Why the Marcus Pettersson contract is a great value signing for Pittsburgh.

Marcus Pettersson has been signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 5 year, 4.025M AAV contract today. The internet of Penguins fans is abuzz about how this is a great signing, or, the worst contract possible since…Tanev?….Johnson? You probably get the picture.

If you’ve seen any of my tweets, or posts over at LetsGoPens.com, I’ve been saying for the past month that Pettersson was likely going to get signed for 4M AAV. I was also on record of saying that I didn’t think that was a great contract for him. It was an overpayment. His play has dipped by a significant margin this year compared to last year.

Guess what? I was wrong. And I haven’t been wrong about something like this since….the Tanev signing? Maybe the Jack Johnson signing? Yeah, it happens a lot.

The Contract Details

The first thing to realize with this contract is there are some semantics here. The AAV for the next 5 years is 4.025M (and some change). Kind of an odd number, $4,025,175. Why’d they come up with that as the salary? Well, it starts by looking at this season’s one year deal for Pettersson, which is for $874,125. Another odd number. Why settle on that dollar amount?

If you take his new AAV of 4.025M times 5 years, it comes out to $20,125, 875. Why not make it an even 20M or even 21M you ask? Well…if you add Pettersson’s current 874K AAV to that total, you now get 21M exactly. Big coincidence how those two numbers fit so well together? Of course not.

This is about as strong of an indicator as you can get that this summer, had the cap space been there, GMJR would have signed Pettersson to a 6 year deal with an AAV of 3.5M. He didn’t have the cap space to do that deal, so he signed Pettersson to a cheap one year deal that helped the team this year with the cap, and in return, he made up the difference of just over 2.625M by adding that 2.625M spread out over 5 years. In the end, Pettersson gets the money Rutherford and his agent agreed on in principle over the summer. In the grand scheme of things, it ends up costing the Penguins an extra 500K in cap space the next 5 years. I think they’ll manage that just fine.

A drop-off in Pettersson’s play this year?

One of my early complaints was Pettersson did not look as good this year. Was he really missing Erik Gudbranson that much? Was Gudbranson the perfect partner for him and propping up his play? After the signing was announced, I decided to dig into the numbers a little bit closer to see if my view of him watching games matched his numbers.

First, I took a look at a newer hockey player visualization chart called VERSUS, created by Jason Paul (@waveintel on Twitter). I wanted to see some simpler numbers on Pettersson, comparing his 2018-2019 campaign to the current year. Just taking a quick look at the graph, without reading or focusing on the individual stats themselves, a quick, cursory glance shows 2 graphs that really don’t look too much different. There are some areas where the values have improved (longer the bar, the better the number/ranking is), and there are some areas that have decreased. Some quick highlights:

  • His average time on ice increased by almost 3 minutes.
  • His offensive zone starts increased.
  • His point totals are about the same, but he’s not getting much power play time or points.
  • On the defensive side, his goals against per 60 minutes has gone up.
  • His shots against rate has improved.
  • His penalty killing work has been incredible so far this season, much improved over last year.

I also took a deeper look at just the 5v5 numbers of Pettersson by using Bill Comeau’s (@billius27 on Twitter) SKATR tool. Similar to the VERSUS tool, by taking a quick look at the chart without reading what the particular values are, a quick glance shows charts that look pretty identical when comparing last year to this year. A few things of note:

  • Even though Pettersson isn’t shooting as much, he’s still getting point totals that are on par with his performance last year. I can make an educated assumption that, playing with Gudbranson last year, Pettersson was able to be more of the offensive cog on that duo. With Marino as his partner, Marino is taking on more of the shooting/offensive role.
  • If you look to see where Pettersson’s numbers are worse this year, it’s shots taken, IPP (Individual Points Percentage). There are some others that are slightly lower, but, these are all offensive numbers.
  • When you look at the bottom section, his Expected Goals For percentage, as well as Corsi For % has improved. Actually, every single value in that bottom section, Context, has increased.

I want go back to the VERSUS chart, and take a look at Pettersson compared to another defenseman, Rasmus Andersson of Calgary. Andersson signed a new 6 year, 4.5M AAV contract a few weeks ago. This started to cause some concern with Penguins fans who saw him as a very comparable player to Pettersson. Below is a comparison of the two players this year.

  • A lot of their numbers are similar. You look at the All Strengths section and Andersson’s bars look a bit better, but, if you read the stats, Andersson has 2 more goals and 4 less assists than Pettersson on the season.
  • Andersson is a little better on the PK this year, but goals against is very similar, and shot suppression is a bit worse.
  • Calgary paid another 500K more in AAV than what we did for Pettersson.

The Bottom Line

Pettersson is in the fold for the next 5 years. The Penguins see him as a mainstay as their 2nd pairing LD, alongside John Marino. The Penguins like that pairing and believe it will be around for years. They like that group so much so that, when Justin Schultz returns from injury, many expect that Johnson-Schultz will actually be the 3rd pairing unit and get less time than the Pettersson-Marino pairing.

Give the signing some time. Come back at the end of next year, or even the year after, and give me your thoughts then. We all hated the Jack Johnson signing. There were years worth of data pointing to it being a bad move. It wasn’t great in Year 1, but Johnson is much better and steadier on the blueline this year. We all cursed the Tanev signing. 6 years and 3.5M AAV for a 4th line energy guy. Didn’t take but one game for Tanev to show why he is valuable to the Penguins and their style of play.

Let’s give Pettersson that same opportunity to prove that this is just another smart Jim Rutherford signing and a future bargain.

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