Thursday, July 26, 2007

Milan Jurcina And Arbitration (Or Not)

If Milan Jurcina ends up going to arbitration on Monday, perhaps GMGM can ask Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli to argue the case against Jurcina, as Chiarelli obviously didn't think much of the hulking blueliner, who he traded to D.C. for a fourth round pick this past February (a pick, by the way, that the B's later lost when Brad Stuart didn't resign with the Flames, in essence meaning that Boston traded away Jurcina for nothing). Whether or not the Caps and Jurcina actually end up in arbitration, let's take a look at the arguments for and against Jurcina getting a big pay day (relative to the $500,000 he made last year, at least).

Show me the money: Jerky played at around a 25-point, +14 pace once he arrived in Washington, and while neither number is quite Pronger-esque, only 14 NHL blueliners had both 25 points and a plus/minus rating of +14 or better (Sean Hill only had 25 points and he was on steroids). For the season (including his time in Boston), Jurcina was second (behind John Erskine) on the Caps in hits per minute of ice time. Speaking of big Slovak rearguards, in case you're wondering what Zdeno Chara's second NHL season looked like, Big Z had 2 goals, 7 assists and was -27 (Jerky had 4 goals, 8 assists and was even this past season). Oh, and Vinny Lecavalier called Jurcina one of the toughest defensemen he's had to play against.

Not so fast: While Jurcina certainly played well for the Caps, his overall numbers were still mediocre (136th in points and 124th in plus/minus). In fact, for the season, Jurcina had fewer points per minutes of ice time than every Caps blueliner (minimum 25 games played) with the exceptions of Shaone Morrisonn and Jeff Schultz (yes, even Erskine had more points per minute). Jurcina's shooting percentage has dropped from 9.38% in his rookie year to 6.90% with Boston and 4.76% with the Caps last year (still a Top 50 percentage for the year, though). Perhaps most importantly, Jurcina let Daniel Briere live after spearing him in the last game of the season. Weak.

With some of the two sides' arguments out of the way, let's look at some comparables. As Vogs notes:
One common misnomer in the process is the concept of “comparables.” Yes, both sides will present comparable players in their cases, but those comparables are looked at from the standpoint of when they signed the contract that made them comparable. In other words, you can’t just look at [the player]’s stats from 2006-07 and find other players with similar numbers and see what their earnings are.

For the purposes of comparables, “platform years” are used. A platform year is the year in which a player “earned” his subsequent contract. Anyone signing a (non-entry level and non-UFA) contract this summer for 2007-08 would have a platform year of 2006-07. So “comparable” contracts basically include those negotiated by other Group II (restricted) free agents. For the sake of comparables, the players’ age and position should also be similar, if not exact. Any comparables in the [Jurcina] case are almost certain to have 2005-06 or 2006-07 as their platform season.
That said, who fits the bill? One guy that might is Ottawa's Christoph Schubert. Schubert is about a year-and-a-half older than Jurcina, but, like Milan, has two NHL seasons under his belt. He has played in 15 more regular season games, has scored 2 more goals and tallied 10 more assists, nearly identical PIMs and a handful more shots on goal (though it should be noted that he played many nights as a forward/seventh defenseman). His career plus/minus dwarfs Jurcina's, but that has more to do with the quality of his team than the quality of his play. Schubert's versatility and how he's been used makes him an imperfect comparison, but given that he signed earlier this week for $833,333.33 per year for three years, he's worth noting.

Closer to home, when the Caps re-signed Morrisonn last July, he was six months younger than Jurcina is now, had played 23 more games, scored eight fewer goals, had seven more assists, a better career plus/minus and around the same number of PIMs. Mo resigned for two years at $900,000 per year.

Another hometown guy who's not a perfect point of reference (but who I'll still mention) is Steve Eminger. When Emmy signed his one-year deal last year, he was a year and change younger than Jerky is now, but had played in just three more games, had five fewer goals, six more assists and a much worse career plus/minus. That deal for Eminger was for one year at $993,000.

