Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Senators Traded For Dion Phaneuf

Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf seems like a relic from an old era of hockey. He makes $7 million per year to be a big, strong, bruising blueliner.

Those contracts for those players are going the way of the dinosaur. Today's NHL is all about speed, puck movement, and pretending to be injured so the other team gets penalized and/or ejected.

The "old" NHL's prototype defenseman was Phaneuf - a guy who can bully any player on the ice. Dion was paid handsomely when he signed his 7 year, $49 million deal.

The "new" NHL's prototype defenseman is someone more like Erik Karlsson, who might be the most important player to his team in the league. Karlsson, though very different from Phaneuf, has a similar contract - 7 years, $45.5 million.

We could sit here and talk until the cows come home about which style of player is more valuable in the modern NHL. But I'd rather talk about how those two guys now play on the same team.
 And, just like that, the Senators have committed $13.5 million to a pair of blueliners until 2019 (Karlsson) and 2021 (Phaneuf).

I got to thinking about how big a commitment that really is. The salary cap is a shade over $70 million, so the Sens will be committing almost 20% to just two players (if you're new to hockey, there are 23 players on the active roster).

That said, if you're going to load up on two players, a puck-moving defenseman and a bully-type defenseman are two fine pieces to have. Really, because defensemen generally play more minutes per game, I think it could make a lot of sense to commit a lot of cap space to the team's two best. Let's see how Karlsson and Phaneuf stack up against the rest of the league's D-pairs with the highest average annual value (all numbers from General Fanager):

Big-Spending Canadian Teams

Canadiens: $14.75 million (PK Subban $9 million, Andrei Markov $5.75 million)
Senators: $13.5 million (Dion Phaneuf $7 million, Erik Karlsson $6.5 million)
Jets Next Year: $13.35 million (Dustin Byfuglien $7.6 million, Toby Enstron $5.75 million)

It's really surprising to me that Phaneuf/Karlsson aren't the highest-paid defensive pairing, but Subban's mammoth contract gives them the number one spot on this list.

The Senators are the only team currently battling for a realistic playoff spot, and it's tough to pick Montreal or Winnipeg to leapfrog them this year. In making this list, the general trend was the more you spend on your top two defensemen, the more competitive you are. That was for sure not the case for these three Northern teams.

Spending A Lot To Compete For A Cup

Blues: $11.9 million (Alex Pietrangelo $6.5 million, Jay Bouwmeester $5.4 million)
Predators: $11.857 million (Shea Weber $7.857 million, Roman Josi $4 million)
Wild: $11.7 million (Ryan Suter $7.538 million, Jonas Brodin $4.167 million)
Islanders: $11.5 million (Johnny Boychuk $6 million, Nick Leddy $5.5 million)
Blackhawks $11.3 million (Brent Seabrook $5.8 million, Duncan Keith $5.5 million)
Capitals: $11.25 million (Matt Niskanen $5.75 million, Brooks Orpik $5.5 million)
Kings: $11.0 million (Drew Doughty $7 million, Jake Muzzin/Alec Martinez each $4 million)
Sharks: $10.61 million (Brent Burns $5.76 million, Paul Martin $4.85 million)

I split the "Not Cheap But Not Top Of The League" group into three pieces - the first is teams that planned on being in the hunt and are actually in the hunt.

There's an interesting split between Nashville/Minnesota/LA and the rest - some teams pay a superstar big money, others pay two solid players a little bit less. There doesn't really seem to be any rhyme or reason to which makes more sense.

Spending A Lot Because Our GM Stinks

Panthers: $11.475 million (Brian Campbell $7.142 million, Dmitriy Kulikov $4.333 million)
Jets This Year: $11.25 million (Toby Enstrom $5.75 million, Tyler Myers $5.5 million)
Rangers: $11.2 million (Marc Staal $5.7 million, Dan Girardi $5.5 million)(this makes me happy)
Flames: $11 million (Dougie Hamilton $5.75 million, Dennis Wideman $5.25 million)
Bruins: $10.9 million (Zdeno Chara $6.9 million, Dennis Seidenberg $4 million)
Penguins: $10.55 million (Kris Letang $7.25 million, Trevor Daley $3.3 million)
Lightning: $10.1 million (Matt Carle $5.5 million, Jason Garrison $4.6 million)

I don't actually think Florida's Dale Tallon or Tampa's Steve Yzerman stink. Their teams are in contention, their jobs are secure, they're fine.

