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Huge if True: Examining that bad Kevan Miller contract extension

[HUGE IF TRUE breaks down the plausibility of the week's biggest rumor.]

On Tuesday, the Boston Bruins announced a baffling extension for Kevan Miller.

Four years, $10 million.

Both those numbers are galling for entirely different reasons, and most everyone outside of a 10-foot radius of Don Sweeney's office seems to agree with that assessment. Sweeney spent a good portion of the day getting his teeth kicked in by even the most homer-bent of Bruins reporters, because this is an indefensibly bad contract to give one of your team's numerous bottom-pairing defensemen.

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However, when this deal was announced, there was also a lot of shrugging from even the most vociferous critic. “That's what he would have gotten on the open market,” they all said. 

As to whether someone would have been dumb enough to give him that cap hit instead of Boston, well, it obviously would have been a better idea for the Bruins to let a rival NHL team do that for them.

What's interesting, though, is that the data also suggests that the closest comparables for Miller's 2015-16 season tend to be good defenders in their early years. Rookie or sophomore campaigns for Alex Goligoski, Olli Maatta, Sami Vatanen, and more appear on the list.

That might be where the Bruins got the idea that Miller, at 28-and-a-half, has “room to grow” as a player because he has “relatively few miles on him.” To some extent that's true, because he only has about 160 NHL games under his belt even at his advanced age. But wouldn't you know it, he's been playing hockey this whole time! He has another 154 games in the AHL since 2011.

So the question quickly becomes: Is the market for a bottom-pairing (at best) defenseman really $2.5 million? Obviously no one is going to defend the term on this contract. It is very bad. But the money, is that really what anyone would have given him? 

The answer is: You'd hope not, but you also know the NHL well enough to know that's not the case.

The Rumor

Based on his performance last season, the average comparable player had an era-adjusted salary of almost exactly the freight he pulled ($2.5 million in actual cap hit for Miller versus the average $2.503 million adjusted for his 30 closest comparables). 

However, it's worth noting that current cap hits get inflated by the era adjustment, and a stagnant-ish cap ceiling headed into next year probably means that even by that comparison, Miller is slightly overpaid against what players like him are historically given (this year a $2.5 million cap hit adjusted to approximately $2.6 million).

Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe called the deal “market price for a D-man with room to grow.” In a later recap of the situation, Shinzawa added, “Had he reached free agency, he could have used teammate Adam McQuaid’s four-year, $11 million contract as a comparable.”

Now, again, we have to consider something here: If Miller was going to go to other teams asking for four years and $2.75 million per, based on what McQuaid did, he's probably within the frames of rationality. At least insofar as he is a little better than McQuaid and should therefore get a similar contract.

Other defensemen in the approximate range in which McQuaid now falls ($2 million to $2.99 million) aren't very common overall, as there are only 14 others in the entire NHL at this moment.

So now it's time to compare Miller to those players and see how he fares. Among this group over the last three seasons, he generally proved to be near the bottom in offensive categories, but better in terms of how he depressed shot attempts and shots on goal in his own end. Most interesting, his impact on goalscoring both for and against was strong (the latter more so than the former), ranking sixth and first, respectively, among defensemen in his price range.

In terms of expected goals (via Corsica) his impact on goalscoring was the worst in the group, and his impact on goal suppression was second-worst behind only Ron Hainsey. Basically that means the Bruins shouldn't score as much as they do when Miller is on the ice, and should give up more goals than they have. Part of that is going to relate to the quality of goaltending behind Miller, and the quality of forwards generally in front of him. 

But even given the number of high-quality non-defenders on the Boston roster, he acts as an anchor for anyone he plays with.

Suffice it to say, Miller is on the low end of defenders in that price range, and most of them are overpaid as well. His salary moves him to a tie for 105th out of 167 defensemen currently signed for next year across the NHL. Many of the players below him are on their entry-level deals, or were RFAs, as you might expect.

But if there are 180 regular defense spots in the NHL at any given time (six D times 30 teams), it's likely you see Miller's deal settle into the higher end of bottom-pairing guys, which seems like a minor overpayment right now, let alone three or four years from today.

Who's Going Where?

The problem for the Bruins is that Miller isn't going anywhere any time soon.

This is a club that has repeatedly identified its D corps as a problem in its regular-season flameout postmortems, and then given the bad defenders on its roster raises and long-term extensions. What's worth noting about a lot of the cap-hit comparables are that these are either provably bad contracts, or shorter-term deals than four years. (That Ryan Ellis deal is a freakin' steal though, eh?)

The reason why is simple: You can generally get defensemen who comparable but perhaps even more affordable every summer. There's a lot of churn at the bottom of NHL rosters in general, because most teams now know better than to marry themselves to depth contributors like, say, the Bruins did in the wake of their Cup win. A lot of those guys also aren't being signed into their early 30s on the longer-term ends of those deals.

The Implications

So yeah, that probably is just about what a top-end third-pair defenseman should get. The issue is Miller isn't one of those. More likely, he's a No. 6 defenseman on just about any competent team in the league, in a best-case scenario. And that's right now, signing him for four years basically ensures he'll be sub-replacement level before the deal expires.

Generally, you wouldn't want this guy getting too many minutes now, at 28. Three-plus years from now, it'll be ugly.

But the money itself does seem to be more or less market value. He didn't take a hometown discount of any sort, nor should he have. What that says about the market for bottom-pairing defenders, though, is considerable.

And as far as the Bruins are concerned, again, maybe you just let Miller walk if that's the market, but if you feel like you can't afford to go bargain basement shopping, this might be your only recourse. If he was gonna ask for McQuaid money elsewhere, maybe you feel the $250,000 less per year was your window of savings.

But again, who signed the McQuaid deal? That would be...... Don Sweeney. It's not a contract he inherited from Peter Chiarelli, like the Dennis Seidenberg deal. It was an accord he struck of his own volition and which was immediately not a good idea.

As a result, he's now paying more than $16 million for four defenders (Chara, Seidenberg, McQuaid, and Miller) with no real top-pairing defender in the group. That doesn't get into the extensions Sweeney now has to give Torey Krug, Joe Morrow, Colin Miller, and maybe one or two others. That'll probably end up constituting a pretty big chunk of their cap unless someone (Seidenberg, probably) gets shipped away or bought out.

To be fair to Sweeney, I would have been hard-pressed to figure out a way for the Bruins to fix their defense. Most people would have. However, most people would have also known “extending everyone on it” was not a reasonable option.

This Is So Huge, If True: Is It True?

On a B.S. detector scale of 1-5, with one being the most reasonable and 5 being the least: 

This is the market, yes. No doubt about it. But the Bruins are the ones setting the market. So adherence to that standard is, shall we say, clearly ill-advised.

The question, therefore, becomes two-fold:

Is this what Kevan Miller would have gotten elsewhere? Absolutely. 💩

Is this what Kevan Miller is worth? Absolutely not. 💩💩💩💩💩

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All statistics via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)



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