How much is Zack Kassian worth?

The Canucks’ new General Manager is going to be very busy right away. Linden has said that he wants a GM in place by the end of May. That’s just one month before the NHL entry draft, with free agency beginning a few days later.

In addition, the new GM may have to move quickly to hire a replacement for John Tortorella, as the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes are also in the market for a new head coach. On top of all that, the Canucks have ten pending restricted free agents that will either need qualifying offers or new contracts before June 30th.

The Canucks have an interesting group of RFAs, with seven of them playing at least a few games in the NHL last season. The two most important ones are Chris Tanev and Zack Kassian and they both present interesting problems. Tanev is extremely difficult to evaluate, because his contributions don’t generally find their way to the scoresheet, while Kassian’s inconsistency makes it difficult to judge how he will perform going forward.

Let’s tackle the easier issue first: just how much should Zack Kassian make on his next contract?

Kassian has now played 156 NHL games between the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks, compiling 25 goals and 25 assists in total. This past season was his best, scoring 14 goals and adding 15 assists for 29 points in 73 games.

He ended the season stronger than he started it, scoring 3 goals and 10 points in his final 10 games, including a 4-assist game against the Buffalo Sabres on March 23rd.

Kassian’s entry-level contract, which ended this past season, had him making an average of $870,000 per year. His qualifying offer, according to CapGeek, would actually be lower than that. While a qualifying offer generally has to be an increase on a previous contract, part of Kassian’s entry-level deal included a signing bonus and his base salary this past year was $810,000, meaning his qualifying offer would need to be, at minimum, $850,500.

It’s a moot point, really, as Kassian and his agent will almost certainly reject his qualifying offer. So what would make the most sense for both Kassian and the Canucks?

At this point, I look for comparable players. Here are all the players who, at the age of 23 and in a contract year, scored at least 10 goals and between 25 and 35 points since the 2004-05 lockout.

Season GP G A P Contract Years
Daniel Paille 2007-08 77 19 16 35 $1,125,000 2
Chuck Kobasew 2005-06 77 20 11 31 $1,200,000 2
Clarke MacArthur 2008-09 71 17 14 31 $1,400,000 1
Nathan Gerbe 2010-11 64 16 15 31 $1,450,000 3
Tomas Fleischmann 2007-08 75 10 20 30 $725,000 2
Zack Kassian 2013-14 73 14 15 29 ??? ?
Troy Brouwer 2008-09 69 10 16 26 $1,025,000 2
Jiri Hudler 2006-07 76 15 10 25 $1,015,000 2

 

There’s a decent range of contracts here, from $725,000 for Tomas Fleischmann in 2008 to twice that for Nathan Gerbe three years later. What’s particularly interesting about the Gerbe contract is that it’s not only for the most money among these players, but for the longest term at three years.

For what it’s worth, Gerbe scored just 35 points in his next 104 games over the next two seasons and was bought out by the Sabres in the final year. He signed a two-way, league-minimum contract with the Hurricanes and proceeded to once again score 16 goals and 15 assists this past season. Funny how that works.

In any case, the Gerbe contract looks like an outlier among this group and can be termed an overpayment, particularly considering how undersized he is. The other big money deal in this group is Clarke MacArthur, but it was just for one year and MacArthur had reasonable numbers from his previous two seasons as well.

Fleischmann is the other outlier here. He had two seasons at better than a point-per-game in the AHL under his belt, but 2007-08 was his first full season with the Washington Capitals. Considering he went on to score 23 goals and 51 poitns in 69 games in the second year of his $725,000 contract, that looks like a pretty amazing deal.

With those deals out of the way, we’re left with a range from $1 to $1.2 million on a two-year contract. This seems like a reasonable range for Kassian.

As a further comparison, the Philadelphia Flyers recently re-signed their own RFA, Michael Raffl, to a two-year contract worth $1.1 million per year. Raffl scored 9 goals and 22 points in 68 games this past season as a rookie, averaging slightly fewer points per game than Kassian.

