• Nilsson is dead! Long live Nilsson!

    by  • July 16, 2010 • Uncategorized • 21 Comments

    This, from Jim Matheson, caught me by surprise the other day:

    Oilers forward Gilbert Brule, who has filed for salary arbitration to get a significant raise over the team’s qualifying offer of $840,000, likely said a few thank-yous to Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke when he gave winger Nikolai Kulemin a new two-year deal for an average salary of $2.35 million.

    Kulemin had 16 goals and 36 points in Toronto last year. Brule scored 17 goals and 37 points here.

    Both are 23 years old. Kulemin had 30 five-on-five points; Brule 32. Kulemin played 127 minutes on the power play, Brule got 93.

    “Really,” I thought to myself, “35ish points gets you $2.35MM these days?”

    Before I turn to that, a brief aside – Brule has all of the red flags that were there for Shawn Horcoff and Robert Nilsson in terms of their offence when they signed their deals. He was in on 85% of the goals scored with him on the ice at even strength this year. The on-ice shooting percentage was high. He shot 14.5% at ES. All of the things that we’ve learned are indicators of outlier seasons are there. I would happily bet the under if someone wanted to bet on him repeating his rates of last year. He’s got some pretty decent cards to play with the arbitrator though. His points/60 at ES is actually significantly better than Kulemin’s, because he got less ice time. There are a lot of reasons, I think, to expect that Brule won’t match his numbers next season.

    The Coppernblue guys mooted this problem in a series of three posts a little while back: see here, here and here. I found the comparators used by the “Oilers” side of the case to be pretty interesting – the esteemed Scott Reynolds used Ryan Callahan ($2.3MM, signed in July 2009), Tyler Kennedy ($725K, signed in September, 2008), Daniel Paille ($1.125MM, signed in July, 2008) and Alex Steen ($1.7MM, signed in February, 2008).

    Those players are all fine comparators pointswise but man, do I see some problems for the Oilers on this one. Kennedy actually signed his contract coming off of a season in which he put up 19 points in 55 games; the season that he put up that matched Brule’s came after he’d locked in. Heckuva job by his agent. Paille and Steen look like fine comparisons but both of those contracts are two years old; you have to weight the contracts given to people like Mikhail Grabovski, Kulemin and Callahan more heavily I think as they’re more recent and the market changes.

    If that’s the market price for these guys though, you really have to wonder how much, if any, surplus value the teams are collecting from the deals. I’m not sure what the end game is for the Oilers and Brule here that doesn’t involve him getting paid north of $2MM. Brule is going to be hardpressed to crack the Oilers top six at any point when they’re competitive, with Horcoff, Gagner, Penner, Hemsky, Hall, MPS and Eberle all probably being mentally slotted in front of him. When this team is able to compete, he’s probably a third liner at best, and one with no track record of being able to handle the competition.

    In short, he’s a guy who I’m not sure it makes sense for the Oilers to keep around. My thinking is that his value is unlikely to be higher than it is right now – Brule might seem attractive to a team that thinks its going places and likes his ES scoring from last year. If you’ve got a bad bet who is about to get expensive, unlikely to repeat his results and doesn’t seem like a fit for the top six moving forward, it seems to me like the time to sell. Sooooo, given that this is the Oilers…does three years and $7.0MM sound about right? Gotta spend those Nilsson savings on someone.


    21 Responses to Nilsson is dead! Long live Nilsson!

    1. BRIdub
      July 16, 2010 at

      And an injury concern to boot.

    2. July 16, 2010 at

      Nikolai Kulemin is a very good hockey player. He made every teammate look good when he was on the ice, and he did so despite facing the toughest competition among forwards and the second worst zone starts:


      The 36 points are a small part of the equation with him. The same goes for players like Frans Nielsen, Peter Regin, and their more glamorous analogues, Pavel Datsyuk and Mikko Koivu. If you haven’t watched Kulemin play much, you’re missing out. Barring significant injury, he will perform well above his contract for the next two years. I’m not sure that Brule is this quality of player – because I don’t really enjoy watching AHL teams – but my guess is he’s not.

