Was Staal Worth the Investment

The highlight of what has for the most part been a quiet offseason for the Rangers finally came to pass when the Rangers and RFA Defenseman Marc Staal agreed on a long-term deal. While hoping for a significant upgrade to the offense, specifically a top-line Center, most Blue Shirts fans were more concerned with getting Staal under contract. Many Ranger followers felt that Sather mishandled the RFA negotiations last year with another well-liked kid, Brandon Dubinsky, and were fearful he would do it again with our best defenseman. The best news of the summer was hearing both parties came to what, on the surface anyway, appears to be a fair deal for both sides; a 5 year, $19.875 million deal.

To my surprise, some in the hockey community thought the Rangers overspent for the 3 year veteran. Despite my initial reaction to the doubters out there (intense and visible anger and disbelief), I’ve decided to try to maintain rationality and to look at this with a discerning eye. Thus I went to my favorite websites to gather some info and intel.

As many of you know, I have followed the recent advances into statistical analysis in hockey. While many in the NHL community still view statistical analysis doubtfully, I find the information it brings useful in seeing beyond the usual methods to gauge a player’s value.

My goal here is to see whether the Rangers overpaid for Staal’s services. To do that, I looked at this summer’s signings of free agent defenseman to look for comparables. When trying to identify comparables, I looked at the AAV of the contracts the FA defenseman signed as the primary qualifier.

Of course there were several reasons why Staal’s free agency was different than many of the other free agents from this past summer. Staal is a 23 year-old player just entering into his prime whereas most of the other defenders agreeing to new contracts this offseason are older and are already well established in their primes or entering a decline phase in their career. Staal was also limited in that his RFA status kept him from fully exploiting his “market value.”

In truth, there was only one other player who was nearly identical with his RFA status, experience and production. That player was Niklas Hjalmarsson of the Chicago Blackhawks. We’ll see just how closely the two kid defenders compare along with where Staal rates against some of the other defenseman I found. Here’s a breakdown with the comparable player, the AAV of his new contract, last year’s production (goals, assists, points, PPG and GP), 3 year total production (goals, assists, points, PPG and GP), career +/- rating and last season’s Goals Versus Threshold (GVT) rating.

Player 10-'11 Team Contract AAV 07-'10 GP 07-'10 ppg 09-'10 GP 09-'10 ppg Career +/- 09-'10 GVT
Dennis Seidenberg Boston $3.25 million 196 0.39 79 0.41 -22 3.8
Anton Volchenkov NJD $4.25 million 199 0.20 64 0.22 61 4.7
Henrik Tallinder NJD $3.375 million 219 0.23 82 0.24 46 6.6
James Wisniewski NYI $3.25 million 185 0.43 69 0.43 19 6.1
Dan Hamhuis Van $4.5 million 240 0.32 78 0.31 3 6.8
Paul Martin Pit $5 million 168 0.45 22 0.50 55 4.5
Zbynek Michalek Pit $4 million 229 0.27 72 0.24 -22 4.3
Nik Hjalmarsson Chi $3.5 million 111 0.19 77 0.22 11 6.2
Marc Staal NYR $3.975 million 244 0.21 82 0.33 6 10.4

Here are a few things that stick out.

AAV

Staal ranks 5th among the defenseman above in AAV for 2010 – 2011 with a cap hit of $3.975 million. That’s right in the middle of the pack of 9 players.

PPG

Ranger coach John Tortorella wants his defensemen to be more active in the offensive end pinching in and trying to create offense. At times, Staal struggled with those expectations. Still he bested his career ppg rate by .12 ppg. At 23 years-old, there is still a fairly good chance he can further improve that rate.

GVT

I’ve explained in detail what GVT is (for those of you who need a refresher course, head over to www.puckprospectus.com and look it up for yourself) so won’t bore you with a long refresher. Basically it is the closest thing hockey has to baseball’s Value Over Replacement Player (VORP). The metric gauges a player’s value (offense, defense, goaltending and shootout) while disregarding position. It’s a one-size-fits-all stat. Maybe it isn’t perfect but it’s the best we have in hockey right now.

A look at Staal’s GVT relative to the other defensemen above shows Staal ranking at the top of the class. In fact he placed 9th among all defensemen in the NHL. A case could be made that Staal is in fact a legitimate #1 defenseman……at 23. Yes, I said a #1.

As I mentioned before, Nik Hjalmarsson, by virtue of also being a 3 year vet and a RFA, was probably the closest comparable to Marc Staal in this year’s market. The San Jose Sharks thought highly enough of him in fact to extend an offer sheet to the also 23 year-old blue liner.

A quick comparison between the two shows Staal outperforming Hjalmarsson significantly. Staal was worth 4.2 more goals to the Rangers than Nik was to the Hawks when considering the GVT metric. The Rangers defender also scored .11 ppg more than the young, Swedish defenseman. Hjalmarsson is set to make $3.5 million in each of the next 4 years. Staal is in turn locked up for the next 5 seasons at a rate of under $4 million.

The bottom line is this; no matter how I look at it, the Staal contract is fair in terms of today and also has the potential to be a steal for the Rangers if he improves another tick offensively. A case can be made he was at least as good as any UFA defenseman in the NHL last season and while many of them have already reached their peak, Staal is likely still approaching his. That’s great news to us Rangers fans and bad news for our rivals.

6 Comments

Phil T's picture

Worth every penny

George Prax's picture

Really excellent analysis Glen.

I think, like Phil, that Staal was worth every single penny. There's too much of a focus put on points these days in the NHL. Defensemen bring much more to the table, among others, things you mentioned above. You have to consider not only points, but plus/minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways/takeaways, turnovers, and their effect on a game that we may not be able to calculate in terms of stats.

Staal is everything you want in a defenseman even if he doesn't put up the most points. But $4 million? As Phil said, worth every penny.

Glen Miller's picture

Yeah, I agree. I watch him every game and can appreciate what he does night in and night out. But I wanted to present a wider argument which encompasses more than just my opinion. If you place any value in the GVT metric then it becomes clear that Staal is well worth the investment.

George Prax's picture

Any opinion on the Redden waiver move, by the way?

Glen Miller's picture

It was a no-brainer. We needed the cap space and there hasn't been a worse contract given out to a player since Alexei Yashin. I feel in a way for Redden though. I think they will find a way to punish a team like the Rangers for over-spending in the next CBA without the player being demoted to clear the cap space. I think they need to loosen the buyout restrictions or make it possible to move money in trades. It might be plausible a team with cap space would take Redden's cap hit in exchange for a medium contract if the Rangers could move cash back in the deal too. That way the Rangers clear cap space, the acquiring team gets an NHL defenseman without having to fork over a lot of real cash and Redden gets to continue to his NHL career.