Flames: Underpaid and Overpaid Players



Success in the salary cap era is all about getting value for the dollar. The successful teams find bargains while the non-contenders are paying premiums for every goal scored or prevented. As the season winds down, let’s see where the Calgary Flames have value, and where they don’t.

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There are only two simple concepts we need, a way of measuring a player’s total value, and a way to compare that against what they’re paid. For the former we’ll use GVT (Goals Versus Threshold), a catch-all statistic invented by Tom Awad about 7-8 years ago that uses basic statistics to measure all of a player’s contributions (defensive, offensive, shoot-out, etc) in terms of goals relative to what you’d get from an AHL replacement-level player. As we discussed in the Babchuk/Regehr articles earlier this season it doesn’t always correctly capture a player’s defensive value, but it’s close enough for today’s purposes.

To measure that same value against the player’s cap space we’ll use GVS, which was first introduced back in 2009. Already in modest use in the mainstream media and NHL front offices, it uses hockey’s 3-1-1 rule to calculate a player’s value, which states that you should get 3 goals, or 1 point in the standings, for every 1 million dollars you spend. Let’s see which Flames have contributed more goals than they’ve been paid for.

Good Value Players

It’s no surprise to see Curtis Glencross at the top of the list, a classic example of someone playing at a discount to remain with his preferred team. Scott Hannan was another player willing to temporarily play at a discount for the opportunity to revive his career, much like Alex Tanguay in 2010-11.

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Player           CapHit  GVT  GVS
Curtis Glencross $2.55M 10.4  5.7
Olli Jokinen     $3.0M  10.6  4.6
Miikka Kiprusoff $5.83M 17.0  3.4
Scott Hannan     $1.0M   3.2  2.1
T.J. Brodie      $0.74M  2.3  1.9
Derek Smith      $0.7M   2.1  1.8
Blair Jones      $0.5M   1.4  1.5
Alex Tanguay     $3.5M   9.1  1.4
Paul Byron       $0.55M  1.3  1.3

Olli Jokinen, Miikka Kiprusoff and Alex Tanguay all earned value for the dollar, but the former is up for a new deal, and the latter two are signed until age 37 – what are the odds they’ll keep this up? Still, they should all be applauded for their 2011-12 seasons.

Otherwise Calgary has found its value in entry-level and replacement-level players finding ways to chip in 1-3 goals of value apiece.

Most of the team understandably finished within a goal of breaking even, like Chris Butler, Lee Stempniak, Roman Horak, Pierre-Luc Leblond, Guiillaume Desbiens, David Moss, Raitis Ivanans, Brett Carson, Leland Irving, Krys Kolanos and Lance Bouma. In most cases these players were paid so little that they really needn’t do much to earn their keep.

Now let’s look at some players that should go for a horseback ride with Ken King next time.

Poor Value Players

The theory is that the majority of a team’s top-paid players (generally their top three) need to out-perform their contracts for a team to make the play-offs.  Miikka Kiprusoff will earn his dough, but Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester will not.

Player          CapHit  GVT  GVS
Jay Bouwmeester $6.68M  4.4 -13.5
Mike Cammalleri $6.0M   4.2 -11.7
Cory Sarich     $3.6M   0.8  -8.4
Matt Stajan     $3.5M   1.4  -7.4
Jarome Iginla   $7.0M  12.3  -5.5
Anton Babchuk   $2.5M   0.8  -5.1
Blake Comeau    $2.5M   0.9  -5.0
Tim Jackman     $0.55M -3.3  -3.9
Henrik Karlsson $0.86M -2.4  -3.8
Mikael Backlund $1.27M -1.3  -3.8
Mark Giordano   $4.0M   6.6  -3.0
Tom Kostopoulos $0.92M -1.5  -3.0
Greg Nemisz     $1.05M -0.3  -2.0
Note: Cammalleri and Comeau include time with other teams

While Jay Bouwmeester is a solid defenseman who does all the heavy lifting for the Flames, he was given the type of contract usually reserved for a two-way Norris finalists like Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara, Nicklas Lidstrom or Drew Doughty – not a 25-point shut-down defenseman. Comparable players like Dan Girardi and Dan Hamhuis, for example, have cap hits between $3.5M and $4.5M. Even if the Flames had another heavy lifter to unleash Bouwmeester’s full potential, it’s doubtful his contract could ever be classified as a bargain – and they dealt Jordan Leopold and a 3rd rounder for the few days of lead time to negotiate that wonderful deal.

