So after a long unintended hiatus (partly vacation, partly busy at work, partly family obligations, partly didn’t-want-to-talk-about-the-Oilers-for-a-while), somehow not-the-rapper Drake has inspired me to get off my *ss (“started from my bottom now we here”) and write an article!
The Veneer of Drake’s Contract
Drake Caggiula just signed a two year,$1.5M per, contract. On the surface, this isn’t an unreasonable contract for a 13 goal, 20 point player. There are a number of fourth line comparables out there with similar numbers, as Jason Gregor just wrote. Matt Cane’s contract model put Caggiula at a $1.3M level, so this number is well within error bars of that estimate.
The comparables make it look as though this contract is fine, just fine.
I’m not a fan of simple comparables, especially if all they do is look at boxcars. Context matters. As with so many things Oilers, it’s a little less rosy when you try and understand the context, to make the effort to dig past the surface.
The McDavid Effect
If you want to get a reasonable assessment on an Oilers player, whether for performance or for comparison, the first place you have to start digging is with McDavid. Young McDeity is so good that he warps the results of any player that spends time with him, so you have to, absolutely have to, dig into the McDavid effect if you want a realistic sense of how that player did.
Caggiula is no exception — even more so when you consider he’s slotted as a bottom six player but had a surprising* amount of time playing top six minutes. So with smaller overall bottom six numbers to deal with, McDavid distortions carry a bigger risk of leading us astray.
*considering the history and depth of this team, I guess maybe not that surprising
Pulling the Goals, not the Goalies
The nice thing about looking at bottom six players is that often you don’t have to look at the data with statistical summaries — with just 13 goals, we can look at every goal.
Here’s an overview of Drake’s thirteen goals, with specific isolation on the presence of McDavid and Draisaitl:
|Goal #||Opponent||State||97 Assist?||97 On Ice?||29 On Ice?|
The basic takeaway here is unsurprising — Caggiula scored a significant proportion of his goals with either McDavid or Draisaitl. If Caggiula scored a goal with McDavid on the ice, McDavid assisted every time! (I didn’t include it in the table, but of the three goals Caggiula scored with Draisaitl on the ice, Dr. Drai assisted on two of them).
Now you might say that this is unsurprising, or even a positive since it means he can play with talented players. The second aspect is where you, once again, have to dig past the surface to determine if that’s actually true — scoring a few goals on McDavid’s line is most assuredly not the same as being able to play effectively with him!
If it turns out that he can’t play effectively up the lineup (foreshadow: he mostly can’t), then we have to determine how good he is in a third/fourth line role.
To do that, I’ve focused here on Caggiula’s 5v5 time with McDavid and Draisaitl, who I think we can say fairly represent the first and second line centres. (Special teams need their own separate assessment, and in Drake’s case, that volume of data is small. Gregor’s article touches on it, as does Tyler Yaremchuk‘s).
The data looks like this when pulled apart (data from NaturalStatTrick):
|Teammate Combination||5v5 TOI||CF%||Caggiula Goals||GF%||Caggiula Goals/60|
|With McDavid wo Draisaitl||139:48||40%||3||45%||1.29|
|With Draisaitl wo McDavid||176:37||50%||2||44%||1.02|
OK, so what does that tell us?
1. While Caggiula scores at a decent rate with either of those guys, he pulls McDavid well below breakeven for both goals and shot attempts.
2. Draisaitl he pulls below breakeven for goals, but they stay about even for shots.
3. Without those two (i.e. what we would expect represents his “true” third/fourth line performance), he is almost breakeven for shots but a disaster in terms of goal balance, with two of every three goals scored with him on the ice being scored against the Oilers.
4. Caggiula’s personal goal scoring rate of just 0.4 goals/60 is also quite poor when he’s without one of the two skill centres, at or even below what I would consider fourth line level.
