Even in a year with a $70.3 million salary cap, finding players on cheap deals is essentially to building a winning club. Not every team has the same funds and those in smaller markets have to find players on bargain contracts to stay in contention rather than try to outbid their competitors. Big market teams have to do this, as well and it will be important next year with the cap going down, whether it's through entry-level contracts or buying low on certain free agents. The Hurricanes have done a fine job of acquiring these types of players over the years and they've had to do it out of necessity for awhile since they normally operate under a budget. Things have changed a bit over the last couple of years, though as Jim Rutherford has stated that he plans for the team to spend more money than in years past. That gives them some more wiggle room, but finding good deals will still be important.
The Hurricanes are still not going to be a cap team and are set to be about $9 mil. under the limit next season. With over $4 mil. committed to eight players next season and a few holes on the roster to fill, finding bargains is going to be essential. It's tough to predict what exactly you are going to get from a player each year, but one way to judge his contract is looking at his "Goals Versus Salary" value, which was developed by Robert Vollman. Each player has different expectations and more is expected out of players with higher salaries than those who are making the league minimum. Goals Versus Salary (GVS) tells us how each player performed relative to these expectations.
GVS is determined by looking at each player's "Goals Versus Threshold" value, which is a stat that shows the offensive, defensive and shootout "value" of each player, and comparing it to what is expected of them based on their salary. Their expected value is determined by taking their salary, subtracting it by the league minimum salary and multiplying that number by 1.99, which is the number of goals $1 mil. is worth under the current salary cap. Originally, the rule is that 3 goals costs $1 mil., but that was when the cap was much lower so I adjusted the value to what it is now. For more information on GVS, check out Hockey Prospectus' articles about it here.
After the jump, we'll look at who gave the Hurricanes the most for their money based on GVT.
Before I get started, I would just like to point out that I have issues with GVT as far as judging defensive value goes. It's a goal-based stat and a player's +/- usually ends up having an impact on what their overall GVT is and as you know, luck often plays a role in how many goals against a player is on the ice for. This is why I usually look at GVT numbers with a grain of salt and don't use them as an "end-be-all" stat. However, I do think GVT is a decent measure of a player's contributions and it works well for this particular exorcize since we are looking at how many goals they contributed compared to their salary.
So who looks best on the Hurricanes by this measure. A couple names shouldn't surprise you.
Jiri Tlusty was the best bargain on the Hurricanes by a wide margin and probably has one of the best deals in the league on top of that. The Hurricanes were not expecting him to have this kind of season when they re-signed him last summer, but he was able to build off his "breakout" season in 2011-12 by improving his game in just about every area and giving Carolina a lot of bang for their buck. I haven't done a study on league-wide GVS, but I think it's safe to assume that it's rare for a player to give his team this much value if he isn't on an entry-level deal, which makes Tlusty's season look even better. I have my doubts about Tlusty being able to repeat this, but he would still be giving the Hurricanes a great bargain even if his production goes down a bit. What happens with Tlusty's next contract will be interesting.
Tlusty was second on the team in GVT with captain Eric Staal leading the way. Staal had an fantastic season but he didn't provide the Hurricanes with a lot of value because he is already being paid top dollar. Since he is being paid so much, he is expected to contribute at this level and he basically lived up to his contract's value this year. The same thing can be said for Alexander Semin, who earned his $7 mil. salary this past year. Like Tlusty, I have my doubts on whether or not they will be able to sustain this kind of production and the Canes are going to be counting on them to do so with how much salary is committed to them. Also worth mentioning is Joe Corvo, who may drive fans crazy at times, but at $2 mil., he was not bad value for his contract.
A couple other players who are on good contracts but don't get talked about much are Jay Harrison and Patrick Dwyer. Neither are stars, but they each made under $1 mil. this past season and gave the Hurricanes quite a bit for their money. Dwyer was in the top-six for part of the year, had a solid offensive season for his standards and is one of the team's best penalty killers so he does a lot for a little. The final statement can also be applied to Harrison, who was essentially a top-four defenseman on Carolina's blue line and played on both special teams units.
Then you have guys like Justin Faulk, Jeff Skinner & Riley Nash, who gave the Hurricanes good value on entry level contracts. Faulk gave the Canes the most value since he was the team's best defenseman and is only on his second year of his ELC while Skinner had a down year but still provided the Canes with good value overall. That could change next year when his new contract kicks in, but I'm expecting him to have better numbers.
As for players who were not good value, most of them are players who were injured for a good part of the season. Ruutu and Pitkanen missed over half of the year so it was going to be hard for them to provide $4+ mil. worth of production in less than 25 games. Cam Ward also missed over half of the season and had a few bad games early in the year, so he ended up being nowhere near worth his $6.3 mil. salary. Like Staal & Semin, Ward has to perform at a high level to be worth his salary, so he usually doesn't come out favorably by this measure because of his contract.
Jordan Staal also gave the Hurricanes negative value because he had a down year by counting stats and is expected to contribute more at $4.5 mil. per year. He is also set to make $6 mil. starting next season, so the bar is going to be set higher for him then. Despite that, I think Jordan did a lot of things well this season that didn't show up on the scoresheet and he should have better numbers next year. I don't think he will be worth $6 mil. per year, but he does a lot of things that make this team better and should have some great seasons ahead of him. I also think Gleason should be better next year, although I'm not sure how he will look by GVT since defensive value is a little confusing.
GVS is a stat that carries a bit of a bias towards players with big salaries, because a lot is expected from them, so some players usually end up negative by this stat even if they had a good season, especially those who are defensive specialists. What you have to worry about are players who provide negative value while not making that much money and unfortunately, the Hurricanes had quite a few of these players.
Drayson Bowman, Tim Brent and Tim Wallace all weren't being paid much and they didn't do a whole lot to contribute either. Chad LaRose also wasn't being paid a lot and he had a dismal season with only four points in 35 games and had the second lowest GVS rating among forwards. It's hard to believe that he will be back next season.
GVS is also hard on goaltenders because they play more minutes than anyone else and have the most impact on winning and losing. As such, GVT and GVS ratings for goaltenders tend to be very extreme on one end or the other. All three Carolina goalies ended up being negative in GVS and two of them were making around the league minimum. Although, Dan Ellis basically provided the Hurricanes with what you would expect from a goalie making that much money but Justin Peters was below replacement level. Peters might be under contract next season and his performance only cost the Hurricanes one win, but your back-up goalie has to be a lot better than this. Ellis' numbers may not be great overall, but he appears to be a more attractable option than Peters for Ward's back-up next season.
The Hurricanes are probably not going to find a bargain contract that's as good as Tlusty's for a long time, but they can still find good deals in free agency if they approach it carefully. Finding useful players on cheap contracts like Patrick Dwyer & Jay Harrison can really go a long way to building a competitive team. There is also the possibility of some of the players the Hurricanes signed on ELC's giving them great value next year. Justin Faulk is on the final year of his and Ryan Murphy should be with the big club next year, too.
In the general sense, the Hurricanes were able to find good deals on cheap contracts last year but they need their players who are signed to more expensive deals to stay healthy and perform well next year. Alex Semin and Eric Staal were the only two who were able to do that in this past season and as good as they were, their contributions alone weren't able to carry the team.
GVT numbers are taken from Hockey Prospectus