    3. John K
      July 16, 2010 at

      I agree that it does look like an outlier season from a pure stats viewpoint, but it’s not the whole picture.

      Assuming he signs a three (or less) year deal, oilers are still on the ELC’s of our potential ‘big 3′ players. Looking at the contracts we have to sign in the next three years, there isn’t much to suggest the Oilers are going to be significantly hampered by the cap.

      Furthermore, if they do give him a Nilsson like deal, it’s not impossible to assume that a highly drafted player, just turning 23, will be able to improve upon a career year. IMO the offensive depth of the Oilers is BETTER this coming season, even considering the rookie influx (O’Sulli, Potulny, Nils are all guys that should be out played by a healthy Hemsky plus two of the big three at least). This could allow Brule to take another step forward.

      Not to say that I endorse signing contracts with poor value, but a 4-500K ‘overpay’ wont really mean much going forward. If you are going to place a small bet like that, a #6 OA 22 year old coming off a career year isn’t the worst bet you can make.

    4. trackstar
      July 16, 2010 at

      Here’s my humble opinion. Matheson is under estimating what Brule has done with his meager icetime, 37 points with 17 goals(2nd on team) getting only 10th ranked icetime amongst forwards. That’s very impressive. It won’t matter what line Brule is on as he proved last season that he doesn’t need the power play to get points. This article really doesn’t look at Brule’s abilities like skating, shooting,hitting.

      This article really misses the boat on Brule in that he was one of our best forwards last season and will continue to be. Brule is a rapidly emerging player. Don’t sell him short. Another glaring point that the article fails to mention is that Brule’s even strength points per minute played were comparable to some of the best players in the league.

      There are many others like me and not like Matheson that see that the Oilers could have a special player in the making here.

    5. Louis
      July 16, 2010 at

      So do you sign him at less then 2 million? Is he worth 1.7MM? Would you sign him then?

      And note that I completely agree with you. Anything more than 2MM is an overpay and redundant for the oilers in my opinion.

      btw – great blog. I’ve been a long time reader first time poster. Keep it up!

    6. July 16, 2010 at

      It will be interesting to see if they sign Brule or go to the arbitrator and how much he pulls down. Rajeev is right though, Kulemin is a lot better hockey player than Brule. Does all of those little things well, you know, like play defence, win puck battles and all that good stuff.

      I would like to see what Brule does with more opportunity though. Say what you will about his percentages but I’m of the mind that with more icetime he probably provides pretty decent offensive numbers, even if the % drop off a bit. The question is whether or not he can provide more than offence. He’s still a kid.

    7. Matt.N
      July 16, 2010 at

      Brule is (by my estimation) still two years away from UFA.

      Two schools of thought

      Short Term – Brule is has a high pedigree and coming off a nice year. However, there are all the underlying red flags as mentioned above and in the C&B article. So, sign him to a one year contract for whatever and re-assess next year. If his arrows are still up, you can lock up some of his UFA years with a longer term deal. If not, you haven’t hurt the team at all.

      Long Term – As a GM you beleive his play is going to improve over the coming years. Lock him up with some kind of long term (eg. 7 yr/ 18mill) that might be an over pay now but will be great value at the end of his contract. This would overlap nicely with the last few years of Hall, MPS and Eberle’s ELC. This much guaranteed money would be very tempting for a kid who hasn’t had a payday yet.

      Worst possible contract is a 2 year deal. He gets to UFA right when you need to resign the kids on their 2nd contract.

    8. James
      July 16, 2010 at

      I’m glad to see you are using your blog to discuss hockey again. Now why not deal with important topics like the leadership crisis at the executive level in the NHL?

    9. July 16, 2010 at

      Good stuff Tyler. That’s a pretty brutal mistake on my part with the contract. I clearly should have looked up the date it was signed rather than just looking at the year before his new deal kicked in. Do you know how much an arbitrator would prefer newer contracts to older ones? Or is that the kind of thing that depends on the individual aribtrator?