Want more comparables? Of course you do. But I don't have an intern, so you'll get snapshots of a few of last year's somewhat similar blueliner signings:
  • Mike Commodore (career stats prior to signing in July, 2006): Three years older than Jurcina is now, 26 more games played, six fewer goals, three more assists, far more PIMs, same plus/minus, two more Cup Finals appearances. Signed for... two years at $1.25m per.
  • Branislav Mezei (career stats prior to signing in July, 2006): Two years older than Jurcina is now, 17 more games played, three fewer goals, one more assist, far more PIMs, similar plus/minus. Signed for... two years at $850,000 per.
  • Tim Gleason (career stats prior to signing in September, 2006): Same age as Jurcina is now, four more games played, eight fewer goals, 13 more assists, identical PIMs, worse plus/minus. Signed for... two years at $1.175m per.
  • Mike Komisarek (career stats prior to signing in July, 2006): Same age as Jurcina is now, 17 more games played, eight fewer goals, four fewer assists, worse plus/minus, more PIMs. Signed for... one year at $946,827.
  • Fedor Tyutin (career stats prior to signing in August, 2006): One year younger than Jurcina is now, 19 fewer games played, two fewer goals, 11 more assists, worse plus/minus, fewer PIMs. Signed for... two years at $987,500 per.
  • Brooks Orpik (career stats prior to signing in July, 2006): Two years older than Jurcina is now, 28 more games played, seven fewer goals, three more assists, far worse plus/minus, far more PIMs. Signed for... two years at $1,037,500 per.
  • Christian Backman (career stats prior to signing in July, 2006): Two years older than Jurcina is now, one more game played, one more goal scored, 12 more assists, far worse plus/minus, far fewer PIMS. Signed for... three years at $2.3m per (overpay much?).
You can pick and choose who you think the real comparables in that group are, but the point is that you see a pretty clear range developing, and the middle of that range is probably right around $950,000, give or take a nice sports car.

At this point, this post has dragged on long enough and it's time for some of your thoughts. Given that Brooks Laich is still the only case to actually go to arbitration (16 have settled prior to the hearing), do you think that Jurcina's will? Whether it does or not, what do you think is a fair deal for the guy?


Tyler said...

I think that the key question is: What would a multi-year deal look like? If the Caps could get him for something like 3/$3.3M, then yeah, absolutely. But if he wants 3/$6M, then no.

JP said...

Jerky has really shown you enough to commit to him at $1.1m per year for the next three? To me, that's a bit too much money and a bit long, especially given the logjam on the blueline between now and three years from now.

kb said...

I'm with you, Tyler. 3 years, $1.1m per is very fair. I've been sold on Jurcina since his days in Providence.

Chiarelli's decision is still a head scratcher.

Anonymous said...

why pay him over a mil a year when it looks like he probably will get less than that through arbitration. lets see what he can do in a full year on the team then lock him up if warranted

Tyler said...

My thinking was that if the Caps have him locked in for three years at $1.1 per, that he becomes an asset. He's either a performing asset here or he's a movable asset because he'd be relatively cheap compared to who else would likely be available via trade.

JP said...

I'd just like to see a little more before I commit like that, and I think the Caps are in a position to do just that. Look at it this way - they go to arb, get a ~$925,000/1-year ruling and they pay him. If he goes on to have a breakout year, great - they figure out how to lock him up long-term. If he turns out to be a flop, they're not over-committed.

While it's true that you might save a million or so per year by signing him long-term now, you could also potentially save a million or so per year by not signing him long-term now. And given the glut of blueliners the team has (albeit not as many in Jurcina's mold), I think it's a risk worth taking.

kb said...

KB, bookmarking this post, so that it can be pulled out again in December.

I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

Tyler said...

Except, JP, that's my point: If you *do* end up overpaying him now, I think he's easily erased from the books because he's an easily-traded asset, an attractive option for GMs who need a blue-liner later, an automatic second-round pick. I mean, everyone wants D at the deadline....

JP said...

Six months ago the Bruins couldn't get better than a fourth round pick for him when he was making $500,000 (of which, only a few bucks were left to be paid). I'm not so sure that come February he's an automatic second round pick with more than $2.5m of contract left if he flops out of the gate this season like he did in Boston last year (I know that was an ice-time/coaching/utilization issue, but it could happen).

Jurcina is an 8th round pick who had a very good rookie year and a decent second half to his sophomore season. I really don't know that I'd invest so heavily in him yet.

At this point it should be noted that I loved what I saw from him in a Caps' uniform last year, and I hope - and believe - that he's the real deal. But I think now is a good time for prudence. Let the arb tell you what you're going to pay for this year, and if he shows he's worth it long-term, lock him up. But to this point, he hasn't shown it.

Last point: the Caps could have locked up Eminger for multiple years last year, but didn't. Aren't you glad, now, that they didn't?

Tyler said...

Without looking, I gotta think the numbers are different. If Jurcina is going to make $880K in arbitration and for a smidge more than that you can lock him into a figure through an RFA year or two, I think it's an extremely minor risk with substantial upside.

This is why GMGM gets the big bucks.

Tyler said...

I'm wrong. The numbers for Eminger are more: $1M.

Anonymous said...

Great piece, JP.

- Empty

kevin said...

i think the Caps best option is to lock him up for 900K, 1 mill, 1.1 mill 3 year deal.

Jerky should be on blueline for YEARS to come