A few weeks back, Elliotte Friedman on 31 Thoughts mentioned that with how tight the salary cap is, teams need to make the most of players on their entry-level contracts (ELCs). He specifically pointed to the Florida Panthers as a team that only used three players on ELCs throughout the 2019-20 season.
This piqued my curiosity so I decided to look into the data across the league to see how teams used their young players to fill out their NHL rosters.
First I compiled the data:
|Team||# of ELCers||Total ELC GP||ELC P/GP|
Let’s break it down by looking at the highlights.
Most and least ELCs
As Friedman mentioned, Florida had the lowest usage of players on entry-level deals. Tied with Washington and Minnesota with just three players, the Panther’s entry-level skaters played a grand total of 47 games between them. By comparison, Washington and Minnesota had 73 and 135 man games among theirs, respectively.
On the other side, the rebuilding Ottawa Senators played 14 ELC players last season. They were followed by the Chicago Blackhawks with 12, and the Los Angeles Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets with 11 each.
However, in terms of total man games played by prospects, Chicago led the way with 435, 50 more than the next closest team, the New York Rangers. Chicago got over fifty games each from Alex DeBrincat, Dominik Kubalik, Alexander Nylander, Kirby Dach, and Dylan Strome.
The Vancouver Canucks got the most games out of their ELCers, playing just four all season but averaging about 53 games per player. The Tampa Bay Lightning were second with about 48 games per prospect.
On the flip side, Florida averaged a league-low 15.7 games per prospect. The San Jose Sharks and the Nashville Predators were just above them with 18.2 and 19.4 games per player on ELC.
Offensive Impact by elcers
While they had the second most players on ELCs play over the course of the season, the Chicago Blackhawks got the most offensive impact from their young stars. With 85 goals and 201 points, they were over fifty points ahead of the next closest team, the Vancouver Canucks. This makes sense given how many more man-games Chicago got from their ELC players compared to the rest of the league.
Unsurprisingly, it was Florida who got the least productivity from their entry-level players. With only nine points in 47 man games, the Panthers did not get much from their ELC group. Interestingly, this only one point less than the Capitals got from theirs and the Caps had over thirty additional man games among ELC players, an overall much worse return on investment so far for the 2018 Stanley Cup Champs.
The Capitals’ entry-level players had the worst points per man game played (P/GP) among all teams with just 0.14 P/GP. On the other side, the Vancouver Canucks got incredible results from their ELC group, with 0.75 P/GP. Few expected this level of productivity from their up and coming core, but the Canucks found a way to get the most out of Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Adam Gaudette, and Zack MacEwen.
Just behind Vancouver was the Carolina Hurricanes who got 133 points of their six ELC skaters. They had a wide variance amongst their prospect usage with Martin Necas, Andrei Svechnikov, and Warren Foegele playing the vast majority of games. Overall, Chicago, Vancouver, and Carolina all performed significantly better than average, and their young players rose to the occasion.
The same cannot be said about Anaheim and San Jose who struggled to get much out of their entry-level skaters. Anaheim’s Sam Steel was the only player on an ELC on either team who managed more than 20 points this season.
On top of that, no single skater on either team was overly unlucky, with individual expected goals for numbers being reasonably close to actual goals for. Both of these teams will need to see more from their ELC skaters if they want to take forward steps out of the league’s basement.
Goals vs expected goals
Both Vancouver and Chicago young players performed substantially above average in terms of production. These two teams saw their ELC players massively outperform their expected goals. Vancouver got 17 more goals than their 35 expected goals for, while Chicago got an additional 11 goals than their expected 73.9. This is probably a combination of high shooting percentages mixed with having elite offensive skillsets in Pettersson for Vancouver and Kubalik for Chicago.
On the other side, the Senators struggled to translate their offensive chances into goals. Their expected goals for was 19 more than the 36 actually scored by players on ELCs, with Brady Tkachuk‘s individual bad luck contributing to most of that.
And by unlucky, suffice to say little brother Tkachuk was very much so. He was the most outstanding player on an ELC by possession numbers. He posted 80 more scoring chances for than the next closest player, and had 177 individual high-danger chances for, 91 more than the next closest player on an ELC. He is overdue for an offensive outburst next season.
Finally, the one team that had almost the same number of goals for as expected was the Calgary Flames, who were only 0.07 away from what was expected. The Flames had 13 goals from their players on ELCs, compared to the 13.07 that was expected. 11 of the 13 came from Dillon Dube with six and Rasmus Andersson with five.
playoff final four elc usage
Among the final four teams, there is a clear discrepency between the teams that won and the teams that lost in terms of their ELC usage. While all four teams used between five and eight ELCers, the Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning used their ELCers in over 200 man games, whereas the Vegas Golden Knights and the New York Islanders had their ELCers play no more than 120 man games.
On top of that, both Dallas and Tampa eclipsed the 100 point mark for their players on entry-level deals compared to 70 for the Islanders and 35 for the Golden Knights. Vegas is an interesting anomaly given they have not been in the league long, and that they traded away their two top prospects in Erik Brannstrom and Nick Suzuki. That being said, their return included Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty, which makes perfect sense for the expansion team that propelled itself right into “win now” mode.
The Islanders unsurprisingly got most of their scoring from Mathew Barzal, who has been an elite performer over the last couple of years. Reaching the end of his ELC, expect him to be in line for a major salary increase next season. Barzal was the only entry-level skater for the Islanders to suit up for more than half of the season. Noah Dobson looked decent on defence for the Isles in the 34 regular season games he played.
The Tampa Bay Lightning got nearly full seasons of play out of Anthony Cirelli, Erik Cernak, and Mikhail Sergachev, who combined for 90 regular season points. All three are in line for new contracts at the end of the season. This is a great example of making the most of ELCs before the players earn their next contracts.
The Stars got a lot out of budding superstar defenceman Miro Heiskanen who led the way with 35 points. They also saw strong steps taken by Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz, who both took major steps forward this year.
Dallas is currently also getting a whole lot out of Joel Kiviranta in the playoffs, although he only managed one goal in the regular season. He and Heiskanen are under contract for one more season, but Gurianov and Hintz will be looking for a new deal next season.
What does it all mean?
Teams use players on ELCs for various reasons. In some cases, it is as part of a rebuilding plan to help get their younger players accustomed to playing in the NHL. In other cases, they are used to fill in secondary roles, with the goal of them taking more minutes and more responsibility as a part of their development.
However, in the current reality where the salary cap will put teams into tight spots, every dollar adds up. Teams will need to use their young players where possible, it’ll be necessary to get under the salary cap for the teams with especially high salary players.
While this is not meant to be prescriptive, as each team has a unique set of circumstances underlying the way in which they use their ELCs, it is meant to show how teams use their young players and the results that they got from that usage.
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