    10. July 16, 2010 at

      I think the Oilers only option is to sign him long-term.

      A high draft pick coming off a brakout offensive season at just 22 years of age, and with even-strength numbers that rank among the best in the league, there’s just no downside here.

      Sure there were percentage issues, and yeah he needs to grow in other areas of his game, but if they don’t sign him two years from now the Oilers are going to be very, very sorry when Robert Nilsson is putting up 60 points per year.

    11. Schitzo
      July 16, 2010 at

      I’d move him. Cogliano too.

      Imagine a great shoe. Italian leather. Fits great, super comfortable. The oilers have a closet full of those shoes. The only problem is that they’re all for the left foot.

      It doesn’t matter how nice the shoe is if you don’t have the right parts for a proper fit.

    12. YKOil
      July 16, 2010 at

      Been sayin’ “sell high” for a while now

    13. July 17, 2010 at

      I should also say that I’m with the sell high crowd, though you have to wonder how high they can really sell this player. One would think that most teams are aware that Brule is about to get overpaid in arbitration.

    14. Deano
      July 17, 2010 at

      Let someone else buy him out in the future when he doesn’t live up to this deal.

      Let him walk and sign Nigel Dawes instead.

    15. godot10
      July 17, 2010 at

      The term of Brule’s contract is more important than the dollar amount.

      It better be one year only. If it is one year, I don’t care if it is $2 million. If last year was an outlier, no harm done.

      You only offer long deals to players you are absolutely certain are critical to your future.

      Brule is, at best, a soft minutes 2nd line RW, or a 4th line energy player. Give Brule one year and then wait for Hemsky’s decision next summer about whether he wants to re-sign, before committing long term to Brule.

    16. RiversQ
      July 17, 2010 at

      That comment could not have come from Jonathan Willis. I refuse to believe it.

    17. Deano
      July 17, 2010 at

      RQ – check out Willis’s link

    18. Schitzo
      July 18, 2010 at

      It better be one year only. If it is one year, I don’t care if it is $2 million. If last year was an outlier, no harm done.

      Except that as an RFA you have to qualify him at that same amount next year. Maybe that doesn’t matter if the plan is to simply let him walk if he can’t live up to expectations this year. But if you actually want him in the picture long term, a single-year overpay has longer implications

    19. godot10
      July 18, 2010 at

      //Except that as an RFA you have to qualify him at that same amount next year.//

      But if Brule puts up another year at last year’s production rate, then he’s going to be a $2 million dollar player. If he doesn’t produce like last year, you aren’t going to sign or qualify him. It will be time to move on, because It will be six years into Brule’s career with one good 60 game stretch.

      (Sean Connery accent ON:) ONE YEAR ONLY,

    20. dk
      July 20, 2010 at

      Brule won’t get quite as much as Kulemin, who’s cracked 30 points twice now vs. Brule doing it once. I’d guess 2.2M would be market value (shocking, but that’s what it seems like). 2.2M for 1-2 years is fine by me. As long as it’s not a long term deal, should be okay, unless the Oilers think he will break out in a big way (50+ points). I don’t think the Oilers should expect that. I’d say consistent 30-39 point production would be expected.

    21. Buddha Pest
      July 20, 2010 at

      Brule’s agent may have these comparables as well:

      Derick Brassard (age 22):

      2008/2009: 10 goals, 15 assists in 31 games ($765,000.00)
      2009/2010: 9 goals, 27 assists in 79 games
      ($2.8 mil)
      2010/2011: $3 mil
      2011/2012: $3.3 mil

      Dave Bolland (age 24):

      2008/2009: 19 goals, 28 assists in 81 games ($887,000)
      2009/2010: 6 goals, 10 assists in 39 games
      ($3.375 million)
      2010/2011: $3.375 million
      2011/2012: $3.375 million

      Based on those numbers and Kulemin’s numbers, Brule will proably be asking for at least $2.0 million per on a multi-year deal.

      Gagner and Cogliano are probably looking for the same amount of money or more.

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