George McPhee's Far-Reaching $1.2 Million

USA TODAY Sports

Unspectacular offseason acquisitions are paying dividends, and will perhaps continue to do so beyond this season.

[Ed. Note: We're very excited to introduce the newest members of the Japers' Rink crew, Kevin Klein and Geoff Thompson from Sick, Unbelievable. Here's Kevin's first post... enjoy!]

I envy not the man who is called General Manager.

Every decision scrutinized and called into question by an arsenal of most accomplished couch GMs. Every personnel move - trades, signings, promotions or demotions - weighed for years in the eyes of the public, anything less than a championship inevitably bottle-necking to a single conclusion: failure.

A GM's body of work, on a micro level, is comprised of single transactions, which then make up the fabric of the teams he champions, like tesserae in a completed mosaic.

George McPhee, the artist of said mosaic, was faced with a notable decision to make this past offseason: re-sign Alexander Semin, or allow the high-scoring, seven-year Capital to plunge into the depths of free agency. McPhee opted for the latter, and we can only speculate as to what it would have taken to keep Semin here, as he ultimately inked a one-year deal with Carolina at a pricetag that gobbled up roughly 10% of their total cap space.

The nature of large groups of people (the fanbase of a professional hockey team, for instance) is that the majority identifies surface issues while allowing emotion or nostalgia to cloud judgment, without seeing further pertinent information that lay beyond view. To present an image, like deciding to eat the cake that's been in Tupperware in the fridge for a week without first lifting up the lid to see if it's gone moldy.

In this particular instance, under the Tupperware lid was Semin's massive salary and a gaping hole at second line center that the money in question could (and did) go towards filling.

Many came to grips with Semin's departure quickly - you didn't have to lift that lid up too far to establish that he probably wouldn't be in Washington this year - but McPhee's relatively minimal efforts to replace the talented winger stirred the pot of discontent. Eric Fehr and Wojtek Wolski - with careers pocked by injury, inconsistency, and an inability to meet expectations - could hardly fill the void created by the departure of a 40-goal scorer. Or could they?

Okay, no. But that doesn't mean they couldn't far exceed expectations. McPhee signed both wingers to one year, $600,000 contracts, making Fehr and Wolski the poster boys for what seemed to be the GMGM's offseason mantra: low risk, high reward.

It's worked. Fehr and Wolski have far outperformed their paygrade. Besides Fehr and Wolski, there are 44 players listed on CapGeek's NHL payrolls with salaries at $600,000 or less. 18 of these players have played in less than 5 games this season, and thus have not been included in the below table, which shows the total point production and Relative Corsi rating of each player.

It's worked. Fehr and Wolski have outperformed their paygrade.

That there are only 27 players in the league- less than one per team- that have played more than 5 games while making 600k or less is testament enough to the brand of hockey expected from them. This is plenty evident in the data forthcoming.

Relative Corsi is a quantification of how many shots are fired for as compared to shots fired against when a certain player is on the ice, as compared to when he is not on the ice. It's a good way to gauge a player's performance while sidestepping much of the luck and randomness prevalent in scoring. [All data was captured at end of games on Thursday, March 7, 2013. Subtle variance from this date is to be expected.]

Player

Total Points

Average Time on Ice/Game

Relative Corsi

John Scott (BUF)

0

3:57

-3.5

Kevin Porter (BUF)

0

15:22

-26.0

Eric Boulton (NYI)

0

4:58

-21.3

Pierre-Cedric Labrie (TBL)

0

6:42

-23.1

Brandon Bollig (CHI)

0

5:43

10.0

Patrick Bordeleau (COL)

1

5:14

2.2

Ryan Reaves (STL)

1

7:09

3.3

Aaron Volpatti (VAN/WSH)

1

7:00

-8.4

Dave Dziurzynski (OTT)

2

12:26

-3.7

Dustin Jeffrey (PIT)

2

10:54

9.7

Joe Vitale (PIT)

2

9:41

-21.6

Steve Begin (CGY)

