Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pay