What’s Volchenkov Worth?

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I love Anton Volchenkov. I love everything about the guy — his nickname, his willingness to block shots, his patented hits along the boards by the blueline and the fact that I know nothing about the guy’s personality even though he’s been here for years.

That’s why it was so refreshing to hear Chris Campoli recall a story to the Citizen regarding that he and Volchenkov spent hours searching the Internet for footage of a hit that the A-Train put on Campoli when he was playing for the Isles. (Allegedly, the hardest one that Campoli’s received in his career.)

So if I like Volchenkov so much, why did I spend a few minutes this morning wiping coffee off of my laptop monitor after reading that Sens Chirp believes that Volchenkov was poised to get $4-5M from the Senators on a contract extension?

Here were Chirp’s exact words…

There are already whispers that Murray is working on an extension for Volchenkov but those talks are very much in the early stages. Volchenkov is expected to bring down anywhere from $4-5 million on a long term deal.

Either way, locking up Volchenkov has to be a priority for the Senators this season and the sooner they get it done the better. Volchenkov appears to be well on the way to a career season and if hes allowed to hit the open market he will certainly demand top dollar.

So why would I be so hesitant to give the A-Train that kind of coin? Probably because there’s a lot of inherent risk involved. Especially when history dictates trusting that much money and years into a player who’s a physical, shot-blocking machine isn’t necessarily the safest long-term investment.

One recent example of this is Jay McKee. On July 1st, 2006, McKee signed a 4-year, $16M contract as an unrestricted free agentthat saw him register 98 hits and led the league with 241 blocked shots for the Buffalo Sabres.

McKee, a 10-year veteran, had been Buffalo’s senior player. He was coming off a strong season in which he helped the Sabres win a franchise-best, 52 regular-season games and clinch their first playoff berth since 2001. McKee then played a big role in Buffalo’s extended post-season run, which ended with a Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference finals to eventual Stanley Cup champion Carolina. ~ Canoe

After three injury marred seasons, McKee had his contract bought out by the Blues. When asked for his opinion on why he was let go, Mckee said, “The bottom line is, I didn’t fit in their depth chart and my salary was probably a hindrance to their payroll.”

Now I’m not saying that Volchenkov’s going to be the next McKee, wherein injuries could adversely affect him in the same way. It’s just that I view physical, defensive defencemen like I view NFL running backs. Once they’re on the wrong side of thirty, the bumps and bruises that they’ve accumulated over the course of their careers tend to take their toll. Because of the way he plays, he’s likely to be more suceptible to injury. (I know this is completely circumstantial evidence. Believe me when I say that I’d like to back this up with statistical data. But, I can’t. You’ll just have to take my word or decide for yourself whether this is a reasonable assertion or not. Although, Wade Redden’s softness is a fine Exhibit A in my defence.)

While the nature of his play could be a deterring factor later in his career, it’s equally as important to examine his financial worth moving forward. Since Volchenkov is Ottawa’s premier shutdown defenceman, it’s imperative to discuss the current open market rate for comparable players.

And as Sens Chirp alluded to, recent contracts like Mike Komisarek’s have set a bit of a benchmark. I’ve done some research and have come up with a list of some players who have posted similar high shot blocking and hits totals on par with Volchenkov — 7GP, 18 hits, 24 blocked shots, $3.2M salary ($2.5M cap hit)

  • Jay McKee — 8 GP, 8 hits, 28 blocked shots, $800k
  • Matt Greene — 8 GP, 19 hits, 21 blocked shots, $2.95M
  • Brendan Witt — 6 GP, 10 hits, 24 blocked shots, $3M
  • Scott Hannan — 8 GP, 9 hits, 19 blocked shots, $4.5M
  • Brooks Orpik — 8 GP, 23 hits, 15 blocked shots, $3.725M
  • Mike Komisarek — 8 GP, 25 hits, 13 blocked shots, $4.5M
  • Brad Stuart — 7 GP, 25 hits, 12 blocked shots, $3.75M
  • Niklas Kronwall — 7 GP, 15 hits, 13 blocked shots, $1.5M salary ($3.0M cap hit)
  • Brent Seabrooke — 8 GP, 22 hits, 15 blocked shots, $3.5M
  • Dennis Seidenberg — 6 GP, 20 hits, 17 blocked shots, $2.25M
  • Rob Blake — 8 GP, 8 hits, 20 blocked shots, $3.5M
  • Kyle Quincey — 8 GP, 13 hits, 19 blocked shots, $550k ($525k cap hit)
  • Matt Carkner –7 GP, 14 hits, 19 blocked shots, $500k
  • Barrett Jackman — 3 GP, 8 hits, 7 blocked shots, $3.625M

Interestingly, no one on this list earns more than $4.5M per year. While I’d give Volchenkov the nod over almost all of the names on the list, I think it’s important to note that both of the players who earn over $4M (Komisarek and Hannan) are considered amongst many to be overpaid.

So if you’re Bryan Murray, what do you do? Obviously, trading Volchenkov isn’t an option unless the Senators suddenly fall flat and perform a Battle of the Blades’esque death spiral out of the playoff picture or contract negotiations stall and he promises to go on the open market. However, as Sens Chirp indicated, there allegedly is optimism from both sides that a deal can be reached.

During negotiations, however, there’s a fine line to be drawn here: One one hand, A-Train’s too valuable to lose on a blueline that can best be categorized as average. And on the other hand, an overpriced contract in a salary cap system can seriously debilitate the team’s financial flexibility as the team continues to improve in the future.

Here are three options that I have come up with for Bryan:

  • Since Volchenkov’s turning 28, give him big dollars on a two or three year deal. $4M-$4.25M maximum offer. The key here is not to extend the contract past the point where the A-Train’s prime of his career is over.
  • Offer a staggered contract extension similar to the one that Kronwall signed in Detroit to manipulate the cap. Ken Holland manipulated his average cap hit by giving Kronwall $1.5M in his first year and $3M, $3.25M, $3.5M, and $3.75 in the subsequent years for a $3M average.
  • Offer a contract extension similar to the ones that are being investigated by the NHL for circumventing the cap. (ie. Hossa’s contract.)

So readers, what would you do?

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