With Ryan Suter in Minnesota and Matt Carle in Tampa Bay, David Poile now turns to “Plan C” for the Predators offseason. What exactly “Plan C” entails, though, hasn’t really been articulated. The Predators would like to sign captain Shea Weber to a long-term deal for reasons related to both on-ice performance and off-ice prestige. But with the Predators recently burned by Suter, and Weber facing his last chance a lifetime mega-deal under the old CBA, both parties have incentive for a quick separation, should talks falter.
And surely the list of interested teams, should Weber become available, will be 29 teams long. But for the serious suitors, is the price even worth it? Has the premium on franchise defensemen — and the hyperbole of Weber’s own legend — reached the point where the “winning” team will necessarily sacrifice too much long-term value? As a Predators fan, I suspect this to be the case.
To illustrate this point, I’ll be using WAR (Wins Above Replacement) analysis, more common to baseball blogs. But even the baseball version of WAR, mostly codified and 20-times more sophisticated that any hockey model, has serious failings. So don’t get caught up in anything right of the decimal point here. I’m using a ballpark figures to hopefully demonstrate an obvious point.
Our WAR will be derived from the Hockey Prospectus stat GVT, which attempts to measure a player’s value, in goals versus a “replacement player,” i.e. a solid AHLer. Using the rule of thumb that 6 goals=1 win, we can make a simple conversion. Shea Weber has averaged 14.7 GVT the past or 2.5 WAR. But because GVT doesn’t do well to account for strength of minutes or teammates, we’ll generously bump Shea up to the 18-20 GVT range, which puts him just below top-5 forwards and in-line with Chris Pronger in his prime and Erik Karlsson in the present.
That would put Weber right around 3 WAR per season. Now the real utility of WAR analysis is that it’s directly translatable to dollars. Suppose Weber signs a contract structurally similar to Suter’s, but with a higher cap hit ($8 million?). Ball-parking the going rate in the NHL at $2.5 million per win, Shea would be exactly worth his contract, producing $8 million of value for his team every season. And considering the price of a player on the UFA market is closer to $3 million per win, anything under $9 million is a nice deal for the team.
But beyond the contract, consider the cost in trade. The weirdly consensus asking price for Shea is 2 young top-6 forwards, a stop-gap defenseman, and a few prospects and first round picks. Among the teams likely interested in Weber, this makes the Flyers and the Oilers the best fits, though it’s questionable whether Shea would sign long-term in Edmonton. So let’s consider a hypothetical Philly package: Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, Marc-Andre Bourdon, and two firsts.
Using Matt Read’s 14.3 GVT from last season, and the aging curves for a 25-year-old forward, let’s apply the same analysis as we used with Weber:
Assuming some natural depreciation in his value, Read registers at around exactly 2/3 of Weber’s value and for a fraction of the price.
Now what about Brayden Shenn? It’s harder to project him — just 20 last season and with very little NHL experience. Suppose he becomes his oft-compared opposite Mike Richards, a 3 WAR player at his peak: he alone could recoup Weber’s value to the Preds. But even if he languishes as a third-line player, combined with Read, they could replace Weber’s value in the aggregate.
What about the rest? The average bottom-third first round pick becomes a 0.37 point-per-game player. Of course, that doesn’t mean the Predators would necessarily be getting two bottom-six forwards. There’s the potential to really hit on one or both of these picks, pushing the value coming back from Weber from good to outrageous. And I’d like to think that the team that drafted Shea Weber himself in the second round could make something of those picks.
And that’s not even to mention Bourdon!
So in the first four years of the deal, the Flyers project to add ~$32 million worth of value for $32 million (in terms of cap hit — the real dollar amount will be obscene). The Predators would then project to add conservatively $39 million dollars of value for just $25 million in real dollars from just Read and Schenn. And that’s assuming Schenn never fulfills his first line center potential.
Add in the projected value of the draft picks and Bourdon, plus the possibility of Weber being useless in the final years of his mega-deal, and the Predators win on the balance sheet.
Of course, this type analysis is just one consideration, and hardly the final word on whether a trade is worth it. Even if it’s virtually guaranteed that the sum of Read, Schenn, and Bourdon provide the same value as Weber for the Predators, they are three players, Weber just one.
The reason elite players like Weber demand such outrageous prices in trade and free agency is that they allow teams to fit the maximum possible value in one roster spot. The Flyers will likely have other 2-win players to replace Read and Schenn. That third win above replacement Weber provides is uniquely more valuable than, for instance, the one win provided by a bottom-six forward. Put another way: the two points that win you the top seed in the East does not equal the two points that move a team from 15th to 14th.
Weber also improves his teammates in ways Matt Read, for instance, cannot. Matt Read would compete with comparable players like Mike Fisher and David Legwand for playing time. And while this redundancy would work to the Predators advantage in match-ups, it would necessarily hamper Fisher and/or Legwand’s overall value to the team by reducing their opportunities. Weber, by contrast, will absorb the toughest minutes for his teammates and make his defense partner (maybe) look like Ryan Suter.
In these ways, yes, to the right asset-rich team, trading for Shea Weber is definitely worth it. But the Predators are almost assured to make out well in any trade. And should they net one or more young superstars in return, history may remember them as getting the better deal.