My post on Ovechkin attracted a fair amount of consternation from the readers at Japers Rink. As Caps fans faced in the cold reality of another game seven, without the heat from even a single burning police car in Montreal to warm themselves, I thought I’d take a closer look at the question.
(A complete aside: a league with two star players named Nicklas Bäckström and Niklas Bäckström is like having a team named the Ottawa Röugh Riders and the Saskatchewan Röughriders.)
I took another dip into Vic’s bag of tricks at timeonice.com to come up Backstrom’s ES numbers away from Ovechkin. One of the commenters in the Japers Rink thread made the point that Backstrom posted 3 goals and 11 assists in games without Ovechkin this year. The thing is, the numbers don’t look particularly appealing there. His shot spread, as we’d guess from his Corsi, isn’t good – it’s 138 SF and 154 SA. Not terrible but nowhere near the otherworldly numbers he’s posted with Ovechkin.
While he was on the ice for 20 goals for and only 17 against, this was obviously somewhat percentage fueled, in that he had a 14.5% on-ice shooting percentage and an .890 save percentage. There are other signs of trouble with him too – his on-ice save percentage as a whole was high this year and that has a strong tendency to trend towards the mean. I know that Caps fans have come up with a million reasons why this won’t apply to the Caps but ask the Bruins how that goes. Or ask the 2008-09 Oilers whether shooting percentage is a solid foundation. Or the 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres. The list goes on. Washington (and the rest of America) have already paid a price for assuming that real estate prices can rise forever, something that you could at least argue there was data in support of, if you ignored all of the underlying indicia. There’s no reason to make the same mistake with shooting percentages.
There was speculation in the thread at Japers’ Rink that Backstrom will come at a price of $7MM or so. I can’t see how that would occur when he’s scored 189 points over the past two years. Looking at the expensive RFA deals, Ovechkin comes in at around $9.5MM, Crosby and Malkin at $8.7MM, Stastny at $6.6MM and then Kane and Toews at $6.3MM. If I’m Backstrom, I’m arguing that I’m a lot closer to Crosby and Ovechkin than I am to Stastny, Kane and Toews. Given that those fellows have scored considerably fewer points, on the indicia commonly used in pricing hockey players, I would expect that Backstrom comes in at somewhere between $7.5MM and $8.25MM annually on a five year deal.
It’s a huge price to pay if you don’t have confidence that he’s a driver of results like Ovechkin, Crosby and Malkin. While I think that there’s no chance Washington moves him – Ted Leonsis will look silly if he deviates from the much ballyhooed plan with which he’s taunted players on other teams and I think he ascribes too much value to the skill of Caps management and not enough value to luck when it comes to team building – I’d be hesitant if I was Washington to hand over money to a guy who is as dependent on shooting percentage and Ovechkin for his success as is Backstrom.
Backstrom’s on-ice shooting percentage this year was extraordinarily high, at 12.66%, a number that put him fifth in the league. As is illustrated by the table to the right, this simply does not tend to repeat year over year. What I’ve done there is taken the top 30 forwards by on-ice in 2007-08 and 2008-09 (60 in total) and then compared their results in that season to their results in the following season: the trend is obvious. I’ve appended the raw source data to the bottom of the post.
If the reasonable expectation for Backstrom is something less than 101 points when you strip away the Ovechkin factor and the shooting percentage, the question becomes: what are those reasonable expectations? How much do you nick his numbers for those things? We can infer, from the Corsi data, that Backstrom hasn’t been a big reason for the Caps’ overwhelming territorial dominance. We know that the reasonable expectation is the on-ice shooting percentage will be less going forward.
If – and I’m just playing math games here but, if the on-ice shooting percentage were to drop by the 2.6% average for my top 30 while the shots remain the same, the ESGF/60 with Backstrom on the ice falls from 4.45 to 3.52. That’s still really fantastic. Assuming he gets points on 75% of those, you’d expect him to post something like 2.6 ESP/60. That cuts about 11 points off his numbers and we still haven’t allowed for the Ovechkin factor.
The guy who caught my eye while looking at this was Paul Stastny. Stastny, who earns $6.6MM has been a 70-80 point guy for most of the past few years, while playing on a lousy Colorado team. If you could flip Backstrom for him and, say, the Avs first round pick next year, would either team do that? I suspect that the Caps wouldn’t – management would rather make the perceived safe risk and not make the move. I’m not saying I’d do it either, but I’m reasonably certain that the distance between Backstrom and Stastny is alot smaller than it appears. If that’s not reflected in Backstrom’s new deal, well, Washington will have made a mistake. As someone who’s seen the results of an overpay here and an overpay there…it’s not pretty.