In an offseason where several defensemen received massive contracts, the hockey community unanimously approved of the Islanders’ deal to lock up Adam Pelech which was announced on Friday.
Over the last few years, Pelech, who turns 27 this coming week, has transformed under Barry Trotz to become one of the best defensive defensemen in the NHL. His body of work includes down the likes of Sidney Crosby, Brad Marchand and even David Pasternak during this past playoff run. Despite his impressive play, Pelech will still make less than several of his counterparts who seem to be nowhere near as effective including Edmonton’s Darnell Nurse — who signed an eight-year, $74M contract — and Seth Jones, who was inked for eight years at $76M in Chicago, despite playing some of his worst hockey over the last year.
These specific players are not the same style of player that Pelech is, as he is a stay-at-home defender as opposed to one that takes chances on the offensive side. “It’s great if I can contribute, but at the end of the day, I’m a defensive player and I think it pays dividends to stick within your own game and do what you know makes you successful and the team successful,” Pelech said to the media during a Zoom press conference. “I don’t think there’s going to be any reason to force anything with a new contract or anything, I just think it’s just staying within yourself, play your game and do what’s best for the team.”
Despite this, it will be interesting to see how Pelech’s contract may play out based on those that are similar to him.
Pelech is basically the next Marc-Edouard Vlasic who had three seasons show up in Pelech's top eight comps (I only use one for each player). Vlasic lasted about five years before falling off so term is a bit of an issue, but it was probably worth it to get the AAV down. pic.twitter.com/yxnxgJxnWp
— dom at the athletic (@domluszczyszyn) August 6, 2021
The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn has posted comparables for each player who signed a contract this offseason based on his analytical model, and while I do not understand the first thing about what makes his model tick, it is fun to highlight some of the similar names he brings up.
Lyszczyszyn highlights Vlasic as the equivalent to Pelech, explaining that he showed up three times in Pelech’s top eight.
For years, Vlasic was an unbelievable shutdown defender, albeit one that was almost a hidden gem. He allowed his defensive partners, mainly Brett Burns, run wild and try to generate offense that both he and Pelech do not contribute. Perhaps my biggest worry with the Pelech contract is the term. At 26 years old, eight years is a long time, and it is almost certain that he will not be worth $5.75 million at age 34.
Now to be fair, that is okay and exactly what a team in “win-now” mode should do: offer more overall money and years to keep the salary cap hit low, something Isles fans should expect to see with the Casey Cizikas contract when those terms are announced. Regardless of age, Vlasic was a positive contributor for the San Jose Sharks until his age 30 season, according to Lyszczyzsyn’s model.
For those like me that tend to prefer stats that they can dive into myself, Vlasic had a 44.9% Corsi for, according to Hockey Reference. This was the year his rate began to take a bit of a nosedive, as he was at 49% or higher the previous six years. While Vlasic and Pelech do not typically have great Corsi numbers due to the strength of their opposition, the former certainly saw his play take a hit during that 2017-18 season. Since then, he has been a minus player, granted the Sharks have been bad these last few years, and his point totals took a dramatic hit from roughly 30 points a season to 15.
While Pelech is a different player, Islanders fans should be happy if he can maintain at this point for the next four years. If he starts to lose a step at age 30, that will be more than OK if the Isles have managed to make it to a Stanley Cup Final or two.
Giordano was the fifth best player comparable for Pelech after this past season, and Isles fans should pray to the hockey gods that Pelech ages like the newest Seattle Kraken. Since his age 26 season, Giordano has played even better, contributing at a positive rate as recently as 33-year-old back in 2016-17 when he had an average game score of nearly three based on Lyszczyszyn’s numbers. Even at 37 this past year, Giordano was an absolute stud, playing to a positive Corsi percentage of 51.9% and scoring more points than Pelech has in any season, 26 points vs. Pelech’s career best of 21.
While we can compare players, it is also interesting to compare the contracts that are similar to Pelech’s $5.75 million average annual value. Currently, Pelech holds the 41st largest cap hit among NHL defenders, lagging behind far lesser players like Tyler Myers ($6 million), the Rangers’ Jacob Trouba ($8 million) and the previously mentioned Vlasic ($7 million).
It is interesting to see how the age of many of the defenders in this $6M or so range, with many reaching the ends of their peaks like Erik Karlsson (29 years old), Drew Doughty (28 years old) and Roman Josi (29 years old).
For the Islanders to avoid arbitration and buy the prime years of Pelech’s unrestricted free agency, that is an overwhelming positive. The NHL is plagued by old players getting contracts that are far too long but are almost necessary because the players were not paid enough early on. The Islanders were able to blend the two by offering Pelech an eight year deal at a fair value. Rather than a bridge deal or one year deal from arbitration that would just lead to an eight year deal, possibly at a higher value, for a 27 year old Pelech, the Isles locked him up before age was a major factor.
Adam Pelech, signed 8x$5.75M by NYI, is one of the league's top shutdown defencemen who is more responsible than anyone else for the Isles' analytical glowup since the 2020 bubble. #Isles pic.twitter.com/ghSDuCqqbA
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) August 6, 2021
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