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Moneypuck: Nathan Horton’s Contract with the Blue Jackets

As a 7-year old, I remember telling my father how badly I wanted to play hockey. It’s not a sport that any of my friends played, and as an American, it’s not a sport that a high percentage of kids played or even have regular access to. In fact, hockey has more of an upper-class prestige down here, in a way that tennis and golf seem to, and my family was lower-middle class. However, my father was excited to give me this opportunity, eventually becoming the head coach of my travel teams, and since then hockey has been the biggest sport in my life. My childhood obsession with hockey went further than watching and playing, as it was filled with evenings spent organizing and reorganizing my hockey cards, while I tried to memorize the statistics of my favorite players that they printed on the back of each card. Players like Peter Forsberg, Sergei Fedorov, Jaromir Jagr, Dominic Hasek and my favorite player, Darius Kasparaitis, were all memorized for a time. (No, I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head how many hits Kasparaitis had in the 1997-98 season anymore. I had to make room for bills and other boring numbers.)

I’ve since quit collecting cards, even though I still own thousands from my childhood which I cherish, but I’ve never stopped looking at the numbers. It’s this reason that I’ve decided to run the Moneypuck series, hoping to connect and introduce new readers to the concepts and weight that these numbers can carry.

Nathan Horton was arguably the biggest free agent signing this past offseason. The Blue Jackets were able to sign Horton to a 7-year deal worth $37.1 million. His cap hit is $5.3 million, according to capgeek. Next season the salary cap is expected to jump to $71 million, which means Horton will only occupy about 13% of the Jackets salary cap. It also makes Horton the second-highest paid player for the Blue Jackets behind Marian Gaborik, who hits at $7.5M.

Now that Horton has finally returned to the Blue Jackets’ lineup, it’s a good chance to look into his advanced statistics, and hopefully this will give us an idea of how good or bad Jarmo Kekalainen’s first free agent signing is. I’m betting it’s a pretty solid deal, but we have to remain speculative until we get a grasp on how he’s really contributed throughout his career.

Corsi Relative

Corsi Relative (Crel or CF% rel) is fairly easy to understand. It’s a measurement used to determine how well a player is driving posession when he is on the ice, relative to the rest of the team when that player is not on the ice. The statistic used to measure this is usually even-strength Corsi numbers. (Corsi is the sum of shots, missed shots and blocked shots.)

To clarify, in Nathan Horton’s last full season, 2010-11, his Corsi Relative was 13.3. That means that Horton was contributing to 13.3 more shots per 60 minutes than the rest of his teammates were when he wasn’t on the ice. Horton’s teammate Dennis Seidenberg had a Corsi Relative of -3.9, which meant that his teammates were shooting more pucks when Seidenberg wasn’t on the ice, at a rate of 3.9 shot attempts per 60 minutes.

However, Corsi Relative can be a misleading statistic when used without a context, that’s why you’ll usually see it in relation to Quality of Competition.

Quality of Competition

QoC was designed to deal with the flaws in plus/minus. Plus/minus can be severely altered in favor, or against, based on a player’s ice time. It doesn’t do a good job of quantifying the actual impact a player has while he is on the ice due to the fact that some players are forced to play against the best players on the opposing team, night after night. For example, some of the better two-way forwards like Patrice Bergeron and Logan Couture, will have a higher QoC than a 4th-line player like Zac Rinaldo.

Extra Skater has done a good job of simplifying the QoC statistic by using TotTm% QoC. TotTm% (total time on-ice%) is the measurement of an opponents percentage of ice-time. For example, Sidney Crosby is usually given more ice-time in a game than most of his teammates, so his TotTm% would be higher than most of his teammates.

When applying TotTm% QoC to a specific player we are trying to find out how much ice-time his opponents are occupying on a nightly basis. The higher the TotTm% QoC, the tougher the competition gets because coaches generally give their best players more minutes.

[Top 10 TotTM% Qoc per Extra Skater]
[Top 10 TotTM% Qoc per Extra Skater]
[Bottom 10 TotTM% QoC per Extra Skater]
[Bottom 10 TotTM% QoC per Extra Skater]
Player Usage Charts

[2011-12 Boston Bruins Forward Usage Chart. Courtesy of Eric T.]
[2011-12 Boston Bruins Forward Usage Chart. Courtesy of Eric T.]
This chart should help clarify the time-weighted quality of competition. As you can see, Horton is grouped around the rest of the top-6 forwards on the Boston Bruins of the 2011-12 season. Each player in each of the top 2 lines played against forwards and defenders that played a high amount of minutes on their respective teams.

Horton’s Corsi Relative that season was an outstanding 16.6. It was actually the highest of his career. However, Horton suffered a concussion in January and missed the rest of that season, playing only 46 games. It is likely that his Corsi Relative would have came down over the course of a full season but he’s never had a bad season. The prior season he was 13.3 and last season he was 9.4.

[2011-12 Columbus Blue Jackets Forward Usage Chart. Courtesy of Eric T.]
[2011-12 Columbus Blue Jackets Forward Usage Chart. Courtesy of Eric T.]
If we wish to compare Horton’s numbers, we can see that RJ Umberger and Vinny Prospal had similar competition that season. Umberger’s Corsi Relative was a disappointing -0.8 but Prospal had a comparable 13.3. That season’s performance earned Umberger a 5-year contract extension worth $23M, which is simply a bad deal for Columbus. The aging Prospal was offered a 1-year extension worth $2.5M.

If we wish to compare against more players who had similar competition levels, Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings is a player we can use. In 2011-12 his competition was very similar to Horton’s and his Corsi Relative for that season was 6.1. Zetterberg’s cap hit was $7.75M that season, but he’s almost a point per game player as well. Yet Horton has done well in his career too, scoring 403 points in 593 games. Mike Richards of the Los Angeles Kings had a similar Qoc and his Corsi Relative was -15.4. Richards is on a 12-year $69M deal that lasts until 2019-20 with a cap hit of $5.75M.

I believe there are teams that would have paid Horton closer to $6M per season if they would’ve had the chance to sign him. (How awesome is it that he wanted to sign in Columbus.) That’s still seems like a pretty fair deal based on the analysis that I’ve presented here.

The Blue Jackets have seen some unfortunate deals made while Scott Howson was the general manager, however Jarmo Kekalainen’s deal with Nathan Horton looks very good right now. The trade for Marian Gaborik, while unfortunate with his injuries this season, wasn’t a bad move either, essentially trading a depth forward, depth defenceman and an enforcer.

I’m a big believer in what Jarmo and John Davidson are trying to do within the Blue Jackets organization, and with deals like this and Jarmo’s notoriety for drafting, it won’t be long before this team is noticed as a very competitive team.

@nickjbiss

Note:  Hockey Abstract has created their own player usage charts, which are user-friendly and you can make your own adjustments. Go ahead and check them out.

Nick Biss

Nick Biss

Columbus Blue Jackets contributor since 2013. I enjoy all aspects of hockey and can be found reviewing old game footage or trying out for Marc Andre Fleury's position.
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