Part 2: The Islanders Defensemen

In part 1 we used War-on-Ice metrics to capture a summary/overall view of forwards total contribution to their team in their Goals Against Replacement (GAR). If you missed that piece, click here. 

GAR uses key quantitative metrics including, face-offs, penalties drawn/taken, shot metrics in variable game situations to calculate how many goals a player’s efforts would contribute to a team versus a replacement level player.

In that, we can apply that every 6 GAR should equal 1 win.

Then we need to look at salary as it relates to GAR. GAR and wins really relate to salary differential and give you insight to how many teams evaluate players in trades and also free agents.

So let’s look at the top GAR for Defenseman based on last season in the NHL:

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One thing we can say immediately is that the NY Islanders are really going to miss Visnovsky. We will touch more on that later.

One thing to note is these GAR scores tend to be lower as compared to offense. Plus, if we try to equate it to salary like offense, we see severe differences. The reality via salary is that market seems to push things differently here.

So let’s examine how the highest end of offensive dmen score and look at their salary….

Erik Karlsson

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So we see a GAR that is in the 13-17 range equate to a 7 year 6.5 AAV. But, he had a 6 GAR in his contract year to get that, and 18+ GAR the year before. The contract year output really carries more weight with players & agents (and arbitration, btw, if applicable).

P.K. Subban

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PK’s is a huge contract, making Karlsson a relative bargain. PK received an 8 year $72 million so it’s at a $9AAV. His contract year to attain this hefty amount is 6.20 GAR, despite the 10.96 the year before. In fact, we can see that MTL seems to have overpaid despite that Karlsson and PK were in similar metrics and scenarios, despite that Karlsson’s contract was earlier.

But all depends on what MTL is considering their defining metrics for PK. In GAR considerations, both players are very similar. In point output, Karlsson is more prolific… making him an incredible bargain in comparison…from this vantage point.

So here we have the bar of the top offensive dmen.

How about a defensive dman? GAR#s can be different there.

Ryan Suter

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Ryan Suter signed a 13 year deal that pays him a $7.538 AAV per season back in 2013. So his GAR in that contract year was a mighty…. 1. So we can see that defensively geared dmen accrue a different GAR value and are paid on different metrics. We will see some of that with some Isles dmen. Stay tuned…

So let’s take a look at the NY Islanders defensemen:

Johnny Boychuk 

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Boychuk is a defensively strong dman who also has been offensive for the Isles as well. Based on his GAR and those aforementioned market-setting top contracts, his 7-year deal that averages: $6 million dollars a year avg fits the schematic based on his GAR output. If anything, the Islanders actually are getting a bit of a bargain because Boychuk also has some defensive strengths to go along with his offensive skills. Had the Isles not sealed him up last season, he would have been the top defenseman in NHL free agency and cashed in mightily.

The Isles paid the premium locking him up by giving him the length for a 31-year-old player that will cover him until he is 38. The contract is a smart move for a team that is being very cap conscious as they round the corner on some key UFA and RFAs in the next year.

Nick Leddy

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The Islanders value on Leddy is phenomenal. In the 8 GAR range his re-signing is dynamite value at $5.5 AAV for 7 years; especially in lieu of his age. While Boychuk is 31, Leddy will be 24 this season. This is prime time and the signing is a steal. His GAR could increase to 9+, and the Isles really might get great value over these 7 years. This signing and contract cost (besides original trade) should be on the top of Garth Snow’s list of accomplishments.

Ok… ready for a surprise?

Travis Hamonic

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We see a few things here. One is that Hamonic is more in the Ryan Suter framework. His GAR was not particularly good this year despite the 33pts. In fact, as I cited on twitter the other day… his play/analytics drops when he is NOT paired with Calvin de Haan. So that partnership seems very key for the Islanders next season.

His GAR is a bit of a surprise, nevertheless. Is Hamonic slightly overrated due to his physical play? Could be. Also could be that he is partially misused by the Isles who still doesn’t quite have a 2nd PP unit QB.

However, Hamonic is an extremely affordable $3,857,143 AAV on a 7-year contract. He’ll also be just 25 years old next season.

Calvin de Haan

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Calvin had a drop last season, much like Hamonic. So this year will be extremely important in his development. Contract wise, he is a bargain at under $2 million a year and isn’t an RFA until the summer of 2017.

Expect de Haan to remain in his top 4 configuration unless the Isles are able to move Grabner and address some deep needs via trade… like top 4 dman. Remember… he is only 24 years old. This will be his 3rd season coming up.

