Hello, Jets Nation! I know you. You probably don’t know me. I write about a team that you probably don’t like very much across the network. That said, I don’t mind you guys. Your arena is loud, your logo is incredible, and any city that recognizes that having an Ikea is a big deal wins my vote of confidence. But that’s not the point of this post, The point of this post is simple; I like Blake Wheeler, and I like this 6 year contract announced yesterday night.
I wanted to do something similar to what I did when I talked about Carl Gunnarson’s extension on The Leafs Nation. Specificially, I was looking for the following qualities:
- Obviously, are wingers.
- Between 24 and 28 years old to begin their contract year (Wheeler being 26)
- Were Restricted Free Agents at the time of signing their deals.
- Within 10% of the salary cap equivalent share for their year. Wheeler’s 5.6M takes up 8.7% of the Cap Ceiling.
The crazy thing? There are only two comparable contracts, and that doesn’t really get fixed with more flexibility. I could include Ryan Malone, but he was a UFA at 28. I could include Dustin Penner’s prior contract, but he was offer sheeted. The only comparable contracts belong to Jason Pominville and Martin Erat.
|Blake Wheeler||2012/13||26||5.6 x 6|
|Jason Pominville||2008/09||26||5.3 x 5|
|Martin Erat||2007/08||26||4.5 x 7|
Now, obviously, we don’t know to what extent every NHL team accounts for advanced metrics. I’ll get to those later, but for the sake of easily digestible tables, I’m using basic production, ice time, and the ever-so-dreaded real time statistics.
What jumps out at me here, is that all three guys all play similar ice time, with just a minute and ten seconds between the lowest (Wheeler) and highest (Pominville). Because of this, you can assume their roles with their teams were similar, and we can adjust their stats based on minutes. For scoring forwards, I like to bump them to 1640 minutes, which is 82 games at 20 minutes per game, not unrealistic for a healthy top line forward. Here’s how it ocmes together:
That’s a really fun result. Wheeler’s contract year becomes the more productive of the three. Granted, his shooting percentage was also higher (nearly double that of Pominville, who had by far the fewest goals). But his assists nevers hold up, and his shot totals are plentiful. Just for laughs, here are their real time stats:
Hits are a statistic that’s subjectively measured from building to building, so taking a big stake in them is always hard, but seeing as he has nearly twice as many as the other two do combined, I’m inclined to believe that he’s more physical. He also got in front of the puck more than both his comparables, nearly put together. Giveaways and takeaways are touchy, but I do think that the combined of puck incidents being similar to the others is something worth pointing out, especially if he takes it away more in the same timeframe.
It’s safe to conclude, based on the above, that there is a rare group of forwards who get caught between that gap of "potential star winger" and "star winger", and become a group of very very good forwards who get comphensated at a very good market value. But what else is noteworthy about this contract that makes it good?
- Blake Wheeler is a productive even strength forward. Since his rookie season in 08/09, Wheeler is ranked 45th in points per 60 minutes amongst forwards who have played 3000 minutes or more 5 on 5 (which in 5 years, really isn’t much to ask for a sample size). Specifically, he has 2.04 points per 60 even strength minutes. Contract buddy Jason Pominville is slightly ahead of him at 35th with 2.11.
- Raw numbers benefit him. He moves up to 32nd in points, 37th in assists, and 32nd in goals. Has this year been his most productive? Yes. Has he gone under the radar for his efficiency in recent years? Also yes. This is what happens when a productive forward doesn’t get the bonus powerplay time (he’s 184th in powerplay points in that same timeframe).
- Wheeler is one of the most effective penalty killers at getting the puck at the net. Of players with 300 minutes of penalty killing time, he ranks 11th in individual shot attempts per 60. The key to a penalty kill is usually "get the puck out", but an opportunist isn’t a bad thing if he’s effective (now, all you guys have to do is play him there..)
- He’s a player that finishes his shifts in the offensive zone (52.5%) more than he starts them (49.2). In fact, he’s pretty good at driving the play all around.
- Just an aside: Somebody should really tell Pavelec to stop being so bad when he’s on the ice.
- You’re buying five years of UFA time. Lets face it, in any city, with any player keeping a guy from shopping around isn’t a cheap task. But a city like Winnipeg (which lets be honest, isn’t the premier destination for a premier player), combined with a player like Wheeler (who found his way out of Phoenix and onto the open market without ever playing a game) sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. Instead, you still have a deal that looks good compared to his peers.
- But with all of those years bought, he’s only signed until he’s 32! You’re not getting the massive decline at the end; he should be beginning to slow down but still healthy at this point.
- Those peers, by the way, did pretty well after signing their contracts. Pominville scored 62 points the following year, has kept paces of over 60 a year since, and hit 30 goals in 2011/12. Erat has also been a consistant 55-60 point forward since, and could probably be more without health concerns. Both players are on different teams than where they started, but both returned strong assets and were only shopped due to the nature of their now-former home’s tailspin seasons.
- Wheeler’s shooting percentage may go down from a career high next year, but he’s still in the top half of the league since coming in. It’s an up year, but not a total abnormality. Besides, rebounds could lead to (very slightly) more assists.
I have no invested interest in Blake Wheeler. Your team of choice is out of the conference this year, and I don’t particularly care how he or the Jets perform. With that said, his new contract aligns him with an awkward, rare, but beneficial type of player in this league. The precendent is good; his peers have succeeded. With more special teams minutes and continued success with his linemates, this contract will work out very nicely in a relative sense.