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Bouwmeester is unfortunately just the first of several defensemen on the list, including Cory Sarich, who was signed to a 5-year, 18-million dollar deal after back-to-back 15-point seasons in Tampa Bay, where he played just 18 minutes a game – same as Shane O’Brien. Anton Babchuk was just given a 2-year, $5 million dollar deal despite his inability to be safely used at even-strength, and Mark Giordano’s unfortunate injury will leave him a few goals short of earning his keep this year.

Up front that veteran fourth line of Matt Stajan, Tim Jackman and Tom Kostopoulos was paid almost five million bucks, but played 3-4 goals worse than an AHL-calibre line. For that same money they could have gotten 14.3 more goals in value, which equates to over 4 points in the standings, so this is one of those cases where your depth line could make you or break you. 

Finally, “the Calgary Tower” Henrik Karlsson (is it wise to be nicknamed after something that doesn’t move?) negates the edge Miikka Kiprusoff gave them in nets.  Calgary’s back-ups are a combined 1-7-4 in 12 starts, thanks mostly to Karlsson’s horrible 20% Quality Start percentage. A solid back-up would get at least double those 6 points in 12 starts, enough for them to be sitting comfortably in 6th, spooning the Blackhawks.


The bottom line is Calgary has 9 over-achievers and 13 under-achievers this year, including 2 of their top 3 most highly paid players (3 of 4 if you include Cammalleri) – not very good.

The Flames have so far generated 87 goals more than a team of replacement-level AHL players would theoretically have managed, and you typically need 120 to make the playoffs. That actually might be an average return on the investment if they had a payroll like the Islanders, Avalanche or Stars, but for a team with the 5th highest cap hit in the league, it’s quite poor – they should have a GVT of 133 given their budget. 

Even if you give the Flames credit for losing Ales Kotalik, at a team-level they’re right near the bottom of the league in cap management, barely above clubs like Toronto, Buffalo and Montreal. 

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  • Really good stuff. I’ve always maintained Bouwmeester was about $2M overpaid and that seems to be reflected here.

    The Flames 4th line’s contributions were suppressed by terrible SH%, while Glencross and Jokinen are good value in part due to favorable luck. Both will regress to the mean a bit next year.

    That’s not an issue for Jackman or Glencross, but the Flames need to keep this in mind when talking to Jokinen this summer. If he gets a $1-2M raise and falls back to a 5-7 GVT player, his value is to the club drastically diminishes.

        • Graham


          My final conclusion is that our man crush on Iginla is like Toronto to Sundin. Nobody in the rest of the league gives a F*%# while our rivals think it’s funny and hope we keep on with the same old same old.

          If Iggy was the best captain in the game(??) He would have started the last four seasons as a force and be plus 20 at season’s end. What did we get? No back check to be seen til game 50. Iginla IS the problem with the Flames. I’d take 10 less goals a year from him in exchange for leadership any day.

          I wonder what Feaster meant when he said fool me once……..

          • RexLibris

            “Sounding accomplished zero compared to iggy..”

            “Is he trying to ‘Sounding’ Engrish?”

            “I don’t know but the man love is strong with this one.”

            Well…. He has the nobility and credentials I agree but that was not the point. To some extent, I can’t blame his apathy at the start of the past 4 years with a repackaged garbage line-up that he had to grin and bear. But he also had 7 million reasons to give it a college try at the beginning of each season.

  • the forgotten man

    Unless Jokinen signs for what he is getting now…let him walk. Age and averages only point to this being his high watermark til he retires…frankly his play lately with the chips down, I wouldn’t even answer his agent’s calls.

