Photo credit: Rob Carr

The signing of Alex Semin to a one-year $6.7 million deal may be slightly overpaying him for a year’s work, but the length of the contract is a smart move from a cap management perspective; the chance he will perform well enough to deserve it, even over one season, is a longshot.

It’s true that Semin is one of the more talented players in the NHL, but eventually talent gives way to age and the law of averages, at which point a long-term contract can become an albatross around a club’s neck.

A great way to measure a player’s production is by using Tom Awad’s Goals Versus Threshold, or GVT, because it summarizes all different types of contributions into one measurement, regardless of whether they are offensive, defensive, goaltending or during the shootout. The higher the GVT, the more goals contributed to the team above what a replacement player (AHLer or fourth liner) would add. From there we can calculate a player’s Goals Versus Salary (GVS) which, instead of comparing a player’s contributions versus a replacement player like GVT does, compares those contributions against what you would expect for the same amount of money.

Computing GVS is simple:

  1. Take the player’s actual salary and subtract from it the approximate cost of a replacement player, which is the current minimum NHL salary ($500,000).
  2. Multiply the remainder by three. We use three since a team of 20 replacement players will cost roughly 10 million in salary, leaving about $40 million in cap space, depending on the season. By definition the league average GVT per team is 120, meaning each player should contribute 120 GVT / $40 million = 3 goals for every $1 million in salary.
  3. Subtract the player’s GVT rating (found here) from what we would expect given their salary to get their GVS. The higher the number, the more he “outplayed” his contract.

Using Alex Semin’s 2010-11 campaign as an example we have:

  1. His salary of $6 million, from which we subtract the league minimum of $500,000, which equals $5.5 million.
  2. Multiply 5.5 times 3 = 16.5 proj GVT based on salary expectations.
  3. Semin posted a GVT of 14.5 last season, so we subtract 16.5 from his actual of 14.5 and get a GVS of -2.0. In other words, the Caps got 2.0 less goals than they should have for the $6 million they paid Semin last year.

We can also figure out what GVT level is necessary to justify a certain contract value by working the equation backwards. To justify Semin’s $6.7 million contract next season he needs a GVT of 18.6, or produce almost 19 more goals than a replacement player would on both sides of the puck.

Since the lockout there have been 139 wingers who played at age 27. Only five of them produced singular seasons in excess of 18.5 GVT: Marion Gaborik, Brian Gionta , Henrik Zetterberg, Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa.

GVT # Avg GP Avg Goals Avg Assists Avg Points
< 4 85 42 4 6 10
4-11.5 37 74 18 24 42
11.5-18.5 12 76 27 38 65
> 18.5 5 77 43 46 89

As you can see, the chances of a winger regressing to the mean are greater than the chances of them taking a big leap forward — especially as they get older.

Using similar players at similar ages we can project Semin to score 32 goals and 67 points in 2011-12 over 70 games played for which Washington will pay $6.7 million, quite a bit short from the 43 goals/89 points on average he would need to justify it. And that’s okay since the risk is only for one season of a one-year contract. Plus, there just aren’t that many skaters who can score over 30 goals a season, and Semin is one of them.

Many speculate that Semin’s contract is prohibitive to a trade, but since it is only one year I disagree. Getting fair value back for Semin would be way more difficult than convincing another team to assume his contract, which is why I think you roll the dice for one more year with Semin on the second line.

It is rare for a skater, especially one as one dimensional as Semin, to justify his salary over the life of the contract through on-ice production. That is why the Capitals would be smart to keep the long-term contracts to a minimum and employ the “show us what you got” approach it has recently taken with Semin. Perhaps players won’t be here in the twilight of their careers, but neither will those expensive contracts that accompany them.

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  • Hale

    One dimensional? Not quite.

  • Over_head (Rob)

    I read the article that used GVT yesterday as well as this one today. I am wrong in saying GVT does not account for penalties taken? I am told, repeatedly that scoring chances are a better measure then shots against, yet GVT uses shots against as a major part of its defensive rating. It seems +/- is not very popular with stats folks either, or maybe better, it is said not to be an accurate measure of a players worth or ability. Doesn’t GVT use that as well? Forgive me if I am mistaken here, I am not really a stats guy, at least not a hockey stats guy.

    Semin scores, but he has baggage. My opinion is his scoring is worth the baggage, most of the time. Did the Caps overpay him? It seems to me 30+ goal guys are worth a lot to most NHL teams.

  • Greg

    Good Sasha is worth 8 mil easy. Bad Sasha is worth a box of cracker jacks and a trip to the minor league.

  • 28ISGREAT

    Excellent post – and I (naturally) agree with the ultimate position of keeping him next season.

    I guess my only point of contention would be characterizing him as “one dimensional.”

    Care to elaborate on that?

  • deep.friar

    A linear conversion between GVT and salary versus threshold is probably not the best we can do. The dollar value to a team of two players who each get x GVT is not going to be quite the same as the dollar value of one player who gets 2x GVT, because (for instance) the one player costs less in roster spots, which are also a limited resource.

    I’ve played with the relationship between salary and a performance metric on the Corsi scale, and found the latter to vary as about minus one over the square root of salary minus a constant — much flatter than linear. I’m not really satisfied with the way I used those measures to describe performance, though. I should give GVT a shot.

  • Anonymous

    If memory serves, isn’t the going rate for top-6 forwards about twice that of bottom-6? That’s my recollection, meaning that an ordinately high amount of forwards don’t justify their contracts by GVS.

  • Anonymous

    Rather
    “…an inordinately high amount…”

    Also I agree with above posters, Semin isn’t one-dimensional.

  • JJ

    Perhaps they can work in a bonus structure to keep him from falling down every couple of minutes, or perhaps a strict monetary penalty for sturpid penalties…..

  • Peter Hassett

    Semin’s 10-11 performance can be considered something more than one-dimensional only if you consider 1 pim/game to be a dimension.

  • Joe M.

    What other dimension does he posses besides scoring goals (when he feels like it)?

  • sean

    If Semin is so great why did the Russian National Team pass on him for the World Champ.? I said this also about Green, keep him until the trade deadline and let us get someone we need. I am sick and tired of seeing our Europeons getting beat along the boards.

  • Peter

    @sean,

    Do you really hold stock in the strategical decisions of the Russian national team?

  • Avtopilot

    Semin is actually not so one-dimensional. He does PK and backchecking too. He needs extra coaching and leadership though.

    If it is pushing from behind that needs him to stay motivated – so, let’s have it.

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  • Bobo

    He’s not one-dimensional, unless you’re referring to the alternate dimension from whence his nightly playing strategy phases into his mind just prior to game time.

    Semin proved this year that he will not remain hot for an entire playoff season. Even if we graciously credit him capable of winning an individual series almost single-handedly, we can now see that he more becomes a liability on the second line where teams need some vague semblance of 2nd line winger production from a second line winger throughout the playoffs.

    Opportunity cost is what I mean. Get someone less flashy (not to be confused with the Fleischman) but more dependable/consistent. They are as likely to go off on an uncharacteristic streak as Semin is to go silent for too long when needed the most.

    It’s great Semin can close out a playoff OT game with a flick of his wrist.
    The Caps need someone who is a threat to help out a bit more in winning the other 15 games as well.

    I do wonder how much of a hit it would be to the regular season point total without him on the roster. Could make things a bit tighter, or perhaps it would not be anywhere as bad as some people might think.

    Particularly since our new chief division rival now plays a system that requires discipline and coordination to beat.

  • Devin Shannon

    I would love to see Sasha have one full season with Jason Arnott as a linemate! I think Arnott would find a way to motivate Sasha every night.