Thursday, August 13, 2015

Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Variables to Consider with the Giordano Contract Extension

Consider this.

Mark Giordano could sign the maximum-allowed eight-year contract extension with the Calgary Flames and in the final season -- 2023-24 to be precise, he'd still be six months younger than Nicklas Lidstrom was when he won the Norris Trophy at age 40 in 2010-11.

I'm not suggesting Giordano is the next Lidstrom. I'm also not advocating an eight-year deal.

But strolling back through recent history and closely examining the careers of the NHL's better defencemen of the last 20-25 years, there is evidence to suggest Giordano's decline could come a little later than you might normally expect.

This, along with the fact his entire career has been so unique is what makes his contract extension a very tricky one. This is also surely the reason why despite being identified in May by general manager Brad Treliving as his No. 1 priority for the off-season, it's a deal that is not done yet as we approach mid-August.

How much and for how long do you pay Giordano, who will have just turned 33 when an extension would kick in to start the 2016-17 season?

In this special edition of Eight From 80 Feet, I address eight variables to consider when it comes to this negotiation.

1. Low NHL Odometer

If Giordano was a car you were selling in Auto Trader, a key selling feature would be his low mileage.

Giordano has only played 514 NHL games. Hypothetically speaking, if he stays mostly healthy this season and plays 75 regular season games and another 11 in the playoffs, that brings him to 600 for his career as he enters his age 33-season. I was curious how that compares historically with where other defencemen were at entering the same stage of their career so I rolled up my sleeves and did the research.

First, no disrespect to guys like Bryce Salvador, Willie Mitchell and Stephane Robidas, but I wanted to limit the list to some the league's upper echelon of defenders. So, my criteria for inclusion was anyone going back to 1995-96, who finished as high as top six in Norris Trophy voting at least once.

Top six may sound pretty random but I chose that because sixth is where Giordano finished last season although he surely would have finished higher, maybe even won it, had his season not come to a screeching halt in mid-February when he suffered that torn biceps tendon injury.

I also limited the scope to players Giordano's age currently as a minimum because who knows how many games young stars like Drew DoughtyErik Karlsson and PK Subban will be at come their 33rd birthday -- although Doughty, only 25, is already at 600 NHL games so that in itself puts Giordano's total into context.

I ended up with a list of 32 players. After adding in the Giordano projection above for 2015-16, only Lubomir Visnovsky, who didn't come over to the NHL from Slovakia until age 24, will have had fewer games on his odometer entering his age 33-season.

Meanwhile, at the other end, Scott Stevens and Larry Murphy will have played in over twice as many NHL games at Giordano at the same point in their career.

Total Games (regular season + playoffs) Prior to Age 33-Season*:

1. Scott Stevens 1,262
2. Larry Murphy 1,234
3. Paul Coffey 1,170
4. Ray Bourque 1,167
5. Scott Niedermayer 1,136
6. Eric Desjardins 1,128
7. Phil Housley 1,126
8. Wade Redden 1,095
9/ Nicklas Lidstrom 1,091
10. Al MacInnis 1,032

11. Brian Leetch 1,021
12. Chris Pronger 996
13. Bryan McCabe 968
14. Ed Jovanovski 961
15. Derian Hatcher 954
16. Jay Bouwmeester 936 (entering his age 32-season)
17. Gary Suter 928
18. Zdeno Chara 923
19. Sergei Zubov 916
20. Sandis Ozolinsh 913

21. Sergei Gonchar 889
22. Duncan Keith 882 (entering his age 32-season)
23. Chris Chelios 851
24. Rob Blake 850
25. Brian Campbell 805
26. Kimmo Timonen 682
27. Andrei Markov 672
28. Adrian Aucoin 662
29. Dan Boyle 651
30. Francois Beauchemin 607

31. Lubomir Visnovsky 561
32. Mark Giordano 510 (entering his age 32-season)

* Age is as of January 31 of that season

Now obviously it's not like Giordano has been lying around and relaxing on beaches all winter the past decade. He's played two full seasons in the AHL, he played a season in Russia, he was just later than most in establishing himself in the NHL. That said, you would think he should have more left in the tank than one normally would have considering the NHL is the league where ultimately the most wear and tear occurs. It's the best league in the world where every game, defenceman battle against the biggest, most physical and fastest forwards in the world.