Placing Kassian at the upper end of that range — $1.2 million per year for two years — seems about right.

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18 comments

  1. Garth
    May 9, 2014

    Tanev’s contributions are no harder to measure than any other dman who isn’t relied on to put up points. Its their job to know the value of good d.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      May 9, 2014

      In other words, it’s pretty dang difficult to measure. There’s very little consensus over what makes a good defensive defenceman and there are some players out there that have that reputation that are legitimately terrible defensively, Douglas Murray being the primary example. He’s big and can hit, but he’s constantly pinned in the defensive zone because of his poor positioning.

      Who’s the best defensive defenceman in the league, as in a defenceman who doesn’t produce offence? Robyn Regehr? Willie Mitchell? Dennis Seidenberg? Niklas Hjalmarsson? Dan Girardi? Marc-Edouard Vlasic? Dan Hamhuis? What’s your answer? Why? What is it about them — that’s measurable — that makes them the best?

      And it’s true that it’s the Canucks’ job to know the value of good defence, but it’s particularly difficult to assess with someone like Tanev, who doesn’t play a physical game but also doesn’t contribute much offensively. His positioning, gap control, board work, first pass, and penalty killing are all fantastic, but just how much is that worth? $2 million per year? $3 million? $4 million? More?

      Does he get $2.8 million per year like Karl Alzner? $3.5 million like Willie Mitchell? $3.8 million like Travis Hamonic? $3.975 million like Marc Staal? He won’t get $1.25 million like Justin Braun, because he’s coming off a $1.5 million contract, but you can argue they’re very similar.

      This is why I say it’s easier to look at Kassian: he’s an offensive forward, expected to put up points. Other forwards who have put up a similar amount of points at the same age got paid X dollars. You can’t do the same for Tanev, whose main job is goal prevention. You can’t say he prevented Y number of goals, which is comparable to these Z players.

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      • akidd
        May 10, 2014

        watching game 4 i thought douglas murray looked pretty valuable. lots of folks were complaining that the habs traded diaz and kept murray. i bet they aren’t complaining now. some guys you keep around just for playoff series like this one. there’s regular season in which a players accrues his stats and then there’s the playoffs, a different beast. the smart gm is able to take that into consideration. the habs look pretty good with their new coach and gm. such a shame about that last loss though.

        ya, hard to value tanev. if booth is worth 4.25 mil then tanev is worth at least 10 mil.:)

        i hope they go for long term with tanev. 4-5 years times 3.25 mil?

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        • Daniel Wagner
          May 10, 2014

          Murray was dreadful in that game. Absolutely dreadful. He may have had some big hits, but he was absolutely buried in the defensive zone the entire game. The Canadiens were out-shot 10-1 when he was on the ice. The shot attempts were 20-4 for the Bruins when he was on the ice, which is almost unheard of.

          If that doesn’t convince you, look at the Bruins’ game-winning goal in overtime: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5zALqx-brk

          Murray basically wanders around aimlessly for the entire shift, never really in a good position to attempt a stick-check or wrap up a player on the boards. Then, the one chance he has to use his size, the one thing he’s supposed to be good at, he completely fails to block Matt Fraser’s path to the front of the net. Fraser gets to the puck essentially unimpeded and scores.

          Murray isn’t any more useful in the playoffs than he is in the regular season. In fact, he’s a detriment to his team when he’s on the ice. The reason he throws so many hits is because his team never has the puck when he’s on the ice.

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          • akidd
            May 10, 2014

            oh…i stand corrected then…. i guess i just noticed him when he threw those big hits.

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            • Daniel Wagner
              May 10, 2014

              You’re not the only one. Lots of mainstream media lauding his game because of his physical play and how he “knows his role” or some nonsense like that.