  • the forgotten man

    the numbers dont lie, does any think that the flames brass actually refer to such data in the decision making process? obviously darryl wasnt to fond of numbers as illustrated my some of the contracts. wow cammy is having a very dismal year, granted his time in montreal factors greatly.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Wow that is a really big smile on Bouwmeester’s face.

    Pic must’ve been taken before the 3 consecutive years of missed playoffs. (since he arrived actually)

  • xis10ce

    Some questions come to mind.

    1) Alex Tanguay’s GVS seems really low given his salary and GVT? Is this due to the injuries he has sustained this year?

    2) Yes Cammi is on the low end, but how does Bourque look? Would he have been worse or better? Also makes me wonder how each has preformed relative to the time they have spent on their new teams after their trade.

    3) Seems Matt Stajan (given recent evidence; albeit unsustainable at his current rate) would have a much higher GVS if we had given him the opportunity to prove himself in a role greater than 4th line center earlier in the season, so I guess we should take his GVS with a grain of salt?

    4) As KW mentioned with TJ and Mickis we really need to consider their PDO and therefore SH%.

    5) I love the KW reverse curse. I know Glencross with come back down to earth but until it does I am reminded of the Simpsons Season 22 Episode: MoneyBART where Lisa coaches Barts Baseball team.

    Bart: “you’re benching me? But I’m on a hot streak!”
    Lisa: “hot streaks are a statistical anomoly and are not real.”
    Bart: “I wish you were a statistical anomoly”
    Lisa: “well there’s a 97% chance I’m not, so sit down.”

    • 1. Tanguay is a slight bargain for his current level of play, but that long-term contract is going to get ugly as he ages. And yes, he’d have certainly finished higher if it weren’t for the games lost to injury. Will Jokinen get a similar deal?

      2. Great point. Bourque’s contract is worse than Cammalleri’s, so it was a good deal for that perspective.

      3. Yes, Matt Stajan (and Anton Babchuk) weren’t given the opportunity to produce, which certainly lowered their value.

      4. Yes, GVS is a great starting point and it makes sense to dig deeper on a case-by-case basis using more advanced metrics like PDO.

      5. Even when he comes back down to Earth, Curtis Glencross is very unlikely to show up on the list of the overpaid.

  • RexLibris

    A nice read, Robert. Thanks for breaking that down.

    Here is a question I ask every time I see a team consistently underperform despite a high-salary roster: assuming that the ownership came by their money through industry, financial savvy, and a modicum of intelligence, how on earth can they support this wasteful and inefficient entreprise?

    Manchester United spends almost 30% more than their annual revenue despite it being amongst the highest sports revenues in the world, putting them consistently in the red (pardon the pun).

    Murray Edwards doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who would accept this kind of spending return imbalance in any of his investments or business interests, so why accept it in the Flames?

    I know sports teams are essentially high-priced toys, but if an owner is serious about his “hobby” and has even a passing interest in it’s success, then how can they justify routinely supporting a management group that so willfully loses money? I know, the losing money argument is something debatable, but…

    • Kent once addressed this point. The Flames are making money hand over fist, selling out every night – why change?

      Heck – Edmonton’s been in the toilet for years and their fans wouldn’t trade places with anyone.

      Even Toronto sells out Air Canada Centre with ridiculous ticket prices, and leads the league in merchandise sales despite awful performance.

      Where is the incentive for any of them to shake things up?

      • RexLibris

        I think to varying degrees each team has “shaken things up”.

        Toronto hired Burke with the talking points being specifically that “mediocrity is no longer acceptable. This ownership group is as committed to winning as any other in the league”. I think we can just about close the book on Burke’s tenure in Toronto.

        Calgary appeared to change things this season in bringing in Feaster and Weisbrod and re-focusing on a different style of player at the draft. Not much, perhaps, but enough to convince the fan base to give it a try.

        Edmonton has had perhaps the biggest shakeup, or maybe on par with Toronto, in changing ownership, coaches, GMs (regardless of the Lowe/Tambellini debates, the title has changed hands), trainers, scouts, and players (both vets and relative newcomers).

