Two players on the New Jersey Devils, among others, are eligible for a contract extension that I would say most fans want to stay in New Jersey. The first is goaltender Cory Schneider. Given that the Devils traded a top-ten pick in 2013 for him and that he's been very good at stopping pucks in the last three seasons, this is obvious. Lou was surprisingly open (as open as it gets for Lou) in telling Tom Gulitti that they're working on an extension right now. In that same post at Fire & Ice, Lou brought up the other one that he'll talk to about an extension: Andy Greene.
His case is more interesting. There should be no question as to who was the best defenseman on the team last season. He was a unanimous selection among us when we did our awards for this season. With now-Oiler defenseman Mark Fayne, they were a boss pairing. Greene stands to make $3.5 million in this coming season before hitting unrestricted free agency next summer. This will make him the highest paid defensemen on the team, but only by $250,000. Since his role has been important on the team, I think it's fair to think he'll get a raise with any contract extension. Let's try to get handle on how much of a raise Greene should get.
Given that he plays a significant amount of minutes and plays against tough competition, he should compared with similar defensemen in the NHL. Extra Skater's player dashboard allows for this pretty easily. I decided to impose three limits to filter defenders who played a lot and against a stiff level of competition at even strength last season. I used a minimum games played of 41 (that's half a season), a TOI/60 (time on ice per 60) of 21 minutes, and a QoC TOI% (quality of competition, measured by time on ice percentage) of 28.5. This left me with 54 defensemen. It's a list that included the very best in the league (e.g. Drew Doughty, Zdeno Chara, P.K. Subban), the very good (e.g. Greene, T.J. Brodie), the up-and-comers (e.g. Victor Hedman), and the used-too-much (e.g. Dan Girardi, Andrew MacDonald). There are a few names that surprised in me in not making the cut, but it's a good set that represents Greene's peers. For what it's worth, 48 of these 54 are signed as a number are up for new deals, but given that they're all for players under 27, I doubt they'd drive Greene's price up too much. Nevertheless, here's how Greene stacked up among the 54.
Believe it or not, Greene is one of the older defensemen among this group of 54 defensemen. Only 16 of the group are 30 or older and only seven are currently older than Greene: Ron Hainsey, Niklas Kronwall, Francois Beauchemin, Andrei Markov, Brian Campbell, Jan Hejda, and Chara. While Greene isn't particularly old, it's not common for a tough-minute, big-minute defender to be past 30. This is a definite factor for any extension. Also, believe it or not, Greene is below the median of the group in terms of salary. Only 14 of the 48 signed defensemen are making less than $4 million next season. Over half of that group is under 25 so they may stand to make much more in their next contract.
Let's delve into the meat of the stats. Greene is among the top defensemen in terms of Corsi percentage. When he was on the ice for the Devils, the play often moved forward. His relative Corsi - how much Corsi percentage changes when he steps on the ice - was also positive and just outside of the top-ten in this group. Combined with his sub-50% offensive zone starts, that's a legitimate percentage. The fact he's got one of the lowest relative offensive zone start percentages means that Peter DeBoer put Greene (and Fayne) in difficult situations last season and they often came out ahead. He also didn't have particularly strong teammates in 5-on-5 play either given he also had a low QoT (quality of teammate) TOI% relative to the group of 54. This all points to Greene being very good in terms of possession as he wasn't given a lot of favorable situations. Given that this is the result of good play - positioning, decision making, passing, etc. - I think it's fair to say that Greene was really good among a strong set of peers last season. Greene was also unfortunate in terms of PDO; he's got one of the lowest last season. A season without a goalie over 40 behind him will certainly help him look better in 5-on-5 Since he's been good for a few seasons now, it stands to reason that the man has to get paid.
What will hold his earning power back a bit is the offense. Greene would best be categorized as a two-way defenseman. He good in both ends of the rink, but he's not productive enough to be considered an offensive defenseman. He definitely helps the play going forward, but he's not often shooting the puck or picking up the points to get that label. Greene's shooting rate of 4 shots per 60 is below median in this group. His production actually doesn't rate too bad. He's also below median but his 32 points did not place him at the lower end. That amount of points was the second time in Greene's has done that in a season. I doubt he's going to suddenly bust out and start putting up points among the league's best in coming seasons. This should keep the price of an extension a little lower. Additionally, Greene does face tough competition but there are others who have had it harder.