Thomas Hickey

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In the 3rd pair, Hickey seems to be a positive GAR, even if he’s not quite the level of his first year on the Isles. But we are seeing where he belongs. As the Isles get better, the roles are becoming more defined. His new contract that averages 2.2 million per year is also a bargain for a young guy that is only 26 years old.

Lubomir Visnovsky

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Surprised at his GAR last year? Don’t be. I mentioned last season how important he was for the Isles. He was very missed once he went down in the playoffs series versus the Capitals. The problem is his durability, besides age. Plus the fact he is a 3rd pairing dman.

We will address the Isles options to replacing him in a moment.

But first….

Brian Strait

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No, ladies and gentlemen, your eyes do NOT deceive you. Strait stinks. His GAR last year was one of the worst in the NHL. The fact that he was continually placed in by coaches does show a bit of stubbornness on their part against some pretty clear-cut analytics. He is a detriment to the team, even in the 3rd pair.

He has the worst analytics in GAR since Andrew MacDonald in his Isles contract year at -13.

The Kids?

Ok, lets get past this pain and look to why Strait will only be a depth plugin in case of injury. Whether it will be Scott Mayfield or Ryan Pulock, the team will be fair better off with either in the 3rd pair.

Ryan Pulock: When Dougie Hamilton came up for the Bruins, they eased him in via the 3rd pairing. This could easily lend itself for Pulock except for one glaring issue… he hasn’t had a sniff of any experience or taste of the NHL yet. This seems to tell me they still think he is a year away… with perhaps call-up opportunities this season.

But lets look at the potential GAR that a call-up rookie might bring in year 1. In fact, lets look at Dougie Hamilton via that year with the Bruins….

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His first year with the Bruins saw him play 42 games with a GAR of 1.81. Year 2 we see a solid growth to 4+. This is a feasible range for Pulock as well if he can get solid time this next season.

The issue with Scott Mayfield is likely a GAR level below 1, and the fact that he is more a 3rd pair potential. In other words, he has far less ceiling than Pulock. In fact, if the Isles do get a veteran defenseman, it might end Mayfield’s opportunities on Long Island.

In other words: the Isles have a big decision on their hands. Can they entrust the 3rd pair with one of their kids? Or can the fact that several UFA defensemen still are sitting around due NHL free agency allow the Isles to upgrade with a guy at a one year deal for this upcoming season?

As you know from my recent piece, I expect the Isles to explore the latter. So lets look at some of those free agents.

Cody Franson

To me, he is the toughest one for the Isles to get simply because he wants a multi-year deal and has more teams interested in him. Not to mention his cost per year will be higher. At $9.2 million left in cap space, the Isles still have to sign Brock (prob 2.75-3 per year) and Kevin Poulin (1 million?). So the 5.2 left eaten by one guy with no cushion or air is something the Isles would like to avoid.

Marek Zidlicky 

Zidlicky seems far more the Isles speed in terms of opportunity to play due to his age: 38. Almost a very Visnovsky-like situation if the price is right. Durable? Not particularly, but maybe durable enough plus gives time to kids if he is out for a stint. A Zidlicky/Hickey pairing seems possible.

Christian Ehrhoff

Here might be the true value. He is 33 years old and really might be attainable short-term. Not terribly durable either, but once again… if out really gives the kids a good taste and experience in the NHL. If the Isles feel he wasn’t used properly in Pitt, he has shown at least a solid 3rd pair value with potential for upside if they feel he can attain the magic he has in Vancouver and San Jose.

David Schlemko

I’m not sure Schlemko is enough improvement over using kids, but including him here anyway. Could come cheaply and if outplayed by a kid in camp, easily rectified.


The real bottom-line is we have seen EVERY Isles kid get a taste of the NHL before coming up. Ryan Pulock has not. This really indicates to me that this is his year to get that taste. Will he get a full year as a rookie? Seems doubtful when we look at that history. We shall see.

I think the Isles would like a vet, but all depends on how much. Once again, the fact that Grabner still on the team is a severe impediment to moves and plans. Yes, if sent to AHL, the $3 million cap hit is not on the team. But his $5 million contract does still affect their budget. And yes, folks, I believe the Isles have a budget.

Moreover, the Isles are reticent to give ANYONE over a year when facing several UFA and RFAs after next season. Kyle Okposo, Fran Nielsen, and Matt Martin will be UFA. Ryan Strome and Casey Cizikas will be RFAs. Strome’s pay and contract length I expect to be substantial (5+ million per year?).

If this team plans trades or to shop next NHL free agent market, they need cushion and breathing room. This creates an interesting complexity as they assess if a kid is ready or a vet needed. So stay tuned.