By: Chris Dagonas
This is our first edition of the NHL Trade Value Rankings, wherein Chris will discuss the 50 most valuable players in the NHL in terms of their production, age, and contract. In theory, the player who finishes number 1 is considered untradeable for any other player. So, for example, the team that owns player number 15 would not want to trade him for anyone ranked lower on the list, but would entertain offers for the players ahead on the list (No. 14 to No.1). And so on.
The criteria is simply as follows:
Age – In the NHL, youth is a huge advantage (forget all that “experience has value” talk). A younger guy can play all season, longer and more shifts, and has the advantage of discovering potential rather than losing abilities. In addition, a younger player is (usually) under a more team-friendly contract than an older player, and that has value in and of itself. Which brings us to…
Contract – Like any other sport, a player’s value can be seen as some sort of crazy mathematical equation involving their age, contract, and production. The NHL has a salary cap, so how much you pay a guy matters. The length of the contract matters too. Paying a low amount for a long time is the best, but super rare. Paying a lot of money for a long time is the worst, and much more common. Lastly, there are various clauses that the NHLPA has managed to work into contracts that diminish team-friendly value. A no-trade clause could hamstring a team looking to trade players for future assets, while a no movement clause means that the player can’t be traded, demoted to the AHL, or released, regardless of the circumstances. But above all, production matters. So what does it mean to produce?
Production – Glad you asked. In hockey, different positions have different statistical expectations. A goaltender doesn’t score goals, a forward doesn’t make saves, and a defenseman can score points, but usually not at the same rate as a forward. I have looked at points and plus/minus for the forwards and defenders, and Goals Against Average and Save Percentage for the goaltenders. Shocking, I know. Corsi numbers are somewhat useful, and I have consulted them, but overall they generally present vague conclusions similar to puck possession numbers, and can greatly benefit a weak player on a good line, while hurting a good player on a poor team.
Before we get into the top 50, I left some room to discuss players who did not make the list, for one reason or another. Some are overpaid, some are still proving themselves, some are past their primes and therefore carry less trade value than real world value.
AWESOME ENTRY LEVEL CONTRACTS
Jonas Brodin – AGE: 20 – CAP HIT 1.45 million – TERM: Signed until 2015 (Restricted Free Agent)
The big Swede has the potential to be one of NHL’s best blueliners in the next few years, and some Minnesota Wild watchers were already pitching him as a star-in-the-making last season.
Brendan Gallagher – AGE: 21 – CAP HIT: 870,000 – TERM: Signed until 2015 (RFA)
The scrappy little winger brought high energy and no fear to the Canadiens last season. A Theo Fleury-type of player, who knows how to use his speed and footwork to rush the net, but is not afraid to mix it up with the big boys. A Calder trophy finalist last season.
Brandon Saad – AGE: 20 – CAP HIT: 894,000 – TERM: Signed until 2015 (RFA)
Damn those Blackhawks. It isn’t enough to have Toews and Kane, but you also get to have an up-and-comer like Saad. He was a Calder trophy finalist last season, and has 25-goal potential with two-way skills.
Cory Conacher – AGE: 23 – CAP HIT: 925,000 – TERM: Signed until 2014 (RFA)
Conacher finished last season second in rookie scoring, and provided a late-season spark for the Ottawa Senators after being traded over from Tampa Bay.
Jonathan Huberdeau – AGE: 20 – CAP HIT: 3.2 million – TERM: Signed until 2015 (RFA)
Huberdeau was last season’s Calder trophy winner, a front-line centre with plenty of skill and potential. His is pricier than many other rookie contracts, but if his development continues as expected, that 3 million might look like a bargain.
SOME TOP GOALIES
Jimmy Howard – AGE: 29 – CAP HIT: 5.3 million – TERM: Signed until 2019 (No Movement Clause)
Howard is a very good goaltender, who happens to play behind an excellent defensive team. In hockey, the most team-independent stat is save percentage (and it’s still not perfect either) and Howard’s save percentage is pretty average. Pro hockey is full of guys who are stars in particular systems, but fail when moved elsewhere. Plenty of New Jersey Devil ex-forwards are prime examples (let’s hope David Clarkson isn’t the latest one, eh, Leafs fans). In short, Howard is a useful cog in a well-oiled machine, but he could easily be replaced with virtually half of the league’s starting goalies without the Red Wings missing a beat.
Tuukka Rask – AGE: 26 – CAP HIT: 7 million – TERM: Signed until 2021 (various movement clauses)
Rask is about to start a long-term deal that pays him handsomely as the most expensive goaltender in the league. Given the dollar amount and term, one would like to have seen Rask play a little more. He benefitted greatly from a stout defense, but that will not always be the case in front of him. How will his stats look when the Bruins are an average defensive team? Will that seven million be justified?
