One name frequently bounced around as a potential acquisition for the Oilers is that of Brent Seabrook. It makes sense in a lot of ways, as the 30-year-old is a complete, right-shooting defenceman with just one year left on his current contract. He also plays for a team still in salary cap pain.
There are, however, counterarguments, with two striking me as particularly significant:
- Seabrook is at an age where many players start to decline, so there’s a risk of paying for the player he was on his next contract rather than the player he actually will be.
- Trading for Seabrook is going to require a major return, and signing him will involve a massive cap hit.
There’s simply no getting around the second point – Seabrook is a famous player on a good team, so there’s almost certainly no chance to acquire him on the cheap or sign him to a low-end deal. Players on good teams in major markets just naturally get more attention than comparable players on poor teams in small markets, and there’s a “proven winner” premium attached to players like Seabrook.
However, when a resource – such as a top-end defenceman – is scarce enough, what might otherwise be seen as an overpayment can be justifiable.
The key question is really: Will Brent Seabrook be a legitimate top-pairing defencemen over his next contract? If the answer is “yes”, a big payment is justified. If the answer is “no” the Oilers should look elsewhere.
Using Hockey-Reference.com, I was able to put together a list of defencemen who played similar minutes to Seabrook and scored at about the same rate at the same age. Then, using war-on-ice.com, I was able to narrow that list down to players who had managed similar results in similar situations at five-on-five over the same time frame. I ended up with a list of five names:
A quick explanation. TOI is the amount of time per game each skater played. P/60 is the number of points each player managed in an average hour. QC is a quality of competition measure, based on the ice time of each player’s opponents (higher means harder opposition). ZSRel is how often each player started in the offensive zone vs. the defensive zone, relative to his teammates (the more negative a number, the more frequently he started in the defensive end). FenRel is how well each player’s team did at out-shooting the opposition (both shots and missed shots) when he was on the ice, relative again to teammates (a higher number indicates the team did a better job with the player on the ice than with him off).
- Niklas Kronwall was the closest match of the 20-odd names I checked into, and that’s encouraging because he’s now 34 years old and has been a solid contributor to the Red Wings all down the line. Even now, he’s a reasonable No. 2 option. Like Seabrook, he played for a good team at this age.
- Dennis Seidenberg was another good match, and like Kronwall played for a good team (winning the Stanley Cup in the year in question). He’ll turn 34 this week and is still playing tough minutes, though arguably he’s more of a second-pairing defenceman at this stage in his career.
- Roman Hamrlik played for a weaker team (though it was still a playoff club) and in a lesser role but is another reasonable fit. He was still logging 22-plus minutes per game in his late 30’s and is an encouraging comp.
- Michal Rozsival was the No. 1 defenceman for a pretty good New York Rangers team at the same age that Seabrook is now, but is a less encouraging comparison because he declined significantly in the years that followed. He has, however, been a reasonably effective No. 4/5 defenceman into his late 30’s.
- Adrian Aucoin played on a weaker team than Chicago, but was still on a club that made the playoffs at this age and was handling awfully tough minutes. He played until age 40, and while his role was reduced he was still contributing into his late 30’s.
There’s going to be a tendency to look at the names on that list and harrumph that Seabrook is a better player than this lot. It’s worth remembering that Seabrook has been Chicago’s No. 3 option at evens for a lot of years now – both Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson get more minutes five-on-five and have going back several seasons – and that the list above was pretty good around age 30. It’s also worth remembering that I’m looking at just five-on-five here, and Seabrook also contributes to both special teams.
Looking at this list, if Seabrook were to sign a five-year deal taking him from his age-31 to age-35 seasons, I’d expect that he’d be a top-pairing option for the majority of the deal and good second-pairing option even to the very end of the contract. Naturally, your mileage may vary, but that’s how I see him.
My difficulty is that I tend to rate Seabrook behind Hjalmarsson and Keith, that I see him less as a true game-changer and more as just a really good defenceman who can handle top-pairing duty. When I see a player like Cody Franson available on the open market for nothing but money or a situation like the one in Toronto where the Maple Leafs are likely willing to take a bad contract back for Dion Phaneuf, it makes me wonder if the degree to which Seabrook is superior to Franson/Phaneuf is really worth the additional cost in terms of both assets and dollars.
I like the player and think he’s a good fit, and most years I’d suggest the Oilers should jump at the chance to acquire him. But it’s been kind of a weird year for defencemen and the salary cap, and I don’t know that it makes sense to pay the premium on Seabrook when serviceable options are available much cheaper really makes sense (colleagues Jason Gregor and Robin Brownlee hold differing views, with Gregor laying out his case at length).
I will likely feel differently if Seabrook reaches free agency next July 1.