Derek Dorsett

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Paying for intangibles usually backfires

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In an ideal world the thought of a “bad contract” in sports wouldn’t really exist (in my world, anyway). Professional sports are a multi-billion dollar a year industry and a player’s value should be what the market (in this case, a bunch of billionaire owners — or even one billionaire owner) feels that player should be worth.

The players are the ones putting in the work, making the effort, and drawing fans to the stadium or arena. They absolutely deserve a significant cut of the pie, and if they aren’t getting it, an even richer person ends up keeping it for themselves. So, pay the players.

That said, the world is not always perfect. Especially in sports.

When you are dealing with a sport that has a salary cap (and in the case of the NHL, a hard salary cap) you have to look at contracts a little more critically than just saying, “well, that is what they are worth that and that is the end of it.” A hard salary cap makes the business side of sports even more cutthroat and emotionless than it already is. Teams only have a set amount of money to spend, and paying the wrong player the wrong salary for the wrong reason can make it difficult to keep better players or build a winning team.

That brings us to one of the more eye-opening contracts signed this offseason when the Washington Capitals signed restricted free agent Tom Wilson to a six-year, $31 million contract extension over the weekend.

[Related: Tom Wilson cashes in with $31 million extension]

Reactions to that signing have been … mixed.

On one hand, that is a ton of money to invest in a player that has scored more than seven goals and 23 points in a single season once in five years, a fact that has made it a highly scrutinized deal from an analytical perspective.

On the other hand, there is this the intangible side of the argument that has come out of Washington, where the things Wilson does well don’t always show up on a stat sheet and that he was a part of a Stanley Cup winning team this past season.

Or that he might inflict a lot of pain on you…

Honestly, I would not want to go into the corner against any player in the NHL, but that fact alone does not mean it is smart to pay every player more than $5 million per season over the next six years in a hard-capped league, especially when my team already has several big-money players on the roster.

This is part of the “intangible” argument that gets thrown around in contracts like this. We have seen it and heard it a hundred times.

There used to be literal shouting matches over players like Dave Bolland when he played in Toronto, and then collective confusion (and even more yelling) when he signed for $27 million over five years in Florida. Eventually, his contract became one of the many to buried in Arizona when it did not work out.

When Edmonton spent big money on players like Milan Lucic and Kris Russell in recent years the defense of those contracts wasn’t about the offense they could provide or the tangible production they would give the Oilers, but more about intangible things like protecting Connor McDavid or being gritty and tough to play against. Just a couple of years into those contracts they already look like bad investments for an Oilers team that is pressed against the cap ceiling without any consistent success on the ice to show for it.

The thing about players like Bolland and Lucic is that at one point in their careers they were players that did provide tangible results. Their contracts backfiring had more to do with paying too much for players at the wrong point in their careers and for the wrong reasons.

All of this brings us back to Wilson’s contract. I get the argument that he is still reasonably young, and that maybe the Capitals are finally figuring out how to use him by giving him a real role with good players instead of burying him on the fourth line and sending him out to rattle cages for 10 minutes a night. As I wrote on Friday when Wilson signed his contract, maybe his game continues to evolve and he produces more. Fact is, though, there really isn’t a player in the NHL right now that has signed a contract like this with the sort of production he has put on paper.

That makes it a contract worth evaluating a little more critically, especially when much of the argument for it is based on things we can not easily see.

Taking a deeper dive into this, I went back over the past 10 years and looked at forwards that signed larger, big-money contracts that did not necessarily match their level of production. Specifically, I looked at players that had played at least 300 games in the NHL and averaged less than 0.45 points per game (less than a 35-point pace over 82 games) at the time of their contract signing.

It is a group that includes Wilson’s new deal.

Here are the biggest contracts in that group (at least four years in length, worth at least $3.5 million per season), ranked by largest salary cap hit.

Look at that list, and then ask yourself this question: How many of them would you say have worked out favorably for the team that signed them?

  • Clarkson, Bickell, and Beleskey have already traded or dumped by the teams that originally signed them.
  • Sutter and Abdelkader have no-trade clauses as part of their deals. Given Detroit’s salary cap situation Abdelkader’s deal looks especially problematic. He is 31 years old, still has five years remaining, and over the past two years has scored a grand total of 20 goals in 140 games.
  • Shaw and Clutterbuck have no such clauses in their deals, and would it really be a surprise to see one (or both) be traded before their deals expire? Especially Clutterbuck as the Islanders have assembled a collection of fourth-line players just like him (on equally bizarre long-term contracts).
  • Upshall is the only player on that list that, as of now, played out the entire contract with the team that signed him.

Aside from the group shown above, there were another 22 players with similar stat lines that signed contracts of at least four years in length (Paul Gaustad shows up twice on this list because he actually signed two such contracts, one in Buffalo and one in Nashville).