But how the fuck do you spend a comboined $21.5 million on those four players? In Florida, they'll essentially hand Campbell's contract to Aaron Ekblad when Campbell retires. In Tampa, it's a little murkier. Right behind Carle and Garrison are Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman (who are better and younger) and Bradon Coburn (who's expiring this summer). That is a mess I would not want to have to sort out.

I have to think Rangers and Bruins fans are upset at how those four contracts have progressed over time. Those two situations are also messes I would not want to have to sort out.

And let's end this section with the Penguins, who having two aging superstars that fell into their laps but have been comically unable to surround them with enough talent to compete for the Cup every year. Could that be because they're paying Kris Letang like he's Drew Doughty instead of using some of that money to afford another competent defenseman?

Spending A Lot But I Don't Know What's Happening

Red Wings: $10.75 million (Mike Green $6 million, Nicklas Kronwall $4.75 million)
Hurricanes: $10.333 million (James Wisniewski $5.5 million, Justin Faulk $4.833 million)

Neither of these teams makes any sense to me. They're in the middle of the pack in the East, they may or may not be rebuilding, and they commit a boring amount of money to the players involved in this exercise. Let's just move on.

The God Damn Flyers
Flyers: $10.25 million (Mark Streit $5.25 million, Andrew MacDonald $5 million)

If the MacDonald contract wasn't on the books, the Flyers' number would be $9.125 million (with Michael Del Zotto's $3.875 million instead of MacDonald's $5 million). That would put them firmly in the bottom tier with the rest of the teams that stink.

As it stands, though, they currently look like an "Our GM Stinks" team for this exercise with a membership to the "Competing For A Cup" group on the horizon.

Cheap, Rebuilding, Or Spending Too Much on Forwards

Oilers: $10.0 million (Andrej Sekera $5.5 million, Nikita Nikitin $4.5 million)
Canucks: $9.5 million (Alex Edler $5 million, Dan Hamhuis $4.5 million
Devils: $9.167 million (Andy Green $5 million, Adam Larsson $4.167 million)
Sabres: $9.043 million (Zach Bogosian $5.143 million, Josh Gorges $3.9 million)
Blue Jackets: $8.857 million (Fedor Tyutin $4.5 million, Jack Johnson $4.357 million)
Stars: $8.85 million (Alex Goligolski $4.6 million, John Klingberg $4.25 million)
Ducks: $8.6 million (Kevin Bieksa $4.6 million, Cam Fowler $4 million)
Coyotes: $8.5 million (Oliver Ekman-Larsson $5.5 million, Nicklas Grossman $3 million)
Avalanche: $8.25 million (Francois Beauchemin $4.5 million, Erik Johnson $3.75 million)
Maple Leafs: $7.15 million (Jake Gardiner $4.05 million, Jared Cowan $3.1 million)

The Devils and Stars, especially, spend an absolutely comical amount on their forwards. It's a wonder they can even afford defensemen. The rest of the teams either have a bunch of contributors on rookie deals or are trying to bottom out for better draft picks.

The number one thing to take away from this is there are a lot of different ways to build a contender. You can do it with a balanced group of defensemen (like the Blues), or with one guy logging a ton of minutes (like the Senators before today), or you can overpay guys who stink and still someone compete (hey, Rangers).

On the flip side, there are a lot of ways to fuck your team up. You can overpay guys, or give them contracts that carry on for too long, or not spend enough money on one area of your roster. Building a hockey team is a tricky business, but we've never seen anything like what Ottawa created today. We'll have to wait to see how it plays out.

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