Highest Paid Players Should Play the Most

Objectivity: it is the most important and necessary quality of any statistical analyst. Bias and preconceived notions cannot factor into the equation when analyzing the value of players. When it does, mistakes often result.

Consider instances when a team is confronted with the impending free agency of one of its longest-tenured and popular players. When the manager takes into consideration past contributions rather than future contributions and the popularity of the player in the eyes of the fans, then he is likely to commit too much to the player. If that happens with a few players then you have a team in financial straits. That, my friends, is bad business.

As such, I try to distance myself as much as possible from my favorite hockey team, when writing. This particular article will attempt to do that.

When watching the Rangers this season, I have noticed a strange dynamic with their roster. Over the last few years, GM Glen Sather has committed a great deal of cap space to a few big-name players. Chris Drury, Wade Redden, Marian Gaborik and Michal Rozsival were all brought in via unrestricted free agency or,in the case of Rozsival, was re-signed as an UFA. They collectively account for more than $26 million (roughly 44.4%) of the Rangers’ allotted cap space.

Now typically, I would guess that the highest paid players of any team would also rank among the players that see the most ice time. Watching the Rangers, however, that isn’t necessarily the case.

Here’s a chart that shows those four players, their respective salaries, average time on ice (ATOI), minutes per million $ in salary and where each player ranks in term of positional ATOI.

 

Player

Salary in MM

ATOI

Min/Million

Team Rank ATOI

Marian Gaborik

$7.50

22:16

2.969

1st F

Chris Drury

$7.05

17:32

2.487

6th F

Wade Redden

$6.50

17:49

2.742

6th D

Michal Rozsival

$5.00

20:07

4.024

3rd D

 

If I was an owner of an NHL franchise, I would expect that the players that I was paying the most money to would play the most. I understand that forwards and defensemen have different jobs on the ice. Obviously defensemen focus more on keeping the puck out of their own net while forwards have more responsibility in trying to put the puck into the opposition’s net. Therefore it wouldn’t be fair to compare a forward with a defensemen based on offensive production.

This is why so much energy has been devoted to creating metrics that can be applied across the board to all players regardless of position. We’ve already covered Puck Prospectus’ Goals Versus Threshold (GVT) and I’ve mentioned Alan Ryder of hockeyanalytics with his Player Contribution (PC) metric.

What we’re going to explore here isn’t exactly an overly-complicated metric or even a great one. It does, however, show some interesting information about a team that grossly overpaid for players.

As I said earlier, if I was an owner of an NHL team, I would want to be paying the most to the players that play the most. The logic behind that is that the most effective players are going to be on the ice more. They will play in all situations; penalty kill, even strength and power play.

Of course one potential flaw is that we are relying on a coach and his subjective opinions of players to determine which players are on the ice more. Also, weaker teams will use their best players more than a more balanced team will necessarily use their best players. Therefore, we might be better off using this metric (and I use that term loosely) only on players on the same team.

Ok, we’ve seen the ice time, salaries and minutes per million $ in salary of the four highest paid skater on the New York Rangers roster. Let’s use this same chart on the players that lead the Blueshirts in ice time.

Player

Salary in MM

ATOI

Min/Million

Team Rank ATOI

Marc Staal

$0.83

22:52

27.67

1st D

Dan Girardi

$1.55

21:10

13.66

2nd D

Brandon Dubinsky

$1.85

19:40

10.63

4th F

Vaclav Prospal

$1.15

21:16

18.50

2nd F

Ryan Callahan

$2.30

19:51

8.63

3rd F

 

Interesting; Gaborik is the only one of the higher paid Rangers that also is among the team’s leaders in ATOI. It would seem that the Rangers most effective players are among the lower-paid players on the roster if we assume that Rangers’ head coach John Tortorella uses his charges correctly.

Staal not only leads his team in ATOI but he makes less than any of the other players on these lists. Of course, he is on an entry level contract and is due a hefty raise going into next year as a RFA.

Prospal was a late, off-season addition that has paid huge dividends. He was bought out of his contract by Tampa with 3 seasons left so was available on a short term and low salary as a result.

What I was trying to demonstrate with this research is how badly Rangers’ GM spent his salary cap space in UFA. He’s paying a lot of money for players that are not the best on the team at their respective positions.

In a salary cap world, a manager needs to spend his cap space wisely. If you are spending your cap space on players that are not on the ice in all critical situations then chances are your team won’t achieve a great deal of on-ice success.

Thanks for joining me on this little exercise. If you have any comments or questions, please email me at gkmkiller@insidehockey.com. Also, twitter: gkmkiller@twitter.com. Facebook: gkmkiller@facebook.com. Until the next class.         

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