The post-season is then another level altogether. It's a much more intense grind against only the best opponents and with increased physicality. It's emotionally taxing and it's just an all-round more gruelling game. Giordano has played only four career playoff games. Second fewest on the above list is Visnovsky (12). Meanwhile, topping the list for playoff games amassed prior to their age 33-season are Scott Niedermayer (162), Eric Desjardins (157) and Nicklas Lidstrom (156). Nineteen of the 32 players listed have played in at least 80.

2. Where the Decline Normally Begins

So at what age is an NHL defenceman considered over the hill? At what point does the decline inevitably begin?

Again, I did some research. This time, I expanded the sample audience to include all defencemen, who in the last 20 years, finished in the top 10 in Norris Trophy voting at least once.

Disclaimer: I recognize that Norris voting is far from perfect but I'm using that for criteria as in my opinion it is the best way to identify the NHL's top defencemen from a historical perspective. Points wouldn't be a fair way to do it, nor would games played and advanced stats don't go back far enough.

Now this is not as clean and simple and is far more subjective but I looked at the list of 45 players that fit this criteria, examined the range of seasons in which they received Norris votes, and tried to identify their 'sweet spot' where they were consistently at their career best. It's not always cut and dried and I tried to ignore anomalies like that one season early on or that one year later in their career that looked more like a blip and focused more on identifying the body of work where they were consistently at their best (as reflected in Norris voting).

For example, Giordano's sweet spot -- for now -- would be ages 30 to 31 as it is during the past two seasons that he has really put himself in the conversation of who are the NHL's top defencemen by finishing top 10 in the Norris both years. This after having never received a vote previously. For some, the 'sweet spots' were wide and for others, they were very narrow.

What I Learned

I mentioned Lidstrom earlier and indeed, he was top of his game pretty much from age 27 until he was 40, although he wasn't alone. Chris Chelios and Ray Bourque also were very good defenders right through their 40th birthday and Al Macinnis, the Norris runner-up at age 39, would have been in that group also if he didn't have his career abruptly end due to an eye injury.

However, they were the exceptions.

Based on this, the most common point where careers began to tail off was after their age 33-season. There was another chunk that began declining after their age 32-season and another batch that arrived at their so-called 'post-apex' after their age 31-season.

That all said, affix your eyes back to the top again and you'll find plenty of examples going the other direction. For example, Mathieu Schneider, Rob Blake, Zdeno Chara, Sergei Zubov and Scott Stevens were very good right through their age 36-season.

If the latter held true for Giordano, that would equate to four years into his extension before a noticeable drop-off.

Career Sweet Spots (age range during their best seasons)

Nicklas Lidstrom, 27 to 40
Chris Chelios, 27 to 40
Ray Bourque, 19 to 40

Al MacInnis, 25 to 39

Larry Murphy, 30 to 37

Mathieu Schneider, 34 to 36
Rob Blake, 28 to 36
Zdeno Chara, 26 to 36
Sergei Zubov, 23 to 36
Scott Stevens, 23 to 36

Brian Rafalski, 32 to 35
Andrei Markov, 29 to 35
Brian Leetch, 22 to 35

Niklas Kronwall, 32 to 34* (active)
Lubomir Visnovsky, 30 to 34
Paul Coffey, 20 to 34

Kimmo Timmonen, 31 to 33
Dan Boyle, 30 to 33
Scott Niedermayer, 30 to 33
Teppo Numminen, 27 to 33
Eric Desjardins, 26 to 33
Sergei Gonchar, 25 to 33
Ed Jovanovski, 25 to 33

Mark Streit, 30 to 32
Brian Campbell, 27 to 32
Sheldon Souray, 27 to 32
Chris Pronger, 23 to 32
Francois Beauchemin, 32
Fredrik Olausson, 32

Mark Giordano, 30 to 31* (active)
Adam Foote, 27 to 31
Duncan Keith, 25 to 31* (active)
Phil Housley, 24 to 31
Gary Suter, 23 to 31

Dan Hamhuis, 28 to 30
Bryan McCabe, 28 to 30
Adrian Aucoin, 28 to 30
Derian Hatcher, 26 to 30
Sandis Ozolish, 24 to 30

Christian Ehrhoff, 27 to 28
Wade Redden, 25 to 28

Mattias Ohlund, 25 to 27

Daryl Sydor, 24 to 26

Oleg Tverdovsky, 23 to 24

3. Estimating the Grade of the Decline

When Giordano does start making his way back down the other side of of the mountain, another pertinent question is will it be a gradual descent or will it be a sharp drop-off like going off a cliff Wile E. Coyote-style?

