Oct 012013
 

It appears that Phil Kessel’s is on the verge of signing an 8 year, $8M/yr contract with the Leafs so this is a good time to compare this contract to a couple other elite wingers who have signed contracts in the past year or so. Corey Perry and Zach Parise. I have also chosen to include Rick Nash in the discussion because he is a comparable goal scoring winger with a comparable salary even though he signed his contract several years ago. Before we get into contracts though, let’s take a look at production levels by age.

KesselGoalsPerGameByAge

 

In terms of goal production, both Nash and Kessel got their careers started earlier than Perry or Parise and both had their best goal production years earlier int heir careers. Kessel of course had his best goal production year playing a significant amount of time with one of the best playmakers in the league at the time, Marc Savard. He has yet to match that level in Toronto but of course he is playing with Tyler Bozak in Toronto. Aside from Perry’s career year at age 25 he has generally been at or below the production level of the other three at the same age while Nash has generally been the more productive player. Note that I have removed Parise’s Age 25 season as he missed the majority of the year to injury. Nash’s age 20 season was lost due to a lockout. Ages are based on draft year (first season after draft year is age 18)

 

KesselPointsPerGameByAge

Not really a lot different in the points/game chart which kind of makes sense because all these players are wingers and more goal scorers than play makers. Parise once again had his peak season at age 23 while Perry again had his at age 25. Nash has maintained a little more consistency fluctuating between 0.8 and 1.0 since his age 21 season though one should remember that Nash’s age 21 season was 2005-06 when goal production was inflated due to obstruction crackdown and far more power plays. Kessel appears to still be on the upswing and he has shown more play making ability with Lupul or van Riemsdyk on the other wing and the absence of a play maker at center.

Age Length Total$
Parise* 27 8 $80M
Perry 27 8 $69M
Kessel 25 8 $64M
Nash 25 8 $62.4M

*Parise’s salary over the first 8 years of his contract.

Parise’s salary is a little wonky as he signed his contract under the old CBA which was a back diving contract in which he earns $94M over the first 10 years and $4M over the final 3. Perry is the easiest to compare with as he is the most recent contract signing while Nash signed several years ago when the salary cap was lower. All things considered Kessel’s contract is at least fairly priced if not a slight bargain.

In conclusion, even though the others may have had higher ‘peak’ seasons (though it is certainly possible, maybe likely, that Kessel hasn’t reached his peak) it is fair to suggest that Kessel is deserving to be considered similarly talented to the other three which makes his $8M/yr salary not only fair but maybe a slight bargain.

 

Feb 162013
 

Ok, let me justify that headline a little before people get all over me.  He isn’t completely terrible as in he shouldn’t be in the league terrible.  He’s just a terrible first line center, and probably not a very good second or third line center either (at least not until he improves defensively). He’d be an OK 4th liner and injury fill in depth player at close to minimum salary. Let me explain.

The last 2 seasons Bozak has mostly played with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul became his second winger when he joined the Leafs. Those are two pretty solid wingers to play with so lets look at Bozak’s production with those two solid players.

I want to compare Bozak to other top 9 players and conveniently if we look at all forwards with 1250 minutes of 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time over the past 2 seasons we come up with 270 players which is precisely an average of 9 per team, or 3 lines per team. So, how does Bozak rank among these players?

So, despite playing predominately with first line players his individual offensive stats are at a 3rd line level.

So, what about PP situations?  There are 169 forwards with 250 5v4 PP minutes over the previous two seasons while Bozak has played 417:28 which puts him among the top 65 forwards in the league. How has Bozak fared?

Think about that for a minute.  Of 169 forwards with >250 5v4 PP minutes over the past 2 seasons he ranks 5th last in shots/60 and has the 30th worst first assists/60 rankings. That means he is playing on the PP but isn’t shooting much and isn’t a primary set up man for the shooters either.

The only redeeming factors for Bozak is that he seems to be developing into a really good face off guy and he seems to be able to play with an elevated shooting percentage. His 5v5 ZS adjusted shooting percentage ranks 30th of 270 over the past 2 seasons while his 5v4 PP shooting percentage ranks 14th of 169. If you look at Bozak’s shot locations for last season you will see that the majority of Bozak’s shots and goals come from close in and 5 of his 11 5v5 goals last season came on rebounds.

So, to summarize, Tyler Bozak doesn’t shoot much, isn’t a great playmaker, isn’t good defensively (explained elsewhere) and yet coaches seem to insist on using him as a first line center. His main contribution to a team is winning face offs and going to the opposing teams net waiting for the puck to come to him so he can pot an easy close in goal. It is not completely unreasonable to believe that a guy like David Steckel could give you as good or better performance on face offs and similar lackluster offensive results with better defensive play if given the same opportunities to play with top end players that Tyler Bozak has had. That isn’t to say I want Steckel to be the Leafs new first line center, I was just trying to put Bozak’s usefulness (or lack of) into perspective.

 

Feb 052013
 

Before Leaf fans get all over me, let me say that there is nothing wrong with being a complementary player. Every team has and needs them and they can be valuable pieces of the puzzle. When I say complementary player I mean he is a player that needs others to help him get the most out of his game rather than someone who can elevate his game and those around him on his own. The complementary player isn’t as valuable as the guy who can elevate his game and the game of his line mates on his own (I call this a core player) but every good team needs a good cast of complementary players. Let me explain further with this chart of 2007-12 (5yr) even strength 5v5 data.