How did that group turn out?

  • Two of those contracts (the Jay Beagle/Antoine Roussel duo in Vancouver) are starting this season.
  • Four players (Zack Smith, Casey Cizikas, Derek Dorsett, and Dale Weise) are still with the team that signed them … for now.
  • Five players played out the entire contract with the team that signed them.
  • Ten players either had their contracts bought out or traded before the end of them. In many cases within the first two years of signing the contract.

The point here isn’t to downplay defensive play, or penalty killing, or any number of intangible things that go into a player or a team, because there is value to them. But the thing that stands out about a lot of these players that were given contracts based largely on those things we can’t see is that in many cases those teams quickly realized they maybe weren’t worth the big dollar numbers and either traded them or moved them out, either to dump salary or give that salary to players that, quite simply, produced more.

Perhaps the simplest way to put all of this: Pay big money for what you can see. Not what you can not.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Canucks lure Beagle, Roussel to Vancouver with plenty of term

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With a little over $18 million to play with, the Vancouver Canucks were willing to ‘weaponize’ their cap space and take on some bad deals in order to bring in some quality. Think taking on Bobby Ryan’s contract in order to acquire Erik Karlsson. That kind of mindset.

Well, as the NHL free agent market opened on Sunday, the Canucks certainly went about adding some bad deals, but their first two moves didn’t have any big time quality names attached to them.

Bottom-six forward Jay Beagle, 32, and Antoine Roussel, 28, are the newest Canucks after both signed identical four-year, $12 million deals. If general manager Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green wanted to add grit to the roster with Derek Dorsett retired, those are nice pickups as both can also provide a little offense. But four years? Have they not watched how the Matt Martin contract has played out in Toronto?

“Jay is a detailed player with championship experience, who can handle a big defensive workload,” said Benning. “He’s grown and developed his game with a core group of players and won at every level of pro hockey. We’re excited to add a player with his calibre of character and experience to our team.”

“Antoine is a competitor with a skill set that benefits our team,” said Benning. “He’s a physical player, hard-to-play against with the ability to contribute offensively. We’re pleased to welcome Antoine as a member of the Vancouver Canucks.”

The Canucks won’t be playoff bound next spring and that’s fine. They’ve got a number of young players who can contribute like Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Adam Gaudette, Bo Horvat and this year’s top pick, Quinn Hughes, if he doesn’t return to Michigan. If the idea here is to protect some of your future stars, you could probably find those types of guys in late July on cheap, one year deals.

Also, for a Canucks team that’s all about the future, one year deals for Beagle and Roussel and then flipping them at the trade deadline for draft picks would have been the ideal play. But this is the NHL, and with how some GMs think, the pair likely had multi-year offers on the table. Benning was the one willing to really extend the term to fill that coveted “grit” category.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Sedins, Sharp, Vrbata among NHL retirements

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Henrik and Daniel Sedin didn’t play their final NHL game in Vancouver, yet you could almost be fooled into thinking otherwise. That was the sort of reception the retiring twins received in Edmonton on Saturday, as Oilers fans treated the Canucks icons with a fantastic send-off from the NHL.

(You can see some of the great gestures in the video above this post’s headline.)

One can speculate about other NHL players who are mulling over retirement. Names like Jussi Jokinen float around, which makes particular sense when you consider how Jokinen bounced almost cruelly around the league this season.

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Some players will probably need time to mull over retirement. Others might not really get to make that call, as they may find no takers in free agency. There could be quite a few who simply haven’t made the announcement yet.

This post focuses on four noteworthy names who’ve made it clear that their careers are over: Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Patrick Sharp, and Radim Vrbata. All four players enjoyed distinguished runs, and while they finished things up past their primes, they didn’t make the mistake of hanging around for several sad seasons, either.

Note: as we’ve seen with Mike Fisher, players can also change their minds about retirement. Still, it certainly looks like these players are winding things down.

Sedins

Henrik Sedin ended his career with two straight 50-point seasons in 82 games. In the case of his final campaign, he scored three goals and 47 assists. He also generated 55 points in 2015-16.

Henrik’s most recent standout season was 2014-15, when he generated 18 goals and 55 assists for 73 points in 82 games. The 37-year-old managed 1,070 points in 1,330 regular-season games.

Daniel Sedin (also 37, of course) scored two goals in his final home game with the Canucks, while neither Sedin twin generated a point on Saturday. Daniel generated 23 goals and 55 points in 81 games during this final season. He collected 44 in 2016-17 and 61 in 2015-16.

Daniel’s most recent standout season was also in 2014-15, when he scored 20 goals and 76 points. In fitting Sedins fashion, they deflected attention to Derek Dorsett upon retirement:

Read more about the Sedins hanging up the skates here. Also, you can see some fun stuff at #ThankYouSedins.

