Mock Arbitration - Denis Grebeshkov

Between Monday and August 4th, 20 NHL players will be taking taking their teams to arbitration.  Among those twenty is Oilers' defenseman Denis Grebeshkov.  That being the case, we've decided to give a preview of how that arbitration hearing might go here at Copper & Blue.  We got the idea to do this from a similar exercise over at Japer's Rink, where they did a mock arbitration hearing for Capitals' defenseman Milan Jurcina. In the following exercise, Jonathan Willis will represent the Edmonton Oilers, Bruce McCurdy will act as Denis Grebeshkov's agent, and Derek Zona will serve as the impartial arbiter. 

 

Brief Presented By The Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club

I. Overview

Denis Grebeshkov is a third-pairing NHL defenseman who possess offensive flair but who lacks the defensive awareness, physical play, and reliability in his own end to ever play anything other than the opposition's weakest players.  Further, although he does possess those aforementioned offensive talents, he's not overly effective on the powerplay and so his offensive dimension is of limited usefulness to the team.  On top of that, he's prone to erratic play and confusing decisions with the puck,

Denis Grebeshkov is ranked fourth in total ice-time among Oilers defenders in a number of ways: total minutes on ice, total even-strength ice-time, and total ice-time per game - totals which are artificially high due to the limitations of defensemen like Steve Staios, Jason Strudwick and Ladislav Smid, who were simply incapable of playing more minutes.

Grebeshkov completely lacks a physical dimension: his 46 hits was the lowest total for any Oilers' defenseman who played the whole season.  Additionally, that total puts Grebeshkov in a four-way tie for 159th in the NHL, and none of the players he's tied with played as many games as he did.  It's also worth noting that Grebeshkov did this while playing over 20 minutes a game for 72 games, and that this is particularly relevant given the NHL's low standards for counting hits - in other words, for every half hour that Grebeshkov was on the ice, he could be expected to bump into somebody once.

Grebeshkov didn't line up against opposing stars, either.  According to Behind the Net, he played the fifth-lowest competition of any Oilers' defenseman.  Despite this, he was sent out with talented players, just narrowly finishing behind team leader Lubomir Visnovsky in Quality of Teammates - showing how reliant he is on his very capable defense partners (primarily Visnovsky and Gilbert).  It's easy to see how this inflated his offensive totals; he piled up second assists, scoring them at an 8:5 ratio to primary assists - this despite the fact that more primary assists are awarded than secondary assists.

Grebeshkov was used on the penalty-kill, but was more hindrance than help.  His lack of defensive acumen was clear, as he bled goals against at easily the worst rate among Oilers defensemen, with the opposition averaging nearly ten goals (9.91) on the Oilers per sixty minutes of short-handed icetime.  The next-worst player (Tom Gilbert) was significantly better (7.85 GAON/60) while the Oilers' best defenseman posted nearly 60% better numbers (6.21 GAON/60).

Grebeshkov was okay on the powerplay, but no better than that, easily being the worst of the four blueliners in terms of goals for and against.  Here they are, listed in order:

Sheldon Souray +41/-6 = +35
Tom Gilbert: +22/-4 = +18
Lubomir Visnovsky: +21/-3 = +18
Denis Grebeshkov: +18/-3 = +15

With all of this evidence, a clear picture of Grebeshkov emerges: we see a defenseman who lacks any discernible physical edge, and one whose lack of defensive ability is clearly evidenced by his a) atrocious record on the penalty-kill and b) by how sheltered he was by his coaches.  While his offensive talents can be useful (although they're likely overrated because he's played with tremendous defense partners), they don't make him an overly capable powerplay option, and he needs to be carefully deployed for them to be effective.

