Bryan Little has been a player that has often been overlooked during his time with the Jets, with many other players like Wheeler, Scheifele, and now Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers in the spotlight. However, Little has been one of the most consistent Jets over their six seasons in Winnipeg, and Little now has the opportunity to cash in.
When you ask most Jets fans, they are unsure what the cost of keeping this player will be, but they all agree that Little is a key piece that needs to be part of this team moving forward. Let’s dive into the numbers and figure out what Little’s market value is.
|4 yr. total||257||84||112||196||2||106||25||5||8||552||15.2%|
Little’s last two seasons have been hampered by two injuries. He missed the final 25 games of the 2015/2016 season with a fractured vertebrae suffered on a hit from Anton Stralman of Tampa Bay. He then missed the first 23 games of this season after a knee-on-knee hit from Bryan Bickell of Carolina in the season opener. Despite these injuries, Little has continued to score at his 4 year average of 0.76 points per game over the last two seasons.
We will look at comparables based on three categories of stats. They are basic scoring stats, usage stats (specifically Time on Ice by situation), and USAT% (also known as Fenwick%), which is a calculation of team shots on goal + team missed shots divided by all shots on goal + all missed shots (both teams). For example, if a team has 30 unblocked shots when a player is on the ice, and the opponent has 40 unblocked shots when a player is on the ice, then his USAT% is 30/(30+40) = 42.9%
The former captain of the St Louis Blues, Backes is a big centreman, who like Little has the ability to move to the wing if needed. Backes signed a 5 year, $30 million contract with the Boston Bruins as an unrestricted free agent in the Summer of 2016. He was 32 years old at the start of the contract.
A former Manitoba Moose, Kesler is a 2nd line centre like Little. While Kesler is not a flashy player, he is a consistent offensive performer like Little. Kesler signed a 6 year, $41.25 million contract extension with Anaheim that began this season. He was 32 years old at the start of the contract.
Formerly a linemate of John Tavares with the New York Islanders, Nielsen is built very similar to Little at 6’1”, 188 pounds. Nielsen signed a 6 year, $31.5 million contract with the Detroit Red Wings as an unrestricted free agent in the Summer of 2016. He was 32 years old at the start of the contract.
|Years||13/14 – 16/17||12/13 – 15/16||12/13 – 15/16||12/13 – 15/16|
|PP PTS/60 min PP||4.59||4.07||4.33||4.99|
|Age at Contract Start||31||32||32||32|
|Yrs/AAV||?||6 yrs/$6.875 M||5 yrs/$6 M||6 yrs/$5.25 M|
Among the four players, Little ranks first in points per game and shooting percentage, while ranking second in Time on Ice per game and USAT%. The margin that he his ahead in points per game outweighs any potential regression in shooting percentage. His career shooting percentage of 13.4% would drop his points per game number from 0.76 to 0.72, still putting him at the top of this group of players by a large margin.
To note, Backes’ USAT%, the highest in this group by more than 1.25%, would be affected by playing with the Blues for those 4 seasons. Over the 4 seasons, the Blues are second in the NHL in Shots Against per game at 27.2 (only the Los Angeles Kings are better), and they have the league’s third best USAT% over that span at 52.99%, trailing only Chicago and Los Angeles in that category. In the 4 seasons for Little in the table above, the Jets are 14th in Shots Against per game at 29.8, and 12th in USAT% at 50.82%.
Based on these rankings, Little certainly belongs in the same salary range as these players. On average, these players are making $5.7 million over a 6 year term.
The market for centremen in free agency in the summer of 2018 has an interesting mix of ages and types of players available. The high-end names on the list include John Tavares, Paul Stastny, and Mikko Koivu, along with Bryan Little. If you are looking for a middle six type centre, there are players such as Valtteri Filppula, Tyler Bozak, Mikael Backlund, Lars Eller, Kyle Turris, and Matt Stajan. Finally, if a team is looking for a veteran piece to push them over the top, there are players such as Henrik Sedin and Tomas Plekanec available as well.
Little has earned a raise on the $4.7 million AAV he is making on his current contract, but his salary needs to be kept in the range of 5 – 5.5 million AAV to ensure there is still enough money to go around for players like Jacob Trouba, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Patrik Laine. If I was the Jets, I would be prepared to sign him to a 6 year extension at $5.5 million per season. What do you think? Is it a must that the Jets extend Bryan Little? Would you sign him to a longer term at a lower price point?