Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Marian Gaborik's contract could net Kings 5-20% cap savings

The news just came out that Marian Gaborik has signed a 7-year, $4.875m AAV contract extension with the Kings. He's 32 years old now, and will be 39 by contract's end. There's a good chance he'll be retired before it's over.

If the Kings are smart (they are), they're structure the deal as front-loaded, as follows:

Years 1-3: $6,500,000
Year 4: $4,875,000
Years 5-7: $3,250,000

This is, as far as I can tell, the most front-loaded, cap-friendly structure the CBA allows. It allows for the possibility that Gaborik may retire before the contract's up, without causing any cap recapture.

If Gaborik retires after 5 years (age 37), the Kings will have paid him a little over $27.6m for 5 years - a true AAV of $5.525 million, yet they'll only face a $4.875m cap hit. If he retires in just 4 years, that AAV is $6.09m; if he sticks out 6 years, it's a $5.146m AAV.

Regardless, the proper salary structure in this case will allow the Kings to get a cap discount of 5-20%. That's a pretty hefty advantage.

This will be something that any team can take advantage of for star players that are in their early 30s. Just as before with the long-tail contracts, you can get a cap savings by including years where they're likely to be retired. The savings isn't as large as it once was, but it's still substantial.

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edit: the original version of this post had some calculation errors, which have been fixed.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ryan Kesler, and trading in-conference

Elliotte Friedman is reporting today that though the Canucks have many suitors for Ryan Kesler, they'd prefer not to trade him to a Western Conference rival. Of course they aren't; teams, as a matter of course, usually try to trade players outside their conference, or at least not to a division rival. This is the case in other pro sports too.

The main reason is obvious: teams don't want to get beaten or embarrassed by their former stars on a regular basis. It's a good way to enrage a fanbase. If you're a GM, losing a key game or series facing the player you traded is a fireable offence.

Does it stand up to reason, though? I'm not so sure it does. Kesler is 29, and has two more years on his contract. Suppose you trade him to the Blackhawks, and he and Jon Toews form a formidable dynamic duo for a couple of years. Yes, the Canucks will lose a couple of games to that team. But if Vancouver's entering a rebuild - and given that Luongo and Edler's names are out there too, they seem like they are - what's the harm in losing ganes to the Blackhawks in 2014-15? You're not trying to be competitive next year.

More seriously, if you assemble some young talent to aim for contending in, say, 2016-17, doesn't it actually make a lot of sense to send Kesler to Chicago? By that time, he's possibly left them as a UFA, is in his 30s, and you've stripped them of Brandon Saad and a first-rounder (just spitballing here), and knocked them down a notch such that you've got a better chance of winning games against them.

Just a thought, really. It's such a well-worn truism of the trade market but I think people are too wedded to it.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Alex Ovechkin vs. the former Southeast Division

Alex Ovechkin scored a very impressive four goals against the Tampa Bay Lightning last night. They've been one of his favourite opponents over the years; he's scored 70 points against them in 52 career games, his second-highest total against an opposing franchise.

Now, there's no doubt that Ovechkin is a special player, and one of the best of his generation. But has he had an easier time of it because of the fact that he's spent most of his career to date in the brutally awful Southeast Division, which existed up until 2012-13?

Let's consider Ovechkin's numbers against those teams:

Tampa Bay

To put it mildly, that's a massive beating. If you imagine Ovechkin played only SE division opponents, his average 82-game season would be 51 goals and 59 assists, for 110 points.

 Now, consider this:

Eastern Conference
Non-SE Eastern Teams
Western Conference

Ovechkin's performance against the rest of the league drops off significantly. Against the Eastern Conference as a whole, his numbers still look amazing, but if you cut out the SE division, it drops quite a bit. Against the rest of the East, he's a 96-point player; against the West, he's a 94 point player.

That's not to say that playing in the Southeast division has been worth 14 or 16 extra points a season for Ovi; obviously, he doesn't actually have the luxury of playing all 82 games in-division. In the six-division era, teams played about a third of their games against divisional opponents; that's about 27 games. They'd play about 20 games against each of the other two divisions in their conference.

So, in actual fact, Ovi was only playing about 7 extra games against SE opponents than other Eastern teams. If playing the SE division only is worth 15 extra points over 82 games, that means 7 extra games in-division has been worth about 1.3 extra points per season for Ovi versus, say, Sidney Crosby. Versus a Western Conference player, it's more significant - as much as 4 points.

While we like to say that players in the Southeast had a big lift from regular access to punching bags like the Florida Panthers, it's easy to forget that they all had to play plenty of non-divisional games, and that everyone else gets to play the SE division too.

The big difference, really, has been between the two conferences; for most of the six-division era, teams only played each team in the opposite conference once a year, so Western teams got barely any chance to feast on the weak SE divison. So don't pile on Ovechkin for getting easy pickings down South; in fact, it's been the entire Eastern Conference that enjoyed that advantage.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

JP Arencibia: Blue Jays, foolishly, cut a face of the franchise

It's been a quiet off-season for the Blue Jays thus far. The biggest news to this point is yesterday's announcement that Dioner Navarro will be coming in to replace JP Arencibia as the Jays' starting catcher.

The move is perhaps not a surprise. Arencibia's batting regressed last year, striking out 148 times in 497 at-bats, putting up an ugly .194/.227/.365 line. He was only able to pull himself up to a replacement-level 0.1 WAR thanks to good defensive numbers. He's about to turn 28, and we can no longer assume that he'll sort it out and get better. In fact, the league may have sorted him out. He's now likely to land somewhere as a backup catcher and occasional pinch-hitter.

Navarro, his replacement, isn't really an improvement, however. Navarro had a nice 2013, hitting .300 with 13 homers over 240 at-bats, but that's a serious outlier compared to his career line (.251/.313/.371). His defensive numbers don't help him. For the most part, he's the same slightly-better-than-replacement catcher that Arencibia is. He's 29, so, like Arencibia, we know who he is by now. There's not likely any more upside here.

So what's the point? If you're going to re-arrange deck chairs, why not stick with the devil you know?

I make this point because while JP is an underwhelming asset on the field, he rates very well as a clubhouse guy, and most importantly, as a fan favourite. In particular, he's a huge hit with female fans, because he's undeniably one of the prettiest faces in MLB:

Dioner Navarro isn't a bad-looking guy, but he's not going to draw a crowd in the same way. The Blue Jays saw a big upswing in attendance last year, and a lot of that was driven by young fans up in the 500 level - and of those, a large portion were female.

Female fans are smart, and they know baseball. They want the team to win, and they know that JP's strikeouts hurt the team. But they also like to be entertained, and JP does that. When he does add offensive value, it's through home runs - and all fans love those. Dioner Navarro will put together a few more singles and some walks, but he's not going to create excitement. I daresay he's not going to sell a lot of jerseys, either.

JP puts butts in the seats. He was part of the youthful energy that made the Jays a big draw in 2013, and he became a face of the franchise. For female fans who bought "ARENCIBIA 9" t-shirts, he was a key part of forming that bond between fan and team that keeps people coming back. Any way you slice it, he may not have added much on the field but he did earn a profit for the franchise. The money that you earn on Arencibia can then be spent elsewhere on the roster, upgrading the starting rotation or the second base position. If the best you can do is a sideways step to a similarly mediocre catcher, why not stick with the guy that fans love?