Why Justin Abdelkader's extension is one of the worst contracts in the NHL (Trending Topics)

Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The good news about the Justin Abdelkader extension — seven years with a $4.25 million AAV — is that everyone except Ken Holland immediately thought it was ludicrous.

The bad news is that the Red Wings are now stuck with it for the next seven years. But one supposes that “bad” is a relative term which depends entirely upon your point of view.

If, for example, you are a player of middling quality who is approaching free agency this summer, then this contract is great news. Because if a guy like Abdelkader can get a team to fork over seven years, paying him until he's 36 years old(!), then it's very likely that anyone can. This contract skews the free agent market so precipitously that it's going to be tough for any general manager to argue Half-Decent Player X shouldn't get at least five years.

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You don't even have to get into everyone's favorite advanced stats to realize this contract was immediately garbage.

The big popular thing that went around in the immediate aftermath of the contract being pre-announced by the usual insiders on Twitter was this from Dmitri Filipovic:

Player A in this scenario is David Clarkson, while Abdelkader is obviously Player B. As you can see, they are similarly unimpressive players who had one good year and cashed in big-time. And no, $4.25 million is not $5.25 million, which is what Clarkson got from Toronto in signing the worst contract in the league. But the money was always a secondary (though still major) concern when compared with the term, which was insane. Crash-and-bang wingers, which is what you'd have to say both were for the majority of their careers before massive shooting percentages propelled them inexplicably to “useful power forward” status.

Obviously this is a comparable contract, even if Holland didn't go way overboard on money. He still went overboard, a which will be elucidated in a minute, but this is 100 percent just a GM buying one season's worth of surprising, percentage-fueled performance as an indicator of future potential, rather than an aberration versus past results. To wit, there's this from Holland when he announced the deal:

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You know how you know it's hard? Justin Abdelkader, the big person who can score 20 goals, has only done it once in his career, and boy did he need a lot of help. Last season he scored 23 goals in 71 games, but that was because he played 80 percent of his minutes at 5-on-5 with Henrik Zetterberg. It's usually pretty easy to do that when your coach is Mike Babcock and your linemate is Zetterberg and you're also getting power play time with some of Detroit's other high-skill players, like Pavel Datsyuk and Gustav Nyquist. Indeed, eight of his 23 goals last season (almost 35 percent) came on the man advantage, as did 14 of his 44 points (close to 32 percent).

Now, you can say that Abdelkader scored 10 in 48 during the lockout-shortened season, but he did that by shooting 10.4 percent, so that too is well outside the realm of what is reasonable for his skill level. His only other double-digit goal performance came in 70 games in 2013-14, when he scored 10.

And even if you lump all that in together, over the five full seasons in the league from 2009-14, the share was one power play goal of 38, and three power play points out of 88 total. And by the way, just to clarify once again, this is a player with 38-50-88 in 319 games. Justin Abdelkader isn't a guy who can score like The Idea Of Justin Abdelkader, and he got a contract that will pay him until he's 36 anyway.

(Oh and here's an example of a long contract given to a big, physical winger who could actually score 20 goals all the time for Detroit: Johan Franzen. Holland signed him for 11 years. He's currently 35 and his career is effectively over, or at least should be for his own sake. No lesson to be learned there, either, I guess.)

In fact, a GM signing Clarkson to his awful deal probably had more reason to think that performance was repeatable than anyone would have with respect to Abdelkader. The year Clarkson scored 30, his most common linemates were Mattias Tedenby and Petr Sykora, but that was only for about 240-260 minutes each. So he bounced around a lot and scored plenty of goals anyway. Maybe, if you were an insane person who didn't understand how math works, you would think “He was the driver, not just along for the ride.”

How can you possibly say that with Abdelkader? Over the last two seasons, the number of 5-on-5 points Abdelkader has without Zetterberg on the ice is one. A single goal. The total number of points Abdelkader racked up without either Zetterberg, Datsyuk, or Nyquist getting in on the scoring? Just 10. Iggy Pop wasn't this much of a passenger.