We can kvetch all we want about the signing or the contract, but the reality is Drake remains an Oiler. So let’s take a bit of a leap and ask what this indicates in terms of what the Oilers could/should do next year:
1. Don’t play Caggiula with McDavid. It’s been a disaster. I assume this is because of Quality of Competition issues, as it’s certainly not Quality of Teammates. McDavid needs and deserves better wingers. Go Nuge!
2. You might be able to play Caggiula with Draisaitl — the shot balance is decent, and although the goal balance is problematic, goal scoring tends to move more strongly towards shot balance than the other way round, so that’s encouraging. But Caggiula would be down the list of options to be on Draisaitl’s wing.
3. Without either McDavid or Draisaitl, Caggiula mostly holds his own shots wise, but is a (I’ve used this word a lot) disaster goals wise. Again, while concerning, I tend to believe the goal balance will move more to the shots balance than the other way round, so the shot metrics are at least somewhat encouraging.
4. That said, don’t expect Caggiula to score much while playing on the third or fourth line. His scoring rate in the context of a fourth line player averaging 10 minutes of 5v5 a night puts him at around five or six even strength goals for the season.
So how do we reconcile that with the contract?
Well, bottom line is that this is a player who should not be looked at as top six material. While his personal scoring rate is decent, his overall effect is hugely problematic. He drags those lines below breakeven, even when he’s with the best player in the world. That’s quite some feat, and not a good one — I think we can (?) agree on that.
As a bottom six player, his goal balance has been a problem, but his shots balance is encouraging. So we already know he’s fast, he has a modicum of skill, and with a little bit of further development of his defensive awareness, the numbers suggest he ought to be able to hold his own defensively when facing bottom six competition.
While people are arguing that Caggiula might be able to bump up his 13 goal total, I’d say that if he doesn’t get as much time with McDavid or Draisaitl next season, those totals could actually fall. That’s why I find the simple comparables used to be problematic.
All that said, I have time for this player probably around $1M. The evidence suggests he’s a lower end fourth liner, and that’s where I’d pay him.
Instead, he’s being paid like an upper end fourth liner. That extra $500K is a McDavid/Chiarelli bump.
I had a conversation with Tyler Dellow about Caggiula and he had the ideal description of Peter Chiarelli’s philosophy: when you find a bargain, reward him.
As with a number of other players, Caggiula should be including a hefty cheque in his Xmas card to McDavid. And also treating Pistol Pete to a wardrobe upgrade.
Death by Papercuts to the Eyeball
In and of itself, all we have here is a modest (if you look at dollars) to dizzying (if you look at percentages) overpay to a bottom six player. It’s not a problem on its own.
It does become a problem when nearly every bottom of roster player is an overpay. Pretty soon that adds up and becomes part of a cap crunch the Oilers *checks salary table*
will be are already facing.
Is There Upside?
I don’t want to leave it all on a gloomy note.
While I don’t personally buy the “he’s only 24” line — a forward at 24 rarely has more than incremental improvements left, and this contract pays Caggiula as if he’s already made those incremental improvements — there are a few encouraging signs at least.
As mentioned in the Tyler Yaremchuk article I linked earlier, there is at least a little bit of reason to believe that Caggiula’s speed and shot might be valuable on the power play, while also keeping away from his defensive shortcomings. If he can put up some goals and help the godawful powerplay, he can earn some of that overpay back.
At the very least, if he can improve his defensive awareness (very possible at his age), he can be a legitimate breakeven guy on the bottom six. And that has been one of the Achilles heels of this Oilers team forever, with the top three making hay, and then the bottom nine or bottom six giving that and more away.
It’s still an overpay if that’s what he is, but at least it moves us out of Korpikoski territory, so it’s a more palatable overpay.
A lot of chips have to fall right for this contract to really work out. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty tired of always needing the nearly-best-case outcome just to break even on a Peter Chiarelli contract, but as always…let’s hope that’s what happens. I will never hold a player responsible for a bad contract, or not cheer for him because of it.