The two biggest names available on the free agent market signed new contracts on Wednesday morning. For the Edmonton Oilers, the news was not good: both players opted to join a divisional rival, the Minnesota Wild.
How much better will these two players make the Wild?
Obviously, the impact will be huge, but it’s always difficult to quantify exactly how much an individual player can have on a team.
One statistic that attempts to is GVT (goals-versus-threshold). The brainchild of Tom Awad, GVT puts a goal value on every player in the league. Awad explains the statistic here, and while it is far from perfect it’s really the only measure of its kind and it’s a good starting point.
According to GVT, the player with the biggest impact on goal differential (Mike Smith) improved his team by 35 goals. The player with the worst GVT (Dwayne Roloson) hurt his team to the tune of 22 goals. For skaters, the top mark went to Evgeni Malkin (+33.5 GVT) and the bottom mark to Nino Niederreiter (-5.8 GVT).
But wait a minute: Malkin scored 50 goals and 109 points. Why is he only worth 34 goals to his team’s goal differential?
The answer to that question lies primarily in understanding that the choice isn’t between a Penguins team with Evgeni Malkin and a Penguins team with nothing. If there were no Malkin, than Jordan Staal would have played more minutes, Sidney Crosby (when healthy) would have played more minutes and so on down the list.
The Penguins as a team finished 61 goals better than break-even. A year earlier, they played half the season without Malkin or Crosby and finished 39 goals above break-even – there’s a solid team behind the stars, and everyone on it contributes to goal differential. Even the best players in the game are limited in terms of how much impact they can have on a team.
What does GVT say about Zach Parise and Ryan Suter? It had Parise as a top-15 forward (worth +18.6 GVT) and Suter as top-15 defenseman (worth +12.0 GVT). That’s a huge haul for the Wild – an improvement of 31 goals in their overall goal differential.
The Wild, however, were a terrible team last season. By goal differential, the Wild were the second-worst team in the Conference last year – they finished the season having allowed 49 more goals than they scored (22 worse than the Oilers, who finished seven points behind them in the standings).
None of these statistics should be considered iron-clad guarantees. The Oilers, after all, improved their goal differential massively in 2011-12 vs. 2010-11, but moved up a total of one place in the NHL standings. Goal differential, despite being the best indicator of team performance out there, does not mesh perfectly with the standings. Further, GVT is a useful but imperfect tool – it gives us a ballpark figure for a player’s impact on a team but by no means is it a complete picture. It’s an approximation only.
Minnesota should be much improved with the addition of these two players. But they’re starting from such a bad place that these moves seem unlikely to turn them into contenders – if I had to guess today, I’d say they’re moving from a date with a lottery pick to the playoff bubble in the West. That’s a big jump, and not good news for the Oilers. But it’s important not to overstate the effect that even two incredibly gifted players can have on the balance of power in the West.
This week by Jonathan Willis
- Was Justin Schultz leaving the Ducks unfair?
- Steve Tambellini on the Oilers now and in the future
- Bargain signing: Guillaume Latendresse goes to Ottawa
- Bargain signing: Brad Boyes joins the Islanders
- Darcy Hordichuk re-signs in Edmonton
- Ray Whitney signs with the Dallas Stars: Two years, $9.0 million
- Ryan Smyth re-signs with the Edmonton Oilers
- Free agency: It’s a $70 million cap world, now.
- Jay Grossman talks about the Khabibulin contract
- The UFA market for defensemen: it’s going to get ugly
- Ralph Krueger: in the driver’s seat
- Oilers’ development camp invites