Potential. It's the buzz-word that gets every fan pumped about their favorite player and gives GMs nightmares. The problem is, how do we value potential? Every sport is littered with players who vastly outperform their contracts and those who signed mega-deals and didn't live up to them.
Mark Giordano has loads of potential. He's an upside supernova. Putting together a highlight package of hits, pinpoint passes and jaw-dropping goals from his last 2 seasons is a piece of cake. Just watching a video like that would make most fans think he'll be battling Drew Doughty for the Norris over the next 5 years.
The problem, however, is that Giordano is 27 years old and is likely very close to his peak as an NHL defenseman. So that potential we all see may be more due to some flashes of brilliance, but not something he can sustain through 82 games a season. On the bright side, at age 27, he can probably play at his current level of performance for the entire life of his brand new 5-year contract. Giordano is easily a Top-4 defenseman on any team in the NHL, and likely top pairing for at least half the teams in the league.
Read more after the jump.
One concern regarding Gio's new deal is that the Flames have now have $18.3M in cap space committed to just four players on defense in 2011-12 and are likely signaling that Ian White won't be re-signed after this year. Over the last three NHL seasons, the average cap number for a club's Top 4 defensemen has been $13.4m. The Flames' blueline corps needs to perform at a 90th percentile level to justify the money Darryl Sutter has spent on that position. They are also have $56.6M committed for only 18 players, which still leaves them strapped for cap room next year unless they make a deal to offload a contract or two.
So did Darryl Sutter pay for performance or potential?
We can't measure potential, but we can sure measure performance. When Marc Staal signed his new contract, I took a look at how his output and salary compared to some other defensive signings this summer, so let's compare Giordano to a similar group of players.
Below is a table of Giordano versus several other defensemen, using statistics that average their performance over the past 3 seasons. This gives us a better measure of overall talent versus just looking at one season.
At first glance, Giordano's salary doesn't appear to be out of line when compared to the salaries Hamhuis and Volchenkov received in free agency this past summer. He is roughly the same age and signed for slightly less than the other two.
Giordano compared favorably to the rest of the group in GVT, Relative +/-, Goals Against, and Corsi. Frankly, he looks like the best player of the group. The issue with the comparison is that he hasn't been used in the same situations. Gio has faced the easiest competition (Corsi QoC) of any player in the group and has also had the best starting position (Zone Starts).
One thing to note is that Giordano had a 52.7% Zone Start rating in 09-10 compared to a 63.8% in 08-09. He's clearly progressing, and was comparable to Coburn and Regehr last season, but that's only one brush stroke on the canvas of his career.
GVS can be a difficult measure to grasp, but it is essentially a player's GVT rating versus the expected GVT for that given salary. Many defensemen are undervalued by GVS, but the point is to compare with the rest of the group. Again, Giordano falls in the middle of the pack, meaning his raw production is at par for the group in terms of salary, but he is still starting in a better position than the rest.
At this point, Giordano's salary represents more of his potential than his production. If he can continue to produce in terms Corsi and Rel +/- while playing more difficult minutes, then he will have earned his new contract. Until then, he's a tantalizing talent and definitely a good player, but he's being paid for what he might do.