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Summer Signing Series – Nielsen

As the summer free agency period comes to a close MPS is taking this opportunity to review the biggest signings of the summer from a purely financial perspective. To be fair to all the teams and players we’ll be looking at we’ll be using the same set of base assumptions throughout the series. Principally these assumptions are:

– The performance metrics we want to pay for are:

o Goals (40%) and Assists (60%) when the players are out at Even Strength or on the Power Play.
o Team Goals Against (100%) when the player is on the ice killing penalties.

– The salary cap starts this season at $73 million and increases 5%/year for future years (obviously this is up for debate but it basically reflects flat revenue growth and the assumption the NHLPA uses its escalator clause).

Signing #9 – Frans Nielsen

Although Nielsen probably wasn’t thought of as being one of ‘the’ top free agents coming into the free agent period he cashes in pretty well with Detroit in this next part of our series.

The Details

Unlike our previous posts this contract was not signed on July 1st, Nielsen and the Red Wings had to wait all the way until July 2nd to get this $31.5 million, 6 year contract done (AAV of $5.25 million). As far as Nielsen’s performance he managed 20 goals and 32 assists in 2015-16 for the New York Islanders.

Breaking it Down

As explained in our earlier blog, point totals are fine but valuation needs to be done using rates (if this doesn’t make sense to you please check out that other post because the rest of this article/series takes it for granted) so let’s take a look at Nielsen’s rates:

EVEN STRENGTH Last 3 Years Last Season
Goals/60 Min 0.65 0.47
Assists/60 Min 0.88 0.79
POWER PLAY Last 3 Years Last Season
Goals/60 Min 1.40 2.00
Assists/60 Min 3.44 3.34
PENALTY KILL Last 3 Years Last Season
Team Goals Against/60 Min 8.17 4.35

Although the Red Wings were rumored to be in the Stamkos sweepstakes, Nielsen’s even strength production won’t be confused for Stamkos’. While Stamkos has averaged almost 2.0 Pts/60 over the last 3 years Nielsen is a more modest ~1.5 Pts/60 and while Stamkos had a down year last year coming in around 1.7 Pts/60, Nielsen also had a down year and didn’t quite get to 1.2 Pts/60…That said, Nielsen is actually a very effective player on the Power Play. Again comparing to Stamkos, Nielsen is producing about 4.8 Pts/60 over the last 3 years and is just shy of Stamkos’ 5.2 Pts/60. However, last year Nielsen actually had better Power Play rates than Stamkos, putting up 5.3 Pts/60 while Stamkos ‘only’ managed 4.85 Pts/60!

Ice Time

The other key factor to determining a player’s worth is how much ice time they get (again if you haven’t read this article yet you may want to do that so you can see the logic behind this). In Nielsen’s case he has played the following:

ICE TIME Last 3 Years Last Season
Even Strength 11.89 12.39
Power Play 3.05 3.03
Penalty Kill 1.97 1.99

When looking at these numbers you can tell that Nielsen is not his team’s number 1 center. Most of the other players we looked at that were on their teams’ top line were getting more than 13 minutes/night at even strength and some were even above 15. Although, Nielsen clearly wasn’t the Islanders’ number 1 center (I mean they have Tavares…) he was still racking up pretty good minutes by playing on both the Power Play and Penalty Kill so overall he still comes in around 17 minutes/night (just on the low end of the rest of the forwards in our series so far).

The Forecast

From looking at Nielsen’s 3 year numbers and last years’ results it would appear that he has reached a pretty stable level of ice time and performance so carrying across those 3 year numbers probably isn’t a bad place to start.

Nielsen1

I’m not going to lie I was surprised by this result. As a hockey fan it just didn’t ‘feel’ like Nielsen should be worth a similar amount to Lucic or Okposo but there it is in black and white (and some blue). When you break it down the truth is that it’s mostly coming from his special teams play. As described above he is very good on the Power Play, in fact 20 of his 52 points came from his 3 minutes/night with the man advantage, and he kills a lot of penalties (2 minutes/night is the highest of any forward we reviewed in this series to date). With that said, Nielsen is also an older player (32 as of the time of writing) so we should probably take a look at what this contract looks like if we start declining his performance in the back half of this contract.

Nielsen2

This approach clearly shaved off a few dollars in value but this is still looking like a pretty good deal if this forecast turns out to be true. Obviously we could be more aggressive with the decline in performance or we could start reducing Nielsen’s ice time as his performance declines but in most of the other pieces we haven’t gone that far. It’s not to say that it couldn’t happen that way however it would probably be unfair to go that far in this case just because the contract is looking like decent value. Overall, there appears to be a fair amount of upside to this contract and scenarios where this contract turns out poorly feel relatively unlikely.

Verdict

Verdictnielsen

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Summer Signing Series – Nielsen

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