II. Comparables

At this point we would like to compare Grebeshkov's career numbers to those of other defensemen in the same age range and with similar totals.  In order to do this, we offer up the following statistics:

Denis Grebeshkov: Age 25, 2008-09
Scoring Stats: 176GP - 10G - 53A - 63PTS, -2 .36 PPG, .057 GPG
RTSS Stats: 46 hits, 87 blocked shots, 64 giveaways, 31 takeaways
Salary: TBD

Here are a pair of defenseman who compare well over the past two seasons:

Cam Barker: Age 23, 2008-09
Scoring Stats: 176GP - 10G - 53A - 63PTS, -2 .36 PPG, .057 GPG
RTSS Stats: 83 hits, 42 blocked shots, 17 giveaways, 9 takeaways
Salary: 3.083 MM/yr over 3 years

Christian Ehrhoff: Age 25, 2007-08
Scoring Stats: 264GP - 17G - 73A - 90PTS, +31, .34 PPG, .064 GPG
RTSS Stats: 92 hits, 108 blocked shots, 43 giveaways, 22 takeaways
Salary: 3.1 MM/yr over 3 years

 

While Denis Grebeshkov's offensive numbers are in the same range as these two players, his financial value should be significantly less than either of them.  We'll start with Barker.

Cam Barker has posted similar numbers to Grebeshkov, although it's worth noting that his total points, points per game, and goals per game are all superior to Grebeshkov's numbers in the same categories.  Not only has Barker been a better offensive player, but he adds a physical dimension that Grebeshkov lacks.  All of this, and Barker's two years younger than Grebeshkov, and has played a significant role on a team that went to the Western Conference Finals this past season.  Lastly, it's worth noting that while Grebeshkov and Barker are both RFA's, there's a significant wrinkle in Barker's case - he received his qualifying offer late, and thus stood a good chance of becoming an unrestricted free agent, but opted to sign with the Blackhawks before the greivance could be put forward.

Christian Ehrhoff has also posted similar numbers to Grebeshkov, although he's a better goal scorer and he had a longer track record with a better team at the same age.  His plus/minus has been significantly better, and this despite the fact that he played the toughest competition on his team in 2007-08 while playing with less than stellar linemates.

Both of these players compare well offensively with Grebeshkov but bring far more to the table in terms of their physical game.  Additionally, both contributed to successful teams, with Barker doing so at a younger age, and Ehrhoff doing so longer and against better opponents.

III. Summary

Denis Grebeshkov is a one-dimensional player who brings some offense to the table but not much else.  He's a third-pairing player with limited defensive ability and minimal physical presence, and thus he shouldn't receive a salary in the same range as the players above.

Still, he has improved from last season, and based more on his long-term potential than his current track record, the Edmonton Oilers are prepared to offer Grebeshkov a very generous 66.7% raise to 2.5 million dollars for 2009-10.

 

 

Brief Presented On Behalf Of Denis Grebeshkov

I.                    Intro

An exceptional skater with an underrated all-ice game,  Denis Grebeshkov is rapidly emerging as a premier offensive defenceman in the National Hockey League.  After a promising first season in Edmonton in 2007-08, Mr. Grebeshkov accepted a one-year renewal of his contract for $1,500,000 and delivered an outstanding season which forms the platform for this submission.   

A top four defenceman in terms of minutes played and quality of competition, Mr. Grebeshkov's primary duties were at even strength, where his performance ranked among the league's elite. Of the 150 listed NHL defencemen who played at least 60 games, Mr. Grebeshkov ranked 12th in even-strength points (ESP) with 26, and fourth in ESP per unit ice time (1.23 points per hour).  For the latter, see  the appendix  to this submission; note that Dustin Byfuglien should be excluded from the list as he has converted from defence to forward).

Despite playing on a team that ranked in the lower half of the NHL in offensive production (18th with 234 GF), Mr. Grebeshkov ranked 7th among all defencemen in on-ice goals for per unit ice time (3.26 GF/60). And despite playing on a team that ranked in the lower third of the NHL in defensive performance (22nd with 248 GA), Mr. Grebeshkov ranked among the top half of NHL defencemen in on-ice goals against per unit ice time (2.41 GA/60). His +16 at 5v5 ranked 14th in the NHL, and 1st among any defenceman on a non-playoff team.

II.                  Comparables

While it is difficult to find players whose performance truly compares with that of Mr. Grebeshkov,  we present here 10 offensive defencemen who were drafted between 2001 and 2004, all of whom have recently signed RFA contracts of 3-6 years with a mean value of $3,250,000 to $4,200,000 per season. These contracts were awarded after either the 2007-08 or 2008-09 season, which is represented as the "platform season" in each case. All ages are listed as of September 15 of that season.  The group leader in each category is marked with an asterisk.