Henrik Lundqvist – AGE: 31 – CAP HIT: 6.875 million – TERM: Signed until 2014
King Henrik is in the last year of his first NHL contract after several years in Sweden. The Rangers are unlikely to trade him, so re-signing him will be a top priority this season. You can’t let a once-in-a-generation goaltender like this go easy, so you can expect more-than-Rask money being thrown at him, and the Rangers will likely want to settle things early, not wait for next summer.
Carey Price – AGE: 25 – CAP HIT: 6.5 million – TERM: Signed until 2018
Price is the youngest of the NHL’s best goaltenders, no doubt about that. But he did suffer some serious regression this past season, and his playoff stats were even worse. I know the Canadiens want a franchise goalie to pick up the Patrick Roy mantle (remember the years of Cristobal Huet?) and they want Price to be that goalie. Whether he is or not remains to be seen, and for 6.5 million per year, that’s a pricey experiment.
Sergei Bobrovsky – AGE: 24 – CAP HIT: 5.625 million – TERM: Signed until 2015
I like Bobrovsky. I love Jay Onrait’s “BOBROVSKY!” quips. But signing a top-level goaltender before having a competitive group of skaters is like a last-place baseball team throwing big money at an elite closer. The Blue Jackets have some big problems elsewhere on the ice. Bobrovsky will be solid, but his supporting cast is weak, and Bobrovsky will be wise to move on as soon as possible.
Martin St. Louis – AGE: 38 – CAP HIT: 5.625 million – TERM: Signed until 2015 (No Movement Clause)
Mini-Mart (I think I just made that up) was, incredibly, the league’s top point-getter last season (he would have finished second to Crosby, had the kid stayed healthy) and is showing no signs of slowing down. His best season came at the age of 31, and his second best season at the age of 35! I would love to have him on my team, and realistically an argument can be made to include him on the list, since his salary is lower than many other less-efficient players. Nevertheless, at the age of 38, he’s one big hit or one pulled muscle away from an extreme dip in skills. Oh, also, he plays with Steven Stamkos, who creates almost as big a sphere of positive influence as does Sidney Crosby. That doesn’t explain it all, but it helps.
Joe Thornton – AGE: 34 – CAP HIT: 7 million – TERM: Signed until 2014
Big Joe is entering his final year of a 3 year/21 million contract. He holds a no movement clause, but I wonder if the Sharks will ask him to waive it? Or are they gearing up for one more run at the Cup? OR are they thinking of keeping him at a severe discount on his next contract, something more like 4 to 5 million per year for 3-4 years, max. That would be reasonable, but anything more would be misguided/delusional.
Zdeno Chara – AGE: 36 – CAP HIT: 6.9 million – TERM: Signed until 2018 (NMC)
We all saw last season that Chara is still a stalwart defender who can carry a team through the season (and playoffs), but he’s really on his last legs. Some critics said he was already starting to lose some effectiveness towards the end of the Bruins’ playoff run. I don’t know what he will look like when this contract expires, at the age of 41, but I don’t think it will be pretty. (OK, he was never pretty, but I mean pretty in hockey terms).
AGING STARS SUB-CATEGORY: THE SEDINS
Daniel Sedin – AGE: 32 – CAP HIT 6.1 million: TERM: Signed until 2014
Henrik Sedin – AGE: 32 – CAP HIT: 6.1 million: TERM: Signed until 2014
The Sedin twins, as usual, are likely to move on together after this season. Vancouver’s championship window will be closed by then, if it’s not closed already. Since they want to play together, they are more likely to receive something like 5 million each per season, on shorter deals. But the notion that having these two on your team to lead you to a championship is long gone.
Mike Richards – AGE: 28 – CAP HIT: 5.75 million – TERM: Signed until 2020
Jeff Carter – AGE: 28 – CAP HIT: 5.27 million – TERM: Signed until 2022
The Kings are not necessarily stuck to these contracts (neither player has any movement clauses) but good luck trying to find a taker on these loooooong contracts for average production. Usually Philadelphia is the team to take on the bad contracts (see Lecavalier, Vincent) but they dodged a bullet getting the best production from these two on their rookie deals, then trading them to the Kings in two separate deals. If you’re thinking that Carter and Richards give you more than just points, I can point to a dozen other centres who are solid two-way players and are not paid over 5 million, or signed over the next decade. I don’t buy it.
Alexander Semin – AGE: 29 – CAP HIT: 7 million – TERM: Signed until 2018
Semin signed a series of one year contracts with the Capitals and Hurricanes before Carolina actually locked him up for 5 years. He played second fiddle to Ovechkin in Washington, now plays second fiddle to Eric Staal. Semin is probably not a quality team’s number one option, but is definitely overpaid to be a number two option. On the plus side, he can be moved later in his contract to a team that can take on his contract and needs some secondary scoring.
