudbranson.

And this is not a bad thing.

Big and nasty, Gudbranson was arguably one of the best players at Florida Panther’s training camp.

But there is a big jump between pre-season and regular season hockey. Learning defense at the NHL level is extremely difficult, especially when this is so clearly a rebuilding year for the Panthers.

Returning Gudbranson to juniors gives him a chance to dominate, to work on his offensive game, and to take a leadership role on Team Canada at the World Juniors.

Meanwhile, the Panthers give themselves an extra year before Gudbranson starts the clock toward NHL free agency.

Contrast this to how the Toronto Maple Leafs handled the development Luke Schenn.

Schenn’s first training camp in Toronto was an impressive one. The stay-at-home defenseman made the team as an 18-year old, despite the fact that he couldn’t execute a slapshot consistently.

Two up-and-down seasons later, Schenn enters this year with reduced career expectations.

And at 21, he’s also just four years away from free agency.

The jury is still out on both Gudbranson on and Schenn, but their careers will serve as an interesting comparison to watch over the coming years.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Speaking of the Panthers, Michael Grabner’s work ethic at camp was one reason why the Panthers waived the former Canuck. But don’t rule out the play of Mike Santorelli as a contributing factor either. Also gifted with great speed and above-average hands, the former Predator prospect earned a top-6 role, bumping Grabner to the Islanders and Steven Reinprecht to the fourth line.
  • Boy did Edmonton look fast against Calgary. One game does not a season make, but those fears about Calgary’s footspeed may be justified.
  • The Leafs and Nazem Kadri are saying all the right things, but the fact remains he projects, at best, to a Derek Roy-type player at the NHL level. Is that good enough to win a Stanley Cup?
  • Cam Fowler will become the third youngest player to ever play for the Anaheim Ducks. Other notable teens to play for the Ducks: Oleg Tverdovsky, Stanislav Chistov, Luca Sbisa, Vitaly Vishnevski, Chad
    Kilger. That’s a lot of teenage mediocrity.
  • That was nice of Marty Turco to honour Antti Niemi by stinking up the place for Chicago in the first game of the season.
  • Still rather surprised the Oilers gave Shawn Horcoff the Captaincy. There was a strained relationship between veterans and youngsters in the Oiler dressing room last year, and Horcoff’s name was always included in the mix of vets (along with Ethan Moreau and Sheldon Souray) who were part of the problem. Even if he’s turned over a new leaf attitude-wise, Horcoff was also arguably the team’s worst player last year.
  • I still don’t understand how Rick Nash is the 14th best player in the NHL, according to TSN. On the one hand, he may be the most talented big-man in the game today. On the other, he’s never hit 80 points in a season and is a career minus-54.
  • Nigel Dawes – yes, that Nigel Dawes – is reportedly starting the season on Atlanta’s top line with Nik Antropov and Fred Modin. Good luck with that, Thrashers fans.
  • RJ Umberger starts the season on the third-line in Columbus so Nikita Filatov can play with fellow first-round picks Derrick Brassard and Jakub Voracek. Filatov’s had a good camp and might have 20 goals in his hands this year.
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