June 19 News and Notes

Robert Cleave
June 19 2012 10:24AM

               

 

The competitive part of the NHL season has finally ended, leaving off-ice matters to dominate the news over the next couple of weeks. With in mind, it's a good time to have a look at a few items of interest concerning the Jets and the NHL. In this installment, Evander Kane and Ondrej Pavelec receive media treatment somewhat at odds with their actual performance, a look at a potential free agent target, and a slightly contrarian view of Rick Nash vs. Phil Kessel.

RFA follies:

I'll confess some bewilderment with how the local media establishment has covered Winnipeg's two prime restricted free agents over the past season. In the case of Pavelec, I'll allow Ryan Lambert to state the case in succinct fashion:

 

jets should get winnipeg media to foot the bill here. guy had a 2.91 gaa and .906 sv% and they acted like he was a hard-luck dryden all year

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Pretty much. As I discussed last month when I examined the topic, Pavelec's play declined behind a team that cut its shots against by a decent margin from 10/11. I'm certainly willing to allow that overwork might have caught him out by the end of the year, but if Darren Dreger has the numbers right, the contract Pavelec hopes to receive is wildly out of line with his performance.

Ben Wendorf did a thorough job of covering which goalies were genuinely hard done by earlier this spring, and except on the PK, Pavelec wasn't really much of a victim. I'd be willing to give him a couple of more years for somewhere around 2-2.5 million, and then see where everything shook out from there, but 4M on a long term deal would be a non-starter if I were running the show. 

In stark contrast, given the focus on Evander Kane's alleged off-ice sins, one could hardly blame people for not realizing how good his year really was for a 20 year old with another 20 year as his primary center. Since the lockout, the list of players to have scored 30 goals in a season at age 20 is both small and distinguished. Of those players, I wouldn't argue for a second that Kane might well end up being the 7th best of 7, but his performance was excellent by any reasonable standard. 

It should also be noted that none of those 7 gents were the second PP option at their position in those seasons. Kane split time with Andrew Ladd playing the left side on the powerplay, despite being a more productive option than the captain, so if anything his point and goal totals might well have been suppressed by the choices Claude Noel made in terms of utilization. 

                   

An item that hasn't been discussed that much is that Kane led the NHL in 5v5 shots on goal. As a point of reference, the leaders in that category during the last 5 seasons were Ovechkin, Ovechkin, Parise, Ovechkin, and Kane. That's some fairly nice company, and considering that Evander Kane's primary center was wasn't exactly Adam Oates circa 1992, it speaks to his ability to drive offence at a very high level. Derek Zona's opinion that Kane's baseline for the next several years is 30 goals seems about right, given how productive he was with the relatively limited ice time he received in 11/12.

Of course, signing the young man might be a bit of a chore. His agent advised Illegal Curve last night that, contrary to Ren Lavoie's rumour, Kane wasn't asking out of town, at least as of this moment. Craig Oster and Chevy have plans for a chin-wag over the weekend, and even presuming that Kane feels like sticking around,  I suspect the numbers coming from the player side will be fairly high. Of his aforementioned cohorts in the 30 goal club, the cheapest second contract signed by any of them was Patrice Bergeron's 4.75M a year deal, and that was in 06/07 with a cap of 44M. Even if you think Kane isn't as good as any of those players, inflation will be his friend in terms of settling on a figure. If the per season hit starts with any number less than a 5, I'll be mildly shocked. 

One approach that the club might consider is waiting for a new CBA to be signed. There's been some loose talk that the clubs would prefer a structure that didn't encourage the massive second contracts we've seen since 2006, and if that's a serious bargaining point for the teams, the Jets could well save a nickel or two by being patient. That does leave open the risk of an offer sheet next month, but unless a team goes up to the level that would require 4 first rounders as compensation, I can't see the Jets not matching. Chipman and Chevaldayoff might play the small market game in public, but teams that don't need revenue sharing usually aren't hurting so badly that they'd let a high end 20 year old hit the bricks for a bunch of lottery tickets.

As a final RFA note, qualifying offers have to be out to RFAs by the end of this week, and the one RFA that's almost certain to not be qualified is Eric Fehr. His 2.2M QO would be slightly rich for a 1 goal scorer, even accepting that he's almost certainly a better player than he showed during last year's lost season. If he's back, a short term deal for 1.5M or less could be in order.

UFAs: Is an Islander on the radar?

                  

The Jets have spent most of the last year trying to keep expectations down in terms of chasing big money UFAs, with Chevaldayoff and Chipman repeated stating that they intended to build from within. I don't doubt they're sincere, but since most top UFAs won't be interested in this market any time soon, it's also a convenient angle to take.

With that stipulated, Winnipeg's management is also pretty good at keeping schtum, so if they do plan on targeting a mid-tier UFA of any sort, they aren't likely to discuss their plans in the press. Still, one name that has popped up in the rumour mill is P.A. Parenteau. The Islanders haven't signed him and might not be interested in retaining the 29 year old, despite some pretty fancy point totals over the last two seasons. 

His underlying numbers aren't that bad, either, as the winger played pretty solid comp and managed to get by, albeit with a bit of help in the ZS department. Parenteau would be someone the Jets would probably see as a potential replacement/upgrade for Kyle Wellwood as a top-six RW, but I'd advise a bit of caution for any team chasing him. 

