The Flames had a number of needs heading into this past summer. Some young players needed new contracts; they needed to get goalies under contract, period; and the only player of note who could play the right side was Michael Frolik.
The various contracts were signed. Alex Chiasson was acquired for Patrick Sieloff, somebody who probably isn’t going to be an NHL regular any time… ever, really. And Troy Brouwer was picked up on July 1, too.
And then, one day before the season started, so was Kris Versteeg.
Two very different UFA signings
Brouwer and Versteeg have a handful of things in common. They’re both over 30 years old (Brouwer a year older). They’re both right shots, right wings. They’re both NHL veterans of hundreds of games; Brouwer has played 640, while Versteeg, 567. Both have over 300 points to their names. Both were late round draft picks; both have played for multiple teams; both have won at least one Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks, if that means anything.
After that, though, they’re completely different. Brouwer is bigger; he’s taller than Versteeg by about four inches and heavier by some 40-ish pounds. Versteeg is the better scorer; he’s a career .566 point per game player, while Brouwer is at .475.
The most striking difference, though, is their contracts.
Brouwer was sought after immediately, and the Flames signed him to a four-year, $18 million deal as soon as free agency opened. Versteeg, meanwhile, was on his way to Switzerland to play before insurance fell through; he then had to fight to prove he was still worthy of an NHL team by playing with the Edmonton Oilers during the preseason on a professional tryout. He was finally rewarded with a one-year, $950k contract in Calgary the day before the season actually started.
The bigger, enduringly healthy player got the big contract as soon as possible; the smaller, shifty-but-sometimes-hurt player got a small contract at the last minute.
Barring what would be a surprising lack of faith either via trade or expansion draft exposure, Brouwer should be here after this season. We have no idea what Versteeg’s fate will be.
Who was the better signing?
There aren’t that many players you want to commit money and term to. Pretty much just the young stars on any team – talented players you want to lock up for much of their careers, and who still have several years ahead of them – and that’s about it. In this case, we’re talking about two players whose best years are likely behind them (and if not now, will be soon). In most cases, the cheaper deal is the better contract.
That holds true for this case. We aren’t comparing a first liner to a fourth liner here; we’re talking about two veterans who have played notable roles for different teams for years now.
And that’s just off the ice. When we consider points, Versteeg has two fewer than Brouwer – in 10 fewer games played. While Brouwer is a .37 point per game player this season, Versteeg is a .47 guy; if they keep this up, Brouwer will finish the season with 30 points (which would be his lowest total since the 2008-09 season), while Versteeg would finish with 34.
However, in the interest of fairness, Brouwer is shooting a little under his career average, while Versteeg is way over.
Brouwer does receive more ice time, but honestly, that begs the question of why he isn’t scoring more than anything else.
But then, it’s also probably worth noting that six of Brouwer’s points came in the first eight games of the season; the longest stretch he’s gone so far this year without scoring is six games, and even then, it’s only been broken up by a point here and there. Versteeg, meanwhile, is presently on a streak; however, his longest stretch of pointlessness has been four games, and he hasn’t been held off the scoreboard as much as Brouwer has (even when you adjust for his missed games).
Then, there’s the fancier stuff. Brouwer and Versteeg have fairly similar usage – Brouwer’s OZS is 36.00%, while Versteeg’s is 33.16% – and yet, Versteeg has the noticeably better corsi (48.17% to Brouwer’s 46.21%). There isn’t much difference between the two at all – even their quality of teammate and competition are pretty similar – but the edge does go to Versteeg.
Brouwer is Versteeg’s most common linemate. Together, over 114:44 5v5 minutes, they are a 45.5% CF pairing. Versteeg away from Brouwer is 52.0% CF; Brouwer away from Versteeg is 45.7% CF. And their zone starts remain pretty consistent whether they’re together or not, so it’s not as though Versteeg is being sheltered where Brouwer isn’t; they both are.
These two had polar opposite signings: one for big money as soon as he was available; one a castoff for very little on the last day.
And yet, it’s the latter who has the edge. He scores more. He has a better on-ice performance. And he’s substantially cheaper.
Brouwer’s areas of strength come from having an outstanding record of health (Versteeg has already missed 10 games this season and missed much of the 2013 lockout season; since making the NHL, Brouwer has only ever really missed a game here and there) and much, much more physical (60 hits to Versteeg’s two).
Which do you prefer?