2

7:36

0.7

Bobby Butler (NSH)

2

10:15

-1.9

Drayson Bowman (CAR)

3

11:48

-7.0

Mark Olver (COL)

3

9:25

-5.2

Cory Emmerton (DET)

3

10:31

-20.5

Rich Clune (NSH)

3

8:05

-0.2

Zac Rinaldo (PHI)

4

7:57

-13.7

Aaron Palushaj (COL)

4

12:19

-6.5

Jordan Nolan (LAK)

4

8:15

18.1

Ryan Garbutt (DAL)

5

9:22

-3.2

Stephen Gionta (NJ)

7

13:36

-15.9

Tom Pyatt (TB)

10

16:52

-13.9

Andrew Shaw (CHI)

10

15:10

3.7

Bryan Bickell (CHI)

12

12:21

0.6

The cumulative statistics yield the following averages:

Points

Average Time on Ice/Game

Relative Corsi

League Average

3.24

9:41

-5.9

Let's see how Fehr and Wolski compare.

Capitals Player

Total Points

Average Time on Ice/Game

Relative Corsi

Eric Fehr

12

12:04

18.9

Wojtek Wolski

8

14:57

6.5

Eric Fehr has been particularly effective, putting up points at nearly four times the rate of other players at his paygrade. His Relative Corsi rating is almost exactly proportional, showing what Caps fans already know: he's playing well even when the puck isn't going in.

Though Wolski's numbers are not as impressive- and he's had a few highly visible blunders that have contributed to a (probably undeserved) notion that he's played poorly- these numbers show that he is exceeding expectations. That is, if salary can be considered a dictator of expectation...and when you're only making 600k, what other indicator could there really be?

But it's possible that Fehr and Wolski are actually even higher above their class than these numbers indicate. The Chicago Blackhawks have started the season hotter than any other team in NHL history. 10, 11, even 12 games with points would have been one thing- but at 24 games in a row with a point, they are an absolute outlier...like Lebron James in high school degree of outlier, and their $600k and below skaters have not escaped the effects. They are listed below.

Brandon Bollig

0

10.0

Andrew Shaw

10

3.7

Bryan Bickell

12

0.6

As seen here, each player is dramatically above the average in either points or Relative Corsi. When their numbers are plucked from the equation, the league average looks more like this:

Points

Relative Corsi

League Average minus Blackhawks

2.36

-6.7

Here again are Fehr and Wolski's numbers, for easy comparison:

Points

Relative Corsi

Eric Fehr

12

18.9

Wojtek Wolski

8

6.5

George McPhee has essentially turned the yearly money that Alex Semin would have commanded into three contracts, all set to expire this year: Wolski and Fehr ($1.2 million combined), and Mike Ribeiro ($5 million). One of these players is playing well, and certainly exceeding expectations. Another of these players is playing very well, tied for most points at his paygrade and handedly outplaying the individual he is tied with as measured by Corsi. The third is presently among the league's elite in point accumulation. Not a bad haul, huh?

Granted, Fehr and Wolski both play above average minutes compared to their modestly moneyed fellows. As reasonably skilled offensively-minded forwards their strengths lay in different places than a Zac Rinaldo, or a Joe Vitale, but their ice time isn't so inflated that it discredits their superior play. In fact, as tweeted by Mike Vogel last week, Eric Fehr is doing more with his ice time than any other player of comparable production in the league.

If Fehr and Wolski continue driving play, it's unlikely McPhee lets them drift back out to free agency. That's the beauty of an inexpensive and short-term contract. Even with unexpected production from the player, the cost of the contract currently being played under sets a precedent for the next one, due to the short turnaround.

Point is, if McPhee believes that Fehr and Wolski's success is sustainable, he can likely get them back for very cheap (and with a number of concerns needing address- most notably a certain shutdown defenseman and a certain top 10 point getter in the league- a saved penny is a very good thing). Such are the fruits of two seeds planted by McPhee last offseason, in very ninja-like manner.

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