Connor McDavid and the value of superstars

One of the recurring themes in the comments section here is that the Oilers need to make sure they have the necessary cap space to re-sign Connor McDavid when his contract expires. It’s a valid point; obviously if things go as the Oilers hope the team will have to juggle the contracts of several outstanding young players. However, it’s also worth remembering one of the fun little side effects of the salary cap: legitimate stars almost never get what they’re worth.

Tyler Dellow had a great post on this subject on his site before it was taken down so that he could go work for the Oilers, with the requisite graphs and research and whatnot, but it doesn’t take much more than a glance at a site like NHL Numbers to recognize that this must be so.

Let’s consider two imaginary NHL teams. One of them, through luck and possibly the sacrifice of the general manager’s first-born, has an elite centre, a Jonathan Toews or Sidney Crosby or whoever. The other was less fortunate, and had to go to free agency and sign the best guy he could find, someone like Jason Spezza or Paul Stastny.

Generally, there really isn’t that much difference in terms of expenditure.

Toews’ new deal, at $10.5 million, is the max, and only Evgeni Malkin joins him above the $9.0 million mark. Crosby is a little bit south, and down around $8.0 million we find the Claude Girouxs and Ryan Getzlafs of the world.

Stastny and Spezza, on the other hand, sit at $7.0 million or even a little ways north of that. Both are solid players, so I ask this with all due respect: What’s the performance gap between Stastny and Getzlaf? What about Spezza and Crosby? The money gap is just barely over $1.0 million; it’s basically half the difference between employing Boyd Gordon and employing Anton Lander on the fourth line.

The point I’m making here is that while every team needs a good centre, the price difference between a good centre and a great centre doesn’t come close to capturing the performance difference. Superstars may carry teams on their back, but their cap hit rarely reflects their true value.

This is true at pretty much every position. The difference between Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan can basically be made up by running Rob Klinkhammer on the fourth line instead of Matt Hendricks. The gap between Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask can be made up by running a $1.3 million backup instead of Ben Scrivens. The disparity between Shea Weber and a guy like Brian Campbell (who I love as a player, this isn’t meant as a slight) or Dion Phaneuf is less than the difference between running Martin Marincin instead of, oh, any of the Oilers’ overpaid third-pairing guys.

Assuming Connor McDavid develops as expected, he’s not only going to be a great player for the Oilers but by virtue of being a superstar he’s almost certain to be underpaid relative to his contribution to the team. If Edmonton ends up with massive cap problems, it won’t be because it overpaid guys like McDavid, it’ll be because it just had to toss $2.5 million at a physical No. 5/6 defenceman or because it gave a big fourth-liner (don’t believe me? look at the ice-time) $4.0 million after he caught lightning in a bottle in the playoffs one year.

Great teams, as a rule, don’t get in trouble because they give money to great players. They get in trouble because they overpay replaceable supporting cast members. This has been a problem in Edmonton under the previous management, and at times was a problem for Peter Chiarelli in Boston (though he really wasn’t too bad; generally his problem was giving too much term to older depth pieces, who then declined as time passed). If Chiarelli can change the Oilers’ ways in that department, paying McDavid may entail sacrifices but they won’t be prohibitive ones.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • BillHK

    This is where lack of quality drafting may hurt us. If we have to bring in bottom 6 forwards or bottom paring defence through free agents, you are 100% going to be overpaying for them, unless you’re a proven team like Chicago (Richards signing). This is the reason I don’t see it being smart to start trading away draft picks, as come in 3 years the team will be banking they will be the cheap options to fill spots.

    • Retsinnab5

      The method you suggest and the signing of free agents to speed things up carry risk. If you truly believe nurse, Klefbom, yak, etc will develop into high end players, I believe your suggestion is best. Grab a Bieska this year as your big acquisition/mentor and keep building.

  • BillHK

    I like what Mac T did with RNH, Eberle, and Hall………..one of his few very smart moves! After Connor completes his ECL……..sign him long term, before offer sheets come rolling in.