Frankly, I cannot see it being the latter. If he was one of those slow-footed, rugged stay-at-home defencemen from a couple decades ago, that's a different story. There are some styles of games and physiques that probably don't age well, but I wouldn't put Giordano in that category.

I would expect him to be a legit Norris candidate for the next three seasons and after that, there will likely be some regression down to more like the 21-40 range league-wide in terms of defence rankings.

But keep in mind that just because he tops out at one of the league's best at age 30-34, that doesn't mean he still isn't a very solid defenceman when he's in decline. Scott Stevens and Sergei Zubov were still earning Norris votes at age 38 and 37 respectively.

Giordano on the back nine of his career will still be a good NHL defenceman.

4. Sending the Right Message

Calgary is in the business of making itself an attractive city and market to play in. It was once that before but considering the Flames had only advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs once in a span of 24 years prior to last season, it's hard to think it's been considered that recently.

However, last season's improbable success was a reputation changer and was an ideal marketing campaign for why to come to Calgary. Treliving has acknowledged that the team's success in 2014-15 coupled with a legitimate chance to keep on winning were factors in why Hamilton signed for six years and why Frolik chose to come here over 29 other options.

The proper thing to do, regardless of what it takes, is to sign Giordano as that puts an exclamation point on the organization's commitment to winning. There's talking the talk and then there's walking the talk. He is the team's best player. He's the captain. Even if it's for $27 million, a three-year extension would send a mixed message. You want to be an organization where the NHL's best players want to play, or stay, because the team looks after those players. It's by attracting, or keeping, those best players that helps you become that team that is hoisting the Stanley Cup in June.

5. Superb Fitness and Health

Yes, the league is getting younger and faster but don't expect Giordano to slow down anytime soon. He's got a reputation for being one of the Flames most fit players and has the type of physique and plays a style of game where he should age just fine.

On the health side, he's had a couple of major injuries but there aren't any chronic concerns like shoulders, backs or knees. He had a broken ankle two years ago, he had the torn bicep tendon last year. It's merely bad luck at this point and it would be unfair to label him injury prone.

6. Once a Late Bloomer, Always a Late Bloomer

In many ways, it's difficult to compare Giordano's career trajectory because it's been so different and unlike anyone else. It goes right back to the start when he went undrafted in the NHL Draft twice.

He has developed later than most, his best years have come later than most, and you can't help but wonder if that also means his declining years will begin later than most.

Maybe it's as simple as just double-checking his birth certificate. How his career has progressed would make more sense if he was actually born in 1986, and not in 1983.

7. Mr. Everything

While we've only been focusing so far on his abilities on the ice, not to be forgotten is the difference he makes off the ice. Since having the 'C' stitched on his jersey, not only has the team turned things around on the ice, the whole culture around the team off the ice has done a 180. Those that travel on the team charters will tell you it's been an entirely different vibe the past two seasons.

While there will be a point where his on-ice skills slip, his off-ice leadership and importance will remain the same. That side of Giordano's importance is slump-resistant.

Coach Bob Hartley summed it up best late last season when Giordano was hurt but still travelling with the team. "We have Giordano, our captain, we don't have Giordano, the defenceman."

Some scoff at the word intangibles and to be fair, it is an overused word, but it definitely applies here. Giordano has more value to this organization than could ever be measured and he is a necessary ingredient to have when building a championship team. It's these important qualities he brings off the ice -- that will not decline -- that make a long-term deal less risky.

8. Comparables

You can't have a discussion around what a Giordano contract extension should be without first looking around the league and seeing what other defencemen are making. I've split the list below into three -- players that signed long-term deals as RFAs so have deals that are a mixture or RFA and UFA years. Then there's strictly UFA deals, which is what the Flames are looking at. Lastly, I compare him to Calgary's other three main money makers on the blue-line.

A useful footnote to this is Giordano's current contract. He is entering the final year of a 5Y/$20.1M deal that is taking him from age 28 to 32, which carries a thrifty annual average value (AAV) of $4M.

