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.