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October 10, 2012
Howe and Why
Goals Versus Salary, 2011-12

by Robert Vollman

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Every year we like to look back at the best contract values of the season. To determine which players offer the best bang for the buck, we use Goals Versus Salary or GVS.

Using both GVT and hockey's 3-1-1 rule, which states that every three goals (scored or prevented) gets you one point in the standings, and costs about one million dollars, GVS can determine how many goals of value a player is providing his team over and above what he's actually paid to produce.

Unlike previous years we have split the analysis into five sections, the first for goalies, and then skaters broken down in four rough salary ranges.

Goaltenders

A great value goaltender has the ability to reverse the damage of several bad skater contracts. While fantastic goalies can often be acquired at discount prices the challenge is always to which one is going to have that unexpected career season. That's why some teams conclude that it's wisest to simply spend a few extra bucks to secure a more proven and reliable commodity.


Goalie           Team         GVT CapHit GVS
Jonathan Quick   Los Angeles 34.6 $1.8M  30.8
Mike Smith       Phoenix     35.0 $2.0M  30.6
Brian Elliott    St. Louis   27.9 $0.6M  27.7
Cory Schneider   Vancouver   22.6 $0.9M  21.5
Pekka Rinne      Nashville   24.6 $3.4M  16.0
Jimmy Howard     Detroit     20.8 $2.3M  15.6
Kari Lehtonen    Dallas      23.9 $3.6M  14.8
Henrik Lundqvist NY Rangers  33.7 $6.9M  14.6
Jaroslav Halak   St. Louis   21.3 $3.8M  11.6
Josh Harding     Minnesota    8.9 $0.8M   8.2

Just missed: Carey Price, Tuukka Rask, Devan Dubnyk

While several of these names would come as a shock before the season began, none of them look like surprises now, other than perhaps in which order last year's superstar value goalies would wind up. The question for this season is if some of these players are single-season flashes in the pan, or if they have the potential to be back on this list again next year.

Henrik Lundqvist proves that goalies can be an exceptional value even at top dollar, which is good news for the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators. Jonathan Quick and Pekka Rinne's new contracts will bump them down the list, but hopefully not off it entirely.

Bargain Skaters The best opportunity for value is obviously those who are signed to bargain contracts somewhere between the league minimum of $525,000 and a million bucks. It's almost impossible to lose money on these players, and even a handful of extra goals scored or prevented is nothing but pure gravy for their lucky teams.


Player         Team          GVT CapHit GVS
Jamie Benn     Dallas       14.7 $822K 13.8
Matt Read      Philadelphia 14.3 $900K 13.2
Adam Henrique  New Jersey   13.9 $854K 12.9
Jason Garrison Florida      12.1 $675K 11.7
Frans Nielsen  NY Islanders 11.6 $525K 11.6
Derek Stepan   NY Rangers   11.0 $875K 10.0
Ryan O'Reilly  Colorado     11.0 $900K  9.9
Kyle Wellwood  Winnipeg      9.8 $700K  9.2
P.K. Subban    Montreal      9.8 $875K  8.8
Petr Sykora    New Jersey    9.1 $650K  8.7

Just missed: Viktor Stalberg, Carl Hagelin, David Desharnais, Nikita Nikitin

Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars leads a team that doesn't seem to favor play-off teams, but definitely favors the Eastern Conference. There are obviously a lot of entry-level contracts (ELCs), but also a lot of bargain pick-ups as well.

The amazing value of ELCs show us why it's great to trade for picks or prospects. If they turn into NHL players you can get tremendous value for the duration of their ELC period. While a veteran player can no doubt be useful, they'll likely get paid closer to fair market value.

Secondary Players

The highest value players are actually not the bargain basement players, but the secondary players getting paid somewhere between one and three million. While their downside isn't quite as microscopic, their potential is far greater. Furthermore, the blue chip entry-level contracts are usually in this dollar range, and they can be downright steals.


