Arbitration Avoided: Zach Bogosian signs for $36M/7


Photo by clydeorama

In inking Zach Bogosian to a long-term contract yesterday, General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff officially avoided arbitration with all of the Jets’ 5 RFAs who filed. In every case, the team paid full value for the player’s services, including long term deals for the Big 3. Bogosian is no exception, signing at 23 for 7 years and $36M ($5.14M cap hit) after an up-and-down 5 years in the NHL. On the one hand, it’s a story of redemption for the player as his time in Winnipeg has been his best hockey to date. On the other, it’s a low-reward risk on the premise of potential. 

Below we’ll look at the contract and the player separately as always.

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The Contract

We all knew it was coming. Way back, we talked about it costing $5.5 for 6 years, and in that light I think we can be satisfied that it cost a little less for a little longer. The team bought 5 UFA years from a former 3rd overall pick and the youngest player to ever dress for the franchise, suiting up at just 18 years, 87 days. Now still just 23, Bogosian is a critical piece of the young core moving forward, and an established top-4 defenceman that helps the team win now. 

But there are concerns with the length and dollar value of this contract. 

First and foremost, Bogosian’s injury history is extensive. A broken leg, broken thumb, injuries to each wrist, knee problems, a shoulder injury, and the usual bumps and bruises mean that out of a possible 376 games in the past 5 years, he’s played in 297 of them. He’s a physical, mean defender, it’s a brutal sport, and no doubt luck has a part to play. Yet, with the evidence at hand, we should consider Bogosian a 70-game-per-year player already at 23, and that injury list is likely to get longer and harder to overcome as he ages.

The second concern is with the idea of ‘potential.’ Granted, Bogosian is a young man, and there is a solid narrative of constant growth to be written. He’s a 5 year pro who has been tried at forward, healthy scratched, and considered trade bait during his entry level contract. Under Defensive Coach Charlie Huddy, he’s played two better seasons of hockey in Winnipeg. He’s averaged 35+ points while playing medium to tough competition in an up-hill battle on a team without a ton of help to offer him. But he’s only played 98 games of hockey in those two seasons – a sample size equivalent to one full season and 16 playoff games. Maybe Bogosian is getting better, will continue to get better, and the Jets will be paying $5.14M for a Norris candidate. Or maybe that’s just a narrative, and the team should be concerned that he’s able to live up to the bar he’s set in Winnipeg in each of the coming 7 seasons.

The Player

I want to go on record by saying that I like Zach Bogosian a lot. He’s hard not to like, really. He’s a mountain of a man who skates well, hits people, and scores. To be honest, I think his 84 rating in NHL 13 is a touch low beause the guy is a born video game hockey player. Can you imagine him in NHL 2000 when they had that Torpedo Check button?! Case closed. Give the guy a billion. Plus, he won the Community Service award for the Thrashers back in 2011. What a guy.

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Seriously, though, by eye and by numbers, he put together a terrific season of hockey for the Jets this past year.

  • EVTOI: 19:23 (2nd among 7 defencemen with 20+ GP)
  • PPTOI: 1:44 (3rd)
  • SHTOI: 1:59 (3rd)
  • Boxcars: 33GP 5-9-14, -5 (on a team that -4)
  • (Pace: 82GP 12-22-34)
  • 5×5 Points/60: 1.06 (1st)
  • RelCorsi QualComp: 1.115 (2nd)
  • RelCorsi: -5 (6th)
  • RelCorsi QualTeam: -0.730 (7th)
  • Offensive Zone Start: 45.3% (2nd hardest)
  • Offensive Zone Finish: 49.5% (7th)
  • PDO: 997 (3rd)

He played the toughest competition alongside partner Ron Hainsey and had a tough zone start as well. He still managed to score at the best even strength rate among defencemen on the team with an even PDO. What’s not to like?

You guessed it sports fan, there are concerns.

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First up, his possession numbers. This was his first season playing such tough competition, but it’s not his first with a negative RelCorsi. In fact, that would be his 4th in a row with negative RelCorsi in contexts that have gradually increased in difficulty. His possession rate this season is noteworthy given the context, though not overwhelmingly successful, and in his 180 minutes played away from partner Ron Hainsey (who is now a Free Agent), Bogosian’s success sunk slightly from a corsi % of 48.7 to 47.2. 

The next concern is his PDO – that is, his on-ice save % added to his on-ice shooting %. At almost 1000, we can call it a season that wasn’t affected much by luck. On the other hand, his on-ice shooting % was second on the team at 10%, while his on-ice save % was a second worst 897. In sum, the good luck in the offensive end covers up the bad luck in his own end. This becomes a problem if, as I did above, we try to find the silver lining in his possession numbers through his offensive success (itself somewhat illusory). 

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It’s even more of a concern if the contract is premised on the potential for his offence to grow. It’s plain for all to see that Bogosian is a strong skater and has a heavy slap shot. He’s put the puck in the net in the past using those skills. He scored 19 goals in his first 128 games despite major injury, including a period of 17 goals in 56 games. Since his sophomore year, he’s scored 15 in 169 games. His shot totals continue to increase every year – he averaged a whopping 2.5 shots a game in 2013 – but his shooting % was high in those heady goal-scoring days, and the narrative of finding the range again this past year is also heavily percentage dependent. 

As a player, Bogosian has all the physical tools a fan or coach could hope for, and there is no doubt that by eye he’s a better player under Charlie Huddy than he was in Atlanta. Still, there’s not yet a lot of evidence to suggest that he can even repeat the season he just had – arguably the best of his career – nevermind build from it. 

The Bottom Line

The team paid full value for all of their RFA players this off-season, from giving Paul Postma 2 years to Wheeler’s $5.6M. They aren’t *bad* deals, just not discount ones either. Had Cheveldayoff decided to sign Bogosian to a longer team deal back in September of 2011, it’s possible they could have given him something similar to Travis Hamonic, who has a cap hit just under $4M over his 7 year deal which builds from $1.25M in the first year to $4.875M in the final 4 years. It’s a risk, but the likelihood that Hamonic is outplaying his $3.857M cap hit by the 4th year of the contract his high, especially as we know the cap is going to move up considerably in the next few years. Can we reasonably imagine that Bogosian will be out-playing his cap hit at any point during the contract?

What concerns me is how the team made the evaluation on Bogosian. Had Bogosian’s offensive luck run dry this season, it’s possible the team would have offered him a 1 year deal as Sam Gagner got in Edmonton last year, retaining his RFA rights while getting another viewing of the player. Instead, 98 games of good hockey and a confirmation bias later, and the team has taken a massive gamble. 

Again – Bogosian has all the tools to be a top-pairing defenceman within a few short years. Right now, he helps the Jets win and that can’t be denied. Nevertheless, he’s being paid to be a Top-4 (though not elite) level defenceman after a very short audition in that role, and without the kind of success to show he can do it for the next 7 years. At best, we can hope that he lives up to his cap hit.