With the reports of a huge financial gap between the two parties, it seems quite likely that Brian Dumoulin will reach his arbitration date. Whether the team can hammer out a deal before needing to accept that decision remains to be seen. They are still far apart in terms of value according to Elliotte Friedman, as the team only offered $1.95 MM compared to his agent’s number of $4.35 MM. Dumoulin has been a mainstay in Pittsburgh for their two Stanley Cup runs, but he has a difficult quantitative case to make to earn the money he is seeking.
Dumoulin was huge in the absence of Kris Letang. When the Penguins’ top defender was again sidelined to injury, Dumoulin’s ice-time skyrocketed to first-pairing usage. He finished the season with an average ice time of 20:33, but often saw far more down the stretch. In the playoffs, he averaged 21:59. Those are the numbers of an upper echelon second-pairing defenseman, but when you consider that he almost never sees powerplay time, and the defensive situations he is trusted in, he’s a borderline top-pairing player.
Dumoulin isn’t an offensive force in any regard. He’s only tallied 33 points through his 163 regular season games played, and 3 of his 5 career goals come from post-season action. Still, he can move the puck with relative efficiency and can be relied on to tally a little under 20 assists a season.
Dumoulin faces tough quality-of-competition, and that will be his biggest argument for the compensation he is seeking. However, his Corsi and Fenwick, the most utilized advanced statistics, don’t show improvement for the player last year. When these stats are taken without context, Dumoulin’s 2016-17 playoffs was his worst outing to date. He had a brutal 41.2% Corsi For through 25 post-season contests, down from his 2015-16 run’s 52.8%. His regular season totals showed a less drastic ’decline’, but the tougher minutes and far greater shots allowed team-wide brought his advanced statistics back down to merely average. He has shots blocked (99) and penalty killing prowess to turn to, but those are difficult figures to primarily base a case for a raise upon.
Here are some comparable players and their contracts.
Travis Hamonic (Calgary) – Although it may seem an odd comparison to some, the underlying numbers for these players aren’t dissimilar. Both have never broken 5 goals in a season and neither scores a particularly impressive amount of points. They are physical without being intimaditing and can skate well enough to survive in today’s NHL. They both block shots with consistency and contribute over 20 minutes of icetime a night. Hamonic signed his long-term deal worth $3.86 MM all the way back in 2013, which was a bit of an overpayment at the time in hopes of keeping the AAV down as he progressed. This seems a little under what most players with the skillset are looking for in 2017, but it’s an interesting parallel.
Calvin de Haan (NY Islanders) – Dumoulin’s contract will be a bit of a barometer for the Isles’ de Haan, as it will show the direction the arbiters are leaning on not-so-flashy defenders. As the only other RFA defenseman other than Vegas’ Nate Schmidt likely to earn more than $2 MM, de Haan and the Islanders will be watching the outcome of this case to determine who has greater leverage. De Haan still has great upside, but has played in a far more sheltered role on a deep defense.
Cody Ceci (Ottawa) – Ceci is not considered to be quite the asset that Dumoulin is, but seeing as his contract was awarded merely a year ago, this sort of bargain is what the Penguins are likely aiming toward. Ceci signed a two-year deal worth only $2.8 MM a season, after a 10 goal, 26 point season where he averaged nearly 19 minutes a night. Dumoulin has never seen that kind of production, but up until last season comparatively played against greater competition. Ceci is due for another arbitration hearing at the conclusion of the 2017-18 campaign, as his past contract was a sort of bridge deal.
Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg) – Again, another bargain for a defenseman that was handed out last season. Trouba’s negotiations dragged on into the regular season, before he finally accepted a two-year agreement, with the first year at $3.31 MM and the second year at $2.81 MM. Trouba is much more offensive than Dumoulin, but has generally seen more icetime and a similar difficulty of competition. Just like the Penguins, there was a large degree of disagreement in the financial value of the player between the organization and the agent. Dumoulin has championship pedigree to tout at his hearing, however, whereas Trouba was largely banking on his potential as a former first-rounder.
Dumoulin is an interesting case because he is undoubtedly an integral piece of the Pittsburgh blueline, but has little outside of truly advanced statistics to prove his case. How much will their championship runs inflate his value? How much is a stay-at-home defender worth, especially when his possession numbers have taken a hit?
Ultimately, if Dumoulin were a UFA rather than a RFA, he’d easily attract contract offers around $5 MM. As an RFA however, his predecessors haven’t seen a whole lot of success in proving their case. Shots blocked and plus minus are nice, but considering the trend of the league, they are not going to benefit his standing all that much. A lot of Dumoulin’s value is hard to quantify, and there’s the very real possibility that his bargaining position suffers as a result. Ultimately, his exposure in two long playoff runs will bring his value back to a fairer mark, and he will earn far more than the team’s ask of $1.9 MM. Somewhere in the range of $3 MM seems the likely award if the arbitration decision is actually needed. However, it’s unlikely that the parties don’t come to a longer-term agreement before that time. The Penguins need to lock him down as part of their defense, and a multi-year contract at around $4 MM is probable. GM Jim Rutherford will likely posture til the last conceivable minute, but his internal value is far too great to risk him walking in summer free agency in the next two years.