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          • JeremyOK
            May 12, 2014

            Oh, agreed. My six-year-old son got plenty tired of me pointing out just how bad Murray was in that game — he can barely skate, and often seems to ignore the most important things happening in the play.

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            • Lemming
              May 13, 2014

              I wish he was back on the Sharks. They were so much easier when he was playing a big role for them.

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  2. Tyler Olsen
    May 10, 2014

    $1.2 mil seems like it would be a great deal for the Canucks. Kassian seems to have a greater perceived upside than many of those players listed above. We know this because his goal total this year wasn’t seen as any sort of breakout year, even though it was an improvement.

    Also: Tortorella and the ousting thereof. His refusal to put Kassian with the Sedins, and the general feeling that the Canucks were set up to play a defensive, non-Kassian-optimizing style should make it easy for the agent to make the case that Kassian is a 20-goal scorer under a competent coach.

    Also, Jannik Hansen’s new deal kicks in this year. Sure, the guy who signed it has been fired, but Kassian can still credibly claim that he will likely produce as much and be as prominent a player. Of course Kassian is restricted and Hansen could have threatened to leave. But it’s still an argument that Kassian’s agent can make.

    None of that is data driven, but given I’d guess Kassian gets $2 mil/2 yrs. I think there’s a feeling he could score 20-25 goals/yr and play on the first or second line, which would make that deal great value. If he only puts 15 in and plays third line minutes, it might be a disappointment, but would hardly be a horrible contract.

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    • JeremyOK
      May 11, 2014

      $2 million seems a little closer to the mark, but I guess the comparable list in the article could be something the Canucks could lead with if they really wanted to lowball. With next year’s cap figure (never mind inflation from some of the earlier seasons on the list), I think we can expect a much higher cap hit. Keep in mind that Cody Hodgson got an extension of 6-years, $25.5 million last year. You wouldn’t have to expand the parameters of the list much to find a huge range of salaries for good 23-year-old forwards. I’d predict something over $2 million, with longer term.

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      • Daniel Wagner
        May 12, 2014

        I just don’t think there’s enough of a case for Kassian and his agent to up the asking price too high. If it goes to arbitration, these are the types of players that will come up as comparables because they go off results, not potential.

        As for expectations, Kobasew and Paille were both first round picks. Hudler had a 97-point season in the AHL under his belt. Fleischmann had two seasons at better than a point-per-game in the AHL. MacArthur had much better numbers in Junior than Kassian. These players were once prospects with significant upside, but they got paid according to what they had actually accomplished to that point in the NHL.

        Hodgson got his extension after scoring 34 points in 48 games in 2012-13. Putting up points like that will get you paid, even if you do have defensive liabilities. Hodgson’s 34 points and Kassian’s 29 points aren’t comparable when you consider that Kassian’s came in 73 games.

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        • Daniel Wagner
          May 12, 2014

          For the sake of the argument, I expanded the point-range in my search, but limited it to more recent seasons. I got a couple more comparables:

          Jamie McGinn had a 20-goal season at 23 in 2011-12, with 37 points in 78 games. He got $1.75 million per year for two years.

          In 2009-10, Devin Setoguchi likewise scored 20 goals, totalling 36 points in 70 games. He got $1.8 million for one year.

          Also in 2009-10, Blake Wheeler had 18 goals and 38 points at 23 and got $2.2 million for one year, but had scored 21 goals and 45 points the previous season.

          Gilbert Brule had 17 goals and 37 points in just 65 games in 2009-10. He got $1.85 million per year for two years.

          These players all out-produced Kassian in their 23-year-old seasons and the only one that broke $2 million in his subsequent contract had a previous season that was even better. I just don’t see Kassian getting that much with his next contract. That’s also why I doubt it will be longer than two years, as Kassian (and his agent) will want an opportunity to earn a lot more money with two good seasons.

