Penguins Update: Creating Order from Chaos – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Update: Creating Order from Chaos

Before I begin, I fully realize what I’m about to suggest will never be given a whiff of consideration, let alone be implemented by the National Hockey League. However, Jim’s recent article got me to thinkin’ (always a dangerous thing).

Why not establish performance-based pay grades for hockey players, just like in the business world?

First, you’d need to establish some sort of rating metric. Baseball already has one. It’s called WAR (wins above replacement). According to Wikipedia, a player’s WAR value is the number of additional wins his team has achieved above the number of expected team wins if that player were substituted by a replacement-level player: a player that may be added to the team for minimal cost and effort.

Loosely defined, WAR is based on the estimated number of runs contributed by a player through offensive actions and runs denied to opposition teams by the player through defensive actions, as calculated through a variety of statistics and metrics.

Hockey could develop a similar player rating for goals contributed and prevented. It would be based on a variety of factors as agreed upon by the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) and the Board of Governors.

I’ll call it a Player Effectiveness Rating, or PER for short.

Indulge me (and forgive my ignorance) if such a metric presently exists.

Offensive and defensive statistics such as goals, assists, points, blocked shots and faceoff percentage would naturally form the foundation of PER, as would special teams performance. Since the intent is to establish an individual player’s value, WOWY (with or without you) ratings would be a key contributing metric. Team-influenced stats such as plus/minus and CORSI would be factored in, albeit with less weight.

Consideration could be given to attributes such as consistency and durability, as well as individual awards won, all-star berths earned, whether or not a player serves in a leadership role (captain or assistant captain).

Attention would also be given to a player’s future expected value and production, as measured against historical data of players at a similar stage in their career.

Different rating scales could be applied to different positions, i.e. center, wing, defense and goal, based on perceived value. For instance, goaltenders play a unique and comparatively critical role as the last line of defense. That could be factored into their rating.

Once a system is in place and players are assigned a PER (which would be updated each season), pay grades could be established. Teams would be required to stay within these pay grades, based on a player’s rating. The grades, which would provide greater control over salaries, could be gradually adjusted over time to account for cost of living increases, increased revenues, etc. Payrolls could even be pegged at a set percentage of league-wide revenues, up to the limits established by the salary cap.

Such a system would help keep player salaries at more manageable levels. It would also serve to squelch profligate spending. The system, too, may splash a little cold water on free-agent activity—a potential bone of contention—since players would be less likely to cash in on strike-it-rich paydays with other clubs.

Players would likely change teams for more altruistic aims, such as a chance for an expanded role with a new club or an opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. Reasons expressed by ex-Pen Nick Bonino when he recently signed with Nashville.

Along those lines, youngsters may seek free agency to keep from being buried within a deep organization. Veterans such as Matt Cullen and Chris Kunitz might opt for free agency as a way to extend their careers.

This type of player movement might actually contribute to NHL parity, rather than detracting from it by having players flock to the highest bidder. In most cases, large-market clubs with money to burn.

Of course, reality suggests that the NHLPA would never agree to such an arrangement, since it’s liable to put a drag on player wealth and movement. Heck, it might even be perceived as a commie plot of sorts by free-market enthusiasts.

However, desperate times call for equally desperate measures. Loathsome as it may be to some, such a system might offer a viable and prudent alternative to the monetary madness the league’s presently experiencing.

*Be sure to check out Rick Buker’s books,
available at TriumphBooks.com, Amazon.com, and BarnesandNoble.com

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  1. Mark's Gravatar Mark
    August 2, 2017 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    I think perhaps a simple stat like points per minute for or against would be useful. The points against holding weight for defenseman and points “for” being more important for forwards. I would be different than the +/- stat because it gives a ratio against ice time versus game by game. Just a thought

  2. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    July 19, 2017 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick
    I was just rereading your headline…Creating order from chaos and thinking and rethinking about the many different ideas and issues you and the group have examined this past year.Pretty amazing year.
    I was trying to think of my most memorable or surprised fact of 2016-17. WINNING THE CUP TWICE would be everyone’s number 1. I was wondering what your, and others second item of 2016-17 would be?
    For me it is the amazing play of Rookie Jake Guentzel. He has a very good hockey IQ and it shows in his play.Part of me would love to see him Center his own second or third line, but with the Pen’s he is better suited to play wing for Sid. I think he is a future point a game player when he fully develops his NHL game.
    What is your “Kodak moment ” of 2016-17 ??
    Others as well?

