• Horcoff’s Contract

    by Tyler Dellow • April 26, 2009 • Uncategorized • 17 Comments

    If a contract that pays Shawn Horcoff an average of $6.5 million over the next four years — that’s right, Shawn Horcoff — sounds like something an owner would offer to a favourite son, that’s mighty logical.

    Lowe deserves better, despite the fact that — with Dustin Penner’s and Horcoff’s deals — the Oilers now own two of the 10 worst contracts in the NHL.

    The above is from Mark Spector’s column in the aftermath of Darryl Katz’ text message supporting MacTavish. I’ve never been particularly impressed with Spector – he wrote one of the more sexist things I’ve even seen in a mainstream newspaper in the 21st century and, during the lockout, was sort of a blind supporter of the owners on the general bsais that the players make too much money, a position that I found to be awfully weak.

    His view on Horcoff’s contract is pretty widely shared amongst Oiler fans and media. Everyone seems to agree that he’s going to be wildly overpaid in the coming season. What I haven’t seen anybody do yet is look at Horcoff in the appropriate context and compare him to centres who are actually unrestricted free agents.

    “Overpaid” is a multi-faceted concept in the NHL. The first angle is whether a player is overpaid relative to his contributions to winning. This is probably true of all players who are UFA age. The market for NHL talent isn’t a free one and, as a result, players who are RFA’s or on entry-level contracts get underpaid while players who are UFA age get overpaid. In a league with a salary cap, there’s a legitimate issue as to how many of those players you can have and reasonably expect to win – if they generally cost more than the value of their contributions, a team made up UFA’s is going to have a difficult time winning. That’s not what I’m looking at here though.

    The second angle, and the one that I’m looking at, is whether Horcoff is being overpaid relative to the market. In most of the arguments that Horcoff is being overpaid that I’ve seen advanced, he’s being compared to players like Ryan Getzlaf. While that’s a relevant comparison from a hockey perspective, from the perspective of comparing contracts, it’s difficult to compare Getzlaf, who couldn’t sign elsewhere without considerable compensation going the other way and Shawn Horcoff, who would have been completely unrestricted. Here’s the list of centres of UFA age signed for next season, along with some of their numbers from the past four years:

    HorcoffChart

    Right off the bat, I can see two contracts that I’m reasonably confident are worse than Horcoff’s in the form of Brad Richards and Scott Gomez, both of whom have strikingly similar ES/PP numbers to Horcoff but have cap numbers that are $2.3MM and $1.857MM higher, respectively. Richards can at least kill penalties, something that Gomez doesn’t do. Patrick Marleau, who has a cap number that’s $800K higher and who doesn’t kill penalties, is also very similar, although he’s scored an extra goal an hour on the PP over the past four years. Whether that’s to his credit or to Joe Thornton’s is, in my mind, an open question – in the four years preceding the lockout, Marleau scored 1.43 PPG/60.

    What about the guys below him? Horcoff’s deal doesn’t look particularly good compared to Marc Savard’s but Savard’s contract is up after next year and, assuming another season of numbers like he’s posted post-lockout, he’ll be getting $7MM+ from somebody. Olli Jokinen is playing on a contract signed in 2006 that bought some of his RFA years in addition to UFA years; the actual price of the UFA years is probably higher than $5MM and, in any event, it was a deal done at a time when the salary cap was at about $44MM.

    Mike Ribeiro looks like a reasonable offensive comparator for Horcoff over the past few years, with a bit of an edge at ES. Against that, you have to weigh the fact that Ribeiro doesn’t kill penalties and doesn’t look to play against the opposition’s best. Nylander is considerably older than Horcoff and he undoubtedly takes a salary hit for that.

    Finally, you then hit a group that I think you can make an argument about compared to Horcoff. Arnott seems to play the tough minutes in Nashville, although he doesn’t penalty kill, has ES scoring numbers that are better than Horcoff’s and PP numbers that are comparable. He’s clearly more of a goal scorer too, which is something that I’d be willing to pay a premium for. Again though, it’s worth noting that Horcoff signed his deal at a time when the salary cap was $56.7MM, whereas it was $44MM when Arnott signed his deal. Andy McDonald is a bit closer to Horcoff money-wise, although he had a broken leg when he signed his deal, the potential financial disaster facing the NHL was a lot clearer and, per his behindthenet numbers, he’s not really a tough minutes guy. Langkow is another guy who you can probably add to that group.