Player            Team        GVT CapHit GVS
Erik Karlsson     Ottawa     21.5 $1.3M  19.2
Pascal Dupuis     Pittsburgh 19.2 $1.5M  16.3
Jordan Eberle     Edmonton   16.6 $1.2M  14.7
Logan Couture     San Jose   14.6 $1.2M  12.4
James Neal        Pittsburgh 19.0 $2.9M  12.0
Ryan McDonagh     NY Rangers 14.1 $1.3M  11.8
Alexandre Burrows Vancouver  16.0 $2.0M  11.6
Kevin Shattenkirk St. Louis  13.7 $1.3M  11.4
Michael Del Zotto NY Rangers 12.6 $1.1M  10.9
Brad Marchand     Boston     16.7 $2.5M  10.8

There are still a lot of ELCs dominating this list, but not as slanted towards the Eastern Conference, but once again there aren't a lot of Europeans on the value list this year.

We seem to be having an impact on the play-offs now as only one player failed to reach the post-season (Jordan Eberle). There are two Penguins and two Rangers on the list, players whose numbers might have been boosted by superstar linemates.

Top Liners

As contracts get larger value can be harder to find, but are still quite possible from the three million mark right up to about five and a half or six million.


Player            Team         GVT  CapHit  GVS
Claude Giroux     Philadelphia 24.3 $3.8M  14.6
Ray Whitney       Phoenix      18.2 $3.0M  10.8
Tyler Seguin      Boston       19.8 $3.6M  10.7
Alex Pietrangelo  St. Louis    17.2 $3.2M   9.3
Radim Vrbata      Phoenix      16.5 $3.0M   9.1
Matt Moulson      NY Islanders 15.7 $3.1M   7.9
Valtteri Filppula Detroit      15.1 $3.0M   7.7
Patrick Sharp     Chicago      17.6 $3.9M   7.5
Patrice Bergeron  Boston       20.6 $5.0M   7.2
John Tavares      NY Islanders 16.7 $3.8M   7.0

This list is obviously biased by the three million dollar cut-off, since half the list is hugging that level like Zack Stortini two seconds into a fight. There are still a few ELCs, and quite a few names no one would have expected to make this list at season's start; perhaps only half the list was predictable.

Superstars

You can't build your team exclusively with value-priced players, because you'd find yourself far below the cap floor, and while the team would be efficient, it would not be very competitive. To succeed in today's NHL a certain amount of money must be invested in superstars with game-changing potential, but which ones? Unlike the other ranges, the choice can easily make or break a team.


Player         Team        GVT CapHit GVS
Evgeni Malkin  Pittsburgh 33.5 $8.7M  9.0
Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay  26.7 $7.5M  5.8
Ilya Kovalchuk New Jersey 22.8 $6.7M  4.4
Patrik Elias   New Jersey 19.2 $6.0M  2.8
Zach Parise    New Jersey 18.6 $6.0M  2.2
Jason Spezza   Ottawa     19.5 $7.0M  0.1

Of the 51 players with a cap hit of at least $5.5 million last year, only these six broke even. If Phil Kessel were paid another $100,000, he would have been the seventh. Players like Scott Gomez cost their teams over 22 goals, for example.

Ideally the superstars would contribute in ways that go beyond their own individual production, and would help others on their team get better value by boosting their GVTs.

Once again it looks like the Eastern Conference did the best job getting value, as not a single highly-paid superstar in the Western Conference broke even. Obviously the choice is important, as the surprise Stanley Cup finalist New Jersey Devils knew where the big money needs to be spent.

Final word

GVS is very useful in figuring out who is producing value for the dollar. Even a quick look like this shows us the sheer value of ELCs, how much harder it is to find great value among top players, and how much better the Eastern Conference appeared to be at getting value, especially at the very upper and lower end of the salary range, while the Western Conference relies more on its exceptional eye for goaltending.

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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