  3. July 18, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    About 8 years ago I posted this idea on PenguinPoop:


    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      July 18, 2017 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Wow, Phil.

      A really creative, innovative approach to some of the issues and ills that plague our game.

      I don’t know about you, but it seemed we’d barely hoisted the Cup before guys started leaving town. While I fully appreciate the need for spending limits and a degree of parity, the current system almost penalizes a team for being successful.

      I like that your approach encourages and rewards teams for building from within. If you look at our first three Cup champions, each had a strong nucleus of home-grown talent.


    • Jim's Gravatar Jim
      July 18, 2017 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      Great ideas…you were certainly ahead of your time.Plus in 2009 things were looking pretty bleak for the economy.

  4. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    July 18, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,
    The idea has merit Rick, but as you say good luck trying to get this group of 31 self serving teams to cooperate together. These fools do not trust each other so how would you expect them to cooperate on something that makes sense.
    I remember 2 or 3 years ago the owners tried to get together and agreed NOT
    to over bid for free agents that year. It lasted about 10 days and then somebody over paid for a player and everyone went crazy.That ended the era of cooperation in less than two weeks.
    Like I said Rick,these guys do not trust each other.
    But I like your concept…

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      July 18, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Jim,

      Like I said, your article provided the inspiration and got my wheels turning. In fact, my ramble started out as a response to the issues you raised in your feature … 🙂

      Unfortunately, I agree that the NHL…and pro sports in general…would never submit to such a measured approach to player salaries.

      Still, I wonder how much longer owners can get away with hiking ticket prices to cover spiraling costs. At some point, the average fan isn’t going to be able to afford tickets.

      Heck, we may have gotten to that stage already.


      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        July 18, 2017 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        What is an average fan Rick ? In MLB you can take a family of 4 to a game for about 60$, if you bring your binoculars and do not mind heights.MLB still keep some cheaper seats for the ” average fan to enjoy an afternoon with their family”.
        In the NHL you can not even park you car for $ 60 in many NHL Cities.
        Big difference. I envy a lot of my fellow Pen’s fans in that you can get to see the team play live,whereby I am regulated to the TV and my Rogers sports package to watch the Pen’s play.
        If I indeed lived in the Burgh, a family of 4 could easily spend $ 1000 for a night of NHL entertainment. Double that to get real good seats.
        Where I come from Rick, if you were going to spend $ 2000 for a night of entertainment for 4 , you probably would be in jail the next morning.So Mr. Average hockey fan is really not “average”. Even those lucky people who do attend will only spend so much of their hard earned money to see a winning team before they look elsewhere. The NHL has to be careful. Money does not grow on trees.
        Good discussion Rick.

  5. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    July 18, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    I love looking at stats and have wanted to see a Goals Above a Replacement or as you put it PER, player stat for a while. To that end, I now regret having not taken more stats courses so that I could attempt that task myself. I have no doubt that there is a mathematician out there who could do this to.

    It would no doubt be much harder than the baseball stat since baseball is a rather static game and hockey is so fluid. Baseball, although considered a team sport can easily be distilled down to individual confrontations between pitchers and hitters. Unfortunately for the statistician trying to solve the WAR for hockey, hockey is so much more of a dynamic sport with many different interactions of a team and varaible situations like PP and PK.

    However, regardless of when (I don’t doubt that it will eventually be solved) the true stat geeks solve the problem players and owners would never agree to a pay scale system. Drive to win at all costs will always cause an owner to break rank, roll the dice, and try and out-bid the other owners and players in their greed will always have them asking for more. All the while, some of us will ponder what is the real difference between $10mil per year vs $12.5mil per year to play a game for a living? other than ego that is.

    Every so often you see a player here or there have performance bonuses in their contracts, but those types of contracts are not the norm. The first one I remember was the old rebel masked Dunc Wilson getting an extra $500 for a shut out. Who knows maybe that was apocryphal but I do remember some people talking about it.


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