Just How good is Evgeny Kuznetsov?: A Comparison With Other Top NHL Centers

Photo: Geoff Burke/Getty Images

On July 2 2017, Evgeny Kuznetsov signed an eight-year, 62.4 Million contract, which translates to an annual cap hit of 7.8M. That’s a lot of money, so let’s see how he compares to other Centers around the league: 

Kuznetsov has 11th highest cap hit, but is he the 11th best Center? (Well, 12th because McDavid)

One could say that this is not the right question, because some of the contracts have been signed in a very different cap environment, but let’s not forget that GMs always assume that the cap will go up when they sign a contract, especially the very long-term ones as in this case.

Now, how are we going to rank our Centers? I could write a 10,000 word piece trying to analyze a bunch of stats (going from P/60, to Corsi, to expected goals, to blocked shots) and still miss something or I could use GAR.

What is GAR? Goals Above Replacement is a single value stat created by Dawson Springs (@DTMAboutHeart), which attempts to predict a player’s value using sophisticated mathematic techniques, with which he’s been able to put together box-car stats (points, goals, etc) and play-by-play stats (Crosi, shot location, etc).

Maybe the most important value of GAR is it cuts into one of the trickiest aspects of player evaluation – the allocation of credit for an event (Goal for, Shot attempt against and such). It takes into account teammates, competition, coaching and past performance, which all have a very big influence on a player’s future performance.

Here you can find a series of articles explaining in detail how WAR has been built. (WAR is Wins Above Replacement, it’s basically the same thing as GAR, as all it changes from WAR to GAR is that Wins have been converted in Goals. It’s all explained in the Hockey-Graphs series).

Let’s see how the Top Centers in the league rank:

(I did not consider Draisaitl, because a big chunk of his value came from playing with McDavid and GAR has been built to drag down the players furthest from the mean, because in most cases, it’s just luck. Then the problem is that the players who are on the ice with exceptional talents like McDavid get credit from the phenom’s work)

(Red is below replacement level and blue is above. “Replacement level” is comprised of the players who’re not in the top 390 Forwards or 210 Defensemen in Ice time)

Kuznetsov ranks 26th. That’s not ideal, but he’s still comfortably in 1C territory and his contract may even look like “fair value”, if compared to Johansen or Giroux.

As you can see there are five components of GAR: Even-Strenght Offense (EVO), Even-Strenght Defense (EVD), Power-Play Offense (PPO), Drawn penalties and Taken penalites.

Additionally, GAR is built on “Plus-Minus” stats. This means that the more Time-on-Ice a player has the higher his GAR will be (assuming we’re talking about a player with positive value). That might be relevant here because unlike most of the players on that list, Kuznetsov hasn’t been getting 1C minutes, because he’s been playing on the same team as Backstrom.

After ranking by Even-Strenght Impact/60 (EVO, EVD, Take, Draw) and GAR/60, here’s what we get:

Kuznetsov is at 28th place for ESI/60 and at 26th for GAR/60, still 1C caliber, but not 12th best.

Here’s his career trajectory:

Here’s Tarasenko (the player with the contract closest to Kuzy at the time of the singing)

As you can see Kuznetsov has been following the same trajectory in his first two seasons as his fellow countryman and 2010 draftee, only to fall off in the third season. That’s possibly because he didn’t get the best opportunity to grow and succeed being the third-best forward on the Caps, while Tarasenko has been the go-to guy for the Blues.

Kuznetsov is crucial to the Caps organization and overpaying him is still better than overpaying for depth players, but to be worth the kind of money he’s being paid, we’ll need a lot more from him.

There’s reason to hope that increased minutes and responsibilities will force Kuznetsov to take a step further towards becoming the truly elite talent we’ve seen for stretches of the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons.

We’ll probably see a superficial increase of point production due a role on PP1 and the minutes that come with it, but we’ll have to keep an eye on the deeper stats in order to see if the Caps will have a future building around the skilled Center, or if they’ll have to do as much as they can to maximize these last productive years from Ovechkin and Backstrom.

Thanks to: CapFriendly for the salary info, Sean Tierney for the viz, Dawson Springs’ for the GAR data and to @petbugs for the age curves.

By Liviu Damaschin


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About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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6 Responses to Just How good is Evgeny Kuznetsov?: A Comparison With Other Top NHL Centers

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  2. I think Kuzy is going to show that he was worth every penny this season

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