Ray Shero has four signings he must make in this offseason: re-sign the four restricted free agents he qualified. Those four are defenseman Adam Larsson, winger Stefan Matteau, defenseman Seth Helgeson, and defenseman Eric Gelinas. Today, I want to focus on Gelinas. Among those four, he was a regular part of the New Jersey Devils for the last two seasons. Whether he's anything more than a third-pairing defender remains to be seen. Still, he should command a decent increase and the Devils absolutely have the cap space for it (and more). Yet, how much should that be? And for how long? Let's delve into those questions.
The Player in Question
First, let's establish who Eric Gelinas is as a player. He's now 24 years old. The 2009 second round draft pick has played in 122 NHL games, with at least sixty in each of the last two seasons. His best asset is his shot. It's so powerful, I've given it a nickname: The Truth. More importantly, Gelinas has used it quite a bit. He has 237 shots, which translates to an average of 1.94 shots per game. As one would expect with that kind of shot, he's been a regular on the Devils' power play. Eight of his eighteen career goals and eighteen of his thirty-five career assists have come from the man advantage. At a minimum, he's carving out a career as a specialist of sorts.
What's been dubious about Gelinas is that he hasn't displayed enough of the other aspects of being a NHL defensemen to command a larger role. His skating is smooth, but he's not particularly fast or mobile. While he's 6'4" and 215 pounds, he's not particularly physical. That would be fine, except he can make ill-advised decisions on when to be physical. His decision making, particularly on defense, isn't a strength at all; and he's not quick enough to necessarily make a good play after a bad move is made. While he's got a great shot, he's not necessarily a great passer.
Let's look at some analytics. According to War on Ice, Gelinas' CF% was one of the better ones on the Devils last season at 48.68%. He at least had a positive relative CF% of 1.46%. In 2013-14, however, his CF% of 53.03 was one of the worst on the team and he had a negative relative CF% of 1,75%. Between the two seasons, it doesn't appear that Gelinas is a play-driver. More importantly, in both seasons, Gelinas was typically playing against weak competition compared to the other Devils defenders. Per War on Ice, the TOI/60 of his opponents at evens were less than 17 minutes. Additionally, Gelinas' offensive zone start percentages were 62.9% and 59.7%, respectively, in 2013-14 and 2014-15. While it makes sense to give the defenseman with the big shot plenty of favorable zone starts, it also means his possession numbers were worse than what they were. Given his difficulties on defense and the fact he played against weaker competition, Gelinas' ice time average has been appropriate. He averaged 16:27 last season and 16:55 in 2013-14. He is a third-pairing defender with an exceptional talent: his shot. As he's 24, one has to wonder how much better he can really be in the future.
Lastly, and just as importantly, Gelinas is coming off a one-year, one-way deal where he made $900,000 according to General Fanager. It should almost be a guarantee Gelinas will make more than that in the coming season(s).
Now that we laid out who Gelinas is, we can really begin to answer the question: What should be his next contract?
Points of Reference
Some points of reference would be useful. Let's consider some quick and dirty comparables with other players. Since Gelinas has a rather high shots per game average - yes, he tends to just fire it when he gets the puck, but I think that's by design - I want to identify players who have a similar rate. Something like a 1.5 shots per game average. Obviously, I want to compare him with other defensemen. As he's finishing up his third year of his contract, I also want to compare him with those who managed that rate in their first three seasons in the NHL. As he's a young player now, I'm going to limit defenders who meet this criteria from 2005-06 to today. That's a CBA ago, but it's still in the salary cap era. Lastly, as Gelinas has played 122 games, I want to compare him with other defensemen who have at least played 100 games. That would include defenders who've played a minimum of one full season plus a significant portion of a second (or third) season. Those are the bounds I'll be using and I'll be using Hockey Reference's player season finder to identify these players.
(Aside: I'm keeping it simple for the comparables for Gelinas. I'm intentionally not using analytics like Corsi, time of ice per 60 of competition, and zone starts as that's driven in part by a team's coaches. The raw numbers really don't line up. A 50% CF on New Jersey is more impressive than a 50% CF on, say, Chicago. If you know of a better way to find similar players, then please let me know in the comments.)
