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December 5, 2010
Front Office Focus
Welcome Backes, Carter

by Ryan Popilchak

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In our continued effort to give you insight into contract value, the recent extensions for David Backes in St. Louis and Jeff Carter in Philadelphia provide an interesting contrast.

All salary cap numbers below are provided by CapGeek.com

The Flyers have now committed $57.6 million in 2011-12 to 18 players, leaving them with very little money to round out their roster, but with a fairly young, talented core. They appear to be following the same model as their recent Stanley Cup opponents, the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Blues, however, have only spent $35.4 millon on 11 players for next season, but with young studs like T.J. Oshie and Eric Brewer to lock up before the season is over. They have a lot more cap flexibility to make adjustments to a team that currently sits fifth in the Western Conference standings.

In the case of these two contract extensions, the teams are trying to lock up young, talented forwards to reasonable long term contracts. While they may have taken different approaches to how they’ve managed the cap, it’s very important to understand which team got better value for their money.

Carter, at age 25, already has a 46 goal season under his belt and is considered an elite offensive talent. Backes, at age 26, is a big winger with a solid scoring touch, but hasn’t racked up points the way Carter has.

Carter  	398 games 	153 goals 	139 assists 	11.0% shooting percentage
Backes  	297 games 	74 goals 	89 assists 	11.8% shooting percentage

On the surface, Jeff Carter has the better offensive numbers and his contract extension was more lucrative, earning him roughly $750,000 per season more than Backes. But given the difference in goal scoring skill, shouldn’t Carter be making a lot more than Backes? If the only thing that mattered in the NHL were goals and assists, then the answer would be yes, but we all know that there is a lot more to the game than that.

In order to compare the two players, their associated underlying statistics are shown in the table below. All figures are the average performance over the past three seasons, to ensure we’re judging the players over an extended time period.

Average (3 Seasons)				D. Backes	J. Carter
ES Pts/60					2.04		2.01 
Corsi/60					3.07		-0.99
Corsi Rel					6.97		3.57
Corsi QoC					1.355		0.256
Corsi QoT					-1.83		-2.39
Zone Starts (% offensive)			46.2%		44.5%
Relative plus-minus				-0.10		0.55
Goals Versus Threshold				7.6		16.4
Yearly Cap Hit of New Contract ($M)		4.50		5.27
GVT needed to live up to that salary		12.0		14.3

It’s easy to see why Backes is valued so highly by the Blues. His even strength scoring rate is in line with a top six forward. He continually faces good competition (Corsi QoC), starts more shifts in his own zone than the opponent’s zone (Zone Starts) and still turns in solid possession numbers (Corsi per 60). Backes is the type of player that can be given the tough assignments and still come out ahead of the game.

For those unfamiliar with Relative Corsi, it is the measure of a player’s Corsi value when he is on the ice versus when he is off the ice. In this case, the Blues get close to seven extra shots directed at the net per 60 minutes when Backes is on the ice.

Jeff Carter faces similar assignments to Backes, but doesn’t drive the same amount of action—or prevent it in his own end—at the net that Backes does. At even strength, Backes actually seems like the superior player.

According to Goals Versus Threshold (GVT), however, Carter is a vastly superior player. And given the calculation we use for Goals Versus Salary (GVS), Carter has a much better chance to outperform his contract than Backes does.

So why is Carter worth so many more goals than Backes? Two words for you: power play.

Take a look at the difference in power play effectiveness between the two players:

		D. Backes		J. Carter
Powerplay	TOI	Pts/60		TOI	Pts/60
2007-08		2.13	2.74		2.40	5.19
2008-09		2.33	2.83		2.55	6.02
2009-10		2.47	2.46		2.98	4.90
Average		2.31	2.68		2.64	5.37

With almost identical playing time (TOI) at 5-on-4, Carter has clearly been the more efficient scorer. Jeff Carter is an elite offensive player on the man advantage, while David Backes is a much more pedestrian player in this regard.

While the Blues got a better deal for their money at even strength, the Flyers definitely got a huge edge in value on the power play.

Finally, we can compare the Backes and Carter contracts to other players in the NHL. When we took a deeper look at Tomas Plekanec’s contract this summer, here were his closest comparables based on salary and three year measurables.

Average (3 years)	Plekanec	Gionta		Richards	Kesler
Cap Hit (k$)		5		5		5.8		5
Age			27 		31 		25 		25 
Points			59		53		72		57
Standard plus-minus	+4		+5		+11		+3
GVT			11.6		10.3		17.7		11.2
Corsi/60		-4.76		8.09		-0.71		4.91
Zone starts		46.4%		54.2%		39.5%		42.3%

Carter is a better offensive talent than any of the other players on this list and his GVT compares well with Richards.

Backes’ contract is cheaper than any player on this list and he is a better possession player than Plekanec. However, he doesn’t have the same scoring upside that any of these players do. Again, the difference is power play prowess. All four comparable players had a power play point rate over 5.0 per 60 minutes.

In the end, the Jeff Carter deal was solid value, with some room to outperform it when he’s healthy. The Flyers now have five forwards locked into big money deals, with Carter, Richards and Giroux representing good value while the Briere contract eats more cap room than it should given his age and performance.

The David Backes deal may be a little rich, but at worst, St. Louis overpaid by $1 million per year. In return, the Blues get a player who is clearly a fantastic even strength performer, but lacks the ability to be on a top power play unit. Given the Blues excellent cap situation, this is a reasonable risk.

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

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