If you look at the list of remaining soon-to-be UFAs on the blue line, you’ll notice something quickly. No, not that they have the injury tolerance of some foreign material made of glass and Styrofoam (Bryan McCabe, Sami Salo), or that they’re overrated (Tomas Kaberle), although those observations are both painfully true. We’re talking about a larger discovery.
They’re all about to get drastically overpaid. But hey, Steve Montador isn’t complaining. Who the hell would be after being handed a four-year contract worth $11 million. That’s the deal Chicago general manager Stan Bowman reportedly signed off on for the veteran defenceman Thursday afternoon after acquiring Montador’s negotiation rights from Buffalo.
The deal comes with a cap hit of $2.75 million, which represents a healthy ascent in value for a player whose recently expired contract was worth $1.6 million annually.
Now, before we continue and lament the forthcoming offseason in which middle-tier defencemen will be consistently overvalued, let’s be clear on one point: Montador is a fine player. With stops in Anaheim, Boston, and Florida before spending the last two seasons in Buffalo, he’s been sound fundamentally, and has a career rating of +27 over 11 seasons. Over the past four years he’s also started to make a minor offensive contribution, scoring at least a modest 20 points per season in that span, and finishing with a career-high 26 points and 21 assists during a contract year.
Montador makes sense for the Blackhawks, a team in need of a reliable defender who’s also a capable and confident puck-mover. Bowman had $14 million in cap space to work with and a defensive void to fill after he sent the contract albatross otherwise known as Brian Campbell to Florida. As Greg Wyshynski noted earlier today, Montador will help in an area that became foreign to Campbell: actually playing defence.
Montador had 26 points but only one coming on the power play, where he averaged just 22 seconds per game. The Blackhawks were already third in the League in 5-on-5 scoring with 170 goals; problem being that they were 15th in 5-on-5 goals-against at 148.
But if Bowman was in a giving mood because of Montador’s slight up-tick in offence, then please observe that Montador is now contributing only $1.5 million less to Chicago’s cap than Kaberle’s expiring contract did in Boston this past season. Kaberle’s performance following his move from Toronto to Boston was mediocre and will undoubtedly lead to a lesser paycheque coming to the Kaberle household. But his history as an effective and formerly elite offensive defenceman more than warrants the high value. Kaberle scored 47 points–21 more than Montador–this season, and yet his current market value now isn’t significantly higher.
Montador becomes the latest example of a market that’s prepared to overvalue defencemen simply because there are few quality above average blue-liners available. Another prime example is Christian Ehrhoff, a player who’s more than worthy of a raise after his career-high 50 points that tied him for sixth among defencemen this year. But the Islanders reportedly gave up on the Hoff and dealt his rights to Buffalo after he turned down an offer that was “well north” of Kevin Bieksa’s recently signed five-year deal worth $23 million.
Bieksa will suck back a cap hit of $4.6 million in Vancouver. So unless Garth Snow was feeding us a quote lined with fecal matter, it’s reasonable to think that Ehrhoff could have accounted for something in the vicinity of $6 million per season had he signed on Long Island. Islanders fans should be thankful that their GM–the same GM who gave Rick DiPietro a 15-year contract–opted out of a quickly escalating bidding war accelerated by (wait for it) Ehrhoff’s career-high in offensive production during a contract year.
EDIT: Apparently Ehrhoff has now signed. Bob McKenzie Tweeted that Ehrhoff signed a 10 year, $40 million deal. It’s the standard long-term deal to minimize the cap hit.
McKenzie also Tweeted the contract breakdown, which is as follows: Year 1: $8 million signing bonus, $2 million salary; Year 2: $5 million signing bonus, $3 million salary. Year 3: $4 million; Year 4: $4 million, Year 5: $4 million; Year 6: $4 million; Year 7: $3 million; Year 8; $1 million; Year 9: $1 million, Year 10: $1 million.
More on that deal here.
The player who Ehrhoff tied in the defensive scoring standings is San Jose’s Dan Boyle, who has an even greater offensive history than Kaberle and has registered six +50 point seasons. He comes with a yearly price tag of $6.7 million, a level Ehrhoff could begin to approach primarily because of his well-timed season of career highs.
Timing leads to more than just properly pouring a bowl of cereal. It can also reel in an obese pay raise.