Each and every one of us is looking to maximize our value in life. You’re constantly on the lookout for the “best bang for your buck”, whether it be buying a new car, getting a good deal on groceries, or for hockey fans, maybe a new pair of skates or an NHL Network subscription. Such is life, and it is no different for front office executives around the league. The assets that they deal in are player contracts, and they fail or succeed by how much production they can squeeze out of each player while staying under the salary cap limit or a team-imposed budget. While you cannot really quantify the entire production of any hockey player, the best metric to analyze value is simply dollars spent per point. This shows you just how valuable a player is compared to their contract, by displaying their offensive production as a function of their contract.
The benchmark for this metric is about $100K/point, as GM’s expect those big-time forwards and offensive defenseman who they award with $6MM, $7MM, and $8MM per year contracts to be putting up 60, 70, or 80 points respectively. Last season, some of the league’s best players like Patrice Bergeron, Vladamir Tarasenko and Oliver Ekman-Larsson came in right around that mark. It also is a fair assessment for energy line players, aging veterans and entry-level players, whose deals are often under $1MM, leaving teams ecstatic when those players can become major point producers even though they are only expected to contribute few points. With this benchmark in mind, you’ll be astounded by some of the best value deals in the NHL in 2015-16.
Value is the reason why teams love impact rookies and All-Star caliber young players, and no entry-level deal payed off more last season than Calder Trophy winner Artemi Panarin. Skating alongside two of the game’s greats, Panarin put up 77 points in his first NHL season, while playing with an $812.5K cap hit. That comes out to a league-best $10,552/point, almost ten times greater than the average rate. Even better news for Chicago: they still have one year left of that deal. The only entry-level player with more points than Panarin last season was Johnny Gaudreau, who scored 78 points at a rate of $11,859/per point (3rd best in the NHL), and the Calgary Flames are surely finding out this off-season that you pay for past value in that second contract. This is also the case for the 2nd-best value in the league, Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov, who scored only 66 points, but at an entry-level price tag of $712K and now finds himself in line for a big raise. In fact, the entire top ten and 37 of the top 50 cost/point leaders were on entry-level contracts last season, and many of those players, such as Vincent Trocheck (#4), Filip Forsberg (#5), Mark Scheifele (#6), and Victor Rask (#7), will all see their value decrease in the first year of expensive new extensions. Young players joining Panarin in continuing to be hockey’s “best bang for your buck” in 2016-17 are 2015 top picks Connor McDavid (#17) and Jack Eichel (#11), as well as Coyotes teammates Max Domi (#12) and Anthony Duclair (#14) and surprise rookie sensation Shayne Gostisbehere (#19).
There can still be value found in veteran players, however. Year after year, it seems that Lee Stempniak is always one of those players, as the veteran journeyman consistently outplays the modest contracts he is given. In 2015-16, Stempniak was the 13th best value in the league (#1 among standard contracts) at less than $17K/point, as he had 51 points playing on a one-year, $850K deal. He even provided additional value to the New Jersey Devils in the form of 2nd-round and 4th-round picks that they acquired from the Bruins when they traded Stempniak at the deadline. His teammate in Boston, Ryan Spooner, was second among standard-contract players, scoring 49 points in the first year of a two-year bridge deal with the Bruins that carries a cap hit of $950K. Expect Spooner to be back in the top 20 again next season. And of course who could forget Matt Cullen who, at 39, was often referred to as the best value in hockey last season, as his 32 points playing on a veteran’s contract of $800K was a big piece of the puzzle for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they marched to a Stanley Cup championship.
With the good comes the bad, and for every great young player or surprise veteran that provides their club with great value, there are overpaid players who don’t perform or role players who never seem to find their role there to bring them down. In 2015-16, no player epitomized a lack of value like Tuomo Ruutu. Once a consistent two-way player capable of producing 30 to 50 points per season, the wheels had completely fallen off of the wagon for Ruutu well before entering the final season of a four-year, $19MM contract. In 33 games with Devils, Ruutu had just one assist (and was a -7) for a cost/point ratio of his entire cap hit, $4.75MM. Not to be outdone, Florida’s Garrett Wilson did not record a single point in 29 contests for the Panthers, thus producing an incalculable value metric, which is hard to swallow even for a player with a $675K cap hit. Tom Gilbert and Boyd Gordon are two more who struggled mightily to provide scoring value to their teams in 2015-16.
While statistics and analytics in hockey are normally geared toward displaying on-ice production, it is always interesting to look at the game from a business perspective. It is important for teams and fans alike to understand not just the absolute of how a player is producing, but the relative value of that production based on how much money that player is being paid. In a salary cap league, there is nothing more important that production value, and as the game grows the focus will only further tighten on scoring as a function of dollars and the cost per point metric. For more reading, check out the complete list of players at CapFriendly.com.