Split RFA/UFA Deals

PK Subban, 26, 1 year into 8Y/$72M (ages 25 to 32), $9M AAV (2 RFA/6 UFA)
Shea Weber, 29, 3 years into 14Y/$110M (ages 27 to 40), $7.9M AAV (1 RFA/13 UFA)
Drew Doughty, 25, 4 years into 8Y/$56M (ages 22 to 29), $7M AAV (4 RFA/4 UFA)
Erik Karlsson, 25, 3 years into 7Y/$45.5M (ages 22 to 28), $6.5M AAV (4 RFA/3 UFA)
Duncan Keith, 32, 5 years into 13Y/$72M (ages 27 to 39), $5.5M AAV (1 RFA/12 UFA)

UFA Deals

Ryan Suter, 30, 3 years into a 13Y/$98M (ages 28 to 40), $7.5M AAV
Kris Letang, 28, 1 year into a 8Y/$56M (ages 27 to 34), $7.3M AAV
Brian Campbell, 36. 7 years into 8Y/$57.1M (ages 29 to 36), $7.1M AAV
Dion Phaneuf, 30, 1 year into 7Y/$49M (ages 29 to 35), $7M AAV
Zdeno Chara, 38, 4 years into 7Y/$45.5M (ages 34 to 40), $6.9M AAV
Johnny Boychuk, 31, beginning 7Y/$42M (ages 32 to 38), $6M AAV
Mike Green, 29, beginning 3Y/$18M (ages 30 to 32), $6M AAV
Andrei Markov, 36, 1 year into 3Y/$17.2M (ages 36 to 38), $5.8M AAV
Niklas Kronwall, 34, 3 years into 7Y/$33.3M (ages 32 to 38), $4.8M AAV

Flames Comparables

Dougie Hamilton, 22, beginning 6Y/$34.5M (ages 22 to 27), $5.8M AAV (4 RFA/2 UFA)
Dennis Wideman, 32, 3 years into 5Y/$26.3M (ages 29 to 33), $5.3M AAV (all UFA)
TJ Brodie, 25, 5 years into 5Y/$23.3M (ages 25 to 29), $4.7M AAV (3 RFA/2 UFA)

> Mark Giordano, 31, beginning _Y/$__M (ages 33 to __), $_M AAV

This gives you lots to think about. Here are a few things that pop out for me when I look at the above lists.
  • Subban - Canadiens defenceman will be younger at expiry of his deal than Giordano will be at the start of his extension. In other words, Subban is paid right through his primetime years. Different situation for Giordano. Even through reports were he started off asking for that much, Giordano will not get Subban money.
  • Weber - The contract length and circumstances around it (was offer sheeted by Philadelphia forcing Nashville to match it) makes it a hard comparable but the AAV is in the ballpark.
  • Doughty - Kings blue-liner is the NHL's best in the opinion of many. Half of his current deal being RFA years dragged down his AAV but it could also act as a governor on Giordano's dollars.
  • Keith - Structure of his deal -- back when back-diving contracts were permitted -- makes it a contract that is a sweet one for Chicago but one that is irrelevant in this discussion. It's unfortunate as they're the same age (Keith is just over two months older) and potentially could have been an interesting comparable.
  • Suter - Year six of his deal is when Suter will be the age Giordano will be at the start of his extension so Suter's AAV should probably be higher given ages 28 to 32 are primetime years. Factor in inflation as Suter deal was three years ago and this AAV seems close.
  • Letang - Has fallen off the radar a bit due to injuries but here is a very important player for the Penguins, who was third in Norris voting three years ago. Considering the in-his-prime ages covered off in his deal, how much more should Giordano be commanding? 
  • Chara - I see Giordano having better longevity than Chara, whose 6-foot-9 frame strikes me as one that would break down earlier and we're seeing signs of that now. With three years to go still, Chara is the cautionary tale about the hazards of extending a player until age 40.
  • Boychuk - His extension will kick in at age 32 instead of 33 but the range of years and length of his extension is the contract most similar on the list to what Giordano may end up with. Former second round pick isn't quite the same calibre of player Giordano is but it gives you a baseline number to work up from.
  • Brodie - They're different contracts as Brodie's was mostly a RFA deal but it won't be too long before Brodie probably becomes the better of the two players so it's worthwhile keeping his deal in the periphery. 

