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Justin Abdelkader's RFA Status & the Helm Standard

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You can't see it, but he's doing that thing where you rub your thumb and forefingers together as if to say "paaaaay me."
You can't see it, but he's doing that thing where you rub your thumb and forefingers together as if to say "paaaaay me."

Yesterday's announcement that the Red Wings had signed Darren Helm to a four-year, $8.5M contract came as welcome news to Red Wings fans. While some thought the hit too high to varying degrees, the general consensus is one that this is a fantastic deal for the Red Wings' third line center. Darren Helm will definitely fill one of the 12 every day player spots at forward and his signing leaves approximately $24M in cap space to fill the remaining spots.

Naturally, the signing has brought discussion about the two remaining RFAs on Detroit's roster; Kyle Quincey and Justin Abdelkader. The Oakland Press' Chuck Pleiness had some details on those two players at the end of his write-up on the Helm signing:

The Wings have made qualifying offers to their other two restricted free agents — Justin Abdelkader and Kyle Quincey — but both aren’t close to signing.

The Wings would like to get Abdelkader to sign a four-year deal at just under $2 million a season.

After the jump, we'll look at Abdelkader and go over the Red Wings' options.

Justin Abdelkader

#8 / Left Wing / Detroit Red Wings



Feb 25, 1987

2011 - Justin Abdelkader 81 8 14 22 4 62 0 0 1 121

The scoop on Abdelkader from our Pro/No series is that he's a decent fourth line center/third line winger who projects no higher than the third line. When we put the question about whether Detroit should re-sign him to a vote, about 2/3rds of the fans said they'd like to see the Wings return Abby at a reasonable rate.

Now that we have a number, it's time to decide whether it's reasonable.

While we can't be sure as to what exactly "just under $2M a season is, we can play around with some comparables. Here's a partial list of players roughly the same age and cap hit as what is being proposed for Abdelkader:

Player Age Cap Hit (M) 2011-12 Points
Gregory Campbell 28 $1.6 16
Derek Dorsett 25 $1.633 20
Matt D'Agostini 25 $1.65 18
Brian Boyle 27 $1.7 26
Tyler Bozak 26 $1.5 47
Jiri Tlusty 24 $1.6 36
Mike Santorelli 26 $1.6 11
Max Pacioretty 23 $1.625 65

Naturally, some of these guys aren't true comparables. Guys like Pacioretty and Tlusty are much more offensive-minded players who don't fit the role that Abdelkader would. However, it's kind of hard to look at these guys and say that the 22-point-producing Abdelkader is worth more than this group. Sure, inflation plays a role the same as it did with Darren Helm, but relative value for RFAs also plays a role.

George Malik penned a somewhat apologetic take on why Abdelkader would get such a high amount for his overnight report:

Blame small-market teams spending oodles of money on role players while trying to get to the cap floor and the ridiculousness that the $4 million-per-season deal David Jones got from the Avs set in motion.

Put simply, yeah, these salaries are out of whack by last year’s standards, but especially given the kinds of numbers players 5 years older and possessing more flaws than Abdelkader, Quincey and Abdelkader are going to get on the open market a week-and-a-half from now, these deals are kind of like signing Jonathan Ericsson to a $3.25 million contract on UFA day last summer, right before players just as up-and-down as Ericsson got $4 million or more simply because they were defensemen who could skate in a straight line and block the occasional shot.

More importantly, while Abdelkader is at something of a crossroads in his career, the Wings don’t have any ready-to-go replacements for someone who they’re hoping will develop into either a 3rd line winger or 4th line center who can take draws, muck and grind, play rock-solid defensive hockey, and if his World Championship performances were any indication of lingering potential, possibly display some net-front tenacity and sustained aggression and instigation of players’ tempers, a la Kirk Maltby prior to the lockout.

George makes some solid points, but in saying that the David Jones contract should naturally help handcuff the Red Wings into overpaying somebody, he also misses the mark.