Player

Platform

Drafted

Age

GP

TOI/G

G

A

P

+/-

PiM

Denis Grebeshkov

2008-09

2002

24

72

21:10

7

32

39

*+12

38

 

 

Cam Barker

2008-09

2004

22

68

18:11

6

*34

*40

-6

65

 

 

Matt Carle

2007-08

2003

22

62

18:08

2

13

15

-8

26

 

 

Alexander Edler

2008-09

2004

22

80

21:08

10

27

37

+11

54

 

 

Christian Ehrhoff

2007-08

2001

25

77

21:44

1

21

22

+9

*72

 

 

Tobias Enstrom

2007-08

2003

22

*82

24:28

5

33

38

-5

42

 

 

Tom Gilbert

2007-08

2002

24

*82

22:12

*13

20

33

-6

20

 

 

Andrej Meszaros

2007-08

2004

22

*82

21:02

9

27

36

+5

50

 

 

Joni Pitkanen

2007-08

2002

24

63

24:07

8

18

26

-5

56

 

 

Ryan Suter

2007-08

2003

22

76

20:35

7

24

31

+3

71

 

 

Dennis Wideman

2007-08

2002

24

81

*25:09

*13

23

36

+11

70

Here is the comparison of Mr. Grebeshkov against the average performance of those 10 players:

GP

TOI/G

G

A

P

+/-

PiM

Denis Grebeshkov

72

21:10

7

32

39

+12

38

Comparison group

75

21:40

7

24

31

+1

53

Mr. Grebeshkov's performance is well clear of the comparison group. He had the highest plus rating of the group in the platform year, and ranked second in raw points despite limited opportunity on special teams. His superior productivity can be seen in the detailed statistics which follow:

Player

ESP

ESP/60

GF/60

GA/60

+-/60

PPP

PPP/60

Denis Grebeshkov

*26

*1.23

*3.26

2.41

*+0.85

13

3.75

Cam Barker

10

0.60

1.99

2.38

-0.39

*29

*7.27

Matt Carle

7

0.55

2.10

2.36

-0.26

8

1.93

Alexander Edler

16

0.65

2.49

*1.84

+0.65

21

3.83

Christian Ehrhoff

16

0.73

2.15

1.91

+0.24

5

1.76

Tobias Enstrom

12

0.55

2.65

2.85

-0.20

26

2.45

Tom Gilbert

22

0.98

2.89

2.98

-0.09

9

3.01

Andrej Meszaros

19

0.80

2.88

2.69

+0.19

16

3.78

Joni Pitkanen

15

0.84

3.10

3.10

0.00

10

2.11

Ryan Suter

20

0.93

2.52

2.25

+0.27

11

2.57

Dennis Wideman

16

0.67

2.19

2.07

+0.12

20

3.90

Again, here is the comparison of Mr. Grebeshkov against the average of the comparison group:

ESP

ESP/60

GF/60

GA/60

+-/60

PPP

PPP/60

Denis Grebeshkov

26

1.23

3.26

2.41

+0.85

13

3.75

Comparison group

15

0.73

2.50

2.44

+0.05

16

3.26

Once again Mr. Grebeshkov ranks well above the comparison group, especially at even strength where he scored a quarter point per hour more than the next most productive scorer and fully half a point per hour more than the group as a whole. Due to the circumstances on his own team he has not yet been afforded an opportunity on the first-unit power play, however his production per unit ice time is again about half a point per hour better than the average of the group.

While Mr. Grebeshkov shines at the offensive side of the game, his defensive performance has been more than adequate. His GA/60 is better than the average of the group, and his 87 blocked shots track exactly to the average (91 hits in 3 more GP). While he plays a skating rather than a hitting game, Mr. Grebeshkov was credited with 46 hits in his platform year, far more than Mr. Pitkanen's 32, Mr. Carle's 29, Mr. Gilbert's 27, and Mr. Enstrom's 21, and within range of the group average of 61.

