Arbitration Projection: Colorado Avalanche's Patrik Nemeth
Patrik Nemeth's salary arbitration hearing is scheduled for August 4 (via USA Today/Mile High Hockey)
I have wanted to do an arbitration projection on this site since I created it. Last year did not work because literally every player I began working on settled their case before I was able to publish anything. This year, I went through the list of 44 players that filed for arbitration and tried to come up with a player that has an interesting case and a late hearing date.
The player I came up with was Patrik Nemeth, who has an arbitration hearing scheduled with the Colorado Avalanche for Saturday, August 4 (the last day of hearings). I also thought it would be interesting to analyze a defensive-defenseman since they are harder to analyze based on traditional statistics. Thus, I will rely more on analytical statistics such as SAT (aka Corsi) and USAT (aka Fenwick) [click here for an explanation of some of the statistics I will be mentioning].
To be completely honest, I knew very little about Mr. Nemeth before starting this project. So, here is a quick rundown: he was born on February 8, 1992 in Stockholm Sweden; he was picked in the 2nd Round (41st Overall) by the Dallas Stars in the 2010 NHL Entry Level Draft; he is a 6-foot, 3-inch and 219-pound defensive-defenseman; he was claimed on waivers by the Colorado Avalanche on October 3, 2017; and he has played 176 NHL games.
As I noted in my Guide to Salary Arbitration from last year, there are certain types of admissible evidence that can be used in an arbitration hearing: (1) overall performance, including official statistics from previous seasons; (2) number of games played, including injuries and illnesses in previous seasons; (3) length of service with the team and NHL; (4) overall contribution to the success or failure of the team in previous seasons; (5) any special qualities, including leadership and public appeal; and (6) the overall performance and compensation in the previous season or seasons of any Player(s) who is alleged to be comparable to the player whose salary is in dispute (only certain players are eligible as comparables).
In making my projection, I will quickly go through the first five criteria, and then spend most of my time going through the comparable players, which is the most important part. Keep in mind that each side is allowed to submit briefs up to 40 pages long and likely have analytic teams that have created algorithms to find their comparable players. While I did finish in second place at the 2015 Hockey Arbitration Competition of Canada (*humble brag*), I do not have the time (nor the capacity) to undertake such an endeavor, so my analysis might be a little less in depth.
(1) Overall Performance
Nemeth's first season in Colorado was by far the best of his NHL career to date. After never eclipsing 40 games played in his four seasons with the Stars, Nemeth played in 68 games, and set career highs in goals (the only three of his career), assists (12), points (15), +27 plus/minus (4th in the NHL), 41 penalty minutes, 19:51 time on ice per game, 73 shots on goal, 66 hits, and 185 blocked shots (5th in NHL).
However, despite these numerous career highs, Nemeth’s 2017-18 campaign marked one of his worst defensive seasons, at least according to the analytics, of his young career. That might come to a surprise to those who look at his +27 plus/minus rating, which is the only “plus” rating of his career. But, many statistical experts will tell you that plus/minus can be a very misleading statistic, and defensive prowess can be best determined by analytic statistics like SAT, USAT, and other possession-based statistics. Nemeth's +27 rating may either be one of his best arguments for a salary increase or a red herring depending on who the arbiter is (and if Nemeth's agent knows that the Avalanche front office values plus/minus, they would be wise to settle before the hearing).
All that being said, last season was Nemeth’s second worst of his career in SAT%, SAT% Tied, SAT% Close, SAT Rel%, USAT%, and USAT% Close, and worst in USAT% Tied. This might be due to his increased role and playing time with Colorado, as compared to his time in Dallas where he averaged 15:40 per game over 108 games. But, it should be noted that Nemeth had approximately 62% of his zone starts in the defensive zone (the most drastic of his career), making him more prone to poor defensive metrics.
And for the record, while Nemeth blocked a ton of shots last season, I do not think this statistic is indicative of defensive prowess (for a number of reasons), even though I do find it to be admirable. For example, Kris Russell has led the NHL in blocked shots the past two seasons, but has been in the bottom third in most defensive metrics of NHL defensemen that have played at least a combined 82 games over the past two seasons.
(2) Games Played, Injuries, and Illnesses
As noted earlier, Nemeth set a career high with 68 games played last season, only missing a few games with an undisclosed injury earlier in the season. However, Nemeth had shoulder surgery this offseason and may not be ready to play at the beginning of the 2018-19 season, which may limit his value.