        I actually do believe that there is tremendous pressure to improve these teams and that, for the most part, each and every one of the management groups wants to win a Stanley Cup. Where they differ and what dictates their actions that are interpreted by fans as a kind of indifferent malaise is in their relative abilites to effect the outcome they claim to desire.

        Most CEOs want their company to be the best in the world. Those intentions are worth anything if they don’t also have the resources, drive, competency, and luck to achieve those goals.

        In the NHL world, the resources amongst the three teams named are more or less equal (due to salary cap), the drive is probably about even because there are individuals who have championships on all three management teams. It is in the difficult-to-derive areas of competency and luck where we are left with nothing but faith and extrapolation to colour in our opinions and perspectives.

        I also think that in the back of the minds of most NHL organizations there is the concern that the love and adulation that a sports team can elicit could potentially be turned to equally energetic derision and spite.

        Besides, building a winning team would make everybody’s job (and life) so much easier.

    • everton fc

      Man U wouldn’t be able to do what they do if the EPL had some sort of cap. They’d still be top of the table because their youth development is top drawer… In other words, United would win the league most years with a cap in place due to their youth program, and their ability to keep players long-term (Giggs, Scholes… and so forth)

      As an Everton fan, we remain competitive… Without spending too much. We don’t win the league… But we are competitive in the FA/Carling Cups… And for the Europa League positions… And we can beat anyone in the world most days. Not everyday. But on a given day, if that makes sense. And the fans respect this. Most of them, anyways. I know I do.

      In times like these, it’s smart business to try and be competitive w/o going into the red. It is smart business to have superior scouting to ensure you get the most for your money. Talented players can be found for less dollars. A winning envrionment will keep talented players around. For less.

      Glencross signed at hometown discount. If you can make these types of deals… You should be able to win.

      We make these deals with the wrong players. We all talk about the Stajan’s and the Bouwmeesters… Evidence is there, under Feaster. His offer to Richards was the first sign. Absolute madness. Even if we had Richards here, we’d probably be right where we are now. Right in the dogfight for the 8th spot.

      Babchuk was the 2nd bad move, albeit less damaging. I believe there will be others. We have not solved this problem. We have no identity. We are grasping at straws, celebrating moves like picking up Comeau off waivers…

      Your last paragraph is spot-on. We’ll never achieve success, until we develop, form the top down, bottom up, a winning culture, a winning organization, a winning identity.

      • RexLibris

        First, I think you have to start with a culture change that will lead, hopefully, to a winning mentality and then progress to a winning identity. That is what the Oilers under Tambellini started with in ’10 at the draft. They emphasized, using their draft position as an advantage, to select players who were both talented, showed some hockey-sense, and had “character”.

        I don’t think the Flames are necessarily lagging in some of those areas as far as their prospects are concerned. Read up on Jon Merrill and Max Nicastro to see about the prospects on “winning” organizations and a shuddering lack of character.

        As an Oilers fan I was hoping that the Flames would land Richards because I knew what that would net them: an extension of perpetual mediocrity. I see the same potential if they manage to sign Parise. As a hockey fan, I empathize with you about the prospect of that future.

        As for Man U, their ownership seems a little out of touch to me. I read a recent article about their financial issues (nearly $1 billion in debt) and their having already spent all and more of their windfall from selling Ronaldo to Real Madrid. On top of that, of the hundreds of millions of dollars that they bring in annually they are spending more than that on a regular basis. That is unsustainable and in a league that has a history of teams changing hands between questionable owners that should be disturbing to most.

        Here is a question I have been dying to ask a bona fide football fan: are you content with the structure of a league such that a smaller market has almost no chance of ever achieving a league title in the top division because of finances? Without a draft and the institution of a spending cap (or even luxury tax, although MLB has shown that concept to be bankrupt, pardon the pun) the chance for real turnover and anything close to a level playing field seem almost nil. It might not seem to significant a problem for a fan of Arsenal, Man U, Man C, Leeds or even Everton. But a fan of Shrewsbury or Hereford seems to have only the hope of one day eventually attaining promotion and then only to try and survive. I know that an international amateur draft would never work with football being such an international sport, but it also seems that hope for a small-market team is only ever a dead-end street.