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          • JeremyOK
            May 12, 2014

            You make an excellent case. I was thinking more of comparables like the second list, but you’re right, their contracts weren’t especially rich despite better stats. I guess I see a guy like Hansen making $2.5 million over the next few years with limited offensive upside (and dozens of other older third- and fourth-liners making more), but they’re different players at different points in their careers. I hope you’re right about Kassian getting a low-key contract, because expectations are already sky high, and he seems like the kind of player who would benefit from lower expectations (from fans and team) for a couple of years — give him time to settle in, learn the finer points of the game, and earn that bigger payday down the road.

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  3. Jonathan McCauley
    May 11, 2014

    But what does his CORSI make him worth? ;)

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  4. mb13
    May 12, 2014

    Basing on historical contracts is fine but have you adjusted for the increase in the salary cap since 2008-09?

    I prefer to not think of hard numbers but rather percentage of cap to compare players from different years.

    So someone earning $1.4M in 2008/09 when the cap was $56M would have to sign for $1.75M in a $70M cap world (which I think is the projection in the upcoming year).

    Either way, it would be a great job by his agent if Kassian gets north of $2M.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      May 12, 2014

      That’s a fair point. Even still, as you say, Kassian won’t be getting over $2 million.

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      • JeremyOK
        May 12, 2014

        You’ve made a logical case for a short contract under $2 million…so I guess we’ll see if he gets one of those contracts that defies logic. I just tried a little different approach, using hockeyreference.com to generate a list of forwards: combined points from their first-to-third seasons (min.100 games, sorted by points per game), 23 or younger, going back to 2008 (to try to mitigate the inflation issue a bit). So this is an attempt to encompass more than just the last year of a player’s ELC, and giving a bit more flexibility on their age. The list is here: http://hkref.com/tiny/52GiN

        Lots of great players high on the list, of course, with Kassian down near the bottom. Looking at the guys around him who have finished their entry-level contracts, most of them have become decent players, and their first RFA contracts are interesting:

        Simmonds, $1,750,000 (2yr)
        Sutter, $2,066,667, (3 yr)
        Boedker, $1,100,000 (2 yr)
        Paajarvi, $1,200,00 (2 yr)
        Hansen, $550,00 (1 yr, 2-way)
        Turris, $1,400,000 (2 yr)
        Kassian, __________?
        Kruger, $1,325,000, (2 yr)
        Eller, $1,325,000, (2 yr)

        So although this list yields different players than the group you chose in the post (and the later comment with broadened range), the results are very similar. Sutter was the only one to break the $2 million barrier, and just barely. Here’s hoping logic rules the day, and that Kassian’s agent doesn’t manage to get them considering comparables higher up the list like Van Riemsdyk (.51 pts/game on his ELC, then signed a 6-year 4.25m RFA contract).

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  5. David C.
    May 20, 2014

    I agree that Kassian should be making somewhere between 1.1 – 1.75 depending on how much stock an increased salary cap plays into contract negotiations.

    On the subject of Tanev, I think a good comparable player may be that of Karl Alzner. While Alzner may have higher accolades (he was actually drafted after all) I think they both came into the league as defensively reliable players not expected to put up points.

    Their career numbers are similar, Alzner just made it into the league a little earlier but both have played a high QoC at a young age.

    Where there game differs is in the physical game department. Alzner is obviously a larger defenseman and therefore throws his weight around again. That said Tanev ends up with fewer PIM because of this. I think they both possess similar skills in being able to play a cerebral game against difficult competition and make great defensive plays.

    Alzner’s bridge contract was a measly 1,285,000 for 2 years but he also broke into the league earlier than Tanev. Tanev is only a year younger than Alzner and has already signed one bridge contract and may be more deserving of a contract similar to Alzner’s current contract of 4 years @ 2,800,000.

    If that deal could be managed I would be happy knowing Tanev was on the teams back end for 4 years at a reasonable cap hit. If his play continued to impress he would be looking at a Hamhuis-type deal at 28 years old. right in line for the average defenseman’s prime.

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