These comparables won't be perfect. Partially because Gelinas is a bit of an odd duck. A 1.94 shots per game average is quite high in general, especially for someone still early into their professional hockey career. However, many defensemen who have fired the puck at a high rate also played significant minutes and more games in their first three seasons. Those defensemen are more than just a great shot and so they've received more minutes. So I'm going to try to make a quick case of why the following are points of reference as to how much Gelinas should be valued. Here's the search I ran at Hockey Reference, here's who I picked among them after sorting by minutes.
1. Keith Yandle. Seriously. While he became a big minutes, big producing defender, his first three seasons featured him limited in action - even more than Eric Gelinas. He fired away at a good rate (1.64) and I'm sure he displayed the potential of the defenseman he would become from 2006-07 to 2008-09. Still, block out the name and the seasons after 2008-09 and the numbers are similar to Mr. Gelinas. What's more is that he was on his ELC then. He would get a raise in his next contract; a two-year deal worth $2.4 million per General Fanager. His minutes, points, and general play bloomed, and so did the money after that two-year deal. I don't have the same expectations of Gelinas blossoming like him, but Yandle's second contract is a good point of reference in my view.
2. Justin Braun. The San Jose defender ended up on the lower bound of the shots per game rate of 1.52. He also wasn't particularly productive and he still isn't. However, he averaged similar minutes per game to Gelinas in his first two seasons. He was also about the same age, too. So while Braun and Gelinas aren't really similar players, they at least had similar situations going into a new contract. For Braun, he got a three year deal worth $3.75 million per General Fanager. Braun's usage has went up in that new deal and so he's now enjoying a more lucrative, long-term deal.
3. Tyson Barrie. Believe it or not, Barrie played 2,054 total minutes in his first three seasons. He also put up only three more points than Gelinas did - all being assists. However, that may be a result of how many games he got into as Barrie has averaged at least seventeen minutes in those seasons. He even averaged over twenty in his second season. Barrie was also a bit younger, too. Despite similar total minutes and total points, I think it's fair to say that Barrie has been more valuable. He's been improving in each season. So why use him as a point of reference? Easy, as an upper bound. Barrie's second contract is two years worth $5.2 million, with a $2 million salary in the first year per General Fanager. Do not expect Gelinas to get much more than that from a cap hit perspective. Definitely not in the region of the $3.2 million he'll get in this coming season.
4. Jake Muzzin. Like Barrie, Muzzin is a player on the rise and has improved with each season. Unlike Barrie, Muzzin got a taste of the NHL in 2010-11, spent all of 2011-12 in the minors, and then got an increased role in the next two seasons. Also unlike Barrie and more like Gelinas, Muzzin has a very high shots per game average of 1.97. Gelinas has put up more points, but Muzzin has played more minutes and not against weaker players. His contracts are more analgous. His ELC ended after that season in Manchester, so his second contract was a one-year "show me" deal at $557.5 thousand. After averaging nearly eighteen minutes per game and putting up 77 shots in 45 games, he got a two year deal with a million per year on his third contract. Gelinas would be getting his third contract next. Muzzin's experience is an example of how a lack of games and a season thrown into the minors could affect value. It's a good one to remember for when we consider the situation for Adam Larsson.
5. Patrick Wiercioch. Patrick Wiercioch represents probably the scenario Gelinas would want. He averaged less ice time per game in his first three seasons than Gelinas. While a 1.76 shots per game average is nothing to sneeze at, it's less than Gelinas' 1.94. His production is also less than Gelinas' production. His fourth season of NHL hockey was his first where he averaged over eighteen minutes per game - which is also his 24-year old season per Hockey Reference's rules. Yet, when his ELC was up in 2012-13 - his second season - Wiercioch got a three year deal worth $6 million per General Fanager. That was a hefty increase, though it appears he's began to justify it last season. It's definitely on the higher end, and it's something that makes a big raise more likely for Gelinas.
