What Does A Number Four Defenceman in the NHL Make?

Posted by Richard Pollock in Columns on July 5, 2013 — 2 Comments

What Does A Number Four Defenceman in the NHL Make?

After the Winnipeg Jets re-signed defenceman Grant Clitsome to a three-year, $6.2 million dollar contract, I wondered how to properly value Clitsome across the NHL landscape.

The 28-year-old defender was claimed off waivers from the Columbus Blue Jackets, on February 27, 2012.  Clitsome was claimed, in part, to replace the outgoing Johnny Oduya whom the Jets traded to Chicago that same day.

Since his arrival in Winnipeg, Clitsome has proven to have a terrific slap shot, is mobile and utilizes those attributes to join the rush and create offense.  In 56 career games with the Jets, Clitsome has posted 4 goals and 15 assists.

The former Nepean Raider came into his own in the latter part of the 2013 season and many Jets fans were left with a positive outlook for Clitsome’s future.  At 28 years old this off-season, Clitsome was a pending unrestricted free agent—meaning he could have signed anywhere he liked on July 5, 2013.  While his defensive game has its holes, and he is prone to turning the puck over in his own zone, the Jets thought enough of Clitsome to re-sign him on the above listed terms.

Clitsome behind the net

Determining the value of defencemen, under 30 years of age, who have just been provided with their first significant opportunity to display their talents, is an arduous evaluation task.  As such, I thought it would be helpful to create a visual landscape, setting forth the value of all defencemen across the NHL, albeit on a rudimentary basis.

The valuation method I decided to use is as follows: examine each team by the minutes dispersed to their defencemen on a per-game basis.  For example, Dustin Byfuglien would be ranked number one on the Winnipeg Jets, because he logged the most overall minutes on the team.  Once all defencemen were ranked on their respective teams (using minutes played per game as the key performance indiciator), I examined the cap hit for each player, in each category.  Finally, I calculated the average cap hit for each category—(i.e. the average cap hit for a 1st defencemen is X dollars and the average cap hit for 2nd defencemen is Y dollars, etc.)

A couple points need to be noted before exploring the numbers.  This analysis is very basic.  It does not take into account quality of competition, or what type of ice-time a player is logging (even strength versus power play versus penalty killing) or how many points a player compiles.  It assumes that ice-time is the best simple barometer for a player’s contribution to a team.  Further, it does not take into account a player’s contractual situation, and does not differentiate between unrestricted and restricted free agents, and the ability for a player to seek salary arbitration, etc.

Nonetheless, the numbers below have been calculated to provide a basic salary framework for defencemen, and what an NHL observer ought to expect a second NHL defender to be paid, versus a fifth NHL defender.

Here are the numbers and how they breakdown:

Average Cap Hit

If you prefer straight numbers as opposed to charts, here are the numbers:

Average Cap Hit numbers

As you can see, the biggest jump in salary occurs between a number two defencemen and a number one defencemen ($1.02 million), and from a number four defencemen to a number three defencemen ($0.93 million).

In terms of Grant Clitsome’s contract, his new contract slots in at $2.06 million per season—or just under a 4th defenceman and considerably above a fifth defenceman.

Are the Jets paying Clitsome to replace Ron Hainsey, as the number 4 defenceman on the left side?  That is unlikely.  However, if the Jets are not asking Clitsome to fill Ron Hainsey’s slot, then, based on this metric, they are conceivably overpaying Clistome to play as a bottom-two defenceman on this team.

Attached: The spreadsheet that was used to calculate the average cap hit of each defenceman. (*salary figures are 2013 season numbers)