Kyle Wellwood lazily skating back to the bench to celebrate a goal. No hustle.

I may not agree with the rationale, but intangibles matter, especially when you’re signing a free agent contract.

We have yet to cover this on the Backhand Shelf, but Kyle Wellwood signed a one-year contract worth $1.6M with Winnipeg on Friday just before closing time and every hockey writer had checked out for the day. It’s a weird contract for a few reasons, the first of which is that Kevin Cheveldayoff got a good deal for a player, and the second is that Wellwood apparently had no leverage after putting together three consecutive good seasons on one-year deals.

Eventually, you’d figure that some team will reward Kyle Wellwood for his excellent, consistent play, but the man is doomed to suffer one-year deals for the rest of his career.

Wellwood’s cap hit comparables who signed as unrestricted free agents this summer are Jim Slater, a checking centreman with some offensive upside and checking winger Gregory Campbell. Also in there are Taylor Pyatt and Peter Mueller, two guys with potential who never really panned out, and former consistent-scorer-on-the-wrong-side-of-30 Ruslan Fedotenko, who lit the lamp 9 times last season.

Kyle Wellwood is four teams on two continents removed from his last multi-year deal, a two-year extension negotiated in the summer of 2007 when Wellwood was still an up-and-coming Toronto Maple Leaf with smooth hands. But the Leafs soured on Wellwood eventually. He had, from all accounts, a low work ethic and that led to a slew of injuries kept him off the Leafs roster.

Protecting the puck from one of the best two-way defencemen in the NHL.

When he was with Vancouver, he came to training camp at the start of the 2008 season out of shape and head coach Alain Vigneault immediately called him out for it. Wellwood scored 18 goals that season in third line minutes, although he was more-or-less sheltered by Vigneault.

In the 2009-2010 season, it was the first time that Vigneault really began experimenting with giving Daniel and Henrik Sedin the prime offensive minutes. Wellwood’s offensive zone start rate decreased from 55% to 46% and his scoring dropped as a result, but the 2010 Canucks were a very good puck possession team and Wellwood had a positive Corsi rate per 60 minutes despite situationally difficult minutes.

[Kyle Wellwood's Hockey Reference page - Kyle Wellwood's Behind The Net page - Kyle Wellwood's Capgeek page]

When the team instead decided to go for a pure checking centreman in the summer of 2010, Wellwood was not re-signed, despite 14 goals from the third-line spot, and went to the KHL. He returned mid-season with the San Jose Sharks and, in limited minutes, put up the best possession numbers on the team in his protected minutes. He scored five times in the 35 games (pro-rated to 12 over a full 82), with his lowest career shooting percentage (10%) since his first full season. His season wasn’t great, but it was acceptable for anybody else. Wellwood again found himself on the move.

Last year it was Winnipeg. He put up 18 goals in 77 games, again, splitting time between the team’s fourth and second lines. Zone-wise, he was still one of the more protected forwards on the team, but continued to thrive in the situation, putting up both good possession and scoring totals.

Makes you think, that Wellwood, who has now done this for four seasons, no team could be bothered to take more than a one-year chance on him. Is it work-ethic concern or something greater?

This morning comes a good post from ‘The Suit’ over at Blue Seat Blogs, a self-described “sports exec” on his Twitter account.

But when it comes to guys like Semin, Radulov, even Wolski. There is a reason why these guys linger on the market or are signing discount deals with money left on the table

Semin is a former 40 goal scorer who is still searching for the big contract. Radulov didn’t have a single NHL club interested in his services. Wolski made $4 million last season. Next year he’ll make under $1 million. Kyle Wellwood, another talented player with an inconsistent effort level, just signed a 1 year deal for $1.6 million. Most of the stat lovers predicted Wellwood would get a multi-million multi-year deal after putting up almost 50 points.

These guys don’t do the little things like forechecking, backchecking, or positioning themselves in the “dirty areas” of the ice, and their contract status reflects that. The salary cap and CBA uncertainty are forcing the people in charge to be smarter with their money and the deals they are handing out to second-tier skill players. Being a one-dimensional talent like a Zherdev just isn’t enough anymore. Intangibles matter.

I may disagree with the process, but it’s a very real thing. If you’re a talented hockey player, the appearance of hard work is just as important as getting that money deal as hard work itself. 18 goals from Kyle Wellwood count just as much as 18 goals from Gregory Campbell. The difference is that much less is expected of Campbell.

From a management perspective, there is your “undervalued” player. When Moneyball was written, the baseball executives undervalued players who were able to get on-base, simply because they didn’t know how to properly take into account all the information.

When you look at the things like forechecking or backchecking, when you look at the statistics for Wellwood or Semin or Nikolay Zherdev, you can be sure, rather, you know that these things just don’t matter. The quality of the player checking isn’t the one who exerts the most effort into his backcheck, but perhaps the one who reads the play well enough in the neutral zone so he doesn’t have to.

If these players were that bad off the puck, they wouldn’t consistently put up high puck-possession numbers. They wouldn’t consistently be able to drive the play forward while used in a specific role. Leadership, work ethic, drive, these things can matter as well, but if a hockey team has a chance to get a few cheap players for pennies on the dollar, they may as well go for broke.

I’ve never been in a hockey locker room, but I assume that there are guys on the team that you just hate until they have the puck in a certain area of the zone on the powerplay. When you’re winning, you can forgive a bad attitude. At the end of the day, this is a goal-scoring competition, and I’d like to see a few more teams take more one-year risk contracts on lazy players who score goals and keep the play in the offensive zone.

Remember, the eventual champion Mighty Ducks resented Adam Banks at first, and the Screech Owls were usually disgusted by Wayne Nishikawa’s off-ice actions. Even kids learn to sometimes appreciate what a certain player brings to the team, as long as the on-ice production keeps coming. There are a lot of players who don’t showcase the work ethic to stay in the NHL, and many of them don’t play in the NHL.

The biggest Kyle Wellwood fan of them all is probably Daniel Wagner from Pass it to Bulis. For the Backhand Shelf back in December, Wagner discussed Wellwood’s campaign in Winnipeg.