The final comparison to the group pertains to salary:

Player

Term

Average Salary ($MM)

Cam Barker

4 years

3.438

Matt Carle

4 years

3.550

Alexander Edler

4 years

3.250

Christian Ehrhoff

4 years

3.500

Tobias Enstrom

4 years

3.750

Tom Gilbert

6 years

4.000

Andrej Meszaros

3 years

3.500

Joni Pitkanen

3 years

4.000

Ryan Suter

5 years

4.200

Dennis Wideman

4 years

3.875

Average

4.1 yrs

3.706

Clearly players the calibre of Mr. Grebeshkov are highly valued throughout the NHL.

III.                Summary

Mr. Grebeshkov is happy to play for the Edmonton Oilers and remains hopeful to sign a long-term contract with the club commensurate with his proven performance and potential. He signed a one-year contract for below-market value this past season to prove his worth, which has been demonstrated to be above and beyond that of the comparison group.  We believe a salary of $3,750,000 to be fair compensation for 2009-10.

 

 

Rebuttal Presented By The Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club:

The Oilers are pleased to see the hard work put forth by Mr. Grebeshkov and his agent and want to thank them for the hard work that went into the list of comparables they've presented.

However, the Oilers wish to dispute several of the comparables submitted. The arbiter will recall that Mr. Grebeshkov's agent submitted the following list of comparables (age in brackets on right):

Cam Barker (22)
Matt Carle (22)
Alexander Edler (22)
Christian Ehrhoff (25)
Tobias Enstrom (22)
Tom Gilbert (24)
Andrej Meszaros (22)
Joni Pitkanen (24)
Ryan Suter (22)
Dennis Wideman (24)

Since we've already agreed that Barker and Ehrhoff are suitable comparables in some respects (caveats and our conclusion above) we'll set them aside for the moment.

Matt Carle was signed to a four-year extension worth 3.55 MM per season in November of 2007; in other words, his contract was based largely on his performance in 2006-07, not 2007-08 - the numbers that were provided by Mr. Grebeshkov's agent. Does this matter? Quite a bit - since in that season Carle scored, not 2 goals and 15 points, but 11 goals and 42 points - numbers significantly better than Grebeshkov's (7 and 39). Despite playing in a top-four role on a very successful team, Carle was only awarded the dollars expressed above.

Tom Gilbert we reject as a comparable entirely - his contract carries him into his years of unrestricted free agency, and the dollar figure attests to that fact. Since Mr. Grebeshkov will not be signed to a long-term deal carrying him through unrestricted free agency at this hearing, we ask that Gilbert not be considered.

Leaving aside Tom Gilbert, we have one principle issue with the rest: age. Many of the players above were 22 years old during those seasons - at 22, Mr. Grebeshkov couldn't even crack an NHL roster with regularity, even playing for cellar dwellers in L.A and NYI. These young players are being paid for potential.

Although no definitive study exists showing the difference in production between a 22-year old and 24-year old for defenseman, Ken Krzywicki of HockeyAnalytics.com studied the career production of forwards. His study showed that a player tends to produce at 24 roughly one and a half times the offense that he produced at 22.

Given that figure, and assuming that players develop similarly in similar areas, we'd like to take the list submitted by Mr. Grebeshkov's agent and do the following:

a) remove Tom Gilbert from consideration
b) take the salaries paid 22 year old players, and dock the difference between league minimum and what they were paid by 33% to reflect the expected increase in their ability
c) average the result

Here is our revised list:

Cam Barker: 2.450 MM/yr
Matt Carle: 2.525 MM/yr
Alex Edler: 2.325MM/yr
Christian Ehrhoff: 3.5 MM/yr
Tobias Enstrom: 2.658 MM/yr
Andrej Meszaros: 2.492 MM/yr
Joni Pitkanen: 4.0 MM/yr
Ryan Suter: 2.958 MM/yr
Dennis Wideman: 3.875 MM/yr

Average: 2.976 MM/yr

The majority of these players have a wider set of skills than Denis Grebeshkov, so the total seen here is inflated relative to his worth in any case, which is why the Oilers feel that their initial offer of 2.5 million dollars reflected fair market value for the player.

 

 

Rebuttal Presented By Denis Grebeshkov:

We dispute the repeated assertion that Mr. Grebeshkov is a "third-pairing" defenceman since he falls in the top four of the club by any reasonable metric, including ice time as conceded by the club. In addition to finishing in the top four Oiler defenders in total minutes for the second consecutive year, Mr. Grebeshkov also ranked in the top four in each situation - even strength, powerplay, and shorthanded - both as a gross total and per game in each case.  Also as the club points out, Mr. Grebeshkov regularly played with strong teammates, which is not consistent with their position that he was a "third-pairing" player. While we do not wish to cast aspersions on Mr. Grebeshkov's defensive teammates, we do believe he is clearly in the top four on the ice and the same should hold true on the payroll as well.

We also dispute the notion that he played a weaker calibre of opponent than his defence mates.  For example his "Behind the Net" rating of -0.03 is one one-hundredth of a point behind Mr. Staios' -0.02; that difference is more than explained by the dramatically lower level of success opponents realized when matched against Mr. Grebeshkov (+16 at 5v5) than Mr. Staios (-6). In short, Mr. Grebeshkov's outscoring success directly caused his opponents' ratings to be reduced.

We further dispute the claim that Mr. Grebeshkov has an "atrocious record on the penalty kill".  Of the five Oiler defencemen who had over an hour of time on the PK unit, Mr. Grebeshkov had the second best record of limiting opposition scoring chances, allowing just 38.6 per hour (Souray 37.2, Gilbert 38.8, Strudwick 41.8, Staios 43.6). That a higher percentage of those scoring opportunities resulted in goals against can be attributed to random distribution and small sample size, or to put it in hockey terms, goaltending and puck luck.

Moreover, the player strenuously objects to the club's characterization of him as a poor defensive player without a physical edge. We have already demonstrated that while Mr. Grebeshkov is first and foremost a skill player, his physical contributions as measured in blocked shots, hits, and penalty minutes, are well within the normal range for similar players in the comparison group.  Moreover he had solid increases in each category in 2008-09, consistent with the rapid development he has shown in all aspects of the game.

While the club contends Mr. Grebeshkov is not an overly capable powerplay option, in 2008-09 this was more a lack of opportunity than of performance.  As was the case at even strength, Mr. Grebeshkov was the second most productive defenceman per unit ice time (3.75 PPP/60), behind only Mr. Gilbert (3.91). Mr. Visnovsky (3.15) and Mr. Souray (2.95) lagged well behind, despite receiving far more ice time, primarily with "first unit" teammates.

Finally, the comparables. We are gratified that the club recognized Cam Barker and Christian Ehrhoff, both of whom were on the list of ten comparables in our own submission. While Mr. Barker did compile one more scoring point than Mr. Grebeshkov in 2008-09, he did so largely as a powerplay specialist. At even strength Mr. Grebeshkov outscored Mr. Barker by 26 points to 10, and his rating of +0.85 per 60 far outstrips Mr. Barker's -0.39. When you consider that Mr. Grebeshkov produced this positive differential on a net-minus team while Mr. Barker was on an outscoring club underscores the superiority of Mr. Grebeshkov in this particular comparison. Mr Ehrhoff meanwhile does not compare at all well offensively to Mr. Grebeshkov (22 points vs. 39), and the club's claim that he is a better goal scorer does not jive with the facts (1 goal in the platform season vs. 7). Mr. Enstrom and Mr. Gilbert had much more comparable offensive numbers in their platform seasons, but like Mr. Barker -- and unlike Mr. Grebeshkov -- they were significantly outscored in the process.

Mr. Grebeshkov is proud of his rapid improvement into an elite NHL defenceman. He anticipates a quick and equitable resolution of this contract matter to allow him to concentrate on preparing for the upcoming season.

 

 

Ruling

IN THE MATTER OF A SALARY ARBITRATION CONDUCTED PURSUANT
TO ARTICLE 12 OF THE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT BETWEEN:

DENIS GREBESHKOV AS A MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE PLAYERS' ASSOCIATION
hereinafter referred to as the "Player" or "Grebeshkov"

AND

THE EDMONTON OILERS HOCKEY CLUB, A MEMBER CLUB OF THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE
hereinafter referred to as the "Club"

Before: DEREK ZONA, Arbitrator
Appearances:
For the Player: BruceM
For the Club: Jonathan Willis
Hearing:  New York, July 17, 2009

I. Introduction

This is a matter of an arbitration involving Denis Grebeshkov and the Edmonton Oilers pursuant to Article 12 of the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA.