        I know as an Oilers fan, it seemed like during the 90s and early 2000s a fan cheered for the team because each win helped to keep the team alive and in town, while a loss was perceived to put the team closer to extinction. That continual futility was exhausting.

        Last but not least, further to your earlier point about scouting, if there is one area of the Oilers organization about which I am becoming almost unabashedly proud it is in their scouting and player development. The stories I have heard about Sillinger and Moores’ approach to bringing these young men along in the AHL and junior ranks really fills me with pride after such disastrous results under the previous regimes.

        • everton fc

          Agreed on Man U’s situation. Newer ownership, out-of-touch indeed. As for the lower division teams (Leeds is no longer a competitive, top-tier team, as they got relegated years ago, but I catch what you are saying here) the great thing about European soccer, UK included, is the relegation battles, as well as all the other “Cup” contests – Carling and FA in England, Europa League, and so forth. Teams can qualify for these, as we’ve seen this year w/Cardiff v. Liverpool at Wembley for the Carling Cup. To me, this is a huge attraction for “futbol” fans all over Europe. Something lacking in the North American sports…

          You look at Swansea and Norwich this season Stoke and Wigan from years past… You can see these types of squads can stay out of the relegation zone, while bigger teams like Newcastle and West Ham can sometimes go down. Again, huge.

          All the Oilers need are a few solid d-men and a bit more depth and they’ll be dangerous. They really should do their best to market and sell to their players the glory years – the Boys of the Bus years. Ryan Smyth could be one of the best leaders in the league in some time. I’d keep him very close to everything they do in the future.


  • Graham

    ‘at a team-level they’re right near the bottom of the league in cap management’

    Yep… and scouting / drafting, player development and overall ‘asset’ management.

    Does anyone have any idea of how the Flames rate vs the rest of the league in front office spending? I’m wonder if our front office issues (scouting etc) relate to a lack of a big league budget?

  • everton fc

    I’m going to half-disagree with your very premise: while vitally important value per dollar is not “everything” in a cap world.

    Building a hockey team is really a two-variable optimization: value vs. cap, and value vs. roster space. That is why you can’t just fill your cap space with high-value sub-million GVT 2-3 grinders. At some point you hit the roster limit and you need to spend more money on the roster spots you do have… and those players tend to offer less value-per-dollar, and quite rightly so as their value-per-roster-space is higher.

    The other point is that empty cap space provides no value. It may, circumstancially, be preferable to spend that cap space on players that have lower theoretical value than what they are being paid for, but provide more value than nothing. Actually that would often be the case with UFAs.

    In other words, it’s easy to get great bang-for-buck on players like Scott Hannan and TJ Brodie are great value, but you can’t just fill your roster with 18 of them, and the more expensive guys tend to have worse value, but you pay them anyway because you have the space and your roster is maxed out.

    Another point, and one you touch on: IMHO GVT is an overextended metric. I understand the attraction of a WAR-style metric for hockey, but I think GVT falls short. It holds no context information (such as quality of opposition) and makes no provision for puck luck. It`s fine for what it does, but I feel Hockey Prospectus tends to overuse it, and use it in places where it’s not just suitable. It’s not an all-encompassing measure of ability and even as a measure of contribution it undervalues defense and “tough minutes”. So players for whom a large part of the contribution resides in eating tough minutes will end up undervalued. Conversely, players who generate offense on soft minutes (such as Ville Leino last year) are going to end up overvalued.

    (Not that I have anything better to suggest, mind you.)

    This puts a a bit of a double-whammy on expensive players who play tough minutes as a large part of their contribution, as GVT undervalues their contribution and then they command a premium for their high value-to-roster-space ratio.

    Nothing that invalidates the piece by any means, just things to keep in mind and remember when rushing to maximize value per dollar. 🙂

    • Very well stated.

      If it weren’t so tedious to read long caveats I’d remind people of such things as a preface to every article.

      Except, of course, that GVT is overused. In the absence of an alternative, our choice is either to use GVT, or simply write nothing at all.

