Winnipeg Jets RFA Analysis: What is Blake Wheeler worth?

Posted by Richard Pollock in Features,Jets Columns,Roster Analysis,Winnipeg Jets,Winnipeg Jets RFA Analysis on June 27, 2011 — 11 Comments

The Boston Bruins made a number of moves this past season, many of which worked out quite well.  Well, the truth is, even if all of the player acquisitions did not reach Peter Chiarelli’s expectations the team won the Stanley Cup so fans have little to complain about. Amongst those (successful) trades was the acquisition of Rich Peverley from the Atlanta Thrashers.  Peverley played a significant role for the Bruins down the stretch, filling in for Nathan Horton on the top line and playing on all lines in a variety of situations.  His flexibility and production contributed directly to the team’s first Stanley Cup win in 39 years.

Peverley’s acquisition (along with Boris Valabik), however, came at the expense of Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart. Wheeler flourished (albeit over a small sample size) over the remainder of the season in Atlanta.  The overall line of thinking at the time of the trade was that it was a short-term for long-term deal for the Thrashers.  Peverley is older than Wheeler and consequently closer to unrestricted free agency a.k.a. a likely inflated salary and thereby providing less value.

The focus of today’s piece is on Blake Wheeler’s market value as a restricted free agent (RFA) in this marketplace.  During IC’s team analysis, we broached the subject of Wheeler’s free agent value and pegged him at approximately $2.75 million for the upcoming season.

More about Wheeler’s value to the Jets after the jump.

Let’s take a closer look at Wheeler’s statistics and some comparables to delve deeper into this prospective contract negotiation for the Winnipeg franchise.

Season Points (Goals/Assists) ES Points-Per-60 Even Strength Ice-time Power Play Ice-Time Quality of Competition Relative to Corsi (Rank on team among Forwards) Zone Start (Offensive Zone/Defensive face-offs)
2008/09 45 (21/24) 2.43 11:34 0:55 5th 54.0%
2009/10 38 (18/20) 1.70 12:32 2:04 3rd 53.1%
2010/11 44 (18/26) 2.20 12:48/15:29 0:59/2:10 2nd 53.4%

Wheeler was fairly consistent in his production and use while playing for the Bruins.  The American winger basically played third line minutes, with favorable usage in the offensive zone off of face-offs, and generally played against difficult competition.  Wheleer is a big player who is harnessing his size and beginning to utilize it more than he did early on in his career.  His talent is evident, as he moves well for a player of his size and can shoot the puck (minimum 18 goals each of the above three seasons).

Last season Wheeler made $2.2 million, a contract he obtained through arbitration.  If the Bruins weren’t willing to spend on him to avoid salary arbitration last summer, it is no surprise they dealt him prior to the trade deadline to avoid a similar contract stalemate over the summer.

With Wheeler’s production in mind, and the fact that he is 24 years old with three full NHL seasons under his belt—having played a minimum of 81 games in each season—let’s take a look at some comparable offensive producers in the same range:

We will evaluate each player’s statistics for this past season and then discuss their respective contract situations in an additional chart.

Player Points (Goals/Assists) ES Points-Per-60 Even Strength Ice-time Power Play Ice-Time Quality of Competition Relative to Corsi (Rank on team among Forwards.Min 30 games played) Zone Start (Offensive Zone/Defensive face-offs)
Patrik Berglund 52 (22/30) 1.76 13:47 2:53 9th 59.9%
Patric Hornqvist 48 (21/27) 2.00 12:57 2:45 11th 55.1%
Bryan Little 48 (18/30) 1.86 14:16 2:28 3rd 55.2%
Kris Versteeg 48 (21/25) 1.68 14:33/13:19 3:41/1:15 3rd 52.8%
Jakub Voracek 46 (14/32) 1.95 13:59 2:57 12th 57.8%

The above player put up similar numbers to Wheeler but each one, aside from Versteeg’s short stay in Philadelphia, were afforded more of an opportunity on the power play and at even strength (aside from Wheeler’s brief stint in Atlanta).

Let’s evaluate each player’s contract situation:

Player Years in NHL Salary Term
Berglund 3 $2.2 2 more seasons
Hornqvist 3 $3.0 2 more seasons
Little 4 $2.3 2 more seasons
Versteeg 4 $3.0 1 more season
Voracek 3 RFA n/a

Voracek has completed three NHL seasons; his entry-level contract is now complete and he is entering his first RFA negotiation.

Versteeg’s contact extension, 3 years at $9.25 million was inflated because of a botched qualifying offer problem with the Blackhawks—who had to overpay to retain his rights.

Little re-signed with Atlanta in August of 2010 to a three-year deal worth $7.15 million.

Hornqvist re-signed with Nashville in August of 2010, as well, for a deal of three years at $9.25 total.

Berglund just recently signed a two-year extension at $4.5 million total.

The above contracts average out to approximately $2.65 million per season—taking into account Versteeg’s contract, which was probably inflated by the lack of a valid qualifying offer and Hawks’ fear of losing him for nothing.

Considering Wheeler’s numbers compare favorably to the above players, a contract in the neighborhood of $2.75 million to $3.1 million seems reasonable.

The above contracts were also two to three years in duration.  Modeling St. Louis and the organization’s extension with Patrik Berglund, and considering the Jets’ lack of familiarity with Wheeler as a player, a two-year deal seems reasonable for both parties.

Wheeler is almost certainly not going to garner an offer-sheet so look for the Jets to focus on re-signing Zach Bogosian and Andrew Ladd prior to signing him to a new deal.

  • http://twitter.com/TheJetsAreBack Pokey Reddick

    Great analysis! Do you think we need to ratchet up projected salaries for some FA’s since the cap is going up?

  • http://twitter.com/IllegalCurve Illegal Curve Hockey

    It is definitely a good question.  While possible, Wheerer’s leverage is limited considering he is unlikely to be an RFA target for another team.  He may see a few hundred thousand extra as a result of the cap going up though.  So, to answer your question, I’d say yes–to a point.

  • http://twitter.com/wpghockeypsycho Jamie Coran

    Wow.  Talk about in-depth.  Good read!

    Of all the Jets RFA’s, who gets their deal done this week?

  • Luke Miguez

    I`m thinking that we should be cautious with the cap going up.  I`m of the mentality that the league is essentially on course to end up in another lockout where the cap will be lowered and the players take a haircut on their salaries.  The Bruins took advantage of that situation to build themselves a pretty strong team, and I think we could as well.

    Either way, this team has a lot of cap space, even after signing its RFAs and one/two UFAs.

  • http://twitter.com/manitobapensfan Jon Smith

    Hopefully the Wpg brain trust gets this done in short order.  This team is weak enough in terms of forward.

  • http://twitter.com/MBFalcons Ryan Moharid

    He has potential in that big body of his, but hasn’t really lived up to the hype.  Hopefully they can unlock it in Winnipeg and I also hope they don’t sign him for more than $3 million.

  • pjtibbetts

    What is Blake Wheeler worth?  Nothing.  I watched Blake Wheeler languish in Boston for his entire Bruins career.  Save for a few highlight-reel plays that show glimpses of what could be (check the 1-on-6 shorthanded goal vs. the Blues a few years back), he was otherwise a passionless forward.  He is complacent in his skill set, and despite his size and potential, he will never blossom.
    In short, he is hockey poison.  Avoid at all costs, spend your money elsewhere.

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