Joffrey Lupul – AGE: 29 – CAP HIT: 5.25 million – TERM: Signed until 2018 (Limited No Trade Clause)
Lupul probably will never give you the same production as Semin, but he has given point-per-game production the past two seasons. His contract is a little more team-friendly than Semin’s, albeit one with more player control over transactions. It comes down to a matter of cost-versus-production; would I want Semin on my team? Sure. But Lupul provides almost the same stats, for almost two million dollars less. In a salary cap world, Lupul and Semin are virtually indistinguishable.
James Neal – AGE: 25 – CAP HIT: 5 million – TERM: Signed until 2018 (Modified NTC)
Playing with Crosby has made him a 40-goal scorer, but realistically he is a 25-30 goal scorer. His contract puts him in a similar category as better scorers. Lesson being: in a contract year, get on Sidney Crosby’s line.
Andrew Ladd – AGE: 27 – CAP HIT: 4.4 million – TERM: Signed until 2016 (Modified NTC)
Ladd has a pretty decent contract for who he is: a 25-30 goal scorer with some 2-way skills. He has never really shone, doomed to play third-line minutes with the Blackhawks in his younger years before moving to hockey hotbed Atlanta for a season until the Thrashers packed up and flew north to Winnipeg. Now that people are actually paying attention to him, Ladd has grown into a versatile forward. He can play special-team minutes and is not afraid to get physical. Plus, the Jets could easily move him in a couple of seasons, if they’re tanking and a contender comes knocking.
With no further adieu, I present to you:
THE TOP 50-ish
50. Jakub Voracek – AGE: 23 – CAP HIT: 4.25 million – TERM: Signed until 2016.
I’m not sure about this one, by any means. Voracek is young, which is positive. His contract has no clauses, which is positive. But what kind of player is he? He scored more goals last season, in just 48 games, than in any other full season. His shot percentage was way higher than career norms last season, so he should return to earth in the future. Right? OR is he just on the cusp of achieving his full potential, being a 30 goal guy under team control for three more seasons at a very reasonable price? It is the Flyers, so I’m inclined to believe (and root for) the first outcome. I have no clue, but it’s intriguing enough to crack the top 50.
49. David Krejci – AGE: 27 – CAP HIT: 5.25 million – TERM: Signed until 2015 (Modified NTC)
Krejci sure burst on the scene during the Bruins’ playoff run last season; he led the NHL in playoff points. His stats also compare favourably with teammate’s Patrice Bergeron, he of the 6.5 million dollar per year contract extension. The Bruins will likely look to keep him on their roster, but shelling out 6.5 million for 60-70 points (Bergeron’s deal) would be a gross overpayment.
CATEGORY 15: TRADE BAIT ALL-STARS
48. Brian Elliott – AGE: 28 – CAP HIT: 1.8 million – TERM: Signed until 2014
The St. Louis Blues have to make a choice between Elliott and teammate Jaroslav Halak, as both are due to be UFA’s after this season. Halak has a higher cap hit, and more proven production, meaning Elliott could be moved to a number of teams in the coming season. Since the Blues stand to benefit greatly from Elliott and his friendly contract, he moves ahead of other, more talented goaltenders.
47. Jason Pominville – AGE: 30 – CAP HIT: 5.3 million – TERM: Signed until 2014 (NMC/Modified NTC)
Unless he is willing to take a smaller contract to stay with the Wild, he will probably be shopped around quite a bit in the spring. Can play both ways, good for 25-30 goals a season, and rarely misses games.
46. Matt Moulson – AGE: 29 – CAP HIT: 3.133 million – TERM: Signed until 2014
Moulson is in the last year of his deal, and was the best point-per-dollar player in NHL last season. The Islanders probably want to make room for Michael Grabner on the number one line with Tavares, which might make Moulson expendable. He has missed one game in the past 4 seasons, and is good for 30 goals a year on a top line. He was also a Lady Byng candidate last year, meaning he does not take stupid penalties (or many penalties at all, for that matter). Contending teams should be lining up for Moulson.
CATEGORY 14: GOOD KID, BAAD CONTRACT
45. Jason Spezza – AGE: 30 – CAP HIT: 7 million – TERM: Signed until 2015 (NTC)
The giggly centre has been an Ottawa mainstay for a decade now, but has struggled to remain healthy throughout his career. He missed all but five games last season with a back injury, and a back injury is the sort of injury that lingers. He has only played 82 games once in his NHL career, and with the departure of Daniel Alfredsson to Detroit, Spezza will likely be asked to don the “C” for the playoff-bound Senators. All that responsibility, and all that money, and the Senators will fairly ask that Spezza stays healthy and provides at least 75 points over a full season, while generating some chemistry with new arrival Bobby Ryan.
