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The Puck Stops Here

A Contract To Regret

Every summer the NHL GMs rush to hand out big contracts to a group of free agent players that they hope will be the future of their franchises.  Some work out to be good signings, but many do not.  When a player signed to a longer-term contract worth a significant amount of money does not work out it can be a problem that handcuffs the franchise into the future.  I think that one such situation this year is the Pittsburgh Penguins signing of Zbynek Michalek, formerly of the Phoenix Coyotes, to a five year contract worth $20 million in total.

Michalek has been with Phoenix since the lockout year and played a regular shift on their defence.  He frequently plays against relatively tough competition and has far more defensive zone starts than offensive ones.  Accordingly, his offensive contribution has never been significant.  He scored 17 points last year and has a career best of 28, which he got in 2006/07.

Michalek is a defenceman who provides most of his value from defensive play.  Nobody has ever suggested that he is a star player.  He usually puts up +/- ratings that after adjustment are in the negative, but this is often explained away because he plays a tougher role on his team. 

In his favor as he hit free agency this summer is the fact that he is 27 years old and this makes him a relatively young free agent.  It is not unreasonable to expect that his best might be yet to come or at the very least that he is still a few years from decline.  Also in his favor is the fact that he played on the Phoenix Coyotes this year and Phoenix had a Cinderella-type year.  The team won fourth seed in the West Conference despite the uncertainty of their financial condition, as they came out of bankruptcy.  The team’s improvement was largely a defensive one and thus hard to quantify.  Anyone who may have been related to it got looked at more positively than they probably should have.  Dave Tippett was a runaway coach of the year, Don Maloney was the NHL’s first GM of the year and Ilya Bryzgalov was considered a Hart Trophy candidate.  That is too much credit given individually for a team improvement that failed to win their division or a playoff round.  In the process, Zbynek Michalek got overvalued.  He was one of the better defencemen on a much improved team, but he is no star.

When we look closely at his numbers from last year, we see that Michalek had the 10th worst team and zone adjusted Corsi rating in the NHL last year.  This isn’t a one year fluke.  Michalek has a history of poor puck possession numbers.

Michalek’s game is not a puck possession one.  He plays in defensive situations and often penalty kills.  He plays against some of the better players in the league.  However, he does not stop them from controlling the puck, taking shots and scoring goals against his team.  His reputation has grown largely because it is hard to quantify what he does and he was in the right place at the right time for a significantly improved team last year.  That is coupled with his relatively young age to make him look like a top pick from the 2010 free agent crop.  Many teams made offers to Michalek and Pittsburgh was the one who made the offer he accepted.  The auction for his services drove the price up above the level he is likely to provide the team.  I strongly doubt that he will provide Pittsburgh with $20 million in value over the next five years.  I think that most likely he will be an extra defenceman who has not played well enough to be on their top pairing and people will wonder why Ray Shero gave him the big contract that he did.  Michalek will be a big salary cap hit that limits Pittsburgh’s flexibility and may become a buyout candidate. 

I do not think that the Zbynek Michalek signing will work out.

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Comments

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

I don’t think Michalek is going to be expected to fill a first-pairing role with the Penguins.  $4M a year is just about in line for what a 2nd-pairing guy who can play on the PK is expected.

Pittsburgh seems to have identified a need for better defensive defensemen to fill the gaps left by Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi after their cup season.  I think Michalek has at least a decent chance of filling that role, but I do recognize there’s a risk of failure.  I don’t feel I’m in a good enough position to weigh in more strongly than that.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 08/15/10 at 07:09 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

LIKE OMFG the Corsi Ratings Pimp again !!!!!!!!

He will end up being teamed with Orpik because Brooks has a Huge tendency to take himself out of position on a regular basis


Actually if you EVER watched a game it is easy to “quantify what he does”

& there were other teams who offered more than the Pens, BUT of course you Corsi Geek know more than GM’s in the NHL sick

Paul we Need a Facepalm emoticon

Posted by Evilpens on 08/15/10 at 08:56 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Well thought out coherent arguments are not evilpens strongpoint.

