Matt Duchene and Sam Gagner Re-Sign To Great Contracts

Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene
April 21 2013 Denver CO USA Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene 9 reacts to his goal in the second period against the St Louis Blues at the Pepsi Center Mandatory Credit Ron Chenoy USA TODAY Sports

In deals that vary in length, money and purpose, the Edmonton Oilers announced yesterday they would be re-signing 23-year0old center Sam Gagner to a 3-year deal that would give the Oilers an annual average cap hit of $4.8M or $14.4 million total. Last week, the Colorado Avalanche signed a cornerstone to their franchise in centre Matt Duchene to a five-year deal worth $30 million total, giving an annual average value of $6 million against the cap that starts in 2014-2015.

These are two radically different deals. Coming off his entry-level contract, Duchene was given what is typically known as a “show-me” contract. He’d had two successful and improving seasons to start his career (82-game pace of 62 points in his rookie/sophomore campaigns) but then bombed in an injury-plagued 2011-2012 campaign with just 28 points in 58 games. Gagner, believe it or not, is six years into his NHL career and just signed his fourth contract at the age of 23.

These are two radically different contracts, and I love them both.

Sam Gagner

Gagner came into the league in 2007-2008 after being a sixth overall pick in 2007 and found success very early; he tallied 49 points in his rookie campaign, five points less than Calder Trophy finalist Jonathan Toews.

One thing we need to realize about the early parts of Gagner’s career is that there really wasn’t a whole lot of quality in Edmonton. Through Gagner’s first three seasons, his most common teammate was Robert Nilsson, a player who has been out of the NHL for three years now after being bought out. Despite this, Gagner managed a personal 48.0% CorsiFor% (percentage of Oilers shot attempts of all shot attempts by both teams) over those three years playing for a franchise that was the second worst possession team in the NHL over that stretch. One indicator (not the only one) of a good hockey player is being able to excel on a sub-par team. This is one reason why Rick Nash is so revered.

While Gagner did not excel in the points department, he wasn’t bad either and mitigating factors include playing on a poor team and playing barely second-line minutes. As I explored when discussing Mikhail Grabovski, sometimes teams can give a bad impression of a player simply by how they are used and which line-mates they are given. These factors mask the fact that Gagner produced at a rate of 1.74 points/60 minutes of even-strength time from 2007-2010, while Anze Kopitar was slightly ahead at 1.77 points/60 minutes – the same mark of Ryan Kesler and Joe Pavelski – and Gagner was ahead of Mike Richards and Stephen Weiss (both 1.72) and Travis Zajac (1.66). Never mind that Gagner performed similarly to some players who are now considered franchise players like Kopitar and Kesler (maybe a stretch), or strong top-six forwards like the rest of them, right?

But that’s years long past, how has Gagner done lately? Well his CF% over the last three seasons is 47.8%, a little below the 48% he posted in his first three years, but fairly negligible.* His points/60 minute rate (at even-strength), however, went up from 1.74 to 1.81. That might not seem like a lot, but it puts him in company with Ryan Getzlaf (1.82) and Zach Parise (1.81).

*Actually, that consistent possession rate is a good thing; the Oilers were once again the second worst possession team in the NHL over a three year sample and he maintained his personal possession rate. This would indicate that if the Oilers ever become proficient at possession (and with their talent, that shouldn’t be long), Gagner could become a far more effective player than he is right now.

This deal gives the Oilers a good second-line center for the next few years and once other contracts are signed in the next couple years, will seem like a steal. It’s easy to forget he’ll  enter next season at 24-years-old and has not come close to reaching his ceiling. The one catch is that if he does perform well, and I expect him to, he could be too rich for the Oilers by the end of it when you factor in everyone else’s contracts upcoming – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz will both be restricted free agents at the end of this year.

Matt Duchene

If you watched Matt Duchene play at the 2013 World Championships, you’d wonder how this guy was ever given a Show-Me contract. Just check the highlight reel from his NHL career thus far:

In those goals you can see the speed, hands and hockey IQ that it takes to get to that next level. You see the composure he has when under pressure and can forget that he’s only 22-years-old.

Duchene has been pretty good ever since he stepped into the league. In his rookie campaign, he tallied 55 points, outscoring a player who is generally considered one of the best in the NHL now in John Tavares. In fact, in his first two seasons, Duchene averaged 1.98 points/60 minutes of even-strength time, the same as Ilya Kovalchuk and ahead of Claude Giroux (1.97). That’s pretty good company.

This year is much the same story, but better. In the lockout-shortened season, Duchene averaged 2.32 points/60 minutes at ES, higher than Logan Couture (2.30), Steven Stamkos (2.29) and Alex Ovechkin (2.20). Duchene has cemented himself among the NHL’s elite, even if people don’t realize it.

Not only this, but he and P.A. Parenteau were one of the top offensive duos in the NHL this year (expressed at even-strength, Goals For are goals for the team, not individuals):

 

Goals For/20 Mins

Duo CorsiFor%

Average Age Now/ AAV in ‘13-‘14

Duchene/Parenteau 1.149 49% 26 Y / $7.5M
Getzlaf/Perry (ANA) 1.228 53.7% 28 Y / $16.875
E. Staal/Semin (CAR) 1.263 50.6% 28.5 Y / $15.25M
Ovechkin/Backstrom (WSH) 1.105 53.6% 26 Y / $16.238M
Stamkos/St. Louis (TBL) 1.073 49.8% 30.5 Y / $13.125M

 

Duchene will earn $3.5 million this year but that jumps to $6 million next year. Even still, he and Parenteau will only be earning $10 million between them. Sample size here can be an issue (it was only a 48-game season), but it would appear that these two are among the most under-valued-yet-elite pairings in the NHL.

When you see the $8 million-plus contracts given out to guys like Perry and Getzlaf, who do have more years under their belt and that is a double-edged sword itself and factor in that the salary cap could come close to $80 million by the end of five years, this deal seems all that more valuable.

At the end of the day, these two are different players and were compensated as such; Gagner is a second line centre who is a good possession player on a team on the upswing while Duchene is a budding superstar. Both players have yet to hit their ceilings for one reason or another and because of this (combined with prior production), I love both contracts.

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