Johnny Gaudreau and the likelihood of injury

Johnny Gaudreau, the Flames’ emerging superstar, is currently locked in a negotiation with the Flames over his next contract. Many argue “he’s our best player and if he’s asking for $7 million or $8 million… he’s worth it. Pay the man.” However, others argue that he’s not worth that kind of money. 

A central argument against him getting paid like other top flight young stars is that he is too small and is bound to get injured in the near future. 

“He’s one bad slash away from never playing again.” 

“His body won’t hold up over the years.”

Is this really a legitimate concern?

Gaudreau is small and doesn’t hit a lot. But he is also incredibly shifty and doesn’t get hit a lot. In fact, he’s never been seriously injured for more than a game or two in his entire hockey career. Not one serious injury. He’s played more games in the past two seasons than Sam Bennett and Nathan MacKinnon, and has missed fewer games due to injury through his career than Sean Monahan. And even if Connor McDavid plays the entire 2016-17 season, he will have played less than Gaudreau in his first two years. But he’s small… so an injury is just around the corner, right?

If we look at all the forwards selected in the past 35 years the average player (including anybody who played at least one game) has a career lasting approximately 240 games. Tall players (6’3” and taller) played an average of 236 games, average-sized players (5’11 – 6’2”) played an average of 252 games and short players (5’10 and smaller) played an average of 206 games. A small player, therefore, plays approximately 85% as many games as the average NHL forward. 

Gaudreau is not an average NHL player though, he’s an elite offensive talent.

Gaudreau’s point-per-game pace thus far in his career is 0.89, and I expect that pace to slowly increase over the next decade. Let’s compare the same group of players as above, but pull out only the ones that recorded a point-per-game pace of 0.80 and above. Broken down this way, tall players averaged 1,044 games, average-sized players averaged 957 games and short players averaged 914 games. 

So Gaudreau appears to be destined for a long, long productive NHL career… but he’s sure to get injured and his productivity will fall off a cliff in his late 20’s. Must be.

Screen Shot 2016-09-15 at 10.38.33 PM

We’ve all seen a variety of the red line in the graph above: the production decline of the average NHLer. The player reaches his peak around 24-25 and slowly starts to decline into their early 30s, when most players’ careers end. 

The blue graph above is the same age graph for the best elite short players of the past 35 years – which I trust Gaudreau will be one of when his career is done. Included in the list: Mark Recchi, Dino Cicarelli, Theo Fleury, Hakan Loob, Ray Whitney, Joe Mullen, Pat Verbeek, Marty St. Louis, Dale Hunter, Pat LaFontaine, Paul Kariya, Ray Ferraro, Cliff Ronning, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Saku Koivu, Pavel Bure, Steve Sullivan, Dave Gagner, Marc Savard, Danny Briere and Brett Hull. Mats Zuccarello and Tyler Johnson were not included because they haven’t played enough, like Gaudreau. 

When we look at the short elite players’ age curve they don’t tend to hit their stride until their late 20’s (which makes sense because often make the NHL a few years later than their counterparts). Incredibly, their production remains high until their mid-30s as well (the average age that these players’ scoring starts to really fall off is 35). 

CONCLUSION

Eric Lindros, the 6’4″ perfect hockey specimen, was ranked the 54th best player of all time by the time he was 25 years of age, and then a series of brutal concussions turned him into a shell of himself. Mario Lemieux, 6’4″ and maybe the best hockey hands we’ve ever seen, was one of the best players to ever play the game and was likely to rival Wayne Gretzky’s all-time point total record. At the age of 26 he missed his first significant portion of time with a significant back problem that would bother him throughout his career. This, along with bouts with cancer, kept him from registering the greatest career in NHL history. And Bo Jackson, one of the greatest athletes the world would ever know, who was also built like a fridge, at the age of 27, suffered a career-ending hip injury on a routine tackle on a running play. Never played football again.

Is it possible that Johnny takes a lethal slash and never plays again? Is it possible he gets a head shot like Marc Savard or Paul Kariya and never plays at the same level? Yes, it’s certainly possible, but injuries can happen to anybody at anytime. Small, average-size or tall. He’s an elite superstar and deserves the $7M+ contract. Banking on the notion he deserves less money because he’s bound to get injured has no empirical proof.

  • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

    Treleving should not eff around with this guy. They are 1.5 mil apart apparently and he wants to pay him more like monahan instead of O’Reilly or Tarasenko but there are other 6m comparables.
    This World Cup has been dirty and could result in injury for anyone ,and without repercussions from the NHL.
    Even if he is insured I don’t think that will cover an 8 year deal and 7.5/year

  • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

    I would think a deal will get done but the Flames are getting into dangerous water with this contract. If he doesn’t have one by the end of the World Cup then what happens ? Does he go to camp without contract or stay home?

  • piscera.infada

    Couldn’t agree more. The “more likely to get injured” argument is the crutchiest crutch argument there is. You don’t even need a great deal of empirical data to prove that the logic itself is flawed.

  • freethe flames

    We sit and wait for something to get done. Something will happen but what? Johnny has taken (by all accounts that I have read and heard) a hands off approach letting his management team do the work on negotiations. He has said he does not want to bothered with it during the WC but that does not prevent BT and Johnny’s managers from bridging the gap. Keep working at it and get it done.

  • supra steve

    Some of the RFAs still without a contract:

    Gaudreau

    Ristolainen

    Nichushkin

    Trouba

    Lindholm

    Rakell

    R. Strome

    Kucherov

    This is just business. The agents are pushing for higher pay rates for their more elite young clients. The GMs are trying to keep a little extra in the bank to pay the next players that hit free agency.

    This isn’t 1992, these players know how the business works. They know the money they leave on the table won’t go into a greedy owner’s pockets, but into their team mate’s pockets. I don’t believe there is going to be a lot of hard feelings that come out of this negotiation. Just my opinion.

    • Burnward

      Yep.

      Every dollar counts on both sides. Especially when you’re talking 7-8 year deals.

      Also, the possibility of Trump about to crash the US economy (Please God no) has to scare the heck out of the cheque signers.

  • OKG

    Issue with paying Johnny is not injury it’s repeatability. If Johnny signs for 8 million then has a 69 point season it will be poor value for the production.

  • Just.Visiting

    I’m probably in the camp that says pay him, accept that you’re probably paying a bit more than you’d like in the near term and a bit less than what he could otherwise have received in the market in the mid to longer term. And go for the longest term that I can negotiate.

    How one looks at this in the context of comparisons is a function of what each of us regards the measure of the comparison to be.

    Is it purely the number of points that he is predicted to put up over the course of the year and the remaining years of the contract? By this measure, he’s clearly not Patrick Kane at this stage and is likely to cross over with Kane at some point.

    Or is a really large component of the equation the pure entertainment value of having someone who will do something exciting on almost every shift he plays?

    In that context, he already is Patrick Kane, and the numerical comparisons don’t matter as much.

    To a large degree, he is what makes people turn on the games and stay watching, and that has a value that exceeds whatever the pure numbers analysis may dictate.

    Whether I agree with the salary structure in professional sports is, of course, a completely different question.

  • deantheraven

    Yes, he deserves 7 million+ (say 7.5), but if his ask is over that or his term is too short (say less than 5 years) you can understand from the Flames perspective why this deal isn’t done yet.
    It’s not only his size that’s a possible issue.