Grebeshkov signed a 1-year contract after the 2007-08 season during which the Club paid him a salary of $1,500,000.  Under article 12, section 2 of the collective bargaining agreement the Player has exercised his right to salary arbitration.  This ruling determines the Player's remuneration for the 2009-10 season. The Player is requesting a salary of $3,750,000; the Club is offering $2,500,000.

II.  History

Grebeshkov came to the Club in February, 2007 via a trade.  He was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings 18th overall in 2002.  He signed an entry-level contract with the Kings on July 15th, 2003.  He was traded to the New York Islanders on March 8th, 2006 and his entry level contract expired in 2006.  He signed with the Russian team Lokomotiv in 2006 and played the entire season there.  He was subsequently traded to the Edmonton Oilers and signed a 1 year contract on July 1st, 2007.  He played the entire 2007-2008 season in the NHL and signed his third contract on April 14th, 2008.  Player is 25 years old, 6'0", 209 pounds.  He plays defense and in the platform year, 2008-2009, he played on the second defensive pairing of the Club. 

The Club describes the player as an offensive specialist, unreliable on defense and unable to play all but the easiest of opponents.  The brief details the Player's reliance on his defensive partner to elevate his offensive totals.  The Club describes him as lacking physical play, and a vastly inferior penalty killer.

The Player describes himself as a premier offensive player that delivers superior results at even strength play.  The Player puts forth the notion that he is a skater, not a hitter, however, he is physical and that is expressed through his willingness to block shots.

III.  Comparables

Tom Gilbert will not be included as part of the comparison group, as his contract was signed as a restricted free agent, but spanned contract years in which Gilbert would have been an unrestricted free agent.  The Player has set forth Ryan Suter, but he will not be included.  He played the highest quality of competition for his club, rather than the weakest.  Tobias Enstrom and Dennis Wideman will not be included as in the platform year, they faced the highest quality of competition and played as primary penalty killers.

The Club and Player both present Cam Barker and Christian Ehrhoff as comparables and by tacit agreement of the parties through their submission of comparables, we will focus on these two.  The Club has focused on the Player's lack of physical play as a key component to their offer.  While the comparable players have more hits, it should be noted that the Player blocked twice as many shots as Barker.  It should be noted that Ehrhoff was a far more experienced player at the time of his contract award more than a full season of additional experience compared to the player.  The Player compares favorably to Barker in all areas except power play production, and the player compares favorably to Ehrhoff in all areas except GA/60, but that is more than made up for by his superior GF/60.

However, I find that Alexander Edler is the most compelling player submitted.  In TOI/G, PTS, and +/-, the Player and Edler were near mirror images of each other.  In the detailed statistics, there was more variance in production, but the players remain comparable in several categories.  According to the detailed competition statistics supplied by the Club, Edler played the third-toughest competition, however, relative to each of their teammates, Edler played against easier competition.  They also played similar penalty kill minutes and Edler had 58 hits to Grebeshkov's 46 in the platform year.

The Club has set forth that the player is not a physical, and he lags far behind all but Edler.  Yet his statistics and detailed goal differential do not suffer because of it, rather his detailed statistics outpaced the listed comparables.

The Player does not acknowledge the relative ease of minutes played during the platform year, a fact which disqualified many of his submitted comparables.  Player does not acknowledge the quality of teammates, specifically defensive partners during the platform year.

Three valid comparables were presented by for review.  Ehrhoff played significantly more games and can be considered much less of a risk in signing a contract.  Barker was a more physical player with superior power play numbers and played a significant role in his team's power play success.  The player most closely matching Grebeshkov in all facets of the game including physical play and most of all experience level, was Edler.  Edler signed a contract following the platform year for $3,250,000.  Given the similarities between the Player and Edler, I rule that the Player's salary will be commiserate with the salary Edler received following the platform year.

AWARD

The Player is to receive a salary of $3,250,000 for the 2009-10 contract season.

NEW YORK, this 10th day of July 2009.
DEREK ZONA
ARBITRATOR

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