I Was Told There'd Be No Math On This Exam

When you saw that this was Camp Week, you probably thought it would be all fun and games - a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Little did you know that you'd would be heading to summer school (like Joe Finley, who is not hitting the books this month due to eligibility issues, contrary to rumor).

Now, I admit that this week has been a little stat-heavy in this corner of the interwebs, but I like to keep you guys as smart as can be, so here's another lesson entitled "You Want To Let Boyd Gordon Go? Are You Nuckin' Futs?"

By way of background, I've seen it suggested that Gordo might be one of the odd men out up front come Fall and that he's possible trade (or even waiver) bait to alleviate some of the current (small "c") cap concerns. To me, the former assertion would be a terrible mistake and the latter makes no sense whatsoever, and you'll see why below.

On Wednesday we noted Gordon's Selke credentials and we discussed his all-around game in depth when his Rink Wrap came up, but his defensive contribution alone doesn't tell the full story of his value to the team, so let's look at how he stacked up against the rest of the team's forwards in 2007-08 (for the purpose of this exercise, only returning forwards who played a significant number of games and only games played for the Caps are considered).

The first stat we'll look at is player contribution, per Hockey Analytics (defined in this PDF, with data taken from this document). To level the games played playing field, these numbers are on a per game basis:

No surprise at the top, and really not a terribly surprising order overall, though you'd have hoped your $4 million/38-year-old center would have rated a little higher (and I still maintain that Donald Brashear at $1.2 million this coming season is the worst contract on the team, but that's another topic for another day).

It's worth noting that Gordon's entire contribution was defensive, which isn't surprising either, but a goal prevented is equal to a goal scored in this analysis, as it should be, theoretically (other even or negative contributors offensively were Brashear and David Steckel, while only Alex Semin, Michael Nylander and Brashear were on the wrong side of the ledger in terms of defensive contribution).

Next stat? Quality of teammates five-on-five. Behind The Net describes the problem ("[One]weakness of the plus/minus statistic in the NHL is that it is depends on a player's linemates - just ask anyone who ever played with Mario Lemieux.") and defines this metric ("We can address this problem by calculating the average Behindthenet rating of a player's teammate when he's on the ice.). Basically, it's just a look at who's skating with top talent and who's out there with grinders:

Things get a little more interesting here, and you can immediately see how lost the second line was for much of the season with Semin missing time, without a real solid, healthy playmaking center for much of the year as Nicklas Backstrom acclimated himself to North America (then promptly got promoted to the top line) and Nylander fought injuries, and with Tomas Fleischmann facing a significant talent deficit. You also see that part of Eric Fehr's struggles may be attributable to his linemates (though this is certainly a chicken-or-the-egg situation).

Back to Gordon, other than brief stints on the second line, Gordon got almost exclusively checking-line duties last year and lined up with other grinders. He also got 19 seconds of power-play time per game. Point being, whereas some players benefited from extra-man time and skating with Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and the team's other top skill players, Gordon wasn't afforded that opportunity (nor should he have been, mind you - just stating a fact).

Since we looked at who skated with whom, let's look at who skated against whom - quality of competition five-on-five. Again we turn to Behind The Net to describe the problem ("One of the weaknesses of the plus/minus statistic in the NHL is that it is highly-dependent on who a player plays against. A forward assigned to check Jaromir Jagr will have a harder time keeping the other team off the scoreboard than a player who lines up against the other team's fourth line.") and to define the metric ("We can address this problem by calculating the average Behindthenet rating of the opposing players who are on the ice."):

This tells us that the Ovechkin line (with either Swedish pivot) faced the opponents' best (certainly just about every time the stepped on the ice in someone else's barn), and that Gordon drew the toughest assignments defensively when the opportunity presented itself. It's interesting how bunched the Caps forwards are here, though. The spread for Wings forwards, for example, ranged from 0.13 (Henrik Zetterberg) to -0.22 (Aaron Downey), and Ovechkin - the Caps' leader - only faced the 123rd toughest competition among NHL forwards who played 40 or more games (thanks in part to playing so many intra-divisional games and in part to not having to play against Alex Ovechkin).

Finally, we get to the pay off. We've seen who has (and hasn't) contributed. We've seen who has skated with and against whom. But what about the contribution per salary cap dollar? Based on 2008-09 cap hits (projected for Gordon) and 2007-08 stats, here's your "bang for the buck" - player contribution per game, per dollar:

You can see that there are bargains to be had if some of the teams cheaper wingers get better, and you'd hope that a few of the pricey vets at the bottom start doing a little more for the big bucks they're receiving, but seeing Boyd Gordon at the top and considering his raw contribution-per-game number makes you realize just how valuable the longest-tenured member of this Caps team really is. A player like Gordon - at a price like Gordon's - is incredibly difficult to replace in a salary capped league, and to think otherwise is done at the thinkers own peril.

* Why use last year's stats and this year's salary? Because for many of these guys it's the same, and for others, last year's performance determined this year's salary.

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