Analyzing the best and worst contracts on the Calgary Flames using production per dollar spent

We live in a salary cap world. Every player in the modern NHL is judged not strictly on their play, but on their play relative to their salary. Certain players will score 15 goals and be highly sought after budget players, while many former superstars can still play in the league, but are knocked for high salaries they are no longer worth.

The basic formula for any NHL team is relatively simple: cap dollars should be spent on either producing goals, or stopping them. Aside from some intangible considerations, the teams that can get the most production, or the most defensive strength from every dollar they spend, will do the best.

I wanted to look into how to compare the value per dollar of every player on the Calgary Flames. Valuing these contracts can be tricky. Ice time is the first complicator, as it is unfair to compare the statistics of two players with drastically different opportunities. In order to see who provided the best value, I needed to look at stats on a per 60 minute basis.

For this exercise, I only used stats from even strength, and only included players with more than 10 games played last season. This means that contributions on the power play were not counted, something that will be important to keep in mind, though the majority of hockey games are played at 5v5 and to be a good player in the NHL it is paramount that a player makes an impact at even strength.

Each players stats is then divided by their salary. For the purpose of legibility, I then multiplied each value by a factor of one million. The result is a value for production per million dollars spent. All stats are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

Goals

Lets start with goal scoring. The top five goal most efficient goal scorers on the team, per million dollars spent were as follows.

PlayerGoals/60 Per Million Dollars Spent
Zac Rinaldo1.69
Andrew Mangiapane1.45
Dillon Dube0.75
Mark Jankowski0.37
Tobias Rieder0.34

Zac Rinaldo! I bet you didn’t see some of those names coming. Admittedly, Mark Jankowski was the biggest surprise. With low ice time and a cheap salary, Janko did okay in this metric. Andrew Mangiapane and Dillon Dube were two of the most positive developments from last season.

Now, lets look at the bottom five.

PlayerGoals/60 Per Million Dollars Spent
Milan Lucic0.04
Noah Hanifin 0.04
Travis Hamonic 0.04
T.J. Brodie0.03
Mark Giordano0.02

To put it simply, for Milan Lucic, a player who was making more than five million dollars last year, it isn’t great to be tied with a guy like Hamonic who was far from known for his offensive contributions. Unsurprisingly, Lucic was easily the worst forward in goals per million dollars spent.

Calgary actually doesn’t have too many bad contracts on their cap sheet right now, but they still seem like they don’t have a ton of options. Why is that? In part because Lucic’s contract is just so terrible. They are paying more than five million per year for the same goal production as their stay at home defensemen. Not good.

Assists

The top five most efficient assist-men on the Flames last year were as follows:

PlayerTotal Assists/60 Per Million Dollars Spent
Andrew Mangiapane1.37
Dillon Dube1.18
Zac Rinaldo1.11
Tobias Rieder0.86
Oliver Kylington0.60

Most of the names are familiar from the first list, with good reasons why. Rinaldo played uncharacteristically well in a relatively small sample size, and the same was true for Tobias Rieder. Newly signed Oliver Kylington is a surprise, but he is in the Jankowski category where he played low minutes and was paid next to nothing.

Much like the goals chart, the positive takeaway from this chart is that Mangiapane and Dube were by far the most efficient money spent on the team last year. Is that necessarily surprising? Maybe not, but it is a good affirmation that those two young guys are future regulars, who provide exceptional value on their current contracts.

The least efficient passers on the team were not surprising. Like a parent, I don’t feel mad that any of these players ended up on this list, just disappointed.

PlayerTotal Assists/60 Per Million Dollars Spent
Sean Monahan0.13
Milan Lucic0.13
Sam Bennett0.12
Mark Giordano0.10
Noah Hanifin0.10

The regular season numbers from Lucic and Sam Bennett were just so bad. Sean Monahan should not get a pass, but is clearly a shoot first player, and isn’t counted on to be a feeder. Bennet and Lucic don’t score enough to justify not being better passers, and this chart reflects how anemic their seasons were.

Mark Giordano clearly had a down year, and the team will need him to bounce back. As for Noah Hanifin, he is a great skater and puck mover, but fails to frequently make dangerous plays on offence. The Flames will need to have more to show from Hanifin next season.

Expected goals

Lets turn from traditional goals and assists to the advanced stats. For this, I looked at ixG/60 per million dollars spent. By this point it was pretty clear who had the most financially efficient seasons last year, and the same names show up again. Here is the top five.

PlayerixG/60 Per Million Dollars Spent
Tobias Rieder1.20
Andrew Mangiapane1.12
Zac Rinaldo0.84
Dillon Dube0.84
Mark Jankowski0.32

Jankowski makes another surprise appearance here, albeit with a significantly lower value than the others. For the top four, two were small sample size flashes in the pan, and two are budding studs.

The worst five are not only unsurprising, but uncontroversial. Thanks to Michael Stone, Lucic found his way out of the bottom five, at least for one statistic (for the record, Lucic finished in sixth last).

PlayerixG/60 Per Million Dollars Spent
Noah Hanifin0.05
Michael Stone0.05
Travis Hamonic0.05
Mark Giordano0.03
T.J. Brodie0.03

Aside from Gio and maybe Hanifin, the presence of these names isn’t really that troubling. What is troubling is that none of Calgary’s defensemen seemed to be contributing consistent offence, which could point to the need for a strategic shift. I recently wrote about this, and the numbers support the idea that Calgary blueliners fail to create high danger chances.

Conclusion

This was more of a thought experiment than a true evaluation of each contract. Assessing production per dollar hurts high salary players, as it is very hard to have top notch production and efficiency.

Matthew Tkachuk for example, was the best forward on the team last season, and appears nowhere in the top five. Ditto for Elias Lindholm who led the team in goals. Most star players contribute a significant amount on the power play as well, which was excluded here.

But, what it does do is confirm just how good Mangiapane and Dube were last season. Those two players were the best and most efficient use of money on the team last year, and the team needs to capitalize on having those players on great contracts. Likewise, the Lucic contract is every bit the drag that fans thought it was going to be, despite his strong play on the defensive side.

There was some positivity following a good playoff run, and being more likeable than number 18 for the Edmonton Oilers (I will not type his name!). But make no mistake, Lucic was a massive burden on this team in terms of offence, and likely won’t get any better going forward.

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