I'll get this out there: I like Justin Abdelkader. I voted yes for him and would love to have him back at a hit even approaching the $1.6M mark. However, I'd love for the Wings to take a much more pragmatic look at the market and at what Abdelkader means to the Red Wings versus what the Red Wings mean to him.

The David Jones comparison begins to fall apart as you simply look at the roles to each team and the value of what they would get in return. David Jones got a 60% raise to remain one of Colorado's top-six forwards in both ice time and production. His jump from $2.5M to $4M is a little crazy where a jump for Abdelkader from $787,500 to nearly $2M (more than double his current salary) would be a lot crazy.

To understand the worth of an RFA signing, it helps to understand the trade off of assumed return for him signing the same deal elsewhere. It's a bit tricky to assume that a guy would get the exact same amount, especially since the market on offer sheets to RFAs has dried up significantly, but it's a good comparative. Unfortunately, compensation limits have yet to be set for this season. However, here's an educated guess at what those limits would be:

Salary Range Compensation
$0-$1,130,757 No Compensation
$1,130,757-$1,713,268 3rd Round Pick
$1,713,268-$3,426,538 2nd Round Pick
$3,426,538-$5,139,806 1st Round + 3rd Round Picks
$5,138,806-$6,853,075 1st, 2nd, + 3rd Round Picks
$7,853,075-$8,566,344 Two 1st Round Picks + One 2nd and One 3rd
$8,566,344-MAX SALARY
Four 1st Round Picks

(DISCLAIMER: This is NOT official information. These numbers were taken from last year's figures and calculated out as the same percentage of a $70.3M cap, which is NOT how this is calculated. This is nothing more than an estimate form which to work.)

So when the Avalanche signed David Jones to a $4M contract, they told the NHL that he was not only irreplaceable to them, but also worth not receiving a potential 1st and 3rd round pick for him. With Abdelkader, I'm assuming that "just under $2M" means putting him in the 2nd round pick compensation tier.

The question at that tier is whether Justin Abdelkader is so important to the Wings that the trade off for him versus a different 4th line center/3rd line winger, plus the cap space differential, plus a seemingly random 2nd round pick would be worth it. My answer? I don't know and I'm in no hurry to find out.

The Wings have qualified Abdelkader, so he definitely can't sign with another team without Detroit having an opportunity to match. While Helm has that fan-favorite irreplaceable quality (as evidenced by the 96% yes votes in Pro/No), which makes signing him as early as possible a must, Abdelkader lacks this. He's a good guy and fits well with Detroit's system, but he's not so valuable to make locking him up before you know what you can get for him a huge priority.

Abdelkader also has the right to go to salary arbitration (or the Wings have the right to take him to arbitration if they desire). I'm having a hard time believing that an arbitrator would more than double Abdelkader's salary if it came to that. Additionally, having an arbitrator's hearing allows the Wings to move forward knowing that he won't be signing any offers in the meantime; This will allow them to fill their roster from the top-down rather than the bottom-up.

If neither side elects arbitration, the worst that can happen is Abdelkader signing an offer sheet on July 1st, which would give the Wings seven days to decide whether to match. SEVEN DAYS. You could literally build a club better than the Avalanche from scrap in seven days. What's better is that offer sheet lets them know specifically what the trade off would be. Knowing his compensation would let you look for the player who would replace him and gauge whether that player's talent difference, the difference in cap hits, PLUS a 2nd-round pick would make it worth parting with Abdelkader.

The biggest downside to this is that it does put the process on display and can hurt guys' feelings when it comes down to watching their club actually do the math down to the penny on how valuable a contributor he is. My response to hurt feelings is to ask that the 25-year old millionaire kindly spend a week visiting people who have been laid off to gain a little perspective in how betrayed they should really feel. I like how well the Red Wings treat their players, but when it comes down to it, this is a business.

Personally, if Abdelkader is ready to sign a 2-4 year deal worth $1.4-1.5M per season, I would sign that right now (although I would prefer the deal be for less money). However, I don't believe that signing him to much more than that before exploring all options in free agency is in the Wings' best interest, no matter how much I like Justin Abdelkader.