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Meet Me Halfway on the David Legwand Debate

Any mention of David Legwand always leads to a spirited discussion on this site, followed by an unpleasant shouting match. And I'm posting here, not to stoke those flames of controversy again, but because I think people on this site are closer to an agreement than they think. 

In the never-ending debate about David Legwand there are two sides, but both groups seem to basically have the same conception of Legwand as a player. The divide stems from one group overrating him and the other underrating him, to compensate from the perceived overrating and underrating of the other side. 

I often get lumped into the group of people that overrate Leggy. So let me concede a few things:

  • He is overpaid.
  • He is not a #1 center. 
  • He plays better in the playoffs than the regular season.
  • He is not gritty/does not go to the "hard areas." 
  • He is not good with the puck on his stick/in offensive-zone possessions. 

These arguments, however, completely lose me. I can't agree with any of this:

  • Spaling/Goc is as good.
  • He has played worse since signing his contract.
  • He is an average/below-average defensive forward. 
  • The Predators should buy out his contract. 

I have no opinion, one way or the other, of these statements:

  • He is lazy.
  • He was drafted second overall. 
  • He holds X franchise record. 
  • He scored 4 empty-net goals. 

I explain my disagreements after the jump

Spaling/Goc is as good.

Nick Spaling and Marcel Goc are much better values than David Legwand. Too often, however, this discrepancy in value gets used as an argument about Legwand's play. Taking contracts out of the equation, Spaling scored 14 points this season; Legwand scored the inverse of those digits, 41. Yes, Legwand gets more ice-time, but Spaling gets easier match-ups, against third and fourth-line players.

Goc is closer to Legwand in talent, but falls a little short in most aspects of his game. Goc is a great #3 center to Legwand's #2. Again, the disparity in money--Goc's $775K to Leggy's $4.5M--is bigger than the disparity in talent, but that has as much to do with Goc being a great value than Legwand bad one. 

And that highlights a potentially bigger problem in our Legwand discussions--Predators fans have been spoiled a bit by David Poile's ability to signs players to under-market contracts. Legwand and Erat have the two biggest contracts in team history, but they're not that big. And sometimes I think we lose sight of the league's pay-scale. Getting a player like Marcel Goc for under a million dollars is not normal.  

Here are some players around the league with comparable roles to Legwand. Their cap hits and points are given:

  • Shawn Horcoff--$5,500,000 // 27 P, 46 G
  • Travis Zajac--$3,887,500//  44 P, 82 G
  • Dave Bolland--$3,375,000// 37 P, 61 G
  • Manny Malholtra--$2,500,000// 30 P, 72 G

estimated last season that Legwand is worth $4M at most, and should probably be paid in the $3-$3.5M range. Ideally, the Predators would be paying Legwand in the neighborhood of whatever Joel Ward makes this offseason.

He has played worse since his contract

I think Legwand has been overpaid, but still is a good player. The issues seem separate to me. Some people seem to hold the contract against him, however, and that makes sense if you think he's started slacking after his payday. Some athletes clearly do ease up after they are paid. Legwand, however, has been a remarkably consistent 40-point player outside of his contract year, in which he scored 63 points. 

I don't think Legwand tried harder in '06-07 because his deal was up, though. There are three three pretty obvious reasons Legwand scored 63 points, while essentially playing the same game: 

1. His shooting percentage shot up to 17.6%, from his 10.6% average. Shooting percentages can change year-to-year, but there's not an improvement in the world that can take a player from Nick Spaling to Ilya Kovalchuk levels in a year. It was a sample size fluke. Lucky Leggy. 

2. He had the best linemates of his career, including Paul Kariya

3. Trotz gave the toughest defensive minutes to other players, because that roster was so deep. 

And then the team was facing relocation and David Poile wanted desperately to hang onto some dependable mid-level players. Seemingly all the possible things outside of Legwand's control that could have helped him get a bigger contract happened. 

He is an average/below-average defensive forward.

Then why does Trotz put him on the ice with Weber and Suter in every late and close game, in which the Predators are leading? Legwand routinely matches up with the other team's top lines and still manages to have a positive shot and goal differential, while on the ice. 

While that doesn't necessarily mean Legwand would become a scoring-line stud with weaker competition, it does open up more opportunities for other players to score. 

Take Mike Fisher for example. Fisher inexplicably ran cold after his trade to the Predators, before heating up just before the playoffs. What changed? 

In the nine games that Fisher played against the other team's top line, he scored 1 point and was -4. In the 18 games Legwand played against the other team's top line, Fisher scored 11 points and was +7.

The Predators should buy out his contract.

Buying out a contract only makes sense if the player in question is better off not playing at all, for the same amount of money. The threshold for Legwand to avoid being bought out is to provide any more value than a Chris Mueller-type, who makes league minimum.

I'd love for the Predators to trade Legwand, replace him with Goc, and use the freed up money toward a scorer. But it's wishful thinking. 

He is lazy. 

I think David Legwand has one of those faces. Carlos Beltran, the Mets centerfielder, has long been ridiculed by fans and media for not caring and being lazy. Like Legwand, he's rarely emotive and often looks disinterested. Beltran's speed makes it often seem like he's gliding in the outfield. But he's probably the best centerfielder in team history, and held together many erratic flyball pitching staffs. 

David Legwand is not an all-star, like Beltran. But he's got the same kind of traits that invite fans to play arm-chair psychologist--unfulfilled first-round potential; dumb, toothless mug; lack of emotions; minimal-effort skating-style. 

Is David Legwand lazy? As lazy as an NHL player can be, I guess. I'm not really in the business of sitting down at my computer, taking a bite of my sandwich, and calling pro athletes lazy. 

It's a non-falsifiable argument. And don't tell me his playing better in the playoffs is proof, because there's another term for that we bestow on the underpaid players--"raising his game."

Jason Arnott floated around and had a vacant look on his face, too. But he made the Predators better. And so does Legwand. 

He is what he is--overpaid, but a good player. Can we at least agree on that?