Again, these are points of reference that are sort of similar to some of the basic statistical traits Gelinas has demonstrated so far in his career. There is one more point of reference that could be considered despite any lack of real connection to his stats. That reference is the defenseman the Devils signed on July 1: John Moore.
As Alex wrote, John Moore is a defenseman capable of going up against second or third line competition. He's been a third-pairing caliber defender so far in his young career. Per Hockey-Reference, the only time he averaged more than eighteen minutes per game was his nineteen games in Arizona last season after the Yandle trade. Everywhere else, he was receiving minutes not unlike what Gelinas has received. In New York last season, Moore faced a similar level of competition and offensive zone starts to Gelinas, except he was a solid winner in possession. In Arizona, however, he got rolled over. Also unlike Gelinas, Moore hasn't fired the puck nearly as much as Gelinas with an average of 1.24 shots per game and he hasn't been as productive with 40 points in 230 games and Gelinas besting that in far fewer appearances.
Yet, Moore received a three year deal worth $5 million. I'd advise you to click on that link to General Fanager for another comparison point. Moore was coming off of a one-year contract after his entry level deal ended, just like Gelinas is doing now. That one-year contract featured a modest raise over his ELC, but Moore got a more substantive one. While Moore and Gelinas are different players, it'd be hard to argue that Gelinas should command much less than Moore. Gelinas has at least brought offense (shots, goals, points, PP usage) to the table in his limited minutes that Moore has not.
I will again state that my points of reference aren't perfect. They don't necessarily represent Gelinas closely. They also don't necessarily represent a view that Gelinas is going to become a top-four defender that plays significant minutes like the five I mentioned, and possibly puts up more points like Yandle and Barrie. And, again, there aren't a lot of defensemen that fire the puck a lot and don't play a lot of minutes for one reason for another.
That said, in each of those five points of reference, all of those defensemen got raises. All of them became seven-figure players. Some were on a lower end like Yandle, Muzzin, and Braun. Others were more lucrative like Barrie and Wiercioch. I think among the five, Wiercioch may be the most applicable given how his career path has gone so far. The wildcard is Moore and the deal he just signed with New Jersey. For all of Gelinas' issues, he does have a fantastic shot, he uses it frequently, and he has brought offense that Moore hasn't. While he was a UFA, I would find it hard to think Gelinas will take much less money than him for those main reasons.
Gerard took a chance at armchair general managering on Thursday for what the Devils might have done from July 1 forward. He included what he would give to the restricted free agents, and he stated he would give Gelinas a two-year deal worth $3 million. I would be fine with that, especially now that I know these other points of reference. They suggest he could get more and I think he will.
The term of two years is fine; it could be three but two would be more beneficial as it still leave Gelinas as a RFA when it ends. It's more likely he gets at least as much as Moore than less. I could see him getting the same deal Wiercioch got, but I think it'll end up being somewhere between the two. So based on all of this, I think Gelinas' next contract should be for two years worth $3.6 million. This would mean a cap hit of $1.8 million. It would be an increase from his previous one-year deal, and in line with some of other raises similar defensemen got. At the same time, it wouldn't be extraordinarily large on the cap - or too large to trade, should Shero go down that route. I can live with a third pairing defender with one desirable skill making less than $2 million given a cap ceiling of over $71 million. Should Gelinas improve, then he could stand to get more in the not-so-distant future. If not, then it won't be an albatross on the books. If Gelinas gets less than that, then I would be pleased with whatever it is. Even if I'm wrong on the exact number, the expectation is that Gelinas will get a raise to be a seven-figure player and a fairly short-term deal that will use up most of his remaining time as a RFA.
Again, this was a quick and dirty way of trying to figure out what should be Gelinas' next contract. If you have any suggestions for identifying similar players, then please let me know and I'll use it for a future post. In the meantime, I want to know what you think about Gelinas. What should be his next contract and why? Please leave your answer and thoughts on Gelinas in the comments. Thank you for reading.