I actually had a bet offline about how long it would take to get such a responce from evilpens.  Three hours wins me money.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 08/15/10 at 08:58 PM ET

cs6687's avatar

Watching the games >>>>>>>>>>>> Corsi ratings.

Posted by cs6687 on 08/15/10 at 10:14 PM ET

Z4dfense's avatar

What a crock of crap. Like Corsi ratings are the only thing that count?

Michalek will be a revelation for you and most yeast-coast puck heads. The kid is not going to be your physical, offensive juggernaut. But he is going to make the Pens look like an unstoppable defensive monster.

He’s young and can skate and can pass and is a calm oasis of confident shot blocking for your goalie and a bastion of poise, stability and reliability for his pairing partner.

The pucks that never get to the Pitt net will not be counted as stats that matter (by people who can’t look any further than Crosby’s jock strap) but trust me when I say that the myriad of blocked shots from Z every year will make a difference.

When the Pen’s goalie melts down again this season, it will be Z who covers his ass until he can pull his head out and remember he can stop a damn puck. (MAF has not been the king of consistency over his career, Z will make sure that doesn’t hurt the Pens so badly)

When Crosby and Malkin are hauling ass down the ice on a breakaway powered by a Michalek fed outlet pass that threads multiple opponents I really don’t want you to come crawling to me to praise my boy’s prowess. The kid can pass and he is smart with his choices.

It wasn’t just being on a resurgent Coyotes team that drove Z’s value up. If you look past those weird ass stats (if you can see past your Corsi Rating blindness) you will see that Z was on a #1 pairing with an aging Jovanovski. We often called it babysitting/handholding duty, the kid was never given a shot at honing offensive skills, any points he came by were earned the hard way during his team high TOI (almost all of it defensively oriented) I’m betting the Pens are counting on this particular strength to shore up a defensively weak top dman… you know the type who is so focused on his hit or jumping into the offense without thinking that he leaves his goalie out to dry, over and over again?

Given some decent PP time and hopefully a decently competent partner,  Z will surprise a lot of people with a sneaky slap shot and a seriously twisted wrister and rack up possibly some career high points.

The Pen’s PK will be the envy of their conference. Defense does win cups and Z makes any blueline a tough zone to make a play in. The Pens can always score, they have no problem getting the goals, taking a lead. The problem is that they often can’t stop a beachball and let those leads get away by letting their goalies twist in the wind. Not on Z’s watch.

Lucky effing Penguins…

Posted by Z4dfense on 08/15/10 at 10:21 PM ET

Avatar

Michalek’s game is not a puck possession one.

I have no idea why you would expect it to be?  He played in a grinder-style system with little in the way of top tier skill.  They collapsed their defense, limited shots and tried to win 2-1 games.

I wonder what the Montreal Canadiens’ adjusted Corsi was during the first two rounds of the playoffs.  I bet it was poor.  But the team won two series, but the whole Corsi system ignore the idea that teams with grit but not talent never set out to throw up 45 shots a game.

I’m guessing his Corsi will look a lot better with Staal or Malkin’s line playing with him.  Which of course means that Corsi numbers aren’t worth the bandwidth used to spread them around the Internet.

Posted by HNBCTB on 08/15/10 at 10:22 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Z4dfense

I question whether or not you have seen Michalek play.  You are suggesting he can play power play and you cite his passing abilities.  He is a poor power play player.  He does not have a strong passing ability.  He has little offensive skill at all.  His value as it exists is defensive.  He plays a tough role and he gets outshot and outscored while doing so.  In short he is a poor shutdown defenceman who is usually overmatched. 

This is apparently worth $4 mill a year for the next five years?

I think Michalek will struggle on the Pens first line and probably slip onto their second or perhaps third line within a couple years and they will regret the money the invested in him.  $4 mill a year is a big salary cap hit for a defenceman who is not much of a game changer - a guy who gets beaten in most of the tough situations in which he plays.

HNBCTB

Michalek’s Corsis as reported here are adjusted for team effects and his defensive usage and nevertheless remain near the bottom of the league.  That shows that he has not been succeeding.  It isn’t a reason for a pay raise and the expectation that he will make a positive contribution to a new team. 