    Beyond that, I find it difficult to find a guy who has a contract that makes Horcoff’s look bad. It’s certainly not one of the ten worst in the NHL. If there’s an argument to be made that Horcoff’s contract is a bad contract, it has to be based on the argument that you can’t win in a league with a salary cap if you’re paying market value for non-star UFA players. That might be true – MLB’s salary structure changed dramatically in the early aughties as teams became less willing to lavish rich contracts on non-star players – but it’s not an argument that I’ve seen seriously put forward by anybody.

    About Tyler Dellow

    17 Responses to Horcoff’s Contract

    1. Quain
      April 26, 2009 at

      A good post that needed to be written given the widespread belief that Shawn Horcoff signed the worst contract in the history of the league.

      It’s not a bad contract, but you’re not going to win many playoff series if you’re giving a lot of UFAs full market value.

    2. Olivier
      April 26, 2009 at

      I don’t know how to track back from there, but I linked your excellent post to this discussion about what lies ahead for the habs…

      http://www.habseyesontheprize.com/2009/4/25/852687/gainey-should-target-bruins-kessel

    3. David Staples
      April 26, 2009 at

      Excellent point, Quain. Nothing too horrible about Horcoff’s deal, except that it wasn’t a discount deal, I think it’s safe to say. It was in ballpark of UFA deals, but those deals are all on the high side if a team is to have money to sign a greater number of Horcoff quality players.

    4. David Staples
      April 26, 2009 at

      As for Horc, of course, he played well this year, though his PK work was bad, both by the numbers and by what I saw, a guy who got beat at the point too much, chased too hard, was out of position. . . Any thoughts on whether Horc’s PK work was that bad, and, if so, was it just an anomaly?

    5. mc79hockey
      April 26, 2009 at

      It’s not a bad contract, but you’re not going to win many playoff series if you’re giving a lot of UFAs full market value.

      That’s the key point, as far as I’m concerned. You need to get people outperforming their contracts and with UFA’s, that’s tough to do unless you target guys like Selanne or Bertuzzi and look for the comeback year.

      As for Horc, of course, he played well this year, though his PK work was bad, both by the numbers and by what I saw, a guy who got beat at the point too much, chased too hard, was out of position. . . Any thoughts on whether Horc’s PK work was that bad, and, if so, was it just an anomaly?

      PK work is a difficult thing to evaluate from the numbers, although I agree that he didn’t look particularly good this year. He’s had good years in the past though.

    6. PDO
      April 26, 2009 at

      Just because it can’t be said enough:

      It’s not like there are first line players falling head over heels to play here anyway.

    7. namflashback
      April 26, 2009 at

      MC, nice summary on the UFA age centers. Even more telling is to look at how many TFLC (true-first line centers — mythical beasts that they are) actually come available as trade opportunities or as UFA.

      Maybe 1 each year as a trade option (and that’s being generous if you consider O.Jokinen a TFLC), and maybe 2 or 3 a year at UFA time. This year would have featured S. Koivu, H. Sedin, and S. Horcoff.

      That’t it — and I count somewhere around 8 teams who could use one of these players.

      Agreed that paying the UFA ticket is not ideal — especially since this is the team that basically sought to level the RFA and UFA markets.

      Without a TFLC in their system they are 4-5 years away from having the replacement. Perhaps that man will be Sam Gagner, but it will probably take the better part of Horcoff’s contract before Sam is at the level where he is regularly outsmarting the other teams’ best.

      I think the market, and the system factors for the Oilers is what made them ink his extension early.

    8. boopronger
      April 27, 2009 at

      just for the record there are some guys looking at horcoff in the appropriate context.Post 81 http://hfboards.com/showthread.php?t=616380&page=4

    9. R-Gib
      April 27, 2009 at

      namflashback: I think the market, and the system factors for the Oilers is what made them ink his extension early.

