GAR and Cap Hits (Part 1 of 3)

After a long hiatus of not writing anything (since the NFL Draft), I’ve been inspired to put together some thoughts on the valuation of NHL players. I am a huge proponent of GAR (goals above replacement) and WAR (wins above replacement) as a metric for player valuation.

I’m using 2018-2019 GAR/WAR statistics (as of 2018/11/05) provided by Evolving Hockey. These statistics are ascertained by them using the following method:

Goalie GAR/WAR

  • Fenwick shot-level regularized logistic regression. The target variable is 1 (Goal) or 0 (No Goal) and the predictor variables are:
    • all shooters (dummy variable, 1 = skater took the shot, 0 = skater did not take the shot)
    • all goalies (dummy variable, 1 = goalie facing the shot, 0 = goalie not facing the shot)
    • expected goal value of the fenwick shot (probability between 0 and 1)
    • strength state (8-level factor variable: 5v5, 4v4, 3v3, 5v4, 5v3, 4v3, Ev5, Ev4)
    • shooter score state (3-level factor variable: shooter team is leading, tied, or trailing when shot was taken)
    • shooter venue (home or away team)
    • shooter position (forward or defenseman)
    • back-to-back (home team / away team playing with < 2 nights of rest)
  • The goalie coefficients that result from this regression are interpreted as each goalie’s impact on the odds of a goal being scored. These coefficients are converted to probabilities and multiplied by the total fenwick shots each goalie faced to arrive at “Goals Above Average” (GAA).
  • Goals Above Average is then converted to Goals Above Replacement (GAR) as such:
    • GAA + (FA * replacement level GAA per fenwick)

Shooter GAR

The shooter coefficients from the regression described in the Goalie GAR/WAR section.

The shooter coefficients that result from this regression are interpreted as each shooter’s impact on the odds of a goal being scored. These coefficients are converted to probabilities and multiplied by the total fenwick shots each shooter took to arrive at “Goals Above Average” (GAA).

Goals Above Average is then converted to Goals Above Replacement (GAR) as such (replacement level is set per forward and per defenseman using the same cutoff described in the Replacement Level (Skaters) section):

GAA + (iFF * replacement level GAA per fenwick)

GAR/WAR is an attempt to quantify the offensive and defensive contribution of the individual player in all game situations (even strength, short-handed and power-play). In theory, GAR represents the number of more or less goals with a player compared to a replacement-level player. In other words, GAR is a quantification of the individual players’ contribution relative to replacement-level talent. The greater the number, the larger the individual contribution. For negative numbers, the individual player is performing at levels below replacement level.

TL;DR: Bigger is better. Negative is bad.

Without further ado, the following chart displays the annual average cap hit and GAR values for all skaters (as of 2018/11/5):

GAR and CAP (ALL)

I will admit that there are a lot of things going on in this graph, so I will filter this information by position, starting with forwards:

GAR and CAP (F)

Top-10 GAR Leaders (as of 2018/11/5):

Top 10 F

This presentation is slightly more manageable. The two current front-runners in the GAR sweepstakes are (*checks notes*) Timo Meier and Jeff Skinner? I’ll be honest, I was slightly surprised with the early results. Meier is playing like someone who is on the last year of their ELC and wants to get paid, posting 16 points in the first 14 games of the season. This success has corresponded with an increase in ice time from 14:52 last season to 17:08 this year.  Jeff Skinner has responded favorably to his trade from Carolina to Buffalo. He is averaging a point/game for the first time in his career while also in the last year of his current contract (5.725m AAV).

Of the best values in forward contracts, there are two broad categories: (1) ELCs and (2) value vets. In the case of the former, drafted and signed players under the age of 21 are locked into a three-year contract with an AAV of $925,000. For GMs who draft well, this presents an opportunity to insert cheap talent into their lineup…for a limited time. In the case of the latter, GMs can demonstrate their ability to sniff value from the bargain pile. Every year there are a handful of extremely underrated free agent signings that surpass all expectations.

In the first category, Meier (SJS), Point (TBL), Lehkonen (MTL) and Malgin (FLA) are going to be well-compensated starting next year. Pettersson (VAN) and Hischier (NJD) are on ELCs that expire in future off-seasons. Depending on the structure of their next contracts, they may continue to be a good value going forward.

In the second category, it is really exciting is to examine the depth moves that GMs made in the off-season in order to determine who got the best value for their dollar. The current front-runner is…Peter Chiarelli? Alex Chiasson (EDM) signed a one-year $650,000 contract and is sitting at a 2.80 GAR.

The top 5 bargain signings:
1. Chiasson (EDM): $232,143/GAR
2. Byron (MTL): $343,137/GAR
3. Cullen (PIT): $361,111/GAR
4. Nordstrom (BOS) $357,143/GAR
5. Hyka (VGK): $406,250/GAR

I should note that Paul Byron has been a GARtisan during his current contract (3- years/1.166m AAV), but was awarded a 4-year, 3.4m AAV contract extension for his performance. If he only maintains his current GAR trends over the next four years, his contract would not nearly be as much of a bargain.

Tune in over the next week to check out my Defense and Goaltender GAR analysis.

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