Pascal Dupuis: How Much Is He Really Worth?

Run a Google search on Pittsburgh Penguins’ forward Pascal Dupuis and you will learn two things very quickly: 1) He has gotten better with age, and 2) He is quite possibly the best bargain in the NHL.

Scratch that, he was the best bargain in the NHL.

After making $1.5 million in each of the past two seasons while amassing 97 points in 130 games, the 34-year old is due for a well-deserved pay raise. With the salary cap falling, his age rising, and the “Sidney Crosby’s winger” factor, just how much is he worth though?

Just a Role Player and an Afterthought

Pascal Dupuis in Pittsburgh
Expectations were non-existent for Pascal Dupuis in Pittsburgh. (Dan4th/wikimedia)

When the Penguins acquired Dupuis at the 2008 trade deadline, very few people really cared that he was even involved. He was an afterthought in the Marian Hossa trade that brought Hossa and Dupuis to Pittsburgh for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito, and a 1st round pick. The Penguins finally had a winger for Sidney Crosby. Meanwhile, Dupuis could turn out to be a serviceable role player.

As the Penguins went on a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final, Dupuis stuck around on the 1st line with Crosby and Hossa. He scored 7 points in 20 games, but he still wasn’t projected as a long term fit there.

A year later, Hossa was gone and Crosby was playing at times with Dupuis and Miroslav Satan. Everyone in hockey continued with their debates that Crosby needed a winger. Again, General Manager Ray Shero went out and took care of things. He acquired Chris Kunitz from the Ducks and Bill Guerin from the Islanders, both of whom joined Crosby on the top line for a Stanley Cup victory.

Meanwhile, Dupuis was cast aside and only played in 16 of 24 games, averaging only 8:23 of ice time. As Nick Cotsonika of Yahoo Sports wrote in retrospect, Dupuis was a playoff spare part at the time and he wanted to be so much more.

Despite the bump in the road, Dupuis came back to a regular spot in the lineup for the 2009-10 season. Kunitz and Guerin still flanked Crosby, so Dupuis was slotted into a 2nd line spot next to Evgeni Malkin, where he finished with 38 points in 81 games.

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Entering a contract year in 2010-11, Dupuis was given another chance on the first line with Crosby when the Penguins opted not to re-sign Bill Guerin. The chemistry was off the charts. The Penguins first line of Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis put together a dominant November and December as Sidney Crosby recorded 50 points during a 25-game point streak.

Despite the line’s success, Dupuis was still seen as a first line role player. He wasn’t scoring with any regularity and was promptly dropped to the third line after Crosby and Malkin were injured in the second half of the season. He finished with 37 points in 81 games as free agency loomed.

After 3+ seasons with the Penguins, Dupuis was seen as a leader in the locker room, a solid penalty killer, and a versatile defensive forward. Despite probably having the chance to earn more money on the open market, Dupuis decided to settle for just a $100,000 pay raise to stay in Pittsburgh for the chance at another Cup. He signed a two-year, $3 million deal before reaching free agency in the summer of 2011.

Pascal Dupuis is Shedding the “Role Player” Label

Pascal Dupuis
Dupuis found a way to produce regardless of his linemates. (Icon SMI)

When the 2011-12 season started without Sidney Crosby, Dupuis was placed back on the 3rd line and it seemed like he would just continue along with his role player ways. Instead, Dupuis gave the Penguins offensive production that they weren’t expecting from their depth players as he recorded 25 points in the first 41 games of the season.

The second half of the season turned out to be even better as Dupuis added another 34 points to finish with 59, many of which he accumulated during a 17-game point streak to end the season. Pascal Dupuis was arguably the hottest player heading into the playoffs on a roster with the likes of Crosby, Malkin, and Jordan Staal.

At the age of 33 and coming off of a season with career highs in goals, assists, and +/-, it was hardly fair to expect Dupuis to improve as he entered another contract year.

Somehow, Dupuis did find a way to improve over the 2013 season. In 48 games, Dupuis recorded 38 points for the highest points-per-game average (.79) of his career. He finished with the league’s best plus/minus rating at +31 (whatever that is really worth) and was 35th in the NHL points race, ahead of guys like Logan Couture, Corey Perry, and many other big names.

Dupuis even managed to improve his game when Crosby was out of the lineup with a broken jaw, scoring 12 points in those 12 games, including a 6-game point streak in April.

