Wednesday, July 10, 2013

For a Few Dollars More - A Look at David Clarkson's Contract

The general consensus regarding David Clarkson’s new deal seems to be something along the lines of – we are happy to have him in Toronto, we just wish it wasn't for seven years. The yearly cap hit of $5.25 million feels reasonable, if only it were for 4 or 5 years.

On the ice Clarkson is almost certainly an upgrade to the team’s forward group and affords Carlyle significant flexibility in how he decides to set up the lines. He showed in New Jersey his ability to play in a variety of capacities, either as a top six scoring winger, or in a checking role. His special teams impact has been made largely on the power play, as he has only played 6 minutes, in his entire career, shorthanded.

In trying to wrap my head around the contract and whether it will represent a good investment for the team I think it is useful to break up the deal into two parts – the first 4 years and the final 3.

The back portion of this deal, between 2017 to 2020 will likely not be friendly to the Maple Leafs. Today’s NHL salary cap sits at $64,300,000, meaning he represents 8.2 percent of the space. If we assume, for the purpose of discussion, that the cap rises by 5 percent per year we can surmise that by 2017 the cap would sit at approximately $75,000,000. At that number Clarkson's salary would account for 7% of the cap. A lesser number of course, but still a substantial amount of the available dollars.

I wanted to look at the two parts of the deal in comparison to other players who make in and around what Clarkson does annually. Using these players as comparables we can begin to understand if David’s deal is in line with others. Of course his contract was inked as an unrestricted free agent, which often results in more considerable cap hits. To me this fact is somewhat erroneous, since signing too many lucrative UFA contracts is a surefire way to cap mismanagement. For the sake of this comparison we will not consider whether the player signed a RFA or UFA deal, focusing only on how the deal’s cap hit effects the team – essentially in a vacuum.

Some comparables, courtesy of cap geek are:

With the exception of David Krejci all of the contracts are at least 5 years in length. The Evander Kane and Jamie Benn contracts have been handed out as long term deals where there is a real possibility that both players will outperform their cap hit at some point. Kane and Benn will be eligible for unrestricted free agency at the age of 28 and no doubt will be in search of a long term, big money deal.

Objectively, comparing dollar to dollar, I would prefer to have either Benn or Kane in comparison to Clarkson. This is somewhat unfair, since they were signed by their teams at the end of ELCs, however, for this post we are looking at pure dollar value, irrespective of when the deal was signed.

Joffrey Lupul is an interesting comparable - his annual cap hit felt warranted on the heels of a 66 game 2011-12 season where he recorded 25 goals and 42 assistants, blossoming into one of the more offensively gifted players in the league. However, the deal will carry Lupul into his mid 30s, that for a player that has struggled with injuries and consistency. I would have preferred a 3 or 4 year deal if possible. It is difficult to say who I would rather have of these two at the same cap figure, let’s call it a tie.

The two mammoth contracts on this list are that of Jeff Carter and Marian Hossa. I am bit of a Hossa fanboy, considering him one of the most underrated superstars of the 2000s and beyond. Having said that, this contract represents significant risk for Chicago as Hossa moves into his mid to late 30s. With two Stanley cup wins, due in no small part to the presence of Hossa, it’s is unlikely the Blackhawks are overly concerned with the long term ramifications. Over the next year or so I would lean towards Hossa, seeing him as top end player. However, Clarkson may represent the better value in years 2,3,4. For now I’ll have to call it wash, again.  

In the case of Carter we again have a team that was successful in winning a cup with him playing a large role. At 28 he still has, at least in theory, many productive years ahead of him. I don’t think he was the type of player that should have commanded this type of term and dollars. Saying that, he is significant talent that can do things on the ice Clarkson likely can’t. Carter’s goal scoring over the past 5 seasons has been elite, registering 46, 33, 36, 31 (pro-rated) and 44 (pro-rated). That level of production to me makes him the better choice over Clarkson.

Lastly, we have the newly signed contract of Nathan Horton. The seven year length of this contract feels head scratchingly (if thats a word) long for a player who has struggled with serious concussion symptoms. Over the past 5 seasons Nathan has only played over 67 games once. When at his best Horton can be an extremely effective player, but to commit this kind of dollars and term felt overzealous on the part of the Blue Jackets. I suppose they are a smaller market team, and attracting free agents may be difficult, but I would have overpaid elsewhere. My preference is David Clarkson, based in large part on the long term health concerns surrounding Horton.

To sum up, of the 6 contracts I looked at Benn, Kane, and Carter all appear to be more value than Clarkson. Lupul and Hossa's deals moving forward are close to a tie in value, while I would take Clarkson’s contract outright over the one signed by fellow UFA Horton. 

This comparison, while admittedly not all encompassing (one mans opinion), seems to be somewhat in line with the prevailing belief that the Leafs overpaid to get what was the biggest fish in the pond that is free agency. If the salary cap increases substantially there is a chance that Clarkson’s deal can shift to a considerably lower percentage of the cap as his skills diminish and he takes on a lesser role with the team.

Conversely, should the salary cap rise slowly, at or below 5% per year, this contract could become increasingly painful for the Maple Leafs. Only time will tell, perhaps we should all take a lesson from Dave Nonis and worry about the future some other time... like in the future.

“I’m not worried about six or seven right now….I’m worried about one. And Year 1, I know we’re going to have a very good player. I believe that he’s got a lot of good years left in him.” – Dave Nonis

Here’s hoping Dave.


Hope_Smoke said...

Leafs win a Cup with Clarkson in these first four years (like both Hossa and Carter) then this is a great deal. Otherwise, years 5, 6 & 7 are going to be awfully long. Saying that, I agree with you, Clarkson makes the Leafs better immediately.

Darren K said...

For sure – winning a cup is the cure all for long contracts. I remember talking to a friend midway through the LA – New Jersey final and agreeing that if the Devils had won we would have to deem the Kovalchuk contract a success, as weird as that is to say.

Hope_Smoke said...

Speaking of Kovalchuk...

Anonymous said...

If the Leafs didnt sign him at that rate, someone else would have. so you want him on your team, or you want to play against him. we have seen him play against the Leafs, tough nut!! glad he is here, for whatever cost!!