Similar Salaries by Stats
Ultimately, this all points to what I originally thought: Greene's very good but he's not an elite defender. He should be expected to get paid among his peers. To get a grasp on what that could be, I isolated several of these stats at Extra Skater and listed those defensemen around him with their salaries for next season. Let's start with the one Greene ranks the best in: CF%
The non-Greene average salary for this group $5.62 million. Only Slava Voynov will be paid less than Greene and that won't last either. Relative Corsi is another stat where Greene looked really good among this set of 54. Here's the group of defenders around him:
Again, most of the group will be paid much more than Greene next season. Jared Spurgeon and maybe Jeff Petry are the exceptions - and also younger than Greene. The non-Greene average salary here is $5.86 million, though that will be adjusted when Petry gets a new contract. But let's get away from possession. Ice time is usually a good rule of thumb as to who a coach trusts. Top defensemen play a lot, so here's the little group close to Greene's TOI/60:
Again, Greene is surrounded by a motley crew of among the best in the league and those who are top on their own teams. Again, Greene is among the lowest paid in this group; I think we can assume that former-Norris Trophy winner Subban is going to get a lot more than $3.5 million. Again, the non-Greene average salary for this group is $5.13 million. Lastly, let's look at raw points from last season.
Greene didn't fare too badly in terms of points among the larger group. Those around him will be making a varying amount, all but Brodie and the currently unsigned duo of Justin Schultz & Jacob Trouba likely to make less than Greene. Even ignoring Trouba and Schultz, the non-Greene average salary is less than the other three stats I picked out. It's still considerably higher at $4.86 million.
Expect a Raise - But For How Long?
I will admit the smaller groups by various stats is a quick and dirty way to find a comparable to Greene. No one stat is going to drive a person's salary. As a whole, though, Greene rates pretty well among his peers but gets paid less than most of them. Several defensemen who produce as much as Greene and are positive possession players against a tough level of competition are making at least $4 million and often much more than that. The median salary of the signed 48 among the 54 filtered out is $4.3 million, actually. Above that mark seems about right. Provided Greene can play as well as he has been in recent seasons, I think he could justify a salary in the $5 million range. So anywhere between $4.5 - $5 million would just be fine with me.
Yet, I would not want the Devils to commit that much for a long period. Greene is 31 now and will turn 32 in the coming season. Again, Greene is already among the older defensemen among my filtered list of 54. That suggests that older defenders aren't usually serving the top-minute, big-minute role on a blueline. Players decline as they get older; and Greene isn't about to be an exception against Father Time anytime soon. It'll be a feat if he continues to play as many games as he does. In Neil Greenberg's excellent post arguing why the Brooks Orpik signing was bad, he notes that not many defensemen play over 40 games in a season past the age of 34. Greene certainly doesn't have Orpik's history of injuries, but it points to how defenders fade out from just appearances - nevermind those who play a lot in their role.
Adding to this crunch is the future of the Devils' defense. The Devils are banking on Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill, and Eric Gelinas to an extent this season and will have Damon Severson among others coming up. In a few years, the hope is that one or two of them could handle big minutes against tough competition - the same role Greene serves. The Devils should absolutely keep Greene around until then but it does mean that an extension shouldn't be too expensive for too long.
Therefore, I would think an extension for three years would be best. In that time, it'll be clear what the Devils really have out of their younger players and hopefully Greene will not be declining too much. The team can then determine whether they want to keep Greene and what role he should serve. I could live with a fourth year, but I think three is best as it would take him to a contract year before he turns 35 in October 2017. As far as cost, again, anything between $4.5 - $5 million would be fine. A little more is OK but I don't see him surpassing $5.5 million - only 15 out of the signed 48 defensemen my set make that much or more anyway. Ideally, the Devils could structure it so he gets a little less by each year and bring down the salary cap cost. But even a contract where the salary matches the cap hit would be fine. The Devils have a ton of space available for 2015-16 and beyond; a rising cap would only add to that.
Agan, I will admit this isn't the most comprehensive way to find comparables for Greene. It is a quick and dirty pulling of data and filtering it from Extra Skater. At the same time, the underlying stats combined with his usage point to Greene being one of the better players in the whole league at his position. He should be paid as such and I expect that. When? Well, the Fire & Ice article stated that Lou will try to begin the conversation this summer. I would think it's done before the season but the team and Greene have plenty of time.
In the mean time, I put the questions to you: Do you have another way of finding comparable players to Greene? If so, how and why? More importantly, what would you pay Greene if you were to offer him a contract extension? Would you keep it relatively short or would you offer more in money and/or term? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about a contract extension for Greene in the comments. Thank you for reading.