Photo: Greg Fiume
Last night, Ian wrote about pending UFA Mike Green’s desire to stay with the Caps until death or retirement do them part. Already this season, I’ve looked at what it could cost to re-sign Marcus Johansson and how much Braden Holtby is worth, both of whom will be RFA after the season. Green’s case is a bit different, as he is set to hit unrestricted free agency come July 1st.
Some have pointed to Johnny Boychuck‘s 7-year, $42-million extension with the Islanders as a floor of where Green’s negotiations should begin. It’s a decent comp, but I’m going to dig a little deeper to look for salary comps for Green.
Entering Thursday’s game against Minnesota, Green has 39 points. To give our search for comps a wide range, we’ll fairly assume that Green is going to finish the season with 40-50 points. He’s skated 1175 minutes this season. At over 19 minutes per night, it’s also fair to assume Green will easily eclipse 1,300 minutes this season. So, via Hockey Reference, here’s a list of defenseman who have finished with 42-48 points while skating 1,300-plus minutes in a season during the salary cap era. Green is in his age-29 season, so we’ll filter our search to defenseman between the ages of 27-30.
Not all of these players were hitting UFA the season after the ones shown, but three of the players that were are of particular interest here. They are Dennis Wideman, Matt Niskanen, and Ryan Suter (Suter appears twice. I’m focusing on his 2011-12 season, listed at #10 in the graphic above). Here are the contracts those players signed as UFAs:
One important caveat: all three of these players were making in the $2-4.5 million range the season before signing these deals. Green currently has a cap hit of $6.083 million.
My initial reactions are that there is no way Green will make less than Wideman, no way he will get anywhere near the bonkers deal Suter got, and that Niskanen serves as an especially interesting comp, particularly since he was signed by the Caps just last off-season.
But due diligence is important, so let’s compare Green’s career career to numbers to the players at the time they each entered free agency.
Green is a clear outlier in terms of production per 60 minutes of ice time. Wideman is the weak link in terms of possession.
In many ways, Niskanen’s deal he signed with the Caps last off-season works really well as a baseline for Green’s next deal. There are legitimate reason why both sides could use Niskanen’s deal as a starting point, with the Caps obviously saying Green has to take less and Green’s camp obviously arguing Green is worth more than this deal.
Why the Caps won’t pay Green more than Niskanen
Niskanen plays almost three minutes more per game than Green. He’s on the second pairing, while Green plays on the third. Niskanen was 27 years old when he signed his deal, whereas Green will be 29.
There’s also the issue of the type of minutes each player plays. The Caps could argue that Niskanen faces tougher zone starts and competition. But really, I’m not sure this point will go in their favor. The difference in competition over the course of the season is negligible. And Green’s camp could argue that Green’s deployment on more offensive zone draws are by design to cater to Green’s superior offensive skills.
The Caps strongest argument is simply their roles. The Caps use Niskanen as a top-4 defenseman. They don’t use Green in such a role. You’d be hard pressed to find many teams that re-sign a third-pairing defender to a deal for more money than they inked their second-pairing defender.
Why Green’s camp will want more than Niskanen money
For starters, Green is already earning more than Niskanen. Green’s salary this season (not to be confused with his cap hit) is $6.25 million, while Niskanen’s is $5.75 million.
Second, Green has consistently been more productive than Niskanen, at times when handling more minutes than Niskanen currently is.
Green’s résumé is drastically more impressive than Niskanen’s, including being a Norris finalist and an All-Star.
Also keep in mind that pending UFAs who re-sign with their current team typically take about 20 percent less money than they get on the open market. For example, if the Caps and Green agreed that Niskanen and Green are of equal value, Green would make $4.6 million per season, 80 percent of Niskanen’s $5.75 million
Despite Green’s statements about wanting to stay with the Caps, sentiments that I believe are sincere, it’s hard to envision the two sides finding a match. Can the Caps really afford to keep Green, considering the money he will get on the open market, given the money already committed to their top-4 D? On the flip side, does anyone actually believe Green will take a pay cut drastic enough for a deal to make sense for the Caps? Hard to imagine that, considering he will get at least Boychuck money on the open market.
Green will still be a $6+ million a year player next season. The only scenario in which Green doesn’t get that money is one in which he takes a significant hometown discount to stay in DC. It’s hard to believe he’d do that, just as it’s hard to believe the Caps can afford to re-sign him under any other circumstance.
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