Nashville Predators free agent profile: Steve Sullivan

We resume our profiles of upcoming Nashville Predators free agents with Steve Sullivan, your 2009 Masterton Trophy winner and perhaps the most difficult player to put a pricetag on in recent years.  On the one hand, you have legitimate Top Six-type offensive performance, the kind of off-ice personality you want representing your hockey team, and of course a Masterton Trophy to celebrate. On the other hand, however, there's his age and injury history - how much of a commitment can a team make to a player who, while still effective, is approaching the end of his playing career?


Steve Sullivan

#26 / Left Wing / Nashville Predators

5-9

165

Jul 06, 1974

GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Steve Sullivan 41 11 21 32 2 30 3 0 2 0 83 13.3

Those 32 points in 41 games might not jump off the screen at you, but recall that Sully's first 10 or 15 games back were more about getting back up to NHL speed, and that over the last quarter of the season, he was a consistent point-per-game performer.

But let's break things down a little further after the jump...

5-on-5 Play

The simplest, and perhaps best overall measurement of his impact on 5-on-5 skating is Sully's Behind the Net rating of +0.78, tops on the team among regular players. It means that per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play, he tipped the balance of Goals For/Against in Nashville's favor by +0.78 when he was on the ice, just ahead of Jason Arnott at 0.69 and J.P. Dumont at 0.67.

There is a bit of caution behind those numbers, however, and the general presumption that a Sully/Arnott/Dumont line would be an elite trio. Consider the following table, built off of data from Vic Ferrari's Time On Ice:

 Player GF GA Corsi On Ice Save % Shooting %
 Jason Arnott 55 44 -13 .910 11.7
 J.P. Dumont 61 46 +27 .920 10.7
 Steve Sullivan 28 20 -54 .935 10.1
 Combined 17 6 -32 .957 13.7

What this tells us is that in 5-on-5 action, Jason Arnott, for example, was on the ice for 55 Goals For, 44 Goals Against, and had a Corsi number (Total Shots for and against) of -13. Also while he was out there, the Preds' goaltending had a .910 Save Percentage, and the team scored on 11.7% of shots.

Now, the interesting part here is if you combined the Save Percentage and Shooting Percentage, you get what a total figure that will, across all players, average out 100% (total save percentage versus total shooting percentage). Over at Matchsticks & Gasoline, they refer to this as PDO. At an individual level, it can provide a decent indicator of who's benefiting from the lucky bounces (in the case of high values) and who has hit a dry spell (for very low values).

What jumps out for me is that if you look at the Combined line, that represents the results from when Arnott, Dumont & Sullivan were on the ice together in 5-on-5 play. Despite the Total Shots coming in at -32, their Goals For and Against were an astounding 17-6. Why is that? Stellar goaltending (.957) and fairly high shooting percentage (13.7) that combines for a PDO of 109.4, which is just not sustainable over the long haul. While I have no doubt that 26/19/71 would be a serviceable top line for Nashville, they won't dominate over the course of the season as they did down the stretch this spring.

Power Play

Proclaiming Sully one of Nashville's better PP performers is certainly faint praise, but we can say that when Sully was out there Goals For/60 topped the 6.00 mark, which is at least mediocre in NHL terms (top teams like Washington and Detroit were over 9 goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-4). In particular, Sully's ability to play the point provides an opportunity to cover for the Predators lack of strong PP defensemen after Suter, Weber & Hamhuis.

Penalty Kill

Sullivan wasn't asked to work the PK much, but his speed can be an asset there. Back in the 2000-1 season, he led the NHL with 8 shorthanded goals for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Summary

With Sully we have to consider some specific contract issues before simply asking David Poile to cut a check and re-sign the guy. First, based on his injury history, there's no practical way to insure his contract - during his 2-year absence from the lineup, insurance covered 80% of his salary, but that's not an option going forward. Naturally, that point will impact his overall salary to some extent.

Secondly, there's the issue of age. Under the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement, players that are 35 or older by July 1 are eligible for incentive-laden deals that would seem perfect for this situation. The two sides could agree on a base salary, then provide bonuses based on games played, goals scored, or other milestones. Unfortunately, Sullivan misses the age cutoff by just a few days, so they can't work out that sort of contract until next summer.

That leads to the issue of contract length - obviously, the Predators would prefer a one-year deal, which reduces their risk and allows them to go year-to-year with incentive-based contracts after that. Sully, on the other hand, would want as many years of guaranteed money that he can get right now. Realistically, this is the last chance he has at a multi-year, guaranteed contract.

In various interviews David Poile has been quite clear that he wants to re-sign Sully, but that it has to be on terms that work for the team. Will another team step forward and offer Sullivan a two-year contract? That's the magic question, as I believe that the Preds would likely pay at or close to whatever the market dictates on a one-year deal. It's that second year of guaranteed money that presents a risk that Poile appears unwilling to take.

UPDATE: In a radio interview Tuesday afternoon, Poile indicated that Sully is seeking more than 2 years on a new contract. No wonder that talks have ground to a halt.

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