There were many signings that made me shake my head yesterday.
There’s one in particular that really confused me and many others.
FOURTEEN MILLION DOLLARS.
I decided to hold off on commenting until I heard the team’s rationale. And after reading the quotes in I’m more baffled than ever before:
"A lot of people in Toronto are asking me, 'Who the hell is Jeff Finger?' simply because they haven't seen him play. But, [former Colorado coach] Joel Quennville told me he was one of the five best defensemen in the Western Conference last year. He played against the best players on every other team. [Leafs' coach] Ron Wilson told me he was always on the ice in San Jose games against Joe Thornton. Same thing with Jarome Iginla in Calgary, or the Sedin twins [Henrik and Daniel] in Vancouver. Quennville said [Finger] was his best defenseman in the last half of the year."
- CLIFF FLETCHER (in Howard Berger’s column)
"He was the most improved defenceman in the Western Conference last year. When we had Joe Thornton on the ice, Finger was the guy who had to play heads-up with Joe and he did a really good job”
- RON WILSON (today’s Toronto Star)
"I'm not BS-ing. He was the most improved defencemen at the end of the year in the Western Conference. He averaged almost 20 minutes [for the season], and in the first 30 games he didn't play more than 10 in a game." Wilson says he became of fan of Finger after seeing him contain Thornton.
- RON WILSON (in today’s National Post)
"He's someone who has matured later. He was Colorado's shutdown guy and played well over 20 minutes a game in the last half of the season. We feel he has tremendous upside and has potential.”
- CLIFF FLETCHER (in today’s Globe and Mail)
A couple things jumped out at me reading those quotes:
1) I don’t remember Finger playing against those stars consistently and shutting them down.
2) Why was one of the five best defencemen and one of the most improved at his position benched for five games in the playoffs?
If I didn’t know any better I’d think the Leafs got confused and signed Jeff Finger instead of Kurt Sauer.
So I decided to do an analysis to see if my eyes deceived me when watching the Avs this year. Afterall, who am I to doubt Cliff Fletcher and Ron Wilson, without having some strong numbers to back me up, thanks to the magic of Vic Ferrari at www.timeonice.com
The first thing I realized, taking a quick glance at the stats was that Finger actually averaged 18.37 minutes per game in the first 30 and 21.08 minutes per game over the final 42. In 18 of the first 30 games, Finger logged over eighteen minutes and he was only under fourteen twice (12:23 and 11:19). So Wilson's quote is off - way off - even though he specifically said that he wasn't BS-ing.
I only looked in depth at 5-on-5 time, because that’s where you can best examine at how players are matched up and how well a player or players can shut down a star or a line. In terms of penalty killing, here’s how the Avs’ distribution broke down by PK min/gm:
Foote – 4.49, Clark – 3.21, Sauer – 3.17, Hannan – 3.07, Salei – 2.48, Finger – 2.31, Leopold – 0.72, Liles – 0.19
FINGER v SAUER COMPARISON (OVERVIEW)
FINGER v SAUER (BY GAME, MATCHED AGAINST STARS)
In 17 common games that both Finger and Sauer played against Thornton, Iginla and Sedin plus 3 playoff games against Gaborik:
FINGER WAS OUT 22.4% OF THE TIME THOSE STARS WERE ON THE ICE WHILE SAUER PLAYED 62.3%.
AVS’ DEFENCE BREAKDOWN (BY GAME, MATCHED AGAINST STARS)
Looking at the Avs’ D, here’s how the distribution of time broke down:
62% Sauer (17 gms)
34% Clark (10 gms)
33% Hannan (17 gms)
22% Foote (5 gms)
22% Finger (17 gms)
11% Liles (16 gms)
6% Salei (7 gms)
4% Cumisky (6 gms)
3% Leopold (5 gms)
2% Skrastins (2 gms)
Now if you adjust that based only on GP it won’t add up to 100% but it will show the actual distribution per game:
Remember that there are only three defence pairings so on average if a team was just rolling lines and not playing matchups, a line would see a defender 1/3 of the time.
It’s worth noting that when James Mirtle ranked the available d-men based on Quality of Competition, Kurt Sauer was #2 among all available players behind Adam Foote
(who didn’t make it onto the market). Looking at all defenders in the league using Gabriel Desjardins' numbers on behindthenet.ca
, Sauer’s Quality of Competition trailed only Ballard, Lidstrom, Morris, Hejda, Foote, Mitchell and Clark and tied with Kuba, Hamhuis, Phillips, Bouwmeester and Ranger.
