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Vulgar Statistics: Breaking Down The Mike Weber Contract

06/28/13
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In cased you missed it, Mike Weber re-signed with the Sabres yesterday, inking a three year deal worth $5 million or $1.67 million per year.  What exactly does this mean?  In all likelihood, not a lot.  Weber is a bottom pair d-man with limited upside on a bad team.  It’s difficult to imagine him having a huge impact one way or another.  In that, his contract shouldn’t have much of an impact either; there are much bigger things to worry about.

Still, this deal concerns me because in a lot of ways it looks like one of the worst in the NHL for his type of player.  It speaks to concerns that I (and many others) have about Darcy Regier and his abilities when it comes to free agency.  In the past he has pretty consistently over and under valued the wrong players and signed few truly good contracts.  Okay, but worst in the NHL?  Let me explain, and offer some hope.

Mike Weber is a 25 year old defenseman who has a handful of games he’s spent playing invisibly well, and a handful of games that he has played visibly poorly.  Two years ago it was difficult to justify playing him over Marc-Andre Gragnani.  Last year he was maybe the third best defenseman on the team (a fact that makes me so sad).  He hits a lot and blocks a lot of shots, and while those things can be valuable in certain situations, a lot of people aren’t convinced that they’re essential in large numbers to a good hockey team.

To assess Weber’s value compared to the rest of the league, you have to isolate similar players.  A simple constraint of 5th/6th defensemen isn’t good enough because a lot of the time those guys are prospects with significantly more upside (Dougie Hamilton), or grizzled vets with a ton of experience (Robyn Regier on the Kings).  My constraints were players between 23 and 27 years (Weber is 25) who had fewer than ten points last season (Weber had 7, 1g and 6a).  That gave me 18 players including Weber, in which he was the third most expensive behind St. Louis’s Roman Polak ($2.75M) and Carolina’s Jamie McBain ($1.8M).  Polak is 27, and at the time of signing his contract (pre-2011-2012) had proven himself to be both more offensively and defensively capable than Weber.  McBain, who signed his deal prior to this year, hit 27 and 30 points the two previous seasons.  Weber’s NHL career high is 17.

My complaint isn’t really that this deal is crippling either to the roster (though try to find a Weber comparable on Chicago) or to the salary cap constraints, but that I simply feel like Darcy should have been able to do better.  But enough about quibbling over fractions of a million dollars.  What are the bright spots?

Several of my comparables are currently UFAs or RFAs, so the conclusion might eventually be that this is generally what the NHL pays a Mike Weber type player.  Of the eighteen, only Ottawa’s Eric Gryba faced off against tougher competition than Weber (Corsi Rel QoC .666), and only Columbus’s Dalton Prout, Edmonton’s Marc Fistric, and Nashville’s Jordan Blum and Victor Bartley had a lower percentage of offensive zone starts than Weber’s 46.4%.

Given the matchups Weber faced and where his zone time was allocated, it seems evident that the Sabres want him to be the sort of skill player antidote everyone hoped we were getting in Robyn Regehr.  If he can achieve a fraction of that, or if his play next season mirrors that of last season, I think this deal turns out okay.

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