Regarding that really bad Brent Seabrook extension (Trending Topics)
Stan Bowman is a very smart hockey man. He values the right things (on the ice anyway, haha) and has had a lot of success not only in terms of icing consistently great NHL teams, but also in drafting and developing talent to replace the high-quality NHLers he necessarily has to lose every few years.
You could put together a decent enough NHL team just from the former Chicago players that have had to be let go after a Cup win to get the current team under the cap. Andrew Ladd, Patrick Sharp, Dustin Byfuglien, Johnny Oduya, Brandon Saad, Brad Richards, Nick Leddy, Brian Campbell, Dave Bolland, Antti Niemi, Ray Emery, and some I'm surely forgetting. The point is that this team goes through solid middle-of-the-lineup (or better) players like water, and almost always comes out the other side unscathed because the top-of-the-lineup players are so, so good.
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It doesn't hurt that they have two such “core” guys locked in on long-term, cap-circumventing deals that keep their cap hits down considerably, and help the team in the process, but that's just how it goes. Can't fault them for taking advantage of the system given to them.
But one has to wonder at what point that very understandable loyalty to a group of players who are by no means getting any younger (none of us are, after all) becomes untenable. Patrick Kane is signed until he's 34. Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford until they're both 35. Duncan Keith until he's 39. Marian Hossa until he's 42.
And now add, “Brent Seabrook through his age-39 year,” as well. At $6.875 million a season.
This is a contract that cannot begin to make sense in the real world.
Full stop, it's a terrible idea to sign literally any player until they are 39, simply because even the elite players among the elite players of the world typically do not last that long. Most don't even come close. Since 2007, just 59 defensemen have even made it through to age 35, and that number significantly for each season thereafter. Only 22 have played at least 1,000 minutes at 36 or older. And just 13 at 37. And eight at 38.
When you get down to the end of it, only four defensemen have played at least 1,000 minutes as 39-year-olds in that time.
These numbers will probably go up this season, as a number of older defensemen are still in the league, but this gives you a pretty shocking baseline for how players age. Of the 175 defensemen to play at least 4,000 minutes in the league total since 2007-08, only 2.29 percent went on to play at 39. Therefore, Bowman is gambling that Seabrook falls into, let's say, the 95th percentile in terms of durability.
This is not meant to impugn Seabrook, of course. He is a good, or perhaps even great defenseman in this league and will be for at least a few years to come. But as we know with D-men in general, their ability to maintain a high level of play after the age of 34 or so — when Seabrook will still have four years left on his contract— can just explode at any given time. The body just gives out, if you will. And once it does, guys turn into Dennis Seidenberg pretty quickly: Once revered by fans, now reviled. And still, probably, overvalued by people who are supposed to be smart enough to properly value everyone at any given time.
Let's be clear, the reason Chicago extended Seabrook with this absurd contract while it did not do so for far more promising, younger players is that the thought of losing him, as opposed to Saad (just for instance) was too great. Bowman almost certainly felt he could replace Saad with what he got back from Columbus — it was, after all, quite a return — while there probably wasn't a lot of confidence that trading Seabrook ahead of the final year of his deal would command the same ransom, nor that it would replace anything like what he does.
Further, let's not forget that Chicago has a pretty strong forward corps, but a lot of question marks on defense, many of which the strategy of “Playing Keith And Seabrook 23 Minutes A Night” paper over. Remove Seabrook from that equation and sure, you maybe can use Niklas Hjalmarsson as a first-pairing option instead and get similar results, but your second pairing becomes “Trevor Daley and ???” and gets you run over pretty good. That's even if you trade him, because who knows what the NHL-level return on such a player is even mid-season? It probably isn't all that pretty, at any rate.
We just don't have a lot of evidence about what Keith looks like without Seabrook, and though we can infer that the answer would be “fine” (as Keith's numbers with and without his newly extended partner effectively do not change) that's not something on which a smart team should gamble. And again, Chicago is a very smart team. For the most part.
So Bowman, rather than let this get to the point of next summer without an extension (unwise), and possibly losing him on the UFA market for nothing (unacceptable), just acquiesced to Seabrook's lofty contract demands and got his team locked into an unconscionable deal that will probably look at least a little ugly before it's half over. Especially if the salary cap stays relatively flat, which seems likely at least in the first year or two of the deal.
But unless Seabrook retires a few years in advance of this contract's expiration — and he'd be a maniac to do it — this is going to look awful for quite a long time. The $6.85 million here isn't some mid-level deal that starts to be perfectly acceptable as the cap goes up and Seabrook slides down the depth chart. Right now it would take up 9.63 percent of Chicago's total cap number, so even with an increase in the cap ceiling next summer it's still a massive deal.
A $6.875 million cap hit is ninth in the league right now. That might change depending upon what Dustin Byfuglien gets on the open market — if this is the cost of a top-pairing D, there's almost no way Winnipeg keeps him over Ladd — but can anyone identify a universe in which Brent Seabrook is a top-10 defenseman in this league? Again, he's clearly not just riding Keith's coattails, but at the same time, he also clearly wouldn't do as well away from Keith, who looks to be a future Hall of Famer.
(As an aside: Let's hope the voters don't get Cup-happy and start letting every middling Chicago player of the last six years into the Hall just because they hung around while Toews and Keith made magic.)
It's an imperfect measure, obviously, but Seabrook has received just five votes for the Norris trophy in his entire career: Two for third place, and three for fifth. That's it. And that feels about right. His total of 13 voter points matches the number Dustin Byfuglien got in 2013 alone, when he finished 15th in the voting
And back to Byfuglien for a second, too: It's again important to stress that this awful contract sets the market for whatever he's going to pull in free agency, and while he's clearly better than Seabrook, and the answer is still going to be “too much,” is it not hilarious that he'll probably only get like $6-6.5 million and fewer years? Hanging around for Cup wins sure is profitable.
No one thinks Seabrook is a bad or even mediocre player. He's clearly very good. Probably top-30 in the NHL. But there's a really good chance this is going to end up being just about the worst contract in the league, and it's pretty bad right this second.
Not that the team had a real choice in the matter. Grunting under the horrible weight of this deal between six and nine years from now (when Bowman might not even be the GM any more) is a lot more palatable than letting him go and suffering in 2016-17.
Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.
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