Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has made multiple first round picks over the last three drafts, wheeling and dealing his way to a second – even third – selection near the end of the first round. With that, the organization will have some decisions to make on whether it wants to exercise fifth-year options for seven players in the next three offseasons.
We’ll table the discussions regarding wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, linebacker Anthony Barr and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for the next two offseasons, though your heads are already spinning on who should receive a fifth-year option from this group.
This year, it starts with the 2012 class with first round left tackle Matt Kalil and safety Harrison Smith entering their fourth, and currently final, year of their rookie contracts. The window to exercise the fifth-year option or extend first round picks from the 2012 class opened on Dec. 29 and closes on May 3.
The top ten picks have their salaries decided by the average of the top ten highest salaries for players at the same position during the previous year, which would be the same amount as transition tags. Kalil, picked fourth overall in 2012, would have his salary determined in this manner.
The average salary of the third through 25th highest salaries at the same position determines how much picks 11-32 will receive in their fifth-year options. Smith, picked 29th overall, would fall under this category.
“That’ll be interesting, because now we’re getting into these next three years; We have seven of them that we’re going to have situations that we’re going to have to deal with,” Spielman said. “This year, it’ll be Kalil and Harrison Smith. If you exercise those options, you definitely have them under contract for that fifth year. We just have to talk through internally, and we’ve already had some initial discussions on some teams you look at, they exercise that option, but then they try to work out a long-term extension for those guys.”
Smith would be a no-brainer to exercise and possibly even incorporate the option into a long-term extension during the offseason. He’s a top five player at his position and will be one of the key pieces for this Vikings defense under head coach Mike Zimmer.
Kalil showed improvement at the end of the season, but the Vikings will be tasked with the decision of whether they want to retain Kalil’s rights for what will likely be a hefty price. The transition tag last year for offensive linemen was $10.039 million. Kalil will have the second highest cap hit among Vikings offensive linemen next season at $6.29 million with a $3.08 million base salary.
The Vikings can exercise the fifth-year option to Kalil, but it wouldn’t be guaranteed until the first day of the 2016 league year. The only exception would be if Kalil suffers a serious injury next season, which is possible for an offensive lineman in a season when right guard Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt were placed on injured reserve, the fifth-year option would be fully guaranteed. It’s noteworthy that Kalil had minor knee surgery last offseason that he felt was a product of his slow start.
What’s clear is the Vikings will exercise a fifth-year option for the first time after declining to offer one last year to quarterback Christian Ponder, who will become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. The 2011 draft class was the first to go through the process when the NFL implemented the fifth-year option in the most recent collective bargaining agreement. It’s still a fairly new process but one the Vikings will likely be faced with every offseason considering Spielman’s draft tendencies.
The Vikings signed versatile cornerback Jalil Carter to a reserve/future contract.
Carter spent the past three seasons with Toronto of the Canadian Football League. He is 6-2 and 205 pounds, and played college football at Akron, where he was a safety and receiver. He signed with St. Louis as an undrafted free agent in 2011.
On the surface, the Wild’s acquisition of goalie Devan Dubnyk might only appear to be a marginal upgrade — if an upgrade at all — over Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom. Kuemper, you’ll notice, has a slightly better goals against average than Dubnyk (2.68 vs. 2.72).
But a look at some advanced stats via War On Ice shows that Dubnyk — while he might not end up saving the Wild’s season — should at least give the Wild more than just a marginal chance to save more pucks.
(Note: We’re told advanced hockey stats are pretty new. They’re certainly very new to us. As in, we first started looking at them with any real interest earlier this week. We think we’re interpreting these numbers properly. But we also have a little bit of “college sophomore who is three weeks into a political science class and now thinks he can fix the world’s problems” edge to us right now. So you have been warned).
Here are four factors that make us think Dubnyk could prove to be a significant upgrade:
*Even strength save percentage: Dubnyk’s 91.6 save percentage in all situations (even strength, short-handed, power-play, etc) is already 18th in the NHL among all goalies with at least 750 minutes played. That’s not great, but it’s not bad. And he’s done that for a very bad Coyotes team. Arizona is a bottom-10 team in a lot of key team advanced stats, while the Wild is still a top-10 team in a lot of stats. The most notable among them is 5v5 Corsi Percentage, which looks at the total percentage of shots in a game taken by a team vs. its opponents in 5 on 5 situations. That indicates the Wild has a lot of possession time and chances. The Wild is 7th in the NHL in Corsi Percentage. It is the only team in the top 8 with a negative goal differential.
Now, some of that is because the Wild isn’t cashing in on scoring chances. But a lot of it, we would argue, is poor goaltending in the flow of 5-on-5 play. That brings us to a spot where Dubnyk is particularly good: 5-on-5 save percentage. He jumps to a 92.9 save percentage in those situations, 10th among the 35 NHL goalies with at least 750 minutes. Kuemper (89.6) is 33rd out of 35, while Backstrom (88.2) is dead last at No. 35.
*Low danger shots: War On Ice divides shots into three Danger Zones, none of which, unfortunately, have to do anything with Top Gun or Kenny Loggins. There are low-danger shots (yellow), medium-danger shots (red) and high-danger shots (blue). We’re going to deal first here with low-danger shots, which you can see from this illustration from the site are essentially from bad angles or from the right/left point.
Dubnyk’s save percentage on such shots is 97.0, in the upper third of qualified goalies. Backstrom is at 96.1, and Kuemper is at 95.7, both of which are in the bottom third. That might not seem like much of a difference, but basically Backstrom/Kuemper combined are giving up roughly one more low-danger goal per 100 shots than Dubnyk. These tend to be “softer” goals, and giving up one fewer soft goal per 100 shots — every three or four games, maybe — is a big deal.
*High danger shots: On high danger shots — as you can see, shots in close and directly in front of the net — Dubnyk makes 83.5 percent of the saves, again in the upper third of the NHL. Kuemper is at 81.5, and Backstrom is a league-worst 72.0. In 5-on-5 high danger situations, Dubnyk is even better: 87.8 save percentage, No. 3 in the NHL. Kuemper (79.0) is 31st while Backstrom (71.4) is 35th, aka last.
Dubnyk in general has good numbers overall but fares much better in 5-on-5 numbers, in part we think because Arizona has an atrocious penalty kill (second-worst in the league) and we imagine the Coyotes’ goalies get hung out to dry a lot with shots on which they have no chance. The Wild, even with its goaltending problems, has a top-10 penalty kill, helping its goalies pad numbers on the penalty kill while they get exposed when you dig deeper into the flow of play 5-on-5 stats.
*One final, simple number that shows why it’s dangerous to just look at goals against average: Sure, Kuemper’s is a bit better than Dubnyk’s. But Dubnyk has seen 32.5 shots per 60 minutes with Arizona, the 8th-highest mark in the NHL. Kuemper is seeing just 27.3, while Backstrom is at 27.0, both among the fewest in the NHL.
Backstrom and Kuemper have been forced to make a marginally larger percentage of “high or medium” danger saves than Dubnyk as compared to their overall save numbers, but in both cases its not nearly enough to explain the wide gap in the other numbers. Long story short, on the surface Dubnyk looks like he has the potential to be an upgrade. Below the surface, it looks like he could be an even bigger upgrade than one might think.