Burning the First Year of a Rookie’s Entry Level Contract

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As the college and junior hockey seasons begin to come to a close in March, NHL teams have important decisions to make about their up and coming prospects. They can either shut their players down for the season or bring them up to the NHL/AHL to get a small preview of their playing potential at a higher level. This opportunity seems like a no brainer, especially for players management believe are too good for their current competition and are ready to make the next jump in their development to a professional league in the coming season.

When management makes the decision to audition a player at the next level, the only remaining hurdle is finalizing the prospect’s entry level contract (this issue is usually more prevalent for college hockey players as they can’t sign a professional contract while maintaining their amateurism where junior players have no restrictions). An entry level contract is limited by term (dependent on the prospect’s age at the date they sign the contract) and compensation but includes a provision for prospects aged 18 and 19 (as long as they don’t turn 20 before December 31 in the year they sign their first contract) that allows teams to slide the contract one year into the future if the player does not skate in a minimum of 10 NHL games (NHL CBA Article 9.1D).

Eligible prospects are allowed to skate in nine NHL games (combination of regular season and playoffs) without having the first year of their entry level contract kick in. For players that don’t qualify for the entry level contract slide, management has a much tougher decision to make. An older prospect’s contract will count against the salary cap during the season they dress for their first NHL game. In either case, this will not affect a player’s future unrestricted free agency as the requirements for most players (except Group 5 free agents but we expect these top prospects to play 80+ games before they turn 25) are seven accrued seasons in the league or turning 27 years old. A player must dress for 40 games in a season to accrue a season for free agency purposes and with only a handful games left in the schedule, this is impossible.

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Bruins Trading Quantity for Quality Under New Head Coach Bruce Cassidy

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At the beginning of February, the Bruins were amidst a downward spiral, having lost six of their previous nine games, that could eventually see them miss the playoffs for a third straight year. During this streak, the Bruins were embarrassed 4-0 on home ice to the last-place New York Islanders and blew a 3-0 lead against the lowly Detroit Red Wings to eventually lose 6-5 in a shootout. The team had some obvious lack of depth on the wing, defense, and backup goaltender positions, but they weren’t winning the games that they should have. The Bruins were clinging onto the third and final divisional playoff position but having already played a handful more games than the teams closing on them in the standings, the Bruins only had a 35% chance of qualifying for the playoffs.

On February 7, the Bruins finally made the move that many were calling for the team to make since the end of last season. Head coach Claude Julien was fired and assistant coach Bruce Cassidy was promoted to Julien’s old position on an interim basis. Cassidy inherited the Bruins’ biggest issue of converting shots in goals. At the time of the firing, the Bruins had a 55.46% CF%, 53.22% SCF%, and a 55.83% xGF% but only a GF% of 45.22% (all metrics presented in this article are 5v5 and adjusted for score, zone & venue unless specifically noted). Despite consistently outshooting and outchancing their opponents, the Bruins were struggling because of their league-worst 5.97% SH% at even strength (non-adjusted). The result of this was scoring a league-worst 24 goals under their expected goal for total on the season (87.55 GF compared to 111.78 xGF).

In order to fix the Bruins’ largest problem, Cassidy had to find a way to way to generate higher quality chances. As we have just crossed the midway point of Cassidy getting promoted and the conclusion of the NHL regular season, now is a perfect time to check in on how he has been able to alter the Bruins system in order to spark a playoff rally.

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Is There A Certain Date That We Can Reasonably Assume a Team in the Playoff Picture Will Quality for the Playoffs?

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Around the US Thanksgiving holiday every year, there is a lot of discussion surrounding the prediction of teams will qualify for the upcoming spring’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman uses a November 1st as a guideline as teams four or more points out of the playoff picture at that date typically don’t make the playoffs. A few years ago, The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell wrote that just 10% of all playoff teams are more than two points out of the playoff picture by the US holiday. Last week, Petbugs wrote a great blog using December 1st as a cutoff point to examine a team’s underlying numbers and compare it to the full season data, noting the importance of advanced metrics, namely shot attempt metrics, as a strong indicator of future playoff qualifiers early in the season. Everyone came to their conclusions using a similar, yet different date. What is the optimal date to conclude a team is likely to make the playoffs based on the current standings? There will always be outliers as the future cannot be predicted (injuries, hot/cold streaks, etc.) but answering this million dollar question can help teams know where they stand and prepare for the future accordingly.

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NHL Contract Calculator: Salary Variability Rules

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On the first day of free agency this past summer, the San Jose Sharks signed forward Mikkel Boedker to a 4-year, $16M contract ($4M average annual value (AAV)). The breakdown per year of the contract was $5M/$5M/$3M/$3M with a $1M signing bonus included in Boedker’s salary for the first two years of the deal. A few days later, the now defunct General Fanager reported that the NHL had rejected San Jose’s contract with Boedker as it violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Specifically, it violated the league’s 35% variability rule (Rule 50.7(a)). San Jose was able to shift salary from one year to another to satisfy the league’s variability rule and to keep the contract’s length and cap hit the same. Boedker’s contract now is broken down at $5.2M/$4.8M/$3M/$3M per year.