Patrick Sharp

Sharp’s descent was, er, sharper than that of the Sedins. He only managed 21 points this season and 18 in 2016-17, though last season he was limited to 48 games. That said, much like the Sedins, Sharp isn’t that far removed from a strong run, as he scored 20 goals and 55 points in 2015-16. The 36-year-old also scored 78 points in 2013-14, a career-high.

If this is truly it for Sharp – he did throw “probably” around at least once – he’d finish with 620 points in 939 regular-season games, serving as a significant contributor to three Stanley Cup wins for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Radim Vrbata

All four players fall into a similar age group, as Vrbata is 36 and will turn 37 in June. There seems to be little doubt that he’s done, at least in the NHL.

Vrbata finishes up with a 14-point season, a let down for a Panthers team that could have used the added punch. At the time of the signing, it seemed like a savvy, cheap addition, as he was coming off of a 20-goal, 55-point season with the Arizona Coyotes.

Then again, it was almost a meme that Vrbata was simply better in the desert. He’ll end up with 623 points in 1,057 career regular-season games (.59 points-per-game), with 343 of those points coming in 509 contests with Arizona/Phoenix (.67).

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Will more veteran players decide to end their NHL careers?

Here’s hoping the answer is “No” in many cases, unless it’s best for everyone involved. Either way, we’ll likely hear more announcements soon.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Milestones, shutouts and NHL firsts

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Players of the Night:

Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings: 

Gaborik scored twice and helped propel a four-goal third period for the Kings, who came back from a 2-1 deficit after 40 minutes to win 5-2 against the visiting Minnesota Wild. Gaborik’s second goal of the night was his 400th of his NHL career. It came against the team he achieved his highest scoring prowess with.

Gustav Nyquist, Detroit Red Wings: 

Nyquist scored twice and added a helper as the Red Wings toppled the Western Conference-best Winnipeg Jets at Little Caesars Arena. Nyquist’s first-period marker held up as the game-winner in a big game for the Red Wings, who responded after getting shellacked 10-1 by the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks:

Markstrom made 30 saves in a 3-0 win for the Canucks against the Carolina Hurricanes. His shutout was the first of his NHL career.

Highlights of the Night:

Boo Nieves, the owner of one of the coolest nicknames in the league, scored his first NHL goal on a slick wrist shot in the first period of a 4-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

John Gibson committed this theft tonight. The victim failed to press charges:

Shea Weber did his best Clayton Kershaw impression to score against the St. Louis Blues:

Factoids of the Night:

Gaborik had a pretty good night:

And Nikita Kucherov put himself in some pretty elite company, both in Tampa Bay Lightning history, as well as NHL history in general:

MISC:

Scores:

Devils 4, Blue Jackets 1

Rangers 4, Penguins 3

Blues 4, Canadiens 3

Red Wings 5, Jets 1

Lightning 6, Islanders 2

Predators 5, Stars 2

Sabres 4, Avalanche 2

Canucks 3, Hurricanes 0

Golden Knights 4, Ducks 3 (SO)

Kings 5, Wild 2


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Derek Dorsett takes a walk down memory lane while issuing one last request

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Derek Dorsett‘s world came crashing down on him last week.

After being sent back to Vancouver following stiffness in his surgically repaired neck, Dorsett was given the devastating news that he would never play another game in the National Hockey League.

Dorsett missed 68 games last season due to the surgery, which was brutal in nature. But he was back on the ice to begin the regular season for the Vancouver Canucks, and he was just beginning to heat up on a line with Brandon Stutter and Sam Gagner. Dorsett had seven goals and nine assists in 20 games.

On Tuesday, Dorsett, a week removed from the life-changing news, penned a story on the Canucks’ website.

In a well-written, heartfelt letter to fans, Dorsett issued one request to them: 

There are a lot of people I want to thank. And I’m going to get to them.

But if there’s one thing I want you to know, it’s that I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. If you could give me a script and say, “This is the story of your life,” I would do it over and over again, a billion times. Hockey gave me every opportunity I could dream of. I lived the dream every Canadian kid wants to have. I got to play in the greatest league in the world, in the greatest sport in the world.

So, don’t feel sorry for me.

Dorsett wrote about his life growing up a prairie kid in Kindersley, Saskatchewan, how his parents’ hard work ethic and support, which laid the path that he would eventually take to get him to the NHL. He wrote about his bewilderment at receiving college scholarships, making the decision to play in the Western Hockey League, getting under the skin of now-Ottawa Senators defenseman Dion Phaneuf, then playing in Red Deer, and his amazement at making the big leagues later on.

There are many more tales, all worth reading, including Dorsett detailing what led up to his surgery last season.

He ends it by getting to those thank yous, and declaring that hockey game him “everything he ever wanted and more.”

“It led me to my wife and kids,” Dorsett writes. “I’m going to enjoy a long life with them.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck