There are two ways to look at the Anaheim Ducks' decision to re-sign Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf to eight-year, $8 million-plus contract extensions.
The first is that the Ducksa team currently second in the Western Conference with a remarkable 21-3-4 recordhave secured the two most important players on their team, the two players most likely to lead them to a Stanley Cup win. Perry and Getzlaf are remarkable talents, the reasoning goes. Not only do they play the best opposition every night, but they typically triumph over it, winning the battles for shots, scoring chances, and goals.
The second is that the Ducksa team nearly $15 million below the NHL salary caphave tied up $16.9 million per year for each of the next eight years in two players. That total represents more than one-quarter of Anaheim's salary cap room next year will be split between Perry and Getzlaf. In terms of actual dollars, the combined payment to both players will exceed $19 million in the middle of the deals before tapering off at the end.
There is truth to both points of view.
The Ducks certainly can't hope to compete without Getzlaf and Perry. The duo sits first and second, in scoring for the Ducks and has a combined 57 points and +27 rating over 53 games. Getlzaf leads all forwards in ice time, playing more than 20 minutes per game and in all situations. Perry is right behind, with more than 19 minutes per game and time on both special teams.
More impressive than superficial statistics and time on ice totals is the success they have had in the role they play. Since the dismantling of the Samuel Pahlsson-centered "Nothing Line" in 2008-09, Perry and Getzlaf have added a heavy defensive assignment to their offensive responsibilities. Some statistics from Behind the Net make it clear exactly how dominant their performance has been in those areas:
Table1: Select statistics, 2009-10 to present
That is an incredible track record. Tough opposition, every yearand particularly so of late, as the role of players like Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne has shifted away from facing high-end players.
Tough zonestarts, every yearat no point in the last three and a half seasons have Perry or Getzlaf started more frequently in the offensive than the defensive zone. Despite those hurdles, both players have managed possession dominancethe Ducks routinely outshoot their opposition by a ridiculous margin with either player on the ice.
Another question worth asking is whether or not the Ducks truly are a contender. While their record makes the answer to that question seem obvious, further examination shows that in some ways Anaheim may not be the team they appear to be.
In a shortened season, for example, shooting and save percentage spikes can have more of an impact than they would over an 82-game schedule. Consider how Anaheim's shooting percentage and save percentage this season compare with their totals in those categories in other years, and to the best totals in the league in previous seasons. Also calculated is the combination of the two (known as PDO). All statistics come from 5-on-5 play.
Table 2: Percentages and PDO
As we can see, the trend for Anaheim has been pretty consistent. They have had strong goaltending for most of the last few years, but their shooting percentage hasn't been particularly good. This year, not only is the goaltending as strong as it has ever been, but the shooting percentage is off-the-charts good11.5% better than any team we have ever had data for.
How much of a difference does it make? Anaheim has 63 5v5 goals this seasonif we imagine them shooting at 8.6%, the best total they have managed over the last five full seasons, they are suddenly down to just 47 goals scored. Anaheim has a +26 goal differential overallthat 16 goal drop is more than half the difference between them and all the other teams in the West just trying to break even. And that's before we get into the Ducks' goaltending or remarkable record in one-goal games.
The odds are good that trend won't continue. The Ducks will certainly coast into the playoffs with easetheir lead is such that in a shortened season there simply is no contest. But they can't bank on those high shooting percentages continuing into the postseason.
In some ways, though, the nature of the Ducks' record simply emphasizes how vital retaining Perry and Getzlaf was. Two of the team's top-six forwards (Saku Koivu, 38, and Teemu Selanne, 42) are nearing the end of their careers. A third, Andrew Cogliano, is enjoying an exceptional start but recorded just 26 points last season, hasn't cracked the 40-point mark in four seasons, and has never scored 20 goals. Getzlaf and Perry would have been the subject of massive bidding wars in the summer. Had they been lost, the Ducks would have been counting on Bobby Ryan and not much else to provide offense up front.
But make no mistake. These twin signings don't secure the Ducks as contenders for the foreseeable future. All they do is secure the team from sliding into oblivion after this season ends.
Jonathan Willis is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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