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GAR, the Wild, and Arbitration

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One fancy new stat that is being kicked around is GAR (not to be confused with the metal band, GWAR), so let’s see how the Wild broke down this season and what it could look like when it comes time to ink Nino and Granny in early August.

Minnesota Wild v Columbus Blue Jackets
The Low Rider is looking to get paid this offseason, and the lack of communication between his camp and GMCFs is just a little bit startling.
Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

We’re getting to the part of the summer where hockey goes into hibernation for the month of August and doesn’t pop up again with players on the ice until the respective rookie tournaments in September (the Wild will be at Traverse City). The biggest story that is going around is the apparent lack of communication between Nino Niederreiter and the Wild front office after they extend a QO earlier this offseason.

As of today, there are two arbitration dates circled on GMCF’s calendar: August 3rd (Nino) and August 4th (Granlund). In time we’re going to learn about how far apart the two camps are from the mothership, but when looking at contracts we can use advanced stats to look at player value and then decide which side of the fence we’re going to stand on.

I’ve heard people praise Nino and others lament his presence playing for the Wild, but when looking at the advanced stat of Goals Above Replacement (GAR) he’s one of the better players the Wild have; second best to be exact, only bested by the Captain, Mikko Koivu. Mikael Granlund ranks two spots behind as the fourth best player on the 2016/17 Wild in this compounded stat.

In terms of scoring, the Low Rider was fourth best on the 2016-17 Wild battery with 57 points while being third in goals with 25. In terms of GAR, however, his value is second best overall score is 12.70. Granland finished (no pun intended) behind Nino in terms of overall GAR with an 11.30, but was first on the club in overall scoring with 69 points (nice) and the highest assist total with 43 apples.

Goals Above Replacement 2016/17

First off, what is GAR? Pension Plan Puppets did a great write-up on the original write-up, but it is a six piece, skater based statistic similar to WAR if you’re also a baseball fan. The six categories are:

1. Even Strength Offense (EVO)

2. Even Strength Defense (EVD)

3. Power-Play Offense (PPO)

4. Drawing Penalties (Draw)

5. Taking Penalties (Take)

6. Face-Offs

Obviously there are going to be aspects of a player’s individual game that will hurt their overall GAR score. For example, you’re not going to see Jared Spurgeon dominating the face-off category against Boudreau’s centermen, but his overall value as a defenseman balances out the forward-heavy statistics.

When looking specifically at the Minnesota Wild, it breaks down like this for the entire year:

@ChartingHockey

At first glance, there aren’t many glaring deficiencies. Guys like Dalpe, Cannone, Bertschy (guys that played very little) have smaller numbers and fit nicely at the bottom as replacement level players. The only one that appears to be truly negative is Chris Stewart, but what weighs his games down is the fact that he hasn’t had more games played than PIMs since 2012/13 (his only 30+ point season), so that’s kind of expected. If you want to look at the leaders in terms of the six individual statistics, it looks like this:

Even Strength Offense (EVO): Jason Pominville - 7.80 (74.28% of total value)

Even Strength Defense (EVD): Jonas Brodin - 4.90 (67.12%)

Power-Play Offense (PPO): Mikko Koivu - 2.90 (21.16 %)

Drawing Penalties (Draw): Jason Zucker - 2.80 (29.79%)

Taking Penalties (Take): Mikael Granlund/Jared Spurgeon - 3.00 (26.55%/26.32%)

Face-Offs (FO): Mikko Koivu - 2.80 (20.44%)

Free Agent Arbitration

Here, we’ll look at comparable GAR’s around the league and their contract values and what the Minnesota Wild have left to work with when it comes to cap space. Right now with the $75.0 million cap, the Wild have around $15.8 million to spread around to seven player contracts (six for the NHL roster). More specifically how we can compare what the salaries of Niederreiter and Granlund look when compared to their league-wide GAR counterparts.

I keep thinking about Dom Luszczyszyn’s chart of a given team’s star power, and he might very well be right in terms of players that sell tickets. The Wild’s highest ranking player is Koivu at 20th league-wide (13.70) and Nino is 32nd (12.70). When looking at GAR however, Nino is ranked one spot head of “superstar” and Stanley Cup Champion, Evgeni Malkin 12.50; though Malkin is in the league’s top ten when it comes to EVO. Point being, the value of a player comes from which statistic you’re planning to place your bid into.

Nino

When looking at how Nino appears on GAR as a member of the Wild, he’s the most balanced player in terms of weighing EVD and EVO. As a comparison, Pominville’s 7.80 is a full point better than the Swiss winger (6.80), but the mayor’s offensive value also accounted for nearly 75% of his overall game; Nino’s is 53.54%. On the defensive side, team leader Jonas Brodin only had a 0.60 advantage over Niederreiter as a defenseman at 4.90 for 67% of his overall game; again, the Low Rider’s total is 33.86% of his 12.70 value.