The caveat always in play with his numbers is that he rode shotgun with John Tavares and Matt Moulson over that time, which hints at some inflation of his boxcars. I'm not entirely certain he's much better than Kyle Wellwood, and frankly I'm always wary of players that come out of nowhere in their mid to late 20's, especially if that burst is while working with a superior player as a linemate. Wellwood, for whatever flaws he might have, has been an NHLer of some sort ever since the lockout, so at least you can trust his performance to have a more predictable path.

In any event, I suppose if Parenteau is cheapish on a two or three year deal he'd be worth a punt, but big money and term on a 29 year old with a red flag or two seems like a really bad idea. Of course, signing both Parenteau and Wellwood to reasonable deals would be perfectly fine, since the Jets were a couple of forwards short of a decent top nine last year when everyone was healthy, but I'm not sure that's in the cards. 

Trading places:

                   

The Leafier parts of Twitter were up in arms a few days back when a potential  Rick Nash for Phil Kessel deal was mooted. That seems to have settled down, thankfully, but I'd like to expand on the point I made at the time. 

I'd never advise a team to trade for Rick Nash because he has an openly terrible contract and the chances of a 28 year old turning his productivity slide are quite slim, but this idea that Phil Kessel is, as of today, a better player, seems to be open to debate. Kessel had some lovely boxcars, but he did spend last season being slightly outshot by third line comp. He's a very skilled soft minutes scorer without doubt, but 6 years into his career, he's still a player that gives up more than he makes, despite some kid gloves handling by his coaches in Toronto.

Nash, on the other hand, had a pretty difficult row to hoe last year in Columbus. Like Kessel, he was slightly outshot, but he did so facing the toughest competition his coaches could give him. It's cases like this that always remind me how important context is when assessing player performance. Without looking at who they played against, one could easily think Kessel was miles ahead. 

I'm also mindful of the fact that the Western Conference as a whole is a much tougher circuit to score in, even for top players. It's hardly an accident that nine of the the league's top ten point getters played in the EC, and as much as it pains me to agree with an Oiler fan, Dennis King's assertion this winter that the East had about five good teams and bunch of super-AHL clubs making up the numbers was an accurate assessment.

In the end, I'm of the opinion that if the two players were to have swapped their exact circumstances, Phil Kessel would get torched playing power vs. power in the West to a far higher degree than Rick Nash, and that Nash would feast, in relative terms, playing the soft underbelly of the Eastern Conference. Again, I wouldn't make the swap because of Nash's age and contract, but I'm not sure Phil Kessel would help a team be any better at this particular moment, and at least for the next couple of seasons, I'd still think Nash to be a slightly better player, money aside.

That's all for today, but I'll be posting my thoughts from Pittsburgh over the weekend. I have no idea if the Jets will make any deals, but there's always action when everyone congregates for the draft, so there should be some movement afoot.

 

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Robert Cleave is a perpetually grumpy Winnipegger.
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#1 MC Hockey
June 19 2012, 01:09PM
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Nice job Robert.

As for the topics, here we go:

Given his true numbers that don't hint at the defense being responsible for his performance, I agree G Ondrej Pavelec cannot be overvalued and if looking for $4M per season, perhaps it's time to look elsewhere, despite his RFA status (maybe do a "sign and trade" as they call it in the NBA). At least with him the Jets have the hammer in being able to qualify him but I believe a player can reject that offer (I may be off...can you verify?)

As for Evander Kane, well the other team I follow (the Flames) can certainly use a top-scoring player but probably prefer a true Centre and I think Kane is more of a Left Winger from what I have seen. But I would certainly ask him to just grow up and do wahtever it takes to keep him in the Peg as players like him are not commonly found.

As for other free agents, well I would think:

1. Figure out if Pavelec is kept before deciding on Mason in goal seems an obvious path unless Mason somehow becomes "in demand" on July 1.

2. I think Wellwood - given his decent counting and advanced stats - is a good, not costly option that fits in Winnipeg so in favor of his return and I think potential replacement P.A. Parenteau is unlikely to come to the Peg if he can keep playing with Tavares for good $ or even play in a place like Pittsburgh with huge talent at C and less travel in the East. And I worry about his late-20s surge and his likelihood of dropping off without Tavares or a similar top- 5-in-NHL superstar centre.

3. Eric Fehr fits well in Winnipeg (or Steinbach, MB given his last name) but he needs to be signed under the qualifying offer level to be worthwhile given last year. However, good chance of rebound is there with him, perhaps helping to solve the high-end talent issues at forward.

5. Other utility forwards (Stapleton, Machecek, Glass) and low-pairing defensemen (Flood, Jones), I suggest most should probably be retained at the right price, barring a trade that bring in multiple assets at F or D. In particulr, with Machecek being youg with strong energy and potential 3rd-line upside, you keep him. And if you look at advanced stats, the Corsi for Mark Flood on defense don't look great in 33 games played last year, but at 27 he is still trying to break in and given his relative youth, you should keep him.

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#2 RossCreekNation
June 20 2012, 11:42PM
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Really good stuff here, Bob.

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