"Now, y'all would guess that, more often than not, the highest paid player on an NFL team is a quarterback, and you'd be right. But what you probably don't know is, that more often than not, the second highest paid player is, thanks to Lawrence Taylor, a left tackle. Because, as every housewife knows, the first check you write is for the mortgage, but the second is for the insurance."
This quote comes from the 2009 movie, "The Blind Side” — the Sandra Bullock movie about NFL offensive lineman Michael Oher. Bullock's opening narration explains a lot, really.
I began thinking about this quote when we recorded the first ever Knights On Ice podcast. We were discussing Vadim Shipachyov and I began thinking about the pay structure in the NHL.
It isn't even a perfect metaphor. The "insurance" — one would think — would be the goaltenders, but in the NHL, goalies tend to be the most financially undervalued commodity despite their overall impact.
Where the metaphor works is the mortgage. For this, we look toward the position of center — no position is paid higher In the NHL.
Of the top 109 highest paid skaters for the 2017-18 season, 40 are centers, compared to 33 defensemen and 35 wingers.
Teams customarily only play four centers on a given night, whereas they play six defensemen and eight wingers. If you average that out to the (now) 31 teams that's 124 centers (22 percent), 248 wingers (44 percent), and 186 defensemen (33 percent).
The position that makes up the least number of skaters in a lineup on a given night make up 37 percent of the highest paid players. This becomes 23 of the top 50, nine of the top 15, and five of the top 10.
This brings us back to Shipachyov.
The Vegas Golden Knights’ center was signed away from the KHL's SKA St. Petersburg to a two-year deal worth $4.5 million per season. For a center, $4.5 million is the 59th ranked cap hit for the coming season.
Shipachyov is paid as though he were a borderline 2nd/3rd-line pivot. This led me to wonder two things:
- What does the average $4.5-million center look like statistically?
- Realistically, what is the minimum acceptable production we should expect from Shipachyov?
Now that Shipachyov has finally been called up to the NHL, I thought it was time to answer those questions.
First, we must first find the players who make roughly that amount, taking players who make within $500,000 of $4.5 million to give us a bigger sample size. There are 13 contracts that fall into that category, which include names like Bryan Little (whose extension kicks in next season), Tyler Ennis, Artem Anisimov, and Nazem Kadri among others.
Here is a breakdown of their 2016-17 statistics:
|CARL SODERBERG (COL)||6||8||14|
|MARTIN HANZAL (DAL)||20||19||39|
|VINCENT TROCHECK (FLA)||23||31||54|
|BRYAN LITTLE (WPG)||21||26||47|
|JORI LEHTERA (PHI)||7||15||22|
|TYLER ENNIS (MIN)||5||8||13|
|MARCUS JOHANSSON (NJD)||24||34||58|
|ARTEM ANISIMOV (CHI)||22||23||45|
|NAZEM KADRI (TOR)||32||29||61|
|ALEX KILLORN (TB)||19||17||36|
|BRANDON SUTTER (VAN)||17||17||34|
|SEAN COUTURIER (PHI)||14||20||43|
|CRAIG SMITH (NSH)||12||17||29|
To give us what the average $4.5 million center might look like, we have to average out these 13 players as though they were one player. This gives us roughly 17 goals and 38 points in 72 games.
For context, those 38 points ranked 178th (among names like Rick Nash and David Backes) and their averaged 17 goals would rank about 125th in the league among skaters.
Those numbers are a bit skewed as both Ennis and Soderberg had shockingly awful seasons that came in well below their career norms.
Soderberg was a 51-point player just two seasons ago and had been a 40-plus point player over the two seasons prior to that. While it is fair to say that players have bad years, this is perhaps a more accurate depiction of his skill level.
Ennis has had a pair of down years, but it should be noted that he was injured for much of both, having played just 51 and 23 games respectively. It is difficult to say what the missed time over the past two seasons has done to his ability to produce, but if we figure out his pace during those two seasons, combine them, and spread it over an 80-game season we're looking at a 29-point player.
I single out Ennis because he played the least amount of games of the group and it has clearly hampered his ability the most.
What we're left with is a fair assessment of the average $4.5-million center statistically — a player who produces roughly 18 goals and 42 points in 75 games.
As Shipachyov can only play upwards of 78 games this season due to his late call-up, 75 games is an adequate number.
In terms of league rankings the 42 points added from the earlier corrections to Ennis and Soderberg boost their league ranking to 146th and the 18 goals is 121st.
It’s difficult to say what this means of Shipachyov’s expectations. For starters, Shipachyov is better than a couple of these guys. Shipachyov was an elite offensive talent in the KHL.
Predictions and final numbers
How does Shipachyov having a 20-goal, 47-point season in 75 games sound to you?
A 47-point campaign puts him in the top 115 scorers last season and his 20 goals ties him for 85th. It also places him in 51st among centers in scoring. Not bad production.
I firmly believe teams should get what they pay for. A 47-point season seems like a reasonable expectation of the veteran/rookie center. Should he produce less, it should be seen as a disappointment.
That said, given the talent in the NHL at his cap hit, No. 87’s known skillset, and the role we could likely see him in, it is fair to think that he will ultimately produce higher than the average $4.5 million center and provide the Golden Knights with a large return on their investment.
It’s too difficult to project him right now as he is too much of an unknown commodity. These numbers should act as a guide to help give an idea as to what can reasonably be expected of him given his position and how much he is being paid.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch “The Blind Side” now.