      I think the “Smyth-Factor” is what made Lowe ink him early.

    10. April 27, 2009 at

      Not to echo-chamber, but Thank You. This all needed to be said. I’d like to see how Horc does on a better/more stable line, personally. Also, though getting into the intangibles is risky, he does have some serious leadership mojo–frankly I’d like to see him as Captain next year.

    11. Schitzo
      April 27, 2009 at

      That’s the key point, as far as I’m concerned. You need to get people outperforming their contracts and with UFA’s, that’s tough to do unless you target guys like Selanne or Bertuzzi and look for the comeback year.

      Vic was talking about this a few weeks ago – his thoughts seemed to be that NHL GMs are pretty good at picking out the guys who had a bad year, but where you could strike gold was the UFAs who had two bad years in a row. As a GM, you have to be confident that it was bad bounces and not a true decrease in ability, but those are the guys who are going to be on value contracts.

    12. Altered Beast
      April 28, 2009 at

      The Oilers paid to much for this guy, spin it all you want.

      I would have rather seen them pay this kind of money to Ryan smyth.

      They would have made the playoffs this year with him.

      A team can’t win signing second line guys this kind of money.

    13. spOILer
      April 28, 2009 at

      Spector was the sports writer at The Gateway for the last bit of my university career. I can remember thinking, a month into his rookie stint, who the hell is this idiot and why did the last guy have to graduate? (because people didn’t necessarily do those kinds of things back in those days — university was cheap and the professional student was common)

      Imagine my chagrin when Spector turned pro. I couldn’t believe it. He had been the worst sportswriter out of anyone for the Gateway the 5 years I was at the U of A, and he was the one who got promoted to The Bigs. How the hell does that happen?

      And I still wonder about it today, with every new article I read.

      Now the guy who drew and wrote Bear Country back then, OTOH, was a freakin’ genius.

    14. HBomb
      April 29, 2009 at

      Imagine my chagrin when Spector turned pro. I couldn’t believe it. He had been the worst sportswriter out of anyone for the Gateway the 5 years I was at the U of A, and he was the one who got promoted to The Bigs. How the hell does that happen?

      Insert Tim Sestito joke here.

    15. ]effadams#2
      April 29, 2009 at

      Hello?

      What’s the issue? You need to overpay guys to stay in Edmonton, no? Horcoff stays and plays his heart out, should wear the ‘C’ and provides stability up the middle. Would you rather have Nylander?

    16. Bank Shot
      April 29, 2009 at

      Two comparables for Horcoff who signed in the same season as him are Dumont and Langkow. Although Dumont isn’t a center he’s the same type of player, and he got $4 million, and Langkow got $4.5.

      That makes Horcoff at least a million overpaid compared to his peers. Below average.

      It’s good to compare players by scoring rates rather than boxcars when determing true value, but boxcars determine salary in the NHL, and Horcoff is getting paid more than guys with better boxcars.

      Guys like Horcoff should be bargains because the sum of their parts is greater than their boxcars, but the Oilers ruined that by tacking on an extra half to whole million per year on every contract they’ve signed since the Cup run.

    17. HBomb
      April 29, 2009 at

      Bank Shot:

      I look at Langkow and Horcoff here and see the same player. Both guys I’ll gladly take on my team.

      The way I look at it, two things are happening here:

      - Langkow is underpaid by about 500K
      - Horcoff is overpaid by about 500K (not enough of an overpay to get one’s shorts in a knot about though, considering what he brings to the team)

      It’s one example of why Sutter’s kicked Lowe’s ass the past few years in the “value contract” department: Moss, Glencross, Conroy and Langkow are all on “outperforming” contracts. The Oilers, meanwhile, have bloated salaries like Moreau and Staios clogging up cap space.

      That being said, on the flip side…I’d say the Oilers got more bang for their buck for Souray and Roloson this season than the Flames did for Phaneuf or Kiprusoff.

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