What Is a Good Defender Worth in the National Hockey League?
In the NHL goals might get butts in seats, but preventing goals wins Stanley Cups. Strong defensive teams tend to bring home the Cup and good defenders are worth their weight in gold. With one prominent defender's contract up for renewal, this summer will show just how much the Montreal Canadiens want to lift Lord Stanley.
The challenge is deciding whether the extra money through winning a title is worth the extra expense.
The choice facing the Canadiens
P.K. Subban is a cornerstone for the Canadiens and he's seriously underpaid. He won the Norris trophy for best defensemen in 2013 and his value has only increased since his last contract negotiations. This summer his contract with the Habs is up for renegotiation, and many are wondering how much the team is willing to pay to keep him.
The Canadiens are a famously low-spending team, ranking 24 out of 30 NHL teams in total salary and spending a little over $45 million of a possible $64.3 million allowed. Had Montreal decided to re-sign two years ago it would have walked away with a future Norris trophy winner for a good deal less than, say, Duncan Keith's current contract. When the team decided it didn't want to take a chance, it missed out on getting Subban cheap.
TSN's Bob McKenzie points to Dion Paneuf's recent deal with the Maple Leafs at $7 million a year as a benchmark. "P.K. Subban's asking price will be somewhere from $8 million to $9 million a year. I am sure the Canadiens will not be thrilled about that and I suspect it's going to be tough sledding for some time to get this deal done."
Without Subban however, it's unclear how the Canadiens will continue the march toward the Cup. Subban is integral to wins -- as his consistently high ice time shows -- and wins are key to continued ticket sales and television revenue.
I examined the contracts of 10 similarly ranked defensemen in the NHL, according to the contract details listed on CapGeek (stats came from the official NHL website).
|Player||Team||Years on contract||Contract Total||Paid per year||% of cap||Total points 2013-14|
|1. Shea Weber|
2. Ryan Suter
3. Duncan Keith
|4. Kris Letang|
*22 (out due to stroke)
5. Drew Doughty
6. Zdeno Chara
7. Erik Karlsson
8. Brent Seabrook
9. Niklas Kronwall
Detroit Red Wings
|10. P.K. Subban|
These numbers clearly show that for a Norris trophy-winning defenseman, Subban is underpaid. Even if the Canadiens offer Subban a contract that would be average for a top-10 defenseman in the NHL, he would at least have a $55.3 million contract over 8.3 years. This equates to about $6.9 million a year, or 9.7% of a CapGeek-projected $71.1 million cap.
Andy Strickland of Fox Sports Midwest posted to Twitter that Subban is looking for a deal north of the 7-year, $45.5 million contract Alex Pietrangelo signed with the St. Louis Blues. If so, the Canadiens will be getting a prime defenseman for a song. Subban earned more total points in the regular season than all but three of the top defenders.
Statistics show that defensemen peak later in their careers than forwards, whose peak happens around age 27. Subban still has years to go before he crosses that line. Should Subban be interested in a similar contract to Doughty, the fifth-best paid, that would essentially lock him in as a Hab for life at $7 million per year or 10.8% of the cap per year.
The Canadiens have a strong fanbase that consistently turns out to see them. The team averages about 21,000 tickets sold per game, according to the Internet Hockey Database, and has made it to the postseason nine times in the past 13 years. Examining the attendance data, we find that there was a large dip in attendance from 1999 to 2001 , when the Canadiens missed the postseason. Though a dip in attendance of 2,000 tickets per game is not as dramatic as, say, the Chicago Blackhawks', it is significant.
This year the Canadiens made an average of $78.56 per ticket, according to the yearly Team Marketing Report, bringing revenue earned per game to about $1.65 million. At this price, Montreal earns $135 million solely in ticket sales over the course of a season.
At today's ticket prices, a 2,000-ticket dip in would come to a loss of about $160,000 per game, or about $12 million a year. Ticket revenue would not be the only earnings lost to the Canadiens. Ancillary revenue such as parking, concessions, and merchandise sales would decrease as well.
Without wins the Canadiens will lose a large chunk of income. But it will likely not harm its 12-year regional television deal with Canadian sports channel RDS, since it only inked that deal a year ago. The deal is worth about $33 million a year, according to Forbes.
Keeping Subban will cost $7 million per year while losing him could cost as much as $12 million in ticket sales, with the potential for even greater losses in ancillary revenue. If they can keep Subban at that level, this is a no-brainer for the Canadiens.
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The article What Is a Good Defender Worth in the National Hockey League? originally appeared on Fool.com.Kate Cimini has no vested interest in the National Hockey League aside from her investment as a fan. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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