While I cannot find much on Nemeth’s injury/illness history, it is notable that Nemeth has never played more than 47 games in any professional season prior to last season dating back to his time in the Sweden Elite League. This could be due to injury/illness and/or inability to crack the lineup. Either way, that is not a good look for Nemeth. For someone that’s proven to be mainly a third-pairing defensemen over their NHL career, it’s even more worrisome since those types of players can be easily replaced by similar (and possibly cheaper and/or younger) players.
(3) Length of Service
This was all covered in the previous sections. While Nemeth proved to be a staple in Colorado’s lineup last season, he has never proven to be so during any season in Dallas and it remains to be seen whether he can repeat this performance in 2018-19, especially coming off shoulder surgery. To put it bluntly, Nemeth has yet to prove that he can be a consistent presence in the lineup year in and year out.
(4) Overall Contribution to the Club
The 2017-18 season marked Colorado’s return to the postseason for the first time in four years, so you have to give Nemeth some credit for Colorado’s resurgence. While he wasn’t a major point producer from the blueline (6th among Colorado defensemen that played at least 41 games), he had by far the best plus/minus, and was third in time on ice per game only behind Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie. He was also fourth in even strength time on ice per game (16:30) and second in shorthanded time on ice per game (3:19). He clearly stepped up and played meaningful minutes when Colorado needed him to.
But, as I noted earlier, Nemeth’s analytic metrics were not very flattering. Of seven Avalanche defensemen that played in at least 41 games last season, Nemeth was 6th in SAT%, 5th in SAT% Tied, 6th in SAT% Close, 6th in SAT Rel%, 4th in USAT Rel%, and 6th in USAT%, USAT% Tied, and USAT% Close. It is true that Nemeth had the third highest percentage of zone starts in the defensive zone, but only two Avalanche defenders had the majority of their zone starts in the offensive zone.
You might be wondering how someone can have a team-high +27 rating, but have below average possession statistics. This is probably due to Nemeth being first among Colorado defenseman in Shooting + Save Percentage (SPSV%), which is a great indicator of "puck luck." In fact, Nemeth's 1030 SPSV% was 10th among all NHL defensemen last season and by far the highest of his career, which likely means he got a little lucky with his plus/minus rating.
Either way, Nemeth dressed in the majority of the games and logged a large amount of minutes per game for a team that made the playoffs for the first time in awhile. He also played a major role (3:19 PK minutes per game, which was fourth highest amongst NHL defensemen last year that played at least 41 games) in Colorado’s fourth ranked penalty kill unit (83.3%). That is something you can’t take away from him, and is probably his biggest bargaining chip heading into arbitration.
Nemeth clearly played a defensive role, but Colorado's “physical defenseman” role was mainly left for Nikita Zardov, who led all NHL defensemen with 39 minor penalties and 278 hits. Meanwhile, Nemeth was only fourth among Colorado defensemen in hits (66) and tied for fourth with 17 minor penalties (he also had one fight).
(5) Special Qualities
Nemeth doesn’t appear to have any qualities that make him “standout.” He did play for Sweden in two World Junior Championships, including a gold medal in 2012, but has never appeared in any other international competition since then. He isn’t a captain or appear to be a “fan favorite,” but Nemeth doesn’t seem to have any “issues” either. However, it should also be noted that Nemeth does not appear to have a long term role cut out for him on Colorado's blueline with Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Ian Cole, Mark Barberio, and Samuel Girard all under contract for at least the next two seasons, and top prospects Cale Makar and Conor Timmins on their way up.
(6) Comparable Players
Ok, now for the fun stuff. I used the following criteria in trying to find comparable defensemen to Nemeth: (1) were arbitration eligible during the 2017 offseason and signed a contract for a two-year term or less; (2) played between 150 and 200 NHL games through their platform season; (3) were born in 1991 or 1992 (since Nemeth was born in early 1992); (4) played more penalty kill minutes than power-play minutes in their career and platform year; and (5) averaged between .15 and .25 points per game during their career. I figured this criteria would lead me to defensive-defensemen in their mid-20s that received arbitration awards or signed one or two year deals last offseason.
That brought me to Nate Schmidt, Alexander Petrovic, and Ben Chiarot. Schmidt played the 2016-17 season with the Washington Capitals and received an arbitration award on August 3, 2017 of two years and $4.45 million ($2.225M AAV). Petrovic played the 2016-17 season with the Florida Panthers and re-signed on June 30, 2017 for one year and $1.85 million. Chiarot played 2016-17 season with the Winnipeg Jets and re-signed on June 24, 2017 for two years and $2.8 million ($1.4M AAV).