Next I’ll compare his overall GAR to other players around the league based upon forwards within 1.00 points of Nino:

@ChartingHockey

In terms of strictly EVO and EVD, Nino is still one of the more balanced players, but in looking at the stat as a whole, Niklas Backstrom appears to have the most complete game at the forward position with nearly identical numbers for EVO (4.30) EVD (4.00) and PPO (4.00). Again, it all depends on what stat you want to look at. In looking at those contracts, the highest paid is Blackhawk Jonathan Towes at $10.50 million AAV and the lowest paid is Patrick Eaves, who is the most recent player to sign, at an AAV of $3.150 million.

When you take away centers from the equation (even those who are listed with double duty at the wing), Jakub Voracek’s comes in as the highest paid winger at $8.250 million; though I’m sure if Nino’s agent slides this number in a folded piece of paper across the table at arbitration, Fletcher (and probably the arbitrator) will laugh in his face.

Since GAR is a multiple statistic plan, we can go one step further and compare players that are +/- 1.00 away from Nino’s individual and overall values, which looks like this:

@ChartingHockey

This is a much better chart. We can compare Nino to the contracts of two Stanley Cup finalists: Patric Hornqvist and Filip Forsberg. What also helps make this even easier is that both are wingers, though Forsberg is closer in age to Nino at 22-years-old than Hornqvist at 30.

Forsberg is also a higher paid player with a $6.00 million AAV for 2017/18 compared to Hornqvist’s 4.25 AAV, though this is the final year of his the deal that his signed in 2013 at age 25.

When comparing the salary of Hornqvist in 2013 versus what the value of his contract would be in 2017 dollars, there isn’t much of a change, though he’d be making closer to 4.5 million instead.

Given today’s market, you’re going to see Nino make closer to Forsberg’s $6.00 million per annum than what you’d hope he’d be willing to take at Hornqvist’s inflation-adjusted 4.50 million. Since there are only two players on this chart that we can “truly” compare Nino to, I’ll just split the difference and say that once arbitration is over you’re going to see his hit with an AAV around $5.25 million. Not too bad.

If you want to see some good comparisons to other unsigned players of the same age, David Pastrnak of Boston and Alex Wennberg of Columbus are in similar situations with their respective clubs this off-season.

Granny

Granlund isn’t as balanced of a player as Niederreiter, but that should almost go without saying since he was the team’s leading scorer with 69 overall points (nice, again). His GAR is at 11.30. Where he makes his presence felt over Nino, however, is in terms of his PPO which stands at 2.60 to the Swiss winger’s 1.20. In terms of balanced 5-on-5 action, the Finn’s EVO of 4.10 accounts for 36.28% of his overall value and his EVD at 1.50 sits at 13.27%.

I wouldn’t go as far to say that Granny is a defensive liability, as evidenced by him receiving Selke votes this past season. His game is predicated upon scoring, and the total offensive production EVO + PPO accounts for 59.29% of his game as a forward for the Wild.

Once again, here is the chart comparing every player that is +/- 1.00 from Granlund’s overall GAR across the league:

@ChartingHockey

Once again, when looking strictly at comparable centers, the highest paid player is Jonathan Toews in Chicago with an AAV of $10.50 million and the lowest paid is Mathieu Perreault in Winnipeg with an AAV of $4.125 million who inked his deal in July of last year. Now we turn to just +/- 1.00 with similar GAR in terms of the offensive and defensive qualities:

@ChartingHockey

There are a few more names in this comparison that there are fewer names on the list, though I run into the problem of having only one true center on this list in fellow-Finn Aleksander Barkov in Florida. He’s only 21 and his first big contract ($5.9 million AAV) is nearly double what Granlund got when he signed his deal in 2015 at age 23.

The Florida Panthers had three centers, all 25 or younger, as the team’s top three scorers on a terrible team in 2016/17. What Barkov had on his signed when signing was his youth and upward potential. Granlund was the leading scorer on one of the most prolific Wild teams in the franchise’s history, despite the early exit.

With Staal in on a steal of a contract (per his production) at $3.50 million AAV and GAR/team leader Koivu making $6.750 million, expect Granlund’s deal to be in the $6.00 million AAV range given his role as a center, his production on the offensive side, and where he compares to other statistically similar players (like Barkov) in the league.

Parting Words

I’m no cap genius, and I like playing around on CapFriendly as much as the next guy as an armchair GM. Advanced Stats like GAR are also far from foolproof. There are some shortcoming to be argued, but when trying to look at player value (at least from an amateur standpoint) a six point stat is the closest to all encompassing as there is right now.

With the $15.80 million in space right now, I think that at least $11.25 million of that is going to go towards Nino and Granny leaving $4.55 million to spread around to the four other NHL contracts the Wild can fill their roster with. Four guys and a million a pop is also do-able.

However, this all hinges on what the arbitrator decides...lawyers.