Marty Havlat hoped to resign with the Chicago Blackhawks yesterday. Little did he know that he was as good as gone from the Windy City when free agency began on July 1st. Chicago swooped in to sign one of their archrivals' key cogs, who was also responsible for the team making it to the Stanley Cup finals. Yes, Marian Hossa has struggled in the Stanley Cup finals for the second year in a row, but many of the greatest players in all sports have had their struggles in the postseason. Of course the money was right for Hossa to sign with Chicago, 12 years and $62.8 million should do it for anyone, but seeing an up and coming, youthful team defeat the Red Wings probably had added fuel to the fire for the Ottawa draftee’s choice. With Chicago’s addition of the two time Stanley Cup runner up, and a cap hit of $5.233 million per year, the Blackhawks payroll now is $11.8 million below next year’s salary cap. With five restricted free agents to resign, including 23-year-old, right wing phenom Kris Versteeg and young defenseman Cam Barker, Havlat began to look like the odd man out with little to no chance of re-upping with his former club. Taking into consideration that Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith are due for raises as restricted free agents next season, and that slight chance of resigning Havlat goes out the window.
On Twitter, the former Chicago forward added, “There’s something to be said for loyalty and honor,” which sounds eerily similar to how Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears reacted when he heard the Denver Broncos were shopping him around because he didn’t fit the Josh McDaniels offensive system. Nonetheless, a day later the 26th overall pick by Ottawa in 1999 found a new team when he agreed to a brand new 6 year, $30 million deal with the Minnesota Wild, leaving Marian Gaborik without a team for several hours, until he landed with the New York Rangers. The 28-year-old Wild southpaw was the most productive Blackhawk last year, posting a team-best 16.7 GVT overall, with a split of an 11.1 GVT on offense and a 5.6 GVT on defense, and a team-best 17.9 Relative Plus/Minus rating, which adjusts for special teams play, teammates and goaltending, both very impressive numbers. As Rob Vollman has pointed out, the Minnesota Wild need offense, after posting a third worst – 25.7 GVT on even-strength offense last season, only ahead of the Islanders and Kings. In comparison to the Czech Republic native’s 11.1 offensive GVT, the highest offensive GVT from the Minnesota Wild came from Owen Nolan who posted a pedestrian 6.6 last year.
Let’s take a look at Havlat’s career numbers:
Team(s) P Season GP RPM Val OG Val D Val S Total
Ottawa Senators F 00_01 73 1.7 7.5 1.8 0.0 9.3
Ottawa Senators F 01_02 72 -9.3 9.5 1.0 0.0 10.5
Ottawa Senators F 02_03 67 14.1 12.3 3.5 0.0 15.8
Ottawa Senators F 03_04 68 6.6 17.8 2.8 0.0 20.6
Ottawa Senators F 05_06 18 2.8 3.9 0.8 -0.3 4.4
Chicago Blackhawks F 06_07 56 24.0 10.1 3.5 0.0 13.7
Chicago Blackhawks F 07_08 35 5.1 4.2 1.4 -0.3 5.3
Chicago Blackhawks F 08_09 81 18.8 12.8 5.0 -1.1 16.7
Total F 00_09 470 63.8 78.1 19.8 -1.7 96.3
As shown in the table above, the only decline Marty has experienced in the last eight years is his health. His injuries over the past several years have included groin strains, shoulder problems, elbow problems, and hamstring issues. When healthy, he’s a given to produce an offensive GVT around 10.0, a defensive GVT around 2.0, and an overall GVT around 12.0, which would not only make him the best offensive threat on the Minnesota Wild, but their best overall skater on the team. However, and I’m sure Wild fans have heard this before with Gaborik, the key to Havlat and the Wild putting pucks in the net will be if the former Senator can last the entire season. Another thing to consider is his age. Skaters, especially forwards, peak in their performance from ages 23 to 26, and Havlat is turning 29 at the end of next season. He is likely going to face a slight decline in performance soon, perhaps over the first three years of the new six year deal he recently signed. If this is the case, than Havlat’s downside begins to look greater than his upside with the Northwest division club. However, Havlat is not your typical right winger, as he produced immediately in Ottawa at the age of 19, well before you would expect him to post GVT’s around 10.0. Expect a decline from Havlat over the course of the contract, but not as precipitous as a typical forward would experience.
With Gaborik off the books, but Havlat’s $4 million salary on the books, the Wild have about $7 million in cap room to work with. Several restricted free agents will more money, specifically a 10 % salary increase as required by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, specifically former 2nd round pick Josh Harding. While the 25-year-old could be a viable starter for the Wild, Nicklas Backstrom was tied for being the 2nd most productive goaltender last year, along with Florida’s Tomas Vokoun, with a 27.7 GVT. Goaltenders don’t peak like skaters from ages 23 to 26, and so a 31-year-old netminder should be expected to have plenty of solid years left. As difficult of a decision as it might seem, dealing Harding could be a good idea for Minnesota if they seek more salary cap relief.
So will this deal be worth it? Only time will tell. If Havlat stays healthy, then the Wild are back in playoff contention and in the hunt for the Northwest divisional crown. Though, as Minnesota fans learned with Gaborik, staying healthy is a big if.
Andrew Rothstein is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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