To save space, I created the following charts to demonstrate the important statistical differences and similarities between these three players and Nemeth:
*All statistics are from NHL.com
**All career statistics for the comparable players are through the 2016-17 season
Obviously there are more statistics and points that can be argued (defensive partners, team played on, production against playoff vs. non-playoff opponents, and other things that can fit in a 40 page brief), but I am going to stick with the above statistics in comparing Nemeth to Schmidt, Petrovic, and Chiarot.
Schmidt v. Nemeth
Over their respective careers, Schmidt and Nemeth have had similar time on ice and points per game marks, with Nemeth playing slightly more than Schmidt, but scoring a little less. Also, Schmidt played back-to-back seasons 60+ games, while Nemeth has not done that in his career. The big difference between these players over their careers is that Schmidt has been by far the better defensive player according to the analytics. While it is true that Schmidt played for better teams and had more favorable zone start times, his defensive metrics are substantially better. I think the most telling statistics are SAT Rel% and USAT Rel%, where Schmidt was in the positive, meaning Schmidt did better than his team's average over his career.
Regarding their platform years, Nemeth played more minutes, but accumulated less points than Schmidt. Both players had very good plus/minus ratings, but Schmidt once again has an advantage in defensive metrics. Among the six Capitals defensemen that played in at least 41 games in 2016-17, Schmidt was third in SAT Rel%, USAT Rel%, and SAT%, while second in SAT% Tied, and 4th in SAT% Close, USAT%, USAT% Tied, and USAT% Close. Meanwhile, out of seven Avalanche defensemen that played in at least 41 games in 2017-18, Nemeth was sixth in SAT Rel%, SAT%, SAT% close, USAT%, USAT% Tied, and USAT% Close, fifth in SAT% Tied, and fourth in USAT Rel%.
But, I should note that Schmidt played for the Capitals, who were one of the best possession teams in the league during the 2016-17 season, and played "third pairing" minutes (6th of Capital defensemen that played at least 41 games with 15:29 time on ice per game). Furthermore, Schmidt led all NHL defensemen that played at least 41 games in 2016-17 with 1043 SPSV%, meaning he was the "luckiest" defenseman in the league. So, perhaps Schmidt's "superior" defensive metrics are a bit exaggerated.
Since Schmidt has proven to be a slightly better offensive and defensive player, Nemeth should receive an AAV slightly lower than Schmidt's $2.225 million.
Petrovic v. Nemeth
Petrovic and Nemeth have a lot in common. Not only were they born less than a month a part and picked in the same round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, but they have practically identical career statistics in time on ice and in practically every defensive metric.
Nemeth and Petrovic's offensive statistics in their platform seasons are basically a wash. Petrovic had a higher point per game total and played more at even strength, but Nemeth played in 19 more games, had a superior plus/minus rating, and a bigger role in the penalty kill. I guess if you had to pick here, Nemeth probably had the better "offensive" season. However, Petrovic had a much better "defensive" season than Nemeth, producing better numbers in every "defensive" statistic, despite being on a worse (non-playoff) team, a similar zone start percentage (40.5% vs. 38.53%), and a worse SPSV% (1030 vs. 991). I completely understand that Nemeth had a far better plus/minus, but I personally do not think this is the best way to determine defensive efficency.
Besides Petrovic's better "defensive" platform season, these two players are almost identical in offensive and defensive production. I can see Nemeth receiving an award right around Petrovic's $1.85 million AAV.
Chiarot v. Nemeth
Chiarot and Nemeth have played almost the same amount of NHL games in their careers and have posted similar "offensive" and "defensive" statistics over that time. However, there are clear disparities favoring Nemeth in career time on ice, SAT Rel%, and USAT Rel%. Not only did Chiarot play substantially less than Nemeth, but Chiarot's "defensive" metrics are worse than Nemeth's for the most part.
There is even more disparity when you look at Chiarot and Nemeth's platform seasons where Nemeth's statistics are better in almost every category. Nemeth played more than three minutes per game than Chairot, as well as during even strength time, and logged over a minute and a half more penalty kill time. Furthermore, Nemeth, despite his relatively weak "defensive" statistics, had much better numbers than Chiarot in every category, especially in SAT Rel% and USAT Rel%. In fact, out of the 187 NHL defensemen that played at least 41 games during the 2016-17 season, Chiarot ranked 173rd or worse (bottom 10%) in every single of the above listed "defensive" metrics. While Nemeth is definitely no defensive wizard (he did rank in the bottom 10% in SAT%, SAT% Tied, USAT% Tied, and USAT% Close last season), he was still a good amount better than Chiarot.