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Analyzing Johnny Gaudreau’s Struggles on the Road

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Since making his debut in the Calgary Flames’ final regular season game of the 2013-2014 season, Johnny Gaudreau has been one of the league’s most electric players. His 54 goals over the past two seasons ranks him tied for 23rd in the league which includes a handful of highlight reel and overtime game-winning goals. Since the 2007-2008 season, only two players (Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Toews) have scored more goals in their first two NHL seasons (occurring before their 23rd birthday). The main knock on Gaudreau is that his game is rather one-dimensional and at this moment, I’m not referring to his below-average goals against and shot attempts against statistics but rather his inability to produce on the road.

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Does Taylor Hall Struggle to Produce Against Better Teams?

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Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom recently gave an interview to the Swedish website Hockey Sverige (English translation can be viewed here) and one his comments caught my eye. When asked about the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade, he thought the team had improved and said,

“Taylor has been our best player in recent years, but it’s also hard to tell what he has contributed. He never played his best games against the tougher teams, which we really needed it. However, he was fantastic when we met the little worse [teams].”

It makes sense that players in general will score more points against weaker teams. Weaker teams usually lack depth and don’t have a top goaltender which is a recipe for giving up more goals against. Top players should be able to take advantage of this matchup mismatch. But is there any proof that Hall himself has racked up points against weaker teams but contributed less against stronger teams? Khlefbom has since updated his quote saying all of the Oilers key players have underperformed, but I will investigate his original comment to see if there is any merit behind it.

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Did Kevin Shattenkirk Have a Bad Season or Has He Peaked?

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It is no secret that the St. Louis Blues tried to move Kevin Shattenkirk at the Draft last weekend. In fact, they have been trying to move Shattenkirk for a while but haven’t found a suitor that will pay a fair (read: extremely high) price for the 27 year old puck-moving defenseman. Even his agent thinks a trade involving the star defenseman is inevitable. Shattenkirk, who has one year left on his contract that carries a $4.25M cap hit, is set to become an unrestricted free agent upon expiration of his current deal and is expected to fetch top dollar on the free agent market.

One thing that complicates a trade is the fact Shattenkirk didn’t play his best hockey this year. His even strength offensive numbers were down, had a negative 5v5 GF%, and didn’t drive the team’s shot attempts numbers as much as he’s done in previous years. There is no way to sugar coat his production or his negative goal differential but his strong shot attempt numbers combined with low on-ice SH% (6.61%) and PDO (98.2%) point towards a rebound next season (one could also argue his 102.7 PDO in an injury-shortened 2014-2015 season was unsustainable and he was bound to have a regression this year anyways). On average, defensemen don’t peak until around 29 and their play doesn’t fall off as fast as forwards but Shattenkirk may not be as good as he once was.

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Offer Sheeting a RFA Defenseman is Possible But Would be Detrimental to the Bruins Future

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Last night, NHL reporter Jimmy Murphy tweeted that the Boston Bruins could be preparing an offer sheet for Winnipeg Jets restricted free agent (RFA) defenseman Jacob Trouba. Minutes later, Joe Haggerty seconded Murphy’s report stating that the price may be high but would be worth it if they feel he is the organization’s number one defenseman for the next decade. While elite defensemen are very hard to come by, offer sheeting a RFA defenseman, whether it is Trouba or Columbus’ Seth Jones, would be possible, yet detrimental to the Bruins long-term future. I do not believe this will occur or is even realistically being discussed within the Bruins front office but will explain the costs and risks associated with this scenario.

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Aaron Ekblad and the Florida Panthers Will Miss Brian Campbell

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The Florida Panthers signed defenseman Keith Yandle to a long-term deal last week after trading for his negotiation rights. Tying up $6M+ a season in Yandle until 2023 decreased the Panthers likelihood of bringing back impending unrestricted free agent Brian Campbell and signing him to a multi-year deal. The Yandle deal combined with speculation that Campbell is interested in returning to Chicago means his days in Florida are numbered..literally as Free Agent Frenzy starts this Friday. The Panthers are on the verge of losing a very effective player whom replacing will be crucial to their success moving forward.

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Detroit Looking to Deal Datsyuk’s Contract

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Datsyuk formally confirmed this weekend what everyone had been expecting since April: his retirement from the NHL and return to Russia to be with his family. Datsyuk has spent his entire 14 year NHL career in Detroit and produced at a rate of a point per game. The only downside is the timing of Datsyuk’s NHL retirement as he still has one year left of his current contract that carries a $7.5 annual average value (AAV).

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