Saturday, 1 July 2017

The case for Andrei Markov and against Alex Radulov

Speaking of faulty logic, I’ve seen a few times now on social media that if we are ready to pay 38-year-old Andrei Markov one or two seasons at $5-6M, then it should be no problem to pay 30-year-old Alex Radulov the same kind of deal over 5 or 6 years, when he’d only be 36 or 37 when it ended.

First, let’s quickly mention that generally, defencemen take longer to mature, but also generally they tend to have longer careers, on average. The average defenceman will retire a little later on than the average forward, maybe because they can substitute anticipation and hockey sense and positioning for their aging legs, whereas an aging forward maybe can’t make up for the loss of explosiveness in his skating and his shot as easily.

Mainly though, the reason it’s okay to offer Andrei one or two years even as he approaches 40 is that he showed last year that he can still play at a relatively high level. Chances that his play drops off a cliff in one or two seasons are relatively low, and if it does, we’re not trapped in a contract we can’t deal with.

Same with Joe Thornton. Normally, you don’t chase after a nearly fourty-year-old centre, but in his case, he showed the last couple of seasons that he can still be productive. You factor in his knee surgery in there for sure, but there’s a very recent track record on which you can extrapolate production and performance.

For Alex Radulov, who’ll start the season as a 31-year old, we can be reasonably confident about what he’ll deliver on the ice next season, but the picture gets hazier the further along we get. Based upon historical records, the outlook for him, as he gets to 33 or 34, the decline in performance will be significant. A forward’s peak productive years are from 24 to 29 years old. Alex is most probably on the back side of the hill already.

So yeah, as an armchair fantasy NHL GM who’s a scaredy-cat and pathologically averse to risk, I’m fairly confident that we can pay Andrei a season or two at or near his current wage, and it won’t be a catastrophe. I’m fairly sure that Andrei will be very useful over the life of that contract, because I can look at last year and the year before that, and Andrei was still a very good defenceman at an age when most would have retired already.

In my same armchair, I can’t look four or five years in the future and have the same confidence in Alex Radulov’s play. I only have one season as his NHL track record, before that things are jumbled, he’s in the KHL, then the NHL before that, it’s harder to predict. I can’t be that confident that it won’t be an albatross around our necks, like the Loui Eriksson deal, like Alex Semin’s deal in Carolina.

So evaluating Andrei a year or two from now is a fairly simple job, whereas predicting Alex Radulov four years from now is fairly complex, and history shows that the outlook is not favourable. We have to contort ourselves into thinking that “his game isn’t based on speed, so he’ll still be effective”, those kinds of hopeful pronouncements, while the graphs show otherwise.

Comparing Andrei’s putative contract demands with Alex’s is comparing apples to oranges. And personally, reasonably, I prefer apples.

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