Furthermore, Nemeth was arguably Colorado's best defensemen on the penalty kill, which was one of the best units in the NHL in 2017-18, while Chiarot was Winnipeg's fifth defensive option (according to shorthanded time on ice per game) on the league's 26th best penalty killing unit. As I mentioned earlier, Nemeth's agent must harp on his client's penalty killing abilities during the hearing. Colorado was the 29th ranked penalty killing team in 2016-17, so Nemeth's impact during his first year in Colorado cannot be understated.
Overall, while these two players have produced at a similar pace offensively, Nemeth has been relied upon more defensively and has demonstrated more defensive prowess statistically. Thus, Nemeth should receive an AAV higher than Chiarot's $1.4 million.
Based on the above analysis, I predict that Patrik Nemeth will receive an arbitration award of... (*drum roll please*)... a one-year contract worth $1.96 million.
I thought Petrovic was the closest comparable to Petrovic and figured $1.85 million would be a fair price for Nemeth this upcoming season despite the fact that his 2017-18 season was a "career year" and he is coming off shoulder surgery. However, he clearly has value to the Avalanche as a penalty killer, and maybe they believe the change of scenery did wonders for him. So, I took Petrovic's $1.85 million and then considered the increase in the NHL's salary cap for the 2018-19 season to get to $1.96 million.
The one-year deal would be fair to the Avalanche since Nemeth will be recovering from shoulder surgery and there is always the possibility that Nemeth's 2017-18 season (which was his best NHL season) was a fluke. This contract would also be a nice deal for Nemeth, who would more than double his previous contract worth $900K per year, and would be able to prove that his impact on the improved Colorado defense was not a mirage and that he can play back-to-back full seasons before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next offseason.
I must note that predicting these things can be very difficult since there may be many inside factors that we may not know and different people place different values on certain statistics, especially analytical statistics like the ones I heavily relied upon. For example, Matt Cane at Hockey Graphs predicts that Nemeth will receive a contract with a $1.717 million AAV, while Adrian Dater at BSN Denver thinks that Nemeth is worth somewhere around $2.5 million per year. So, at least one of us will be wrong. Plus, we never know if Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic will be "friendly" to his former teammate of five seasons and Nemeth's agent, Claude Lemieux.
Check back soon to see if I am a champ or chump!
.... well, maybe just a little bit. (Nice work by Mr. Dater, by the way).
I must admit I am a bit surprised by this number. The Avs must have really liked that +27 rating! I will once again stand by my previous statement that plus/minus is not a great statistic (by the way, the people at Burgundy Rainbow agree with me and do a nice in-depth look into how Nemeth achieved his unbelievable rating).
However, it should be mentioned that there are not any "rules of evidence" when negotiating outside of arbitration, so both parties may have used different comparable players and "evidence" that would not be allowed in a hearing.
Also, there is definitely the possibility that the Avalanche gave Nemeth more money to take a one year deal, since short deals are riskier for a player (especially one coming off of surgery). The team could also be rewarding Nemeth for producing beyond their expectations and felt they needed him to plug into that third pairing to solidify their defense and make another push for the playoffs. These are likely reasons why Nemeth received such a high AAV.
But, this does not mean that I may have made some mistakes of my own. Upon reflection, I probably cast too small of a comparables net and probably should have landed somewhere slightly above $2 million. Examples include:
- Trevor Van Riemsdyk, who was born in 1991 and signed this summer for two years, $4.6 million ($2.3 million AAV), but has played 237 NHL games.
- Jamie Oleksiak, who has played 187 NHL games and was born in 1992, but signed this summer for three years, $6.412 million ($2.137 million AAV).
- Stephen Johns, who played 150 NHL games and was born in 1992, but signed this summer for three years, $7.05 million ($2.35 million AAV).
- Alexander Petrovic (yes, the same guy),who was born in 1992 and signed this summer for one year, $1.95 million, but has played 228 NHL games.
- Mark Pysyk, who was born in 1992 and signed last offseason, but for three years, $8.2 million ($2.737 million AAV), and has played in 207 NHL games.
- Brian Dumoulin, who was born in 1991, played in 163 NHL games and signed last offseason, but for six years, $24.6 million ($4.1 million AAV).
Each of these players played more penalty kill minutes than powerplay minutes in their career and platform year and averaged between .15 and .25 points per game during their career, but fell outside of my net for one reason or another. My biggest regret is probably just using players that were signed in the 2017 offseason and supplementing those numbers with the increased salary cap.
Oh well, you live and you learn. This was definitely a fun learning experience for myself that I hope you learned a few things too. I hope to do this again next year (and will probably start researching a little earlier this time!).