October 01, 2010
As hockey fans, we're constantly debating the meaning of player value. How much is a player worth contractually? How important are his stats? Is the "most valuable" player really the player with the most value to his team?
Canadian Business has made a bold attempt at ascertaining hockey-related value with Puck Money, a multi-faceted look at "the value and performance of NHL players" in the last year: "The Puck Money rankings determine not the best players in the NHL but the players who play far above their monetary worth, giving the best value to their team and their fans."
In his overview of the projects findings, Mark Spector of Sportsnet found NHL executives speaking about young players being the essential bargains in a salary-capped League. You can see that in their lists of forwards, defensemen and goaltenders, with Nicklas Backstrom(notes) of the Washington Capitals (22), Duncan Keith(notes) of the Chicago Blackhawks (27) and Jonathan Quick(notes) (24) of the Los Angeles Kings topping each ranking. Loui Eriksson(notes) of the Dallas Stars, 25, was ranked second for all forwards.
But while Puck Money identifies the best values, it also identifies the least valuable players, through its methodology. (A deeply flawed methodology, but we'll get to that later.)
Who do you think are the least valuable players in the NHL, based on their salaries and their output? Puck Money wanted to identify them.
Here are the 15 least valuable forwards in the NHL, according to Puck Money. Points and time on ice factor into the evaluation; plus/minus, though listed, did not.
Since a forward is paid to score points, we've taken salary and divided it by seasonal point total to arrive at a dollar-per-point total. It's that simple. The player with the lowest dollar figure in our estimation offers the best value; the player with the highest, the least. Only those players who played 60 or more games of the 82-game season are ranked.
This is how they break down by position, for each bottom 5:
Least Valuable Centers
3. Johan Hecht (124)
Least Valuable Right Wings
Least Valuable Left Wings
Back to the methodology: No, it's not "that simple."
It doesn't take into account the total value of the player, from defense to intangibles. It doesn't deal with playoff performance; who in their right mind is labeling Michael Cammalleri(notes) as one of the least valuable players in the NHL after last postseason for the Montreal Canadiens?
Worst of all: It doesn't take injuries or recent history into account. Yes, Jason Arnott was limited to 46 points last season after being concussed. The previous season, he had 33 goals in 67 games. He wasn't worth the money because someone else injured him?
Thomas Vanek had 40 goals in 2008-09 with the Buffalo Sabres, including 20 (!) on the power play. That's value this methodology chooses not to consider.
Here are the 15 least valuable defensemen in the NHL, according to Puck Money. The categories include games played, dollars per games played, points, dollars per point and time on ice. Plus/minus, which plays a huge role in the evaluation, is not listed:
Here is the methodology:
The defenceman's job is to prevent goals from being scored. For this reason, best and worst value picks are chosen by first isolating for best/worst +/-. Then the players are compared by salary. Our best value picks have the best combination of lowest cost-per-minute on the ice (annual salary divided by total minutes played) and the highest plus/minus number. Our worst value picks are just the opposite. Only defenders who played 60 or more games of the 82-game season are ranked.
Outside of Hal Gill(notes), who redeemed himself in the postseason, this isn't a list that's all that disputable. (If you're wondering where Wade Redden, formerly of the New York Rangers, falls on the list, he's No. 16 from the bottom.)
But again ... the methodology. Plus/Minus is one of the most superficial stats in professional sports. Consider this: Jan Hejda(notes) of the Columbus Blue Jackets is playing his man perfectly. There's a shot on goal and goalie Steve Mason(notes) whiffs on the save. If it's 5-on-5, Hejda gets a minus-1, despite doing nothing to have earned it.
And that's how we're determining his value?
Speaking of goalies, here are the 10 least valuable netminders in the NHL, according to Puck Money. Categories are dollars-per-minute-on-ice and dollars-per-save minus dollars-per-shot:
The most valuable goalie is the one whose cost per goal allowed ($/save - $/shot allowed) is the lowest. But to correct for this resulting in the lowest paid goalie automatically being the best value, we also took GAA into account. To be considered, goalies had to have played at least 35 games of the 82-game season.
This might be the least debatable group, because outside of arguing over the quality of the teams in front of these goalies (especially in J.S. Giguere's and Mathieu Garon's(notes) case) a cost-per-goals equation is one of the only places to take this argument.
Puck Money offers some insights. There's no question that a player like Craig Anderson(notes) of the Colorado Avalanche offers a better bang for the buck than, say, Niklas Backstrom(notes) of the Minnesota Wild does these days.
But this is just an elementary approach meant to stir up conversation. It's superficial at a time when hockey stats are being revolutionized by sites like Behind the Net and the number-crunchers who play fantasy hockey.
We'd love read a dissertation one day on how Jussi Jokinen(notes) (No. 34, 65 points) has more "value" to his team and the fans than Alex Ovechkin(notes) (No. 48, 109 points), simply because the Washington Capitals have to pay their star player/franchise face/box office draw much, much more than the Carolina Hurricanes have to pay their second-liner. Or how, by any measure other than this one, the St. Louis Blues get more value from T.J. Oshie(notes) (No. 62) than the Detroit Red Wings do from Henrik Zetterberg(notes) (No. 65).
But hey, at least Loui Eriksson fans will be happy with Puck Money. So someone wins.