While it is probable that if Michalek plays a very different role in Pittsburgh than in Phoenix his Corsi (and point total and any other stat) will look very different, I expect that after adjustment if he plays a similar role he will produce similar numbers on his new team.  It is debatable that he is coming to a better team.  Phoenix playing in a tougher conference than Pittsburgh put up six more points last year.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 08/15/10 at 10:35 PM ET

cs6687's avatar

Phoenix playing in a tougher conference than Pittsburgh put up six more points last year.

And this statement shows your knowledge, or lack thereof. Phoenix won 14 games in the shootout, the most in the NHL. The Coyotes success was just a tad inflated.

Posted by cs6687 on 08/15/10 at 10:41 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

I will say that Michalek was only the third-best defenseman for Phoenix in their first-round series against Detroit.  He fought hard, but did find himself overmatched several times.

Still, I don’t see it as a done deal that he will be a failure or overpaid in Pittsburgh.  It’s a different team with a different mindset.  I do not think that Phoenix is a better team than Pittsburgh.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 08/15/10 at 10:49 PM ET

Z4dfense's avatar

I have watched him every single game since his rookie debut with Phoenix… obviously many many more games than you. Phoenix has sucked for such a long time I doubt there can be any type of adjustment of your Corsi ratings to cover the changes that his game should reach with his new team. I do agree that the west is a tougher conference but we’ll just have to disagree as I also believe that his skills ‘should’ translate stronger.

His value is defensive right now, he was never given more than a minute or so on the PP so how can you begin to say he can’t play on it? He is rarely out of position and I have no clue where you are getting the over matched crap from. He has never failed to take a hit to make a play… yeah he gets run the eff over once in awhile but that isn’t due to lack of gumption, more lack of anyone teaching him how to use the size he has acquired in the last two years

There has not been one season where Z has played with a top tier talent on his front end to catch a friggin pass. Much less a talent that can consistently take that pass and do something useful with it. I am a Coyotes homer but I am honest enough to realize that my team is best when considered as a whole than the individual parts.

You cite ratings and generalities about the kid’s game, conveniently overlooking/denigrating the massive value his defensive skills hold. Its a shame that anyone that doesn’t put up monster offense gets maimed in your rating game.

I am seriously looking forward to Z making you look like a rusty tool.

Posted by Z4dfense on 08/15/10 at 10:49 PM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

I am seriously looking forward to Z making you look like a rusty tool.

Making?  smile

Posted by mrfluffy from Long Beach on 08/15/10 at 10:59 PM ET

Yotesgurl's avatar

He is not a star?  Are you insane? 

Want to know “what it is that he does”?  He leads the league in blocked shots.  He plays like a second goalie. This kid played against Thornton/Heatley, Getzlaf, the Sedins, and every other top damn line in the NHL.  In addition to playing against the top lines, he had to spend his years being paired with Jovo, who is notorious for leaving Z hanging out to dry and having to cover Jovo’s sizeable ass.

If you think this is a contract to regret, you obviously have not watched Z play much at all because, other than Doan, Z was what made our team great.  His heart, his work ethic, his bravery, and his bones made of steel. 

But I am sure you and your stats understand the player better than Don Maloney, who was dying to re-sign Z.  He was General Manager of the year right?  A contract to regret…. don’t make me laugh.

Posted by Yotesgurl on 08/15/10 at 11:01 PM ET

Greg's avatar

Like a few said, $4mill for a decent defenceman to play on the 2nd pair is about average for the league.  I think if they could do it all over, they’d rather have given Scuderi the $4mil, but seeing what life was like without him and even Gill, they realized they don’t need to blow $5+mill on Gonch when they can utilize their forwards who do come back regularly to assist the breakout.

Instead, they missed the guys down low behind the net and behind it, and hopefully Michalek is that guy. 

I can’t argue much in his favor though, having only been able to watch their (few) playoff games last year.  But I’m guessing as long as the Penguins don’t notice him on the ice, they’ll be happy…and anything he contribute offensively will be a bonus.

