A few days ago, we published a simple poll asking which group of centers you all liked more. In truth, we expected to see a much bigger spread than there actually was.
Which center group do you like more?
A: Suzuki, Dvorak, Evans, Poehling, Paquette
B: Suzuki, Danault, Kotkaniemi, Staal, Evans#Habs
— Habs Chronicle (@HabsChronicle) September 5, 2021
What we didn’t include in this question was something that many pointed out as a potentially differentiating factor: the salary of the players involved. This is where things get more complicated.
Group A (2021-2022’s players) vs. Group B-1 (2021’s group at their 2021-2022 salaries)
When you compare these two groups, there are some key differences between the two, but none glaring than the salary difference of $6.2M (plus the infamous $15 and $20 from KK’s offer sheet). This $6.2M represents cap space that could be utilized for a high-impact player that could easily bridge the 13 point gap between the two scenarios.
The main drawback to group A is their average faceoff percentage, but this is brought down by Poehling’s poor faceoff numbers (7 out of 15 in his 28 career games). If you were to remove this figure from the group due to the fact that it does not represent a significant sample size, group A moves up to a more respectable 47.7% from the 44.5% listed.
In terms of the actual personnel, only Suzuki and Evans remain constant between both groups. Dvorak and Danault are similar players although Dvorak has more offensive upside and Danault has more defensive abilities. Neither Kotkaniemi or Poehling have had that much success in the NHL to-date, however, Kotkaniemi has 6 times more experience despite being 1.5 years younger and likely has a higher ceiling in terms of ultimate potential. Staal and Paquette are both depth guys who can have an impact on their teams should they be called upon, but neither moves the needle all that much.
Verdict: Based on the above, we would choose group A for the significant cap savings (and cost certainty) and higher offensive potential of Dvorak compared to Danault. The cap savings could then be spent on another impact player or bookmarked for the imminent raise that Suzuki will command.
Group A (2021-2022’s players) vs. Group B-2 (2021’s players at their projected 2021-2022 salaries)
This is where things get more interesting. In real life, hockey players sign contracts that are not always at market value or at least what the public perceives as market value. Kotkaniemi’s 1-year 6.1M is a perfect example of this. To even the playing field a bit, we used the projected salaries from the excellent evolving-hockey.com for the four players needing new contracts ahead of the 2021-2022 season (as Ryan Poehling was not a player in the NHL last year, no projection was available).
For an increased cap hit of $3.7M, would it be worth going with group B-2? This is where it gets trickier to say. This amount of salary could very well be put to good use on another bottom 6 forward or bottom 4 defenceman, or saved for eventual salary increases.
Verdict: While this one is closer, we would probably still go with group A for the cap savings and cost certainty that having Dvorak under contract for 4 more years brings.
Group A (2021-2022’s players) vs. Group B-3 (2021’s players at their 2021 salaries)
We’ve included this scenario for the purposes of comparing this year’s group to last year’s from the perspective of comparing historical values at their cap hits at the time. This doesn’t represent a realistic view of what would have been possible as of the 2021-2022 season, but is interesting nonetheless.
In this scenario, the Habs would be getting less goal scoring but more overall offensive production, better possession, faceoff winning percentages and defensive play for half of a million dollars less.
Verdict: Clearly in this scenario, group B-3 is superior. What this tells you is that based on last year’s play, the Habs might have had a better group of centermen. Too bad the salary cap exists.