Sh% TOI/G
with Savard 13.9% 39:40
without Savard 8.9% 61:08
with Lupul 12.8% 46:34
without Lupul 9.1% 58:46
with Savard or Lupul 13.3% 43:07
without Savard or Lupul 7.7% 68:44

In my opinion, the two best (offensive) players that Kessel has played with over his career are Marc Savard and Joffrey Lupul so I focused on Kessel’s play with and without them. In the chart above, you can clearly see that Kessel has been substantially better when he is on the ice with either Savard or Lupul and in reality somewhat ordinary otherwise. When those two guys are on the ice Kessel’s shooting percentage, and thus goal production, sky rockets. Whatever Savard and Lupul are doing, they make Phil Kessel better. Does that make Savard and Lupul core players and Kessel a complementary player?  Maybe.  Let’s take a closer look at Lupul and see if his boost in Kessel’s performance extends to some of the other line mates he has had over the years (again, using 5 year 5v5 shooting percentages).

Linemate with Lupul without Lupul
Phil Kessel 12.8% 9.1%
Tyler Bozak 12.9% 13.4%
Scott Hartnell 12.1% 9.3%
Jeff Carter 12.4% 9.2%
Mike Richards 14.3% 9.0%

Aside from Tyler Bozak (and Kessel may be a factor as he has only played with Bozak when Kessel is also on the ice), he has improved the shooting percentage of each of his line mates over the past 5 seasons. This is fairly significant evidence that Lupul is in fact a core player that improves the performance of his line mates.

Every team needs core players, but there aren’t enough core players in the NHL to fill out your roster so every team also needs quality complementary players. From my perspective, Kessel is a good complementary player that guys like Lupul and Savard can elevate into very good very productive players, but because Kessel is also dependent on Lupul to be highly productive, Kessel isn’t worth the money that you would pay a core player. For this reason, if I were the Leafs management, I’d be very cautious about paying Kessel big money (i.e. in excess of $7M) on his next contract since, if something happens to Lupul (as is the case right now) he quickly becomes ordinary.

Now with that in mind, and the fact he is currently on a significant goal drought (12 games dating back to last season, mostly without Lupul) I think it is up to the Leaf coaching staff to mix up the lines and see if you can find another core player that can maximize Kessel’s production. Bozak and van Riemsdyk don’t seem to be the guys. Personally, I’d put him with Grabovski but it might also be interesting to see him with young energy players like Kadri and Frattin. The coaching staff has to do something but the current line is not working at all.

Sep 182009
 

There has been a lot of discussion over the last week or so on the rumoured trade offer that Brian Burke has made to the Boston Bruins for Phil Kessel and now that the trade seems very likely to go down, possibly within hours, we may as well take a look at it. (TSN is now reporting the deal is done and pending Kessel signing a contract with the Leafs which is probably not a significant hurdle issue).

The rumour is that Burke has offered two first round picks and a second round pick for Kessel and a third round pick (no word yet if this is the actual deal though). Howard Berger has argued that it makes no sense to trade two first round picks for Kessel because the Leafs are still rebuilding and the two first round picks could be far more valuable and he eluded to Schenn and Kadri as being an example why. Schenn and Kadri are the Leafs most recent two first round picks and he wouldn’t trade the pair of them for Kessel so why would he trade the Leafs next two picks for Kessel.

To me that is a shortsighted view of the situation. First off, Schenn has one years NHL experience and he performed relatively well so the ‘downside risk’ in Schenn has diminished somewhat while much of the upside potential remains. Kadri is still an unknown asset but he was a 7th overall pick which is likely higher than where the Leafs will pick in the next two drafts so he at least theoretically is likely more valuable than the Leafs than the Leafs first round pick in either the next two seasons (and Schenn was a 5th overall pick). So in short, Schenn and Kadri are measurably, possibly significantly, more valuable than the Leafs next two first round picks.

Finally, how good are those first round likely to be. Burke has every hope to make the playoffs this upcoming season and I am sure he would show some level of truculence to me if I suggested that the Leafs would miss the playoffs in 2009-10 and 2010-11, but lets assume a worst case scenario and they do and lets assume that both the draft picks end up in the 8th to 12th overall range. How might those draft picks turn out. Lets look at past drafts 8-12 picks.

1998: Mark Bell, Mike Rupp, Nik Antropov, Jeff Hereema, Alex Tanguay
1999: Taylor Pyatt, Jamie Lundmark, Bransilav Menzei, Oleg Saprykin, Denis Shvidki
2000: Nikita Alexeev, Brent Krahn, Mikhail Yakubov, Pavel Vorobiev, Alexei Smirnov
2001: Pascal Leclaire, Tuomo Ruutu, Dan Blackburn, Fredrik Sjostrom, Dan Hamhuis
2002: Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Petr Taticek, Eric Nystrom, Keith Ballard, Steve Eminger

So that is 5 years of drafts for a total of 25 players and maybe there are a couple of pairings in there among Tanguay, Leclaire, Bouchard, Ballard, Ruutu, Hamhuis and Antropov that might be worth more than Kessel but none of those players will make you regret making the trade, especially if you believe that Kessel can be a top level offensive player in the NHL capable of consistently getting 30-40 goals. And if the Leafs were better and made the playoffs in either or both of the next two seasons the likelihood of regretting the trade drops off even more. Yeah, I understand that every draft seems to produce a star player or two in the 12-25 overall range like Parise (17) and Getzlaf (19) in 2002 but those are rare and more often than not the drafted player turns out to be nothing more than a name on a sheet of paper.