    I hope PC does not make use of offer sheets……..what goes comes around!

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Hall’s contract will be one of the best value contracts in the league in a year or two. In fact, I’d say it already is. Hall’s one of the best wingers in the game, a year or two with McMagic will only make him better. I think Nuge will be in a similar boat, as well. Those two contracts alone should technically save the Oil some dosh in the future.

  • Retsinnab5

    A true canadian superstar in the making finally playing in Canada. The U.S. have already stolen our Tavares, toews, stamkos ect. Glad mcdavid isn’t going to Arizona. Feels like the states are taking our game. Time to take it back.

    • I’m glad you mention Franson, because it highlights what some of the issue is: valuation.

      I see Franson as, at worst, a No. 3 D with power play ability. Many others (including you, evidently) think I’m nuts to rate Franson so highly.

      A lot of times, teams don’t mean to overpay depth guys, they just misjudge a player’s value. In the Oilers case, that’s guys like Nikitin, Ference, Schultz and arguably Fayne. There is value out there in free agency – Anton Stralman is making $4.5MM as a top pairing guy – but it’s often hard to identify.

      • YakCity1039

        I do believe valuation is a personal preference as some posters on here would put Franson even as a 2. I can see your point as a No. 3 with his PP ability but personally I think we have our own Franson with Schultz. I just do not see the value in Franson to what I assume he will be looking for in contract and term.

        There is no denying we had to overpay for the four you mentioned; due to lack of available depth in our organization.

        TB got a great deal with Stralman and anyone who seen him play in NYR knew he is a top pairing guy. We look at this list of UFAs this year and there are no Stralman’s in it. Personally I would rather go the trade route (a solid No. 2-3) than overpay for a UFA

  • STR8 SHOOTER

    McDavid is worth his weight in Gold.

    Look at his track record = Awesome

    He is Focused and Wants to Win.

    He will lift this Team to the Top.

    having Hall and Ebs and Nuge and Yak is dream

    couple more D and 91% goalie

    Good 2 Go

  • YakCity1039

    And this is why I’m hesitant to trade ANY picks in the draft this year. If anything, trade the picks in the next few years (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019). This draft is WAAAAAAAAAAY too important and WAAAAAAAAAAY too deep to be trading away picks. We can get defenseman and goalies without having to trade away the 16th, 33rd, and 57th picks.

      • I don’t think a trade is practical. Any deal rich enough to get the Oilers interested would be too rich for Buffalo to consider.

        Case in point: In Chiarelli’s shoes, I don’t know that I’d be willing to deal McDavid for a package of Eichel, Ristolainen and Zadorov, even if the Sabres were willing to offer that trio up.

        • Zarny

          Given how close Eichel is to McDavid that type of deal might have made sense for the Oilers in 2010.

          The article is about cap management and the Oilers already have 4, 5 maybe 6 young players that are or will be getting paid.

          McDavid v Eichel is like Crosby v Stamkos. If you need $10 million for McDavid you’ll need $9-9.5 for Eichel. And next year the Oilers have to now resign Ristolianen and Klefbom. Zadorov will be up for renewal same time as Yak.

          At this stage a 3 for 1 just accelerates the Oilers having to trade a good player they can’t afford which ultimately reduces your return for McDavid which means you might as well just keep the better player and pay the extra $500K.

    • Let me counter: Jay Bouwmeester and Ty Rattie or the 2016 first rounder for Taylor Hall. The Oilers need defence.

      Does this highlight the problem for you with the proposal you just made? Team’s just don’t trade a cornerstone piece for a good player plus a future without some kind of compelling reason.

  • srelio

    The Oil absolutely need a top pairing dman. We need someone to mentor the young guys. Reading the posts here, it seems like people think Nurse and Klef are a slam dunk. Just ask Ottawa how that slam dunk worked with Cowan. If we get a top pairing dman it will improve the chance of our young guys developing. Because UFAs are a chump’s game, that leaves two options. Trade a core guy or trade 1st round picks. Pick your poison. But it has to be done. By the way, next year’s draft may be even deeper than this year’s draft.

