So this is basically becoming Jay Bouwmeester week here at Matchsticks and Gasoline, with Ryan's initial defense of the defenseman against Walker's awful awful list yesterday. Today I'm going to address Bouwmeester's contract, and how it truly compares.
The problem we often encounter while claiming things about Bouwmeester being overpaid is that players are signed under different circumstances. You have RFA's, who can drive their price up to some extent, but unless they're one of the top 4 players in a given position can really only do so much. You have players who sign long-term with the teams that drafted and developed them, giving both hometown discounts and often being signed before they've truly hit their potential. You have players signed right at their prime for cap-circumventing deals, and so on.
Bouwmeester didn't really fit any of these.
First, I should probably talk about where I see Jay Bouwmeester ranking in terms of overall play. He is very very good. He might not be an offensive power house like Mike Green, a big hitter like Dion Phaneuf, nor does he play nasty like Chris Pronger. None of those things are what lead to a great defenseman however. They all can contribute to a great player, but solely as a defenseman, none of these are important. What is important is positioning, anticipating play, skating, gap control, reading intentions, taking away space, and so on. There are very few players who do this as well as Jay Bouwmeester.
Given that, I think I'd safely rank Jay Bouwmeester in the top ten defenseman. Top five is more iffy, because at that point you need to consider the skills that are in addition to true defenseman skills, but top ten is a safe ranking for him. So if he's a top ten defensive player, why is he being paid like the 4th best in the NHL? Simply put, he's not.
Rather, his cap hit is the fourth highest in the NHL. His actual pay this season ranks at 11th overall, with players such as Christian Ehrhoff earning $10M; Brian Campbell $7.14M; and Brent Seabrook, Kevin Bieksa, and James Wisniewski each earning $7M. Still, we don't worry too much about salary (until a team is going underwater, then we freak out about it)- instead we focus on the cap hit, since that more visibly affects who plays for the team.
The fact is, while looking at the ten highest cap hits for defenseman, Jay Bouwmeester probably comes the closest to both having a reasonable cap hit and earning his cap hit. The first thing to do when finding comparables is to throw out contracts of different types: in this case, all RFA contracts. Below is a list of all UFA contracts (whether signed while under team control or as a true UFA).
As you can see, Jay Bouwmeester clearly has the third highest cap hit, but given market circumstances in different offseasons and that the salary cap is rising, I'd argue that his cap hit is pretty much on par with Timonen and up. The difference between Bouwmeester's and Timonen's cap hits is about $350,000- significantly less than a league minimum contract.
Looking at this list, sure, Jay Bouwmeester earns a lot of money, but he was a UFA (more or less), and would have likely gotten more elsewhere. If you ask me, I'll take him and his cap hit (or his raw salary, if you like) over that of pretty much any other player listed there not named Zdeno Chara. Here's a quick list of why:
- Brian Campbell: Hahahahahaha
- Dan Boyle: Great at generating offense, but his defensive game has been going for a while now.
- Wade Redden: Hahahahahaha
- Kimmo Timonen: Aging, and it's absolutely showing. Still, a nice player, but hardly deserving of $6M+
- Niklas Lidstrom: if this list was written 2-3 years ago, it'd be a totally different story, but it's written today and Lidstrom's game is fast slipping from the peak of brilliancy it was. Still a great player though, just not someone I'd want at that amount of money.
- Andrei Markov: Holy wow is this guy ever injured a lot. Bouwmeester on the other hand is literally never injured.
- Lubomir Visnovsky: Can we say Christian Ehrhoff, California Edition? The guy isn't a bad player, but his reputation of being an offensive defenseman comes from coasting on easy easy zone starts.
- Sergei Gonchar: That cap hit is just awful given his current level of ability.
- James Wisniewski: Looked at in a vacuum, another awful cap hit. In the context of "That's what the Columbus Blue Jackets had to pay to get him", it's not so bad. Still, I wouldn't take Wisniewski and his cap hit on my team.