This contract reeks of Holland's peculiar brand of “loyalty” to long-time Red Wings, which tends to greatly reward players who in no way deserve it. Say, can you think of any other Red Wings who were signed through their age-36 season despite all reasonable signs screaming, “Don't do this, Ken! Please no!!!!” Yup, you guessed it. It's Danny Cleary, who peaked later but still dropped off a cliff. Here's a fun basis for comparison, and again, these are just regular-old stats at all strengths.

Now, it hasn't been too hard to find people whose takes on the deal are basically, “The term is insane, but the money is fine.” The money is decidedly not fine. By no measure at all is this money fine. The Red Wings are now committed to paying Abdelkader $4.25 million until he is 36, but he doesn't even produce like a guy who should be making that much at 28 or 29.

For instance, let's take the handful of current forwards who make exactly the same as Abdelkader's new AAV of $4.25 million. Those players are: James van Riemsdyk, Craig Smith, Patric Hornqvist, Brian Gionta, Jake Voracek, and Loui Eriksson. Even if you're not controlling for things like current age, or when the contract was signed, Abdelkader's past performance pales in comparison with what a guy who pulls that cash should get. Here's Abdelkader versus the average points and goals per game (all situations) for those six forwards.

Yup, the goals per game the last two seasons — and let's be honest: We still can't put a lot of stock in 2015-16 performance at this point — is right up there with standard levels. Everything else is well, well, well below it.

Which isn't a surprise, because Abdelkader wasn't very good at producing points until he got paired with Zetterberg, and started getting power play time with Datsyuk and Nyquist as well. Maybe you argue he just needed to be given the opportunity, but unless you think his true shooting talent with Zetterberg is what gives him a percentage approaching 15 (and you shouldn't!) then even by that standard you're overpaying him in comparison with “similar” players.

So here's the thing with this deal: If it's entirely predicated on Abdelkader's chemistry (if we want to call it that) with Zetterberg, what happens when Zetterberg gets hurt, or loses a step, or retires? One or all of these scenarios are entirely plausible if not inevitable in the next seven-plus seasons. And when that happens, do you continue sticking a guy who will likely return to being roughly replacement level with your Nyquists and Tatars, or do you have a third-liner (at best) who costs $4.25 million? Oh and this contract, fortunately for all involved, has a no-trade clause built-in. It's full for the first four seasons, and then partial for the last three. Because of how many teams will be totally clamoring to trade for this contract.

Where this really doesn't make sense is that Detroit also needs to re-sign or replace Darren Helm, Riley Sheahan, Joakim Andersson, Teemu Pulkkinen, Tomas Tatar, Luke Glendening, Tomas Jurco, Danny Dekeyser, Brendan Smith, Alexey Marchenko, and Petr Mrazek in the next two offseasons. And sure, Pavel Datsyuk and a few other bigger-ticket guys are coming off the books over that period (including Kyle Quincey's coincidentally-I'm-sure $4.25 million), but man they're going to have to spend to retain those guys, and if this is the basis contract, they better hope the cap hits $90 million sometime soon.

This contract won't be a particularly good investment when it goes into effect next season. If this summer's free agent market was any indication of the way UFAs will be treated in the future, you could probably get a guy who can put up similar or even better numbers with Zetterberg on a one-year deal for less than $2 million. Hell, you might be able to do it with a PTO.

But this contract is going to be an unmitigated fiasco three years from now, and beyond. Time isn't kind to players who play the type of game Abdelkader does, even if they're miscast as scoring wingers in their late 20s. There's a lot of hard miles on the chassis, so you can't be surprised if it drops an axle in the middle of a race. And even then, you still gotta pay for it.

Ken Holland's lucky he's bulletproof, because this is the kind of deal that gets less-established GMs fired.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

All stats via War on Ice unless otherwise stated.