    • Dan 1919

      Funny how this realistic comment always gets trashed by Oiler fans. It seems most fans (along with former management), literally want to do absolutely nothing until they just start winning… or trade our 3rd liners for Weber.

      Many people have forgotten what a good defensemen actually looks like and how beneficial they are to the team for 28minutes every single game.

      I like Eberle and all, but it would be far more entertaining having a top-end puck moving defensemen back there feeding Hall and McD all season, than it would be watching Eberle get 63 points playing soft and not back checking.

  • srelio

    im curious about eichel, people keep saying he’s a franchise or even generational player but with mcdavid in play no one seems to care and any suggestion of swapping picks with buffalo is dismissed. Im not sure if i would but if we could move down to 2nd and get bogosian, another quality player (i really dont know buffalo’s roster too well) and their next two years of first round picks then still draft a generational player in eichel we could solve pretty much all our problems in one move.

    Also theres a decent chance that buffalo would trade, especially considering tim murrays obsession with mcdavid and as buffalo will have been gutted, those picks should be quite high (mcd cant do it all by himself).

    Again dont know if i would but i cant understand why no one seems to be at least taking the option seriously

    • justDOit

      This will get interesting. Eichel is driven to prove he is better and feels he is. He was the clear winner at the fitness tests and by all reports was only checking out one other players scores. I don’t think I’d risk the trade if I were Buffalo or a Edmonton and certainly wouldn’t add a significant piece as well.

    • CapeBretonOilers

      makes sense but i still trashed the vote haha .. I do feel like they hype factor is very important. Filling the other voids will be relatively easy because of the changes we have made and for once our city will become a popular city for other players to want to be.

      We take McD and let the process work the way it should be.

      We win !! Go Oilers GO !

    • justDOit

      I’ve mentioned it too, and nobody really wants to talk about the idea.

      The thing is though, that it has to be an overpay from Buffalo. Something like #2OV, Ristolainen, Grigorenko, and the 2016 1st rounder. Because you’re giving up the perceived best player in the trade.

      And then you have Eichel, who has said he hasn’t made up his mind about turning pro this coming season, and could actually pull a Jultz and become UFA through that college loop-hole. That’s a little unsettling.

      • srelio

        Do you have a source for that? I havent heard anything about it youd think something like that would be fairly newsworthy

        If its true though that is worrying

        Also i thought the nhl fixed that college loophole?

  • Puck JammeR!

    Eichel is probably going to be good but comparing him to McDavid is like asking if you’d rather eat succulent prime rib or a pile of dog vomit after the dog had been eating cat poo.

    • srelio

      Its not though, its probably closer to comparing crosby to toews and if i could trade crosby for toews and keith i probably would (not taking their ridiculous cap hit into account)

  • OilFarmer

    If Chia swapped picks with buffalo I wouldn’t want to be an insurance company when the rioting in Edmonton happened.

    RX2 would be burnt down before it’s built.

    • srelio

      im not saying do it im just saying maybe next time someone suggests it actually think of how much we could gain before reflexively trashing any comment that has trade and mcdavid in the same sentence

      • OilFarmer

        I’m not saying your trade proposal is a bad one or even that long term it wouldn’t benefit the team. What I mean is that the average fan which makes up a far larger percentage of the population would be beyond angry.

        Mcdavid isn’t just a player, he is literally a ray of hope that we haven’t had in this city for 8 years.

  • Puck JammeR!

    Arizona and Leafs open for trading their first round pick . Whom might that land us , and at what cost outside our top four or five and McDavid that we wish to keep ? Example : Hanafin . Might we still be able to hold onto 16th pick as well ?

  • Zarny

    Cap space isn’t needed for McDavid. He’ll get resigned just like Toews and Kane. It’s needed for everyone else.