      Then again, maybe those that say GVT is overused are in fact be trying to say that we write too much …

      • loudogYYC

        I don’t know that “overused” is the right word, so much as “overapplied”. I don’t want to go too much into it because this article is a perfectly good use of the metric, with caveats that defensive tough-minute eaters are probably undervalued by it.

        It’s when it’s used to do things like predict future performance, especially future goaltender performance, that I have trouble. Or when a single season’s worth of GVT is used to suggest player movements. (I don’t mean VUKOTA, I am aware that that is a different animal.) But, again, this really isn’t the right forum to express my pet peeves. 😉

    • PrairieStew

      Yes GVT does not take in to account quality of opposition, but does WAR take in to account facing good pitchers and bad ones ? Not sure.

      The free flowing nature of hockey does not lend itself as well as baseball to these precise metrics.

      Someone made a point about the potentially declining value of Tanguay’s contract. I think all of them have to be viewed with a long term lens. If you look at Iginla – the 7 million spent on him is much less relative to the cap than when he first signed that deal, and he’s had a 50 goal and 43 goal season under this current deal, so you have to take the whole package into consideration. You need to do that looking forward as well – something that Edmonton didn’t do with Horcoff or Hemsky – and I hope Calgary doesn’t repeat with Jokinen.

      • RexLibris

        I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in baseball sabermetrics, but intuitively, whereas all players in a baseball batting lineup will face the same pitchers, hockey players are explicitly matched up against certain opponents. It stands to reason that relative strength of opposition would be a bigger factor for the latter, as in baseball everyone likely ends up facing roughly the same caliber of opposition when aggregated over a long season whereas this is explicitly not the case in hockey.

        If baseball managers could swap pitchers at will and could “save” their aces’ pitches to pitch against the most dangerous batters while using weaker pitchers against less dangerous batters, it would be a different story.

  • loudogYYC

    This article has created some amazing comments! Minus a few, this has to be one of the best I’ve seen yet.

    Thank you, Robert, MathMan, PrairieStew, EvertonFC, Rex. Good stuff.

  • RexLibris

    Great article Robert. What a picture of JayBo! You can sure see the Edmonton in him…..In terms of money, I think JBo might be an even worse bargain when you consider the whole package.

    He does a reasonably good job as a shutdown guy, but doesn’t use his size at all. Which has obviously become a lot more noticeable to us now that he is in the west. I think my biggest problem is how little JBo effects the game on a tangible level. He doesn’t hit enough for a dman of his size and skating ability.And I think we all know that hes not setting up scoring plays with his passing, or scoring himself (oh god, will he ever score 10 in a season again???). As well, there is no way to defend his 300 shots and 11 goals as a flame. That is more than a big enough sample in my eyes to prove what a mediocre shooter he actually is (or has been here).

    My friends who defend JBo always point to the amount of minutes he eats, but that is only a bigger indictment of him as a player to me. Its about what you do with those minutes that counts. We obviously don’t have the defensive depth right now to keep JBo on the bench, the guy has to play. A lot. If this team is going to improve in the remaining years of his contract though (which I see as doubtful…as big a homer as I am), it has to involve less ice time for him. Especially on the power play. I really doubt we could his contract right now without receving something equally in return (what up, Wade Redden!!), so I don’t see a trade as being remotely possible. We are stuck with this guy for another two years….Oh, and dont put too much passion into your game Jay…..looks/plays like he is writing a math test out there most nights….

    My two cents. Sorry for the rant. Long time reader, first time poster. This site is consistently good more often than our team. GO FLAMES GO!

  • RexLibris

    I had a look at the revamped NHLnumbers site after it was relaunched and just for fun I did a cost-analysis of both Hemsky and Iginla dating back a few years and was surprised to see that their points-per-dollar amounts were almost indistinguishable. They were identical to the hundreth decimal place. Because Iginla was paid roughly $2.5 million more a year than Hemsky during the period in question it also means that Iginla produced more, but for the same “value” Hemsky was producing on the Oilers, including his time missed due to injury.

    It is these metrics which can be so illuminating about some management decisions (re-signing Hemsky, for instance).

    Just thought I’d give a little nod to another of the Nation’s sites, there.