Conclusion - Projecting the Deal

Giordano looks to be a long way from slowing down. You saw how dominant Duncan Keith was in the Stanley Cup playoffs last year and Keith is older than Giordano by a couple months.

If I'm the team, I would look at something in the six-year range as a compromise between what the player wants (probably eight years) and what would be ideal for the team (probably closer to five years).

As for dollar figures, based on the factors I've compiled, I'm going to approach it like this:

Years 1-2 (age 33, 34) - Top pairing, $9M
Years 3-5 (age 35, 36, 37) - 2nd pairing, $7.5M
Year 6 - (age 38) - 3rd pairing, $6M

That works out to 6Y/$46.5M for an average annual value of $7.75M.

Such a deal would mean that for the next five years, $18.2M or approximately 25 percent of the Flames payroll is tied up by three players in Giordano, Hamilton and Brodie. However, those three on the blue-line give Calgary the type of foundation that perennial Stanley Cup contenders have so it would be a worthwhile investment.

Of course, it takes two sides to reach a deal. It remains to be seen if the Giordano side will go for that and perhaps this deal ends up at $8M under the premise that you're better off paying a little extra to retain a player that makes you better (e.g. Lance Bouma contract) than to not have that player.

Given he is nearly 32 and has played just four playoff games, being on a team that should be playing into May regularly in the near future is surely something that is also important for Giordano. With the young pieces up front in Calgary and the goaltending prospects in the pipeline, the situation he's in has to look pretty attractive.

A hometown discount isn't necessarily coming but Giordano is a sharp guy and he knows the situation the team is in when it comes to the young forwards that soon need to get paid. He knows the team has to be left with the financial resources to sign these important players that are integral to the future team success he will want to be a part of.

So now we wait and see, although I'd be surprised if we have to wait too much longer. Surely an extension will be in place prior to training camp beginning because coming off the season the team just had and with the productive off-season they just had, Giordano entering the season as a pending UFA would be a distraction that would only have adverse effects.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


Recent Flames Reading
  • Leafs, Avs, Flames: When Talking Regression, One of These is Not Like the Others - You hear it all the time. After making the playoffs despite poor possession stats, the Flames are set to regress just like the Avs did the season prior and the Leafs the year before that. However, does Calgary's off-season additions change things? I take a closer look. (August 8, 2015)
  • Smiling Brandon Hickey: Genuinely Enjoys Playing the Game - Get to know the highly-touted Flames defence prospect, who is making people stand up and pay attention to him after a terrific rookie season at Boston University, which helped earn him an invite to Canada's summer World Junior camp. (July 31, 2015)
  • Fork in the Road: Comparing Kylington's Options of AHL vs. WHL - I take a look at the pros and cons of Oliver Kylington going to Stockton or going to Brandon. Spoiler alert: A good argument can be made for both paths. This is going to be a good debate. (July 30, 2015) 
  • StickTAP: Your Questions Answered - In my first mailbag feature of the summer, I tackled 24 of the over 60 questions submitted by readers by answering in the form of a Thought, Analysis, or Prediction. Lots of interesting conversation topics on the minds of Flames fans these days. (July 27, 2015)
  • Breaking Down the Flames 2015-16 Roster - I've updated this roster breakdown to include the recent RFA signings of Josh Jooris and Paul Byron. How close are the Flames to the cap? Well, come and find out. (July 26, 2015)
  • Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Perspectives on Bouma Contract - It was a deal that was celebrated by many while also being soundly criticized by others. To help evaluate it, I dig into the contract and viewed it from a number of different perspectives. (July 23, 2015)


    1. Darren, I truly enjoy your work here. Its informative and well thought out, generally asking and answering questions that Flames fans have.

      Just one minor nit to pick in this one is under your Comparables. I think you mean "Ryan" Suter, not his uncle Gary.

      Please keep up the good work!

      1. Fixed up -- thanks for letting me know.

        It's actually pretty cool to work on a story in which the names of both Gary Suter and Ryan Suter appear. I remember exiting the Saddledome back in the early 90s and Gary Suter's pick-up truck would be in the players lot. Vehicles have changed!

        Thanks for the kind words. Glad you're enjoying the content.

        (Feel free to email me also if you ever spot an error. I'm my own editor and that's not a great arrangement. Missed it the first time, typically miss it the second time.)

    2. Wow, this article was great. It'll be fun to see what he signs for now. I like the 7.75 you came up with.