Posted by Greg on 08/15/10 at 11:22 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

The idea that $4 mill buys a second pairing defenceman - which has been quoted a couple of times in these comments - is a clear sign that defencemen are overpaid in the NHL today.  A forward or goalie who can produce as many win shares as a second pairing defenceman would is not paid $4 mill in this summer’s free agent salaries.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 08/15/10 at 11:27 PM ET

Avatar

Corsi ratings can kiss my ass. Phoenix was a very defensive team and Michalek will now play behind Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and company. You said a ton of good things about him. Well guess what. Brooks Orpik is a defensive defenseman who is living up to his $3.75M cap hit.

If Ray Shero overpaid for Michalek, he did so by $500K. The Coyotes were very upset about the fact that Michalek decided to walk away and he still has some untapped potential. Playing for a team like the Pens and maybe getting a little bit of PP time, say 1 minute per game or so, will help bring out his offensive skills.

I’m not saying he’s gonna turn into a PP quarterback or play on the PP every game, but this is a solid player and it was a solid signing by Shero. You have to overpay a little bit to get some of these guys. Shero did great with him and Paul Martin and NHL analysts across the board said the Penguins were among the big winners in free agency.

I bet you’re really not all that familiar with Michalek’s game. You’re just a big stats geek looking at Corsi ratings, which is just as ineffective at determining a player’s value as +/- can be. Another lame post on Puck Stops Here, what else is new…

Posted by KLS Line 20-82-27 on 08/15/10 at 11:30 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

a clear sign that defencemen are overpaid in the NHL today.

Maybe so, but everybody seems to be buying into it, even the league’s best GMs.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 08/15/10 at 11:40 PM ET

Avatar

Take it easy guys. We just need to accept the fact that PSH is in fact smarter than most NHL GMs, many of who were betting on Michalek’s services this offseason.

Posted by Kstewy16 on 08/16/10 at 02:48 AM ET

Flashtastick56's avatar

It’s not often that you get Evilpens AND Puck Stops Here stupidity in the same post.  Almost like Christmas came early.  Awesome!

What I’ve heard about Michalek (including from the couple ‘Yotes fans above) was that he’s solid defensively and has untapped offensive potential that wasn’t shown/used/developed in Phoenix because of the system they play - i.e. an extremely defensive one.

Of course, that synopsis of Michalek’s skill, I’m sure, included something that is not accepted here (actually watching the guy play) and not God’s gift to crappy KK bloggers (Corsi numbers), so…who knows how that’s going to pan out.

Posted by Flashtastick56 from Meriden, CT on 08/16/10 at 03:44 AM ET

Avatar

To be honest, I was surprised when we signed this guy at that kind of a price.  4 million a year for a defensive d-man when we already have one in orpik at nearly 4 million a year, and now Martin at 5 million, plus Letang and Gogo, it really left nothing for the winger that we were looking for.  Hopefully it works out, but I would not have minded bringing up someone from the baby pens, or even signing a guy late in the summer at a bargain price, and keeping the cash for a winger.

Posted by gretzky_to_lemieux on 08/16/10 at 12:36 PM ET

Moq's avatar

There’s always a chance that players fetched from the outside with a generous contract end up failing. They might even have excellent Corsi numbers and succumb to the dangers of making money.

I haven’t seen a lot of Zbynek Michalek, and I’m not going to trawl beneficial statistics to make me feel better about the signing. Given the likely defensive role of the second pairing, I’m reasonably optimistic that he’ll somehow help improve the combined defensive effort. Whether it’ll be in accordance with his paycheck is a different question. Having a demand in a market of shallow supply usually has its consequences.

From a spectator point of view, it’ll be interesting how the prominent defencemen signings this offseason will work out in new settings, eg. Martin, Michalek, Volchenkov, Hamhuis, Tallinder, and Gonchar. There will probably be some regret.

Posted by Moq from Denmark on 08/16/10 at 12:48 PM ET

Avatar

Keep one thing in mind, even a mediocre defense man will look like a champ on the Pens blue line.

Posted by zirky on 08/16/10 at 04:47 PM ET

Primis's avatar

Keep one thing in mind, even a mediocre defense man will look like a champ on the Pens blue line.

Posted by zirky on 08/16/10 at 02:47 PM ET

Ryan Whitney.

Ooops, you lose, sorry about that.

Posted by Primis on 08/18/10 at 12:27 AM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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