Vulgar Statistics: Who is Overpaid Part II: Defensemen
This is the second of my two part series taking the members of the Sabres and comparing them to other players in the NHL within the same salary class to see if they’re living up to their paychecks.
We’ve all seen it, whether it’s on message boards, on article comments, in The Buffalo News, or on The Whiner Line, every fan has their own opinion of our players. Some guys are great, some are bums, some are worth their weight in gold, and some are worth a ham sandwich made with moldy bread. These opinions trend all over the place, but one or two have stuck around for a bit. It’s a bit harder with the defense because most of the players are new for one reason or another. The gist of it is typically that Craig Rivet is old and falling apart, that Andrej Sekera is horrible, that Chris Butler was good once upon a time, and that Steve Montador is God’s gift to defense. And the arguments go on and on into oblivion because they can’t really be definitively proven.
OR CAN THEY?!?
No, but we can get pretty close, and if I wanted to devote a month to this topic, I could get even closer. (And if anyone wants to pay me to do so, I’ll totally make it happen.) I took each player along with their cap hit and listed them with about 8-10 similar players around the league in that salary class, generally within $500,000 each way for the higher paid guys, and a little less for the grunts, tracking stats from the last three years. The stats I tracked were Games Played, Goals, Assists, Points, +/-, Blocked Shots, Hits, Time on Ice, Goals/60 minutes, Assists/60 minutes, and Pts per 60 minutes. When all was said and done, each salary class left me with an average to compare our Sabres to. If the player in question’s stats were mostly above that average, the conclusion is that they’re underpaid. If the majority are below average, they’re overpaid, and if there’s a mix, they’re adequately paid.
Regarding the selection of players, I tried to be as random as possible, and probably did a bit better here than I did with the forwards. Everyone has defensemen in the $3m, $2M, $1M, and $500k range so I jumped around as best I could.
The Craig Rivet – Jordan Leopold Class
$3.0M (Lydman) to $3.8M (Spacek)
And it’s about what everyone expected. Jordan Leopold is fairly productive and Craig Rivet is older than sand. What really surprised me was Rivet’s lack of physicality. I think he has a reputation as a fairly tough customer…but he just isn’t. Would anyone have thought that Rivet is a passer more than anything? I think he’s one slapshot to the chest from turning to dust like a Whedon Vampire. What really irks me is how awesome Lydman has been, and the fact that we couldn’t sign him at $3.0M. Who in our organization decided that Lydman wasn’t worth that money? Probably the same person who decided that Niedermayer and Rivet are worth theirs. (Figure this out T-Pegs, and fire those people.)
Also, Brooks Orpik is a MAN!!! Dude piles up hits and blocked shots like he’s the love child of Anton Volchenkov and Toni Lydman and just refuses to die. Damn I wish we would have signed him.
The Shaone Morrisonn Class
$1.8M (Gilroy) to $2.75M (Morris)
I want to like Shaone Morrisonn, foofy name aside. He seems like one of those guys that feel I should like, someone of the “I don’t really know how to play defense, so I’ll just smash you” mold. But I don’t like him. What was really weird is that there are a lot of teams that don’t keep a defenseman in his pay tier. They either have someone at $3.0M and above, or $1.5M and below. I’m not sure what this means, but I do know that Shaone Morrisonn sucks.
The Steve Montador – Tyler Myers Class
$1.1M (Gorges) to $1.7M (Alzner, M. Stuart)
All hail Montador. And Tyler Myers isn’t half bad either, this season aside. Darcy Regier apologists want to point to Montador as a sign that Darcy is a decent GM and I think it’s hogwash. If Montador being a vastly underpaid stud was all part of Darcy’s plan, he would have won the lottery and cashed out by now because that would have made him prophetic. The guy was a journeyman for his entire career and there was very little to suggest that he was going to be anything beyond a 12-14 minute, one goal, ten points a year guy. Montador was nothing more than a happy accident for Darcy.
And look at Brett Lebda. Brett Lebda is a whole bunch of things that Phil won’t let me say on this blog. Why did the Red Wings ever let him go? He’s their ideal player! Brooks Orpik could match his hit totals in one eighth the amount of games. Does he even exist? With that few hits and blocked shots, I can’t really be sure. Though I guess if you out-shoot your opponent 35-20 (note: not much of an exaggeration) every night there isn’t much to block. Let’s move on before I insult women and children by comparing them to Brett Lebda.
The Andrej Sekera – Chris Butler Class
$800k (Mottau) to $1.1M (Eminger)
My comment on Butkera last year was that Lindy Ruff had been playing musical suck with them like a blind man roots around in a couch looking for nickels. Basically just hoping to get lucky. At least this season we’ve started to move away from that trend with Sekera who has restricted his egg laying to once every four or five games. Sekera is what he is, a fairly solid defensemen for the money we pay him who is offensively adequate. Maybe over the next few years he can trend up into more of an overall positive without grubbing for more money. The last game I was at (1-21-11) a few fans were jokingly comparing Sekera to Zhitnik. Right, I wish Sekera could be a two time All-Star. The bottom line here is that despie what most fans think, Sekera isn’t awful, merely adequate and prone to making you want to kill him every once in a while. Um…yay?
And then there’s Chris Butler who went from earning Calder talk to being a complete waste of space. He’s like the Rob Niedermayer of the defense, you’re usually not sure if he even exists, and when you are sure, it’s for the wrong reasons. It’s the ghost of Dmitri Kalinin…
The Mike Weber Class
$500k (Harrison, Wilson) to $600k (Strachan, Meyer, Cumiskey) aka a bunch of guys you’ve never heard of
This is for you Mike Weber fans. Even though he makes me grab my hair sometimes, I’m going to say nothing but good things about him. Basically if you adjust his stats to account for the lack of playing time, Weber is either above, or just below average in every category. He’s exactly what you want in a half million dollar defenseman, a fairly dependable guy who will knock the crap out of an opponent every once in a while. If he evolves even a smidgen more of offensive upside and cleans up his decision making, he’ll be a stable player and a fan favorite within the organization for years to come.
The Final Word:
What surprised me the most was how little the production changed all the way down the line for the defensemen. Even from the mid to low tiers of a position that isn’t expected to put up a lot of points, I expected a bit more of a differential. There wasn’t much that showed a real difference in the guy you’re paying $1.5M and the guy you’re paying $3.5M. You just have to make sure the guy isn’t 900 years old (Rivet), slow (Spacek), made of sugar and spice and everything nice (Lebda), or Maxim Afinogenov on defense (Tallinder) and you’re pretty much all set.
It almost seems like you’re better off bringing up several guys at the same time with a veteran presence or two so they learn to play together. Go back two years and the only defensemen that are still on the Sabres are probably our worst two guys (Rivet and Butler), Sekera, and an unready Mike Weber. That lack of consistency seems like it would hurt the team in waves, from hindering Ryan Miller’s performance, to making the forwards look worse than they actually are. How can you expect to be successful when you have 66% turnover in two years on a part of your team? No, we don’t want to hand out dumb money like the Rivet contract, but it seems that more importantly, we need to get a few guys that will stick around.