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Matt Niskanen Has The Best Adjusted +/-

I posted the top 20 players in 2013/14 by adjusted +/- and Matt Niskanen of the Pittsburgh Penguins leads the bunch.  Niskanen is an interesting player.  At the beginning of the 2013/14 season, I would have told you he was a solid but unspectacular defenceman.  He hadn't exceeded 21 points in a season in the last four years.  He was a solid part of a depth defensive pairing.  The Pittsburgh Penguins certainly didn't expect him to become their defensive leader.

In 2013/14 he had the best year of his career.  He scored 46 points and was a +33.  He led the Penguins defence in ice time over the season.  Now that he is an unrestricted free agent, the question is what should we expect into the future?   Was this a fluke year or is it repeatable?

One big hint is his 1031 PDO.  This places Niskanen in the top 30 in the NHL.  Since a PDO largely measures luck (it is shooting percentage plus saves percentage when a player in on the ice), a high value indicates that a player was lucky to do as well as he did and that luck likely won't last.  Usually adjusted +/- leaders have league leading PDO values - which is one reason that Corsi is more valuable to rate puck possession.

I think it is clear that Niskanen had a very good season in 2013/14.  At age 27, he should be in his prime and is expected to have the best years of his career.  The fact that there had been no other season approaching his level in 13/14 and that would have been expected before he turned 27 if he was to be a star player is problematic.  It shows that he probably is not going to reproduce his season.  The high PDO value in that season suggests that he was lucky to do as well as he did last year.  It isn't a smart move for a team to sign Niskanen expecting he can repeat what he did last year.  If they are looking for a top second pairing defenceman they probably won't be disappointed.  If they are looking for a frontline number one defenceman he will likely disappoint.  As an unrestricted free agent in a relatively poor field of free agents, he will be paid as a first line defenceman.  That will likely be a bad move.  His 2013/14 season was very good, but it looks unrepeatable and it looks like it took a lot of luck to occur at all.

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awould's avatar

Every UFA defenseman that can drag a stick around the ice gets overpaid. His value as UFA must be viewed in this context. Paying him as a top-pair is a relative notion that changes every summer as the next batch of UFA’s gets overpaid and the salary cap increases.

So yeah, Niskanan isn’t worth what a lot of top Dmen earn, and if he were on an auction block with all of them, that would prove out. But he’s not. He’s in a thin UFA market with even thinner trade options. GM’s must make a decision to improve their team with the players that are available to them, at the prevailing rates. Sometimes there is a run on a player or position that throws the system way out of wack. But usually it’s the run-of-the-mill overpayment that is basically built into the system. So the question isn’t, should a team pay Niskanen more than he’s worth, it is, is Niskanen the right player to pay more than he’s worth given the players available now and those likely available in the near future. I know Holland sat on his thumbs waiting for Suter to become available, which didn’t work out well. Doesn’t make it a mistake to have waited though, as Suter was far and above the most exciting Dman to hit he UFA in a long time (and likely for a long time). But it didn’t pan out so sometimes a bird in the hand is actually worth more than two in the bush.

Detroit needs to upgrade their D. They can promote some young guys who may/may not be ready to contribute. Likely not an upgrade this season. They can trade, and possibly (hopefully) have some options that nobody really knows about. Or they can sign a UFA.

What they can’t do is pick and choose from the consensus top-pairing players and get perfect value on their dollar. That’s the real world. Join us.

Posted by awould on 06/17/14 at 06:16 PM 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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