"This right here, kids.. this is value."
Image via Canucks.com.
Every summer come July 1st, we see team’s break the bank to sign players to lucrative contracts that they’ll likely wind up regretting down the road. Yet they still do it, for some reason, and will continue to do so for years to come. Without conducting any sort of formal study, I’d venture to guess that the largest percentage of mistakes made by most GMs come on that day, when they find themselves getting caught up in the "frenzy", spending just for the sake of spending.
That has the agents of even relatively competent defensemen licking their lips, I’d bet. At every marquee NHL event – whether it be the trade deadline, or draft day, or July 1st – it seems like defensemen are a hot commodity. Every single team is looking for help at that position, and the demand far exceeds the supply. Which is why we see contracts such as Mark Streit for 4 year, $21 million or Dennis Wideman for 5 year, $26.25 million happen. Well, either that, or because Paul Holmgren and Jay Feaster are incredibly incompetent.
Recently, we’ve also seen a trend of teams placing a premium on locking up their young defensemen long-term, paying big bucks mostly based off of potential. As every day passes, and every new contract gets signed, I think to myself just how awesome the one Dan Hamhuis signed (6 years, $27 milliion) with the Canucks back on July 1st, 2010 is.
Read on past the jump for more on just how much value Hamhuis’ contract provides.
This is a Canucks blog, so I’m sure you’re all well aware of Hamhuis’ exploits on the ice. He’s not flashy, and likely won’t be making too many highlight reels. But he’s silky smooth, and he seems to make the right play every single time; when he makes a mistake, it sticks out like a sore thumb because of how rare an occurence it is. He logs heavy minutes, drives play in the right direction, and is as consistent as it gets. His most valuable skill in my opinion though is his rare ability to make the guys he plays with better. If you don’t believe me, just ask Kevin Bieksa.
Last offseason, I took a look at the top defensive pairings in the NHL, and sure enough, Vancouver’s top pairing of Hamhuis and Bieksa were in my top 5. With the arrival of Jason Garrison this season, that pairing was split up and Hamhuis was put next to Garrison (with Bieksa alternating between Andrew Alberts and Alex Edler for most of the season). Now, injuries certainly played a role, but the fact of the matter is that Bieksa completely cratered, while Hamhuis put together another season of not only playing an immensely high level of hockey himself, but also one where his partner was rock solid. Coincidence? I don’t believe in those.
As a quick aside, I’ve recently come across a good litmus test for finding out how invested in the game a hockey fan really is: tell them that you think Team Canada should bring Dan Hamhuis to Sochi next year, and see how they react. Chances are if you play this game with someone from Vancouver, or someone that follows hockey very closely, they’ll be onboard. Otherwise, you’ll probably get some resistance; after all, Hamhuis doesn’t do end-to-end rushes like a PK Subban, or shoot pucks through the net like a Shea Weber. Yet the fact still remains that I can’t name more than 12-15 defensemen that I’d rather have on my team for next season.
Hamhuis has three years left on his deal, with a cap hit of $4.5 million. As a frame of reference, that cap hit makes him the 4th (!!) highest paid defenseman on the Vancouver Canucks roster. I don’t know about you, but that kind of blows my mind. He’s easily the team’s most valuable defenseman, and has been since he got here. It’s impossible not to wonder how differently the 2011 Stanley Cup Final would have played out were he able to play more than 8 minutes and 9 seconds that he did in that series.
But let’s not spend any more time dwelling on that. Instead, I’ve got something uplifting for you; below is a screenshot of Dan Hamhuis’ top 20 contract comparables, provided by CapGeek:
That list has some pretty good defensemen in their own right, but realistically, how many of them are you taking over Dan Hamhuis? Ryan McDonagh? That’s about it, for me. At the top I referenced team’s dishing out money for their young defensemen mostly based off of potential. That includes Nashville who gave Roman Josi (7 years, $28 million), the Kings and Slava Voynov (6 years, $25 million), and the Jets with Zach Bogosian (7 years, $36 million). Remember when the Buffalo Sabres gave Tyler Myers $38.5 million over 7 years?
When comparing those deals with the one Hamhuis signed, keep in mind that every single one of those aforementioned defensemen had RFA years left (which leave them with less leverage, and in theory, a cheaper price tag. Daniel Wagner had a good post on this today).
Dan Hamhuis was on the open market, and was heavily sought after. He was also a polished player who was about to sign a contract that would take him through the meat of his prime. Remember, both the Penguins and the Flyers acquired his rights before July 1st in an attempt to negotiate with him. Thankfully for the Canucks, Hamhuis decided that he wanted to return home, and in doing so provided the team with one of the best values in the entire league. If you think the team is in a salary cap bind now, imagine where they’d be if Hamhuis was making what a player of his skillset should be.