44. Henrik Zetterberg – AGE: 32 – CAP HIT: 6.083 million – TERM: Signed until 2021
I know Zetterberg is a legend to Detroit fans, so leaving him out of the top 50 would be blasphemous to them. But the facts are what they are; He’s on the wrong side of 30, he makes more than Taylor Hall, and he’s signed until the age of 39! His only value may be that he’s a movable piece later in his career to a championship-seeking team (by then, I’m thinking the Oilers).
43. Pavel Datsyuk – AGE: 35 – CAP HIT: 6.7 million this season, 7.5 million afterwards TERM: Signed until 2017 (NMC)
7.5 million a year for a post-35 Datsyuk? He is still an effective player, one of the top 10 centres in the game, but how much longer could that possibly last? The July signing of Stephen Weiss signals the beginning of the end of the Datsyuk-led Red Wings, but keeping him on at such a big salary to be a second-line centre seems crazy.
42. Rick Nash – AGE: 29 – CAP HIT: 7.84 million – TERM: Signed until 2018 (NMC to 2015, NTC to 2018)
Nash has a reputation as a “40 goal scorer”. Pundits and fans alike tend to toss that term around when discussing Nash, especially when he was made available by the Blue Jackets a couple of years ago. But Nash has only scored 40 once, and in the 30s several times. He maybe would have reached 40 if last season was a full season, but that’s no guarantee. Compared to other guys who finish in the 30s, Nash is paid about 1-2 million a year higher. He’s not really a useful defensive forward, so Nash needs to score consistently in the 40s in order for this contract to be worth it. Since he’s already 29, I don’t really see that happening unless he gets paired with a centre whose name rhymes with Shmidney Shmosby.
41. Claude Giroux – AGE: 25 – CAP HIT: 3.75 million this season, 8.275 million afterwards – TERM: Signed until 2022 (NMC)
Did the Flyers sign a bad contract? Probably, but that’s no surprise. I like Giroux, don’t get me wrong. He doesn’t miss many games, and he’s a big time playoff performer. But he was still going to be a restricted free agent at the end of this season, meaning there was no real reason to throw Crosby-type money at him so soon. The Flyers have a long track record of this sort of over-spending, and Giroux is just another example of that.
40. Nicklas Backstrom – AGE: 25 – CAP HIT: 6.7 million – TERM: Signed until 2020 (Modified NTC)
Backstrom is making all-star money, but offers inconsistent production. He benefitted greatly from signing his deal in 2010, the year after scoring 101 points in 82 games. Since then, he’s only played a full season once, and has not even sniffed that production rate again. The Capitals are paying Backstrom more to be a number two option than a lot of teams are paying their number one options. This is not a good contract for the Capitals, but kudos to Backstrom for heating up at the right time.
CATEGORY 12: “25 SITTING ON 25 MIL.”
39. Brad Marchand – AGE: 25 – CAP HIT: 4.5 million – TERM: Signed until 2017 (NTC)
Marchand is the kind of guy you want to play with, but hate to play against. He’s a super-pest, but has also improved his offensive game considerably, making him a very valuable player. I think he can develop into a near point-per-game player in the right circumstances. He’ll never be your number one offensive threat, but at 4.5 million, you’d take what he offers.
38. Chris Stewart – AGE: 25 – CAP HIT: 4 million – TERM: Signed until 2015
Stewart earned a nice bump up to just over 4 million a year for the next two years. St. Louis wants to see what exactly Stewart can do given a full season, before splashing bigger cash on him. If he can follow through on his 30-40 goal potential, he will be worth 5 to 6 million a season on the open market in 2015. Until then, St. Louis might get that for a fraction of what its worth.
37. Bobby Ryan – AGE: 26 – CAP HIT: 5.1 million – TERM: Signed until 2015
Ryan was just traded from the Anaheim Ducks to the Ottawa Senators, and most of the world agreed that the Senators had pulled off quite a swoop. He is a steady 30-goal scorer and is signed to one of hockey’s most team-friendly contracts. Since the Ducks have invested much more in Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan had to go.
36. Anze Kopitar – AGE: 25 – CAP HIT: 6.8 million – TERM: Signed until 2016
The centre of the Kings’ offense, and young enough to have significant value beyond this contract, Kopitar has quietly become one of the league’s best young centres. He is also an iron man, having missed just 8 games since the 2007-08 season. Kopitar will probably have to move on from Los Angeles in 2016, as they already have over 10 million committed to Jeff Carter and Mike Richards on huge contracts. Like the Ducks did with Bobby Ryan, the Kings may be looking to deal Kopitar in a couple of seasons rather than lose him for nothing.
That’s it for Part 1. Check back tomorrow for Part 2 with the rest of your favourite NHL Stars.