As each moment passes, we get closer to July 1st and the day that Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Bryan Allen becomes an unrestricted free agent. This might not seem like much to a casual observer because players leave all the time but to the Hurricanes, Allen leaving is a pretty big loss. In the general sense, defensive d-men like Allen are not that difficult to replace. If a GM is looking for a player who can play a responsible game in his own end, kill penalties and not contribute much offensively, he can probably find one without needing to spend a lot of money. However, what makes Allen more difficult to replace is the type of role he played on the Hurricanes last season and the lack of available defensemen on the market who can step into that role.
Let's take a trip back to late-February when the thought among Carolina fans was that Allen would be traded for kings ransom. The reason why people thought Allen would fetch that kind of return is because he played an important role on the Hurricanes and they weren't going to let him go for a small package. What was being ignored here was the question of how much Allen is worth to other teams, a playoff team to be specific.
Allen is a top four defenseman and a key penalty killer on the Hurricanes but would be used in the same situations on a team like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Chicago or Detroit? Seeing where Allen stands compared to the rest of the league will give us a better idea of this and how much Allen is worth on the open market. For all we know, the Hurricanes may not need to drastically overpay Allen to keep him for another year or two because other teams might not see him as valuable as Carolina does.
All indications seem to be that Allen will leave in a few weeks, but just for the sake of it, we are going to compare Allen to some other defensemen in the league to see how much his new contract should pay him. Whether he stays or goes. We will start looking at this after the jump.
A point that I have constantly refuted over this season is that both Allen and Tim Gleason handle just about all of the tough assignments among the defense corps. Guys who can play tough muinutes regularly do not grow on trees, so the Hurricanes can't just plug in any player in Allen's spot next season and expect the fort to be held down. Sure, Justin Faulk has shown the potential to play this kind of role and Brian Dumoulin has been billed as a future shutdown defenseman but both are still very young and the Canes can't assume that they will be ready to step into those roles next year. Rutherford might feel confident enough in those two that he doesn't want to sign a defenseman to a bloated contract, but I'm expecting another blue liner to be brought in next year for depth purposes.
Let's say that the Hurricanes decide to re-sign Allen. How much money are players similar to him making? Below is a list of defensemen who were used in a similar role to Allen this season and how much they were making. I also included some stats from Behind The Net to add some detail to what kind of roles they played and how they performed.
|Player||EV TOI/G||RQoC||OZ%||Corsi Rel.||Pts/60||Cap Hit|
RQOC = Corsi relative to quality of competition, OZ% = Offensive Zone Start percentage, Corsi rel. = Corsi Relative, Pts/60 = Even strength points per 60 minutes
It's tough to make any conclusions about Allen based on this chart but one thing we can say is that he is in the lower-tier of this grouping. He plays tough minutes but he's trusted with less ice time than some of the players near the top of the list. Allen did play on the top defense pairing for most of the first half of the season, but he was eventually demoted while Faulk, Harrison and Gleason began to play 20+ minutes a game. Allen is also not the same quality of player that Suter, Weber, Bouwmeester, Hedman, McDonagh or even Alzner are so we already know he isn't going to demand that high of a price tag.
If we're going to limit Allen to just the tough minute defensemen who are mainly second pairing guys, it's fair to say that he is probably one of the better defenders in that group. He was better at preventing chances than Klesla, Weaver and Regehr last season, so he will likely earn more than $3 mil. per year from whatever team signs him. However, I don't think he deserves anything in $4+ mil. territory because his game is pretty one-dimensional and I don't know if GMs are going to shell out that kind of money 2nd pairing defenseman. He is also 31, and his play seemed to diminish as the season went on, so that's worth keeping in mind.
Something that is worth noting here is that a few players here were on their entry-level deals last year and some even stepped into a top-pairing role. This does leave some hope that possibly one of Faulk or Dumoulin can step into that role. That's assuming Faulk can improve his play in his own zone and that Dumoulin is as good as Ryan McDonagh. Neither of which are a certainty.
To sum things up, Allen would likely be a 2nd/3rd pairing defenseman and penalty kill specialist on a "good team" and could be worth at least $3 mil. to a team that wants/needs him. Considering that he was making $3.1 mil. in actual salary this season, Carolina can probably afford that price tag. It's the multi-year commitment that will make things complicated. With Murphy, Dumoulin and Sanguinetti gunning for roster spots in the next couple years, there is room for only so many defensemen which means that the Canes will probably have to avoid handing out any long-term contracts to defensmen. This could change if someone is traded, though.
So, we know what Allen is worth to the Canes and what fair value is for him, which would be in the $3-4 mil. per year range. Unfortunately, under today's salary cap not many players go for their "true value" and a lot of GMs have to overpay to get what they want, especially with the free agent class being so thin. It is almost a guarantee that Allen will get more than his expected value next season based on the fact that there are so few free agent defensemen similar to him available. In fact, if you were to look at the free agent defensemen this year, you'll see that Allen has a much more defined role than most of them.
Rob Vollman recently made a spreadsheet with information available on every single free agent this off-season, and if you were to go to the player usage chart under the defensemen tab, you'll see that Allen started more of his even strength shifts in the defensive zone than any other blue liner while playing against some of the toughest competition. I am not sure how many front office guys look at these stats, but the ones who do are going to notice how Allen sticks out in this pack and will target him if they need a shutdown defenseman. Ryan Suter is going to be on everyone's wish list but a lot of teams can't afford him, so they will have to look to other options like Jason Garrison, Matt Carle, Carlo Coaliacovo and guess who, Bryan Allen as back-up options. Allen's game is one-dimensional but a team looking for a shutdown defensemen could give him a good payday if they want someone to strictly play the shutdown role. Allen getting a deal similar to what Jan Hejda got from the Avalanche last season wouldn't surprise me.
Whether or not the Hurricanes will/should give him that deal is anyone's guess, though.