A look at the Penguins' bargain contracts

Is this guy's $8.7M contract good value or a necessary evil? - Jamie Sabau

Using Goals Versus Salary to see where the Penguins went right with their contracts, and where they might have room to improve.

I have mentioned Goals Versus Threshold (GVT) many times on this website, discussing its utility and weaknesses in determining overall player effectiveness. There are some questions about how well it evaluates player defense in that it appears to undervalue defensive-minded players who do not have much value on offense. All this being said, taken in the proper context with caveats firmly in place, GVT is a useful "all-in-one" number that gives an idea of how well someone played in a way that most statistics cannot.

Given this, it is also useful to look at player value as well as raw effectiveness. We hear about overpaid players all the time, and every team has them because all of this is an inexact science, but terms like "overpaid" and "underpaid" are relative. A player is only overpaid if, relative to other players with a similar salary cap, he performs poorly.

Using player salary cap hit and GVT, you can derive a sort of meta-statistic called Goals Versus Salary (GVS).

The traditional method of determining GVS is as follows:

where GVT is obvious, and HIT is cap hit in millions of dollars.

Why 0.5? When the idea was initially developed, the minimum player salary was $500K, which acts as a nice estimate for what "free talent" replacement-level players would receive.

Why 3? Because average Team GVT is defined as 120, and you'd have about $40M to use under the cap if you had 20 replacement-level players all making league minimum, again, as of the time this stat originated. Divide the first by the second, and you have 3 GVT per million dollars to use as a coefficient.* Worked out further, assuming that you "have" to carry 20 players to have a full squad, just to show you the full equation:

Another limiting factor of this stat is that it tends to undervalue stars, and there really isn't any good way to get around that. Teams must overpay star players relative to role players in order to get the star players in the first place, and so it's best to break GVS down into salary groups: all goaltenders, skaters making less than $1M, skaters making at least $1M but less than $3M, skaters making at least $3M but less than $6M, and superstars who make more than that.

So after all that, let's look at the Penguins. This is what you came for, right? Keep in mind that I'm arbitrarily restricting this to players who "played a lot" based on eyeball. I'm ignoring players like Brad Thiessen, Cal O'Reilly, and Alexandre Picard. Also, if a player spent any time in the minors, like Joe Vitale, his cap hit will look funny because the team would not have been charged for the days he wasn't on the NHL roster.

Goalies
Player              GVT   CapHit     GVS
Marc-Andre Fleury   12.9  $5.0M      -0.5
Brent Johnson       -8.0  $0.6M      -8.2

As you can see here, the Penguins have some room for improvement with regards to the goaltenders' contracts. Hopefully Tomas Vokoun's cheap $2M deal. If he posts another 8.1 GVT season (definitely respectable for a backup and very much a possibility for the aging netminder), that would net him a 3.7 GVS. To put this number in perspective, this year's NHL leader among goaltenders was Jonathan Quick, who posted a 30.8 GVS.

Low-rung Skaters
Player               GVT   CapHit     GVS
Deryk Engelland       6.3  $566.67K    6.2
Craig Adams           5.3  $675K       4.9
Richard Park          2.6  $550K       2.5
Joe Vitale            1.8  $512.5K     1.8
Ben Lovejoy           1.2  $525K       1.2
Dustin Jeffrey        0.5  $551.61K    0.4
Arron Asham           1.0  $775K       0.3
Eric Tangradi        -1.5  $329.19K   -0.9

Surprisingly, while it's quite difficult for a team to "lose" money on these bargain-basement contracts, the Penguins managed to do so this past season with Eric Tangradi, even if you discount his time in the AHL as I did here. Deryk Engelland came out on top of the list, and that probably shouldn't surprise anyone. His solid if lackluster play was, given his contract, a windfall. The NHL leader in this segment was Jamie Benn with a GVS of 13.8. If you ignore entry-level contracts, which will almost always be of inflated value for skilled players, the leader would have been Jason Garrison with a GVS of 11.7.

Middle-tier Skaters
Player               GVT   CapHit     GVS
Pascal Dupuis        19.2  $1.5M      16.3
James Neal           19.0  $2.875M    12.0
Matt Cooke           11.3  $1.8M       7.5
Tyler Kennedy         7.9  $2.0M       3.5
Steve Sullivan        5.1  $1.5M       2.2
Matt Niskanen         4.9  $1.5M       2.0

This is where the sweet spot lies for most teams. None of the Penguins listed here are on entry-level contracts, but that won't always be the case in this segment. Pascal Dupuis's 16.3 is actually second overall among all skaters in the NHL; only Erik Karlsson had a higher value, and he was on an entry-level deal. Similarly, James Neal was fifth overall in this segment. The Penguins did particularly well here, especially given the number of scrap heap pickups (Sullivan) and throw-in players (Dupuis, Niskanen).

Top-line Skaters
Player               GVT   CapHit     GVS
Jordan Staal         15.8  $4.0M       5.4
Chris Kunitz         12.5  $3.725M     2.9
Kris Letang          11.4  $3.5M       2.5
Brooks Orpik          8.7  $3.75M     -1.0
Paul Martin           9.5  $5.0M      -4.4
Zbynek Michalek       4.0  $4.0M      -6.4

This is that segment for the Penguins where you have to ask, "What if?" Namely, what if Jordan Staal and Kris Letang played full seasons? We'll never know, but the Penguins did not acquit themselves well here. Top in this group, unsurprisingly, is Philadelphia's Claude Giroux with a GVS of 14.6.

All-world Superstar Skaters

Player               GVT   CapHit     GVS
Evgeni Malkin        33.5  $8.7M       9.0
Sidney Crosby         9.9  $8.7M     -14.6

Sidney Crosby's "upper body injury" notwithstanding, Evgeni Malkin rules the world. Not only was he tops in the NHL in the over-six-million segment despite some people making substantially less than his salary, the rest of the league wasn't even close. That said, this is the segment is not where you're going to find good value. You pay these players exorbitant sums because you have to in order to compete, not because it's economically sound. That said, as you can see from Sid's number due to injury, or from Scott Gomez's -22.1 GVS due both to repeated injuries and awful play, this segment carries with it an amazing amount of risk.

Footnote

* I have a small problem with this method of calculation. In my opinion, the equation needs to be rewritten yearly to take into account the updated salary cap and the updated minimum salary. However, I have not seen any articles written that take this into account. Basically, in general terms, where CAP is the salary cap and MIN is the minimum player salary, the equation should be:

In 2011, given that the cap was $64.3M and the minimum salary was $525K, the coefficient would be right around 2.23 instead of 3. However, for the purposes of this article, I used the traditional method for the stat. Ultimately, the differences are minor, but this does mean that the statistic is not terribly useful when comparing a player in one season to a player in a different season.

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