Pondering the value of Steve Sullivan

Probably the single biggest offseason personnel decision facing the Nashville Predators is the signing of Steve Sullivan to a new contract. It's a thorny question, however, given the combination of his age, his injury history and the undoubted offensive skill that he brings to the table. How does one set a contract value with the various factors working in both positive and negative directions?

Yesterday over at Examiner.com, Jim Diamond takes a stab at what a reasonable figure might be, suggesting the following:

2009-2010 - $5.0 million

2010-2011 – $3.5 million

2011-2012 - $3.0 million

He leaves open the possibility of this being a 2- or 3-year deal. This is based mostly on Sully's production over the final 29 games of the season, in which he potted 11 goals and 18 assists. Using that point-per-game pace, it would certainly stand to reason that Sully should slot right in alongside top earners on the Preds like Jason Arnott, Martin Erat, and David Legwand, right?

Looking at that 29-game stretch, one would think so. It's a bit opportunistic to select just a portion of the season and proclaim that the true indicator of one's worth, but Sully's situation is unique here.

The real conundrum is Sullivan's age and injury history; he'll be 35 by the time the puck drops on the next season, and the back issue which kept him on the shelf for nearly two years hangs like a specter over his value. I checked with a sports agent who works with the NHL, and the Predators wouldn't be able to insure Sully's salary against another back injury, and in fact may not be able to insure him at all, given his situation. That financial risk, along with the risk of him not being in the lineup for a significant number of games, surely comes into consideration.

There's also the fact that people tend to focus solely on offensive production when evaluating players, and defensively, there's cause for concern. Taking those final 29 games into account, the Preds were significantly outshot (219-178) when Sully was on the ice at even strength, and his Plus/Minus was only salvaged due to the Preds goaltending posting a .948 Save Percentage behind him. Time On Ice.com has a tool whereby you can take a subset of games and get a variety of information like this (if you look at Player #99 in the table following that link, you get combined data for the Sully/Arnott/Dumont line). While Sully definitely adds offensive punch to the team, there are some holes to his game and that needs to be recognized.

So what's the proper comparison here? I pulled together the following list from NHLNumbers.com of mid-30's wingers as benchmarks:

 Player  Age 08-09 Salary 09-10 Salary 10-11 Salary GP G A Pts PPG
 Steve Sullivan  34   $3.2 million  UFA  UFA 41 11 21 32 0.78
 Keith Tkachuk  37   $4.5 million  UFA  UFA 79 25 24 49 0.62
 Jason Blake  35   $4.5 million  $4.5 million  $3.0 million 78 25 38 63 0.81
 Vyacheslav Kozlov  37   $3.85 million  $3.85 million  UFA 82 26 50 76 0.93
 Cory Stillman  35   $3.6 million  $3.5 million  $3.5 million 63 17 32 49 0.78
 Ray Whitney  36   $3.55 million  $3.55 million  UFA 82 24 53 49 0.60
 Fredrik Modin  34   $3.5 million  $3.5 million  UFA 50 9 16 25 0.50
 Pavol Demitra  34   $4 million  $4 million  $4 million 69 20 33 53 0.77

Basically, I'd slot Sully somewhere around the $4 million mark, and knock off a bit due to the known injury risk. Something like $3.5-$3.75 million averaged over the life of the contract, perhaps $4.5 million for the upcoming season and $3 million in 2009-10. Due to his 35th birthday falling on July 6 (just missing the league's June 30th cutoff), Sullivan isn't eligible for performance bonus-laden contracts until next summer, so it would appear a two-year deal is about the longest one would expect right now.

Given this general salary range, I would think the Predators should be able to offer a competitive deal and retain Sully; he might be able to hire an agent (at added cost) and take a chance on the open market, but I doubt he would get much more than the figures both Diamond and I are tossing around here. The question then becomes, how does the rest of the roster fall into place? Don't worry, we've got much more to come on this topic over the coming weeks...

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