While still a top-flight penalty killer and a great locker room presence, Dupuis firmly demonstrated during the 2013 season that he was hardly just a role player anymore and he definitely wasn’t just a product of Sidney Crosby either.  When the awards voting came out (flawed as they may be), Dupuis had one 5th place vote for the Hart Trophy, one 2nd place vote for the Lady Byng, and finished 7th with four 1st place votes for the Selke.

Comparable Players

Using total points as a start for a comparison standard, the following players have produced at a similar rate to Dupuis over the course of his two-year contract that is about to expire.

Player Age ’11-12 Pts ’13 Pts 2 Yr Total Most Recently Signed Contract
Max Pacioretty 24 65 39 104 6 yr – $27 mil. ($4.5 mil. cap hit)
Logan Couture 24 65 37 102 5 yr – $30 mil. ($6 mil. cap hit)
Rick Nash 29 59 42 101 8 yr – $62.4 mil. ($7.8 mil. cap hit)
Brad Richards 33 66 34 100 9 yr – $60 mil. ($6.67 mil. cap hit)
Michael Ryder 33 62 35 97 2 yr – $7 mil. ($3.5 mil. cap hit)*
Pascal Dupuis 34 59 38 97 2 yr – $3 mil. ($1.5 mil. cap hit)*
Corey Perry 28 60 36 96 8yr – $69 mil. ($8.625 mil. cap hit)
Tomas Fleischmann 29 61 35 96 4 yr – $18 mil. ($4.5 mil. cap hit)
Justin Williams 31 59 33 92 4 yr – $14.6 mil. ($3.65 mil. cap hit)
Mikko Koivu 30 44* 37 81 7 yr – $47.25 mil. ($6.75 mil. cap hit)

*Table Notes: Ryder and Dupuis are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this summer. Koivu only played in 55 games in 2011-12 due to injury but would have projected to a 2 Yr Total of 103 pts if he played a full season.

As you can see, there is a wide range of styles, reputations, and contracts among this group of ten. The table alone doesn’t tell the full story. Perry has a Hart Trophy, Couture is poised to take over the Sharks, and Richards has a Conn Smythe to his name. The clearest takeaways are that Dupuis is the oldest of the group and was quite easily the biggest bargain of the past two years.

The points comparison is impressive though.  These  totals are even more surprising when you consider that Dupuis has averaged less than a minute on the powerplay and over two minutes on the penalty kill per game over the past two seasons. In fact, his points over the past two years break down to 89 at even strength, 4 on the powerplay, and 4 on the penalty kill.

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So how do these comparisons play in then? Does Dupuis just deserve the average of everyone’s contracts (5 yr – $26.75 mil, $5.35 mil. cap hit)?

Of course not; it’s never that simple. He should get more money for his major role as a defensive forward and on the penalty kill. He should get less money due to his age. He should get more money because he keeps improving with age. He should get less money because he’s a product of Crosby (wait, he’s not). He should get more money because he’s durable (has missed only 2 games in the last 4 seasons). And so on.

The Value of Pascal Dupuis

In the end, worth and value are just a product of the free agent market place. If Dupuis gets to free agency without an extension, he is undoubtedly worth at least $5 million to some team based on his production.

The risky aspect of his contract will be the term. Dupuis has often relied on speed and quickness to be a successful first-liner and there is no telling when those two attributes will disappear.

Hypothetically, with the players above used as a rough starting point, perhaps Dupuis is worth $6 million in the upcoming year for his production alone. Maybe that will drop to $5.25 million the following year, $4.25 million in the third year of his contract, and possibly $2.5 million in a fourth year when he might be just a role player again. Putting all of that together to balance his production and his high risk for a decline, Dupuis would be worth a 4 yr contract for $18 mil. ($4.5 mil cap hit).

Luckily for the Penguins, Dupuis has turned down the idea of open market value once, and it sounds like he might be willing to again. He’s widely regarded as a family guy, and he wants to stay in Pittsburgh.

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The final question will be whether Ray Shero can even offer enough term and money to get into the “hometown discount” range. If Dupuis signs for anything less than $4 million per year in Pittsburgh, Shero will be off to another fine lead in the GM of the Year award race.

With any luck, hopefully Pittsburgh can keep their best bargain in the NHL.