    For a variety of reasons, not one player has a max contract in the NHL. Some earn max dollars for 2-3 years of a deal, but they always dive to lower the cap hit. Or like Malkin, they just take the same hit every year.

    Meanwhile, rookie salaries are capped. So as the cap goes up, 27+ y/o free agents are where GMs can aggressively use new money to improve their team. Absolute bonanza if you’re Paul Stastny, Dennis Wideman or Brooks Orpik etc.

  • CapeBretonOilers

    “legitimate stars almost never get what they’re worth.

    Or…

    “Legitimate starts get more than they’re worth, while lesser stars and role players get WAY more than they’re worth.”

  • pkam

    I don’t understand why we have to worry about McDavid being too costly at 10M after his ELC 3 years later. Didn’t Crosby and Malkin sign their 1st 5 year contracts at 8.7M 7 years ago when the cap was around 57M? In 3 years, the cap will be around 80M. Actually 8.7M out of 56.7M (15%) is higher than the 12.5% of 10M out of 80M.

    If the Pens could spend 30% of salary on 2 players and still won a cup, why would it be a problem if we spend 12.5% on a player who is considered as good if not better than those 2 players?

    It’ll be a bargain to sign him to 10M for 7-8 years and we are worry about it? Wasn’t RFA 5 years long in the previous CBA and 4 years now? In other words, Crosby and Malkin were paid 8.7M for their entire RFA years. If we can get McDavid to sign for 8 year, 4 of those 8 years will be UFA. I just don’t think his agent will be dumb enough to sign for 8 year at 10M.

    • Dan 1919

      It’s frustrating as a fan of the Pens to see these two not get surrounded with very good support due to how much cap space they take up. And, things aren’t looking like they will improve unless one is traded.

      • pkam

        Just ask some Leafs fans if they will rather have the duo at 18M or not.

        Getzlaf and Perry are almost 19M and Toews and Kane will be 21M. Who would you rather have? How about McDavid and Hall/RNH at 16M?

  • I have a curious question for the board. With the Draft coming up, some Hockey Buddies and I were discussing it during the game tonight. Maybe it was the beer or nachos, I don’t know; but someone brought up a really interesting question. “What would you do if the Lightning offered straight up Tyler Johnson, Victor Hedman, 28th and 44th pick for the Oilers First Pick??” Would this entice anyone, at all? I have to admit, I thought about it for a second and said “No”.

    • I trashed this for one reason: it seems players from sunny, fun markets who are playing on competitive, contending teams aren’t thrilled to come to places like Edmonton once they’ve lost their best player (see: Pronger trade; see Lupul for Pitkanen trade).

      More beneficial to acquire players who want to come here via free agency and waiving NTC than force people here.

      Keep our best players. Hardest type of player to acquire.

  • Re-Bickle

    The guy is a playoff beast.

    If N.N or Schultz are worth 4 million, then Bickle is worth every bit of that comparable to what the Oilers have and are paying For some players on the roster.

    Bickle has almost out performed his season output EVERY playoffs he’s been in.

    Yet to think, the Oilers could be saddled with Clarkson and the albatross contract MacTavish was floating his way fr far less then what Bickle has accomplished.

    I’d take a Bickle on my team.

  • @ JW

    It’s a good theory but is it safe to assume that this “elite discount” from history will hold into the future? If you look to the NBA, NFL and MLB the elite superstars have quite a bit gap over the 2nd tier elites. Will the NHL follow?

  • Zarny

    I kind of get the feeling if Mc David pans out he will be looking for a Crosby type deal 8 year 87 mill and Mc David is 97 so they better get their numbers in order cause he won’t be cheap. That said the kid has yet to play a game against men which is a far cry from what he’s use to skating around in jr. Loads of talent ? Yes proven at NHL level. No should be fun to watch. Enjoyed watching Crosby hall and ebs light it up at worlds can only hope the same chemistry comes with mc D