Although I don't take much delight in "the business of hockey," I do enjoy interpreting the free agent negotiation game. Because while analysts can break players down into their individual value -- even guesstimating how many "wins" a player is worth, and thus how much per win he should ideally be paid -- the reality of contracts, negotiations, and human relations overall is there are more variables than just money. (Ilya Kovalchuk excepted.)
So I'm not going to get too soft on you regarding the Matt Moulson extension, bu two undeniable factors in his signing are that: 1) The Islanders have trouble acquiring that production on the open market (unless it's through a flier, like when Moulson was first signed to a two-way), and 2) If the Islanders are building something meaningful, it's going to depend on players like Moulson who are happy to be here, so happy that it's important they stick around. Players who are in it for each other, and who understand the beauty of Long Island -- who understand there is a world beyond the Coliseum parking lot.
The Islanders are a frugal team right now. You could call them a de facto small-market team. So low-cost, long-term moves like the Frans Nielsen and Andrew MacDonald contracts are key. With RFA contracts coming due on Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey this summer, and John Tavares and Nielsen (as a UFA) in 2012, every decision must be made with consideration for the overall budget, as well as the cap. (The NHL's continued revenue growth will raise both the cap and the floor, but that doesn't means teams should assume uninterrupted growth.)
|Stempniak||Phx||2010||2 years||$3.8 million||$1.9 million||27-28|
|Hunter||NYI||2008||5 years||$10 million||$2 million||28-32|
|Knuble||Was||2009||2 years||$4.6 million||$2.8 million||37-38|
|Frolov||NYR||2010||1 year||$3 million||$3 million||28|
|Moulson||NYI||2011||3 years||$9.4 million||$3.13 million||28-30|
|Wolski||Phx (NYR)||2010||2 years||$7.6 million||$3.8 million||24-25|
|Stillman||Fla||2008||3 years||$10.6 million||$3.53 million||35-37|
|Boyes||STL||2008||4 years||$16 million||$4 million||26-29|
|Michalek||SJ (Ott)||2008||6 years||$26 million||$4.3 million||24-29|
Does Moulson's 3-year, $9.4 million deal fit within that framework? I think so.
The pretty randomly compiled list of wingers above is quite a varied selection of guys who signed contracts for their UFA years (except for Wolski, who signed an expensive RFA deal with Phoenix after playing but a quarter-season there...and then was flipped to the Rangers this winter -- an interesting contrast to Stemniak, who re-signed as a UFA for half that after a similarly hot quarter-season). The production of the players on that list varies as much as their age and roles. Age, opportunity, and "contender status" are factors in any contract. (Knuble surely took a little less, albeit at an advanced age, to join a contender who already had much larger salary slots reserved for big stars.)
But when you look at that spectrum, and when you consider Moulson's price last summer to avoid arbitration was $2.45 million, it was fair to expect a salary in the range of $3-4 million for his next deal.
As it turns out, $3.13 million per is a nice salary on its face -- but it's also not bad because the Islanders committed for only three years. (Just look at that Michalek contract. Wow.) Moulson was a late arrival on the "established NHLer" scene, and he's thus far backed up last year's 30-goal season with similar production without his two-way play suffering. He's also been more of a factor in John Tavares's success (as opposed to vice versa) than many outsiders realize.
There is mutual risk involved: For the Islanders' part, Moulson could get hurt (he hasn't yet), his production could taper off, other wingers could lap him, push him down the depth chart, and reasonably demand more money. That's why the three-year term mitigates the risk of a big mistake. For Moulson's part, he could increase his production, or the market (in lockstep with the cap) could keep going up, and in either case he could find himself underpaid in 2013-14. If that happens though, hitting UFA again at age 30 is hardly a bad thing. But this deal looks like a happy medium.
I'd wondered whether the Islanders would try to depress the annual value of Moulson's deal by going the Trent Hunter route -- locking him up for a longer term, and exchanging that commitment for a lower salary as they did with Hunter. But it looks like that wasn't necessary. $3.13 million per is greater than Hunter's $2 million of course, but Hunter's deal was signed three years ago and it was for a winger who is of lesser import.
About that Soft Side Again
In Newsday -- relayed by Puck Daddy here -- Moulson said the following:
"I think there are some things people don't know about this team," Moulson said. "I've told my agent and other people around the league about how we're treated, how they treat our families. [Team owner Charles Wang] and Snow are involved in everything and that filters down to everyone on the team."
"I don't know if I've ever played on as close-knit as a team as this one," Moulson continued. "That's what makes it so fun, once we get wins. The biggest thing for me is the guys. I don't want to be apart from this group."
You can get really coldly calculating about player value and when to cut bait -- the salary cap era pretty much demands it. But I'm not sure how you put a value on the buy-in and sentiments, the esprit de corps and togetherness expressed by Moulson above, and by other players throughout what could be a miserable season.
When visiting announcers remark how surprised they are by the Islanders "upbeat" locker room, the cynic would say they're observing naiive youth. But the optimistic Islanders fan would say the foundation is being laid for something much better. Something Isles fans haven't seen but a blip of for decades.