Jeff Finger was tied at #199 with Erskine, Janik, Sekera, Michalek, Schubert, Kukkonen and Carle.
If the Leafs wanted the guy who played significant minutes against Thornton, Iginla, the Sedins, and other stars, they signed the wrong player.
And if they wanted the guy who shut down Marian Gaborik in the playoffs, out there 69% of the time when Gaborik was playing 5-on-5, they signed the wrong player.
And if they wanted Colorado’s most improved defender or their ‘shutdown guy’, they signed the wrong player.
Interestingly enough, signing the right player would have been a heck of a lot cheaper – half the cost, actually.
Danny – [email protected]
Writer's note: this isn't to say that I don't think Finger is a solid NHL defender. But he's not worth anywhere close to the deal he signed and his accomplishments don't match up with how he's being sold to the fans through the Toronto media.
BUYER BEWARE II: You Don't Get What You Pay For on July 1
July 1st, 2008 was supposed to be “THE GREATEST SHOPPING DAY IN HOCKEY HISTORY!!!” (TM).
And while things get to be a little over-hyped these days, that wouldn’t even have been an overstatement for the day Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Miika Kiprusoff and Marian Hossa all hit the market, along with guys like Robyn Regehr, Sergei Zubov, Lubomir Visnovsky, Dan Boyle, Mike Fisher, Patrick Marleau...
Ok so the Free Agency class of 2008 didn’t end up being quite as strong as some predicted. Or even close actually.
There’s just one goalie who reached thirty wins last year – a mark that 15 goalies hit (Huet, 32).
And two players who scored thirty+ goals (37 year-old Mats Sundin and 35 year-old Brian Rolston who had thirty-two and thirty-one respectively).
And only four UFA defencemen who were in the top sixty in total minutes played among blueliners (Campbell, Rozsival, Redden and Hainsey).
Is there talent available to be had?
Are teams going to end up overspending and regretting many of those purchases a couple years down the road when the player fails to consistently perform at the level he did going into his UFA year?
I can guarantee it.
July 1st isn’t the day to build your team. If you have a good team already you’ve got a chance to augment your core group with a player who may cost you more than you want to spend, but at least it won’t cost you any other assets to add that piece. And in that respect, it’s only money – or cap space – and if you’ve got it you may as well use it.
The problem is the expectations that a big contract will bring.
If you sign a #5 or #6 defenceman, don’t expect that all of a sudden he’ll play like a #2 or #3 defenceman just because you’re paying him like one.
For example, and I don’t like to single people out so let’s use fake names...
You’ve got a player named Skoorb Kipro.
Kipro will be twenty-eight by the time the season starts and he’s played four full seasons in the league. He has little offensive skill, indicated by his four goals and thirty-six points in 297 career games.
Kipro performs well in the playoffs and a lot of teams start talking about him. A couple things to think about though..
Skroob was last on his team in minutes played per game among defencemen (under 17 mins per game).
He was 7th out of 8 regulars in minutes played per game on the PK.
If you end up paying Kipro $4 mil+ for the next five years, are you going to be happy with a guy who doesn’t play much on special teams and thus likely won’t be able to log significant minutes over the course of a season?
Another example.. Take Midar Atabrv.
Twenty-seven years old and has played for four teams already.
Arabrv has had exactly one twenty+ goal season in his career – coincidentally his contract year where he scored twenty-seven goals and put-up fifty-six points.
If you sign Atabrv to a long-term multi-million dollar deal, how are you going to feel if he goes back to the player he was prior to this season, the one who scored 12, 13 and 14 goals in three seasons?
One could make a similar case about another fictional player, Salkin Namgah, who scored 10, 8, 10, 8 and 17 in his first five years in the league before potting twenty-seven as well.
Another example (although this one is too late). A guy named Nayr Enolam. Nyar was turning 28 and had compiled 43 goals and 82 points over the past two seasons. Nyar could be compared to a player from years past, let’s call him Nitram Etniopal. Nitram became a UFA when he was turning 28 after putting up 43 goals and 98 points in two years. Nitram was a warrior – a great team guy who was highly sought after. He ended up signing a huge deal and then never topping seventeen goals or forty points again.
History is littered with a long list of failed UFA signings.
Bobby Holik (again)
Derian Hatcher (again)
Tony Amonte (again)
etc, etc, etc
There are far fewer great UFA signings and the best ones are Hall of Fame players who somehow hit the market like Brett Hull, Teemu Selanne, Ed Belfour, Dominik Hasek, Scott Niedermayer, Brett Hull (again), and Ron Francis. If you have a chance to add a player like that you do it at any cost. Sundin or Jagr on a pricey short-term deal? I’d do it.
Sure there are others who have succeeded, guys like Savard, Whitney, Cassels, Brunette, Boucher, Rolston, Kariya, Suter, Joseph, Roberts and Rafalski but many of those players were slightly under-the-radar guys, not the top of the crop available that July 1st – and the successes are far less frequent than the failures.
The market is weak, the prices will be high.
There are just ten players who scored twenty goals last year. The average age of those players is thirty-three.
If you want to talk about Hossa, sure I’m interested but at what price and for how long? According to my records, in the history of players switching teams as UFAs there have been fourteen players who have signed for $30 mil+. Last year we had Briere, Gomez, Timonen, Drury, Smyth and Rafalski. The year before it was Chara and Jovanovski. Prior to that there were six:
Bill Guerin - $45 mil
Bobby Holik - $45 mil
Sergei Fedorov - $40 mil
Jeremy Roenick - $37.5 mil
Pierre Turgeon - $32.5 mil
Derian Hatcher - $30 mil
And those certainly seemed like good deals at the time, although slightly pricey.
Now when you get to thinking about a long-term deal, these were the longest of the long prior to last year. How many of these players were worth the money in years 3, 4 & 5?
6 years: Darius Kasparaitis, $27 mil
5 years: 17 players
Bill Guerin, DAL, $45 mil
Bobby Holik, NYR, $45 mil
Sergei Fedorov, ANA, $40 mil
Jeremy Roenick, PHI, $37.5 mil
Zdeno Chara, BOS, $37.5 mil
Pierre Turgeon, DAL, $32.5 mil
Ed Jovanovski, PHO, $32.5 mil
Derian Hatcher, DET, $30 mil
Robert Lang, WAS, $25 mil
Sergei Gonchar, PIT, $25 mil
Jason Arnott, NAS, $22.5 mil
Mike Rathje, PHI, $17.5 mil
Jyrki Lumme, PHO, $17 mil
Vaclav Prospal, ANA, $16.5 mil
Todd Marchant, CBJ, $14.5 mil
Mark Parrish, MIN, $13.25 mil
Luke Richardson, PHI, $12.6 mil
Sure the current UFAs are younger in many cases but now instead of five-year deals we're talking about six and seven-year deals which will take a player into his mid-30s and in some cases beyond.
Getting back to this year’s crop, you can count the number of top three defenders available on one hand.
Ninety-nine D-men averaged over twenty minutes per game this year and only six are on the market.
There’s only one goalie who could start for my team and he’s thirty-three.
If I’m sounding repetitive, it’s only because I’m trying to perform my civic duty to teams everywhere.
It’s not quite The Alamo, but “Remember July 2002”:
Bill Guerin signs with Dallas - 5 yrs, $45 mil
Bobby Holik signs with NY Rangers - 5 yrs, $45 mil
Curtis Joseph signs with Detroit - 3 yrs, $24 mil
Ed Belfour signs with Toronto - 2 yrs, $13.5 mil
Tony Amonte signs with Phoenix - 4 yrs, $24 mil
Robert Lang signs with Washington - 5 yrs, $25 mil
Darius Kasparaitis signs with NY Rangers - 6 yrs, $27 mil
Theo Fleury signs with Chicago - 2 yrs, $8.5 mil
Adam Oates signs with Anaheim - 1 yr, $3.5 mil
Scott Young signs with Dallas - 2 yrs, $7 mil
Luke Richardson signs with Columbus - 4 yrs, $11 mil
Andrew Cassels signs with Columbus - 1 yrs, $2.6 mil
Richard Smehlik signs with Atlanta - 3 yrs, $7.5 mil
Philippe Boucher signs with Dallas - 4 yrs, $9.5 mil
Randy McKay signs with Montreal - 2 yrs, $4.25 mil
Scott Lachance signs with Columbus - 4 yrs, $8 mil
How many of those signings worked out well?
Save yourself a boatload of cash - turn off your ringer, go pick up some burgers and beer and celebrate Canada Day the right way with your friends and family. In 48 hours once sanity is restored, that’s the time to start looking for real value and finding the right role players to fit in with your team for the right price.
Now, you’re probably not going to listen to me anyways but just don’t say I didn’t warn you...
Danny - [email protected]