The five-year contract extension announced Friday between the New York Islanders and pending free agent Cal Clutterbuck is an awful gamble for the team. The money and the terms—as reported below by ESPN's Pierre LeBrun—are such a bad fit for this player that it’s hard to know even where to begin.
We might start with scoring—the primary job of any NHL forward.
In three previous seasons with the Islanders, Clutterbuck has averaged 19.3 points per year, despite playing 70-plus games in each of those campaigns. Of the 336 NHL forwards to play at least 100 games in that span, 293 (87 percent of them) were more likely to record a point in a game in which they participated.
A more precise approach is to look at even-strength points/minute, and the picture painted by that stat is just as bleak. Of the 370 NHL forwards to play at least 1,250 minutes over those three years (roughly 12 per team or a starting lineup for the whole league), 334 outscore Clutterbuck. By points/minute he’s a fourth-line forward, looking enviously upward at more prolific peers like Rob Klinkhammer, Marcel Goc and Joakim Andersson.
The standard defense for any forward with such abysmal scoring numbers is generally that he makes up for it on the defensive side of the puck, and in Clutterbuck’s case there is some truth to that. Even before he arrived in New York, Clutterbuck was used as a defensive zone specialist by his coach.
Clutterbuck’s extreme usage makes it difficult to compare him with just any set of NHL forwards. Naturally, the Islanders are going to look worse when he’s on the ice; he’s playing difficult minutes! One way to get around that is to contrast him against other players in similar roles.
The chart below shows how shot differential (in this case, all unblocked shots) changed for each player’s team, depending on whether he was on or off the ice. It also includes 5-on-5 scoring rates and cap hit:
|2013-16 relative 5v5 shot differentials of d-zone specialists|
|Player||On the ice||Off the ice||Difference||5v5 PTS/60||Cap Hit|
The Islanders haven’t taken too much of a shot-clock beating with Clutterbuck on the ice. Over these three years, they roughly average two shots per hour more when he’s out there than when he isn’t. That puts him in the middle of this group.
That just isn’t good enough given the rest of the picture. To a man, the rest of this group makes much less money; almost, to a man, they contribute more at the offensive end of the rink.
Making matters worse is Clutterbuck’s age. Study after study has confirmed that the typical NHL forward hits his peak performance in his mid-20s. Clutterbuck is going to be 30 in the first year of his new contract and will be 35 before it finally expires. The number of fringe NHL forwards who fall out of the league between those ages should be the stuff of general manager Garth Snow’s nightmares.
To recap, this is a player who:
- makes minimal contributions offensively
- makes unspectacular contributions defensively
- and will likely get worse over the course of his contract
Other than that, one is basically left with Clutterbuck’s hit totals as justification for his massive new contract. And, in fairness, he’s quite good at throwing hits.
But that isn’t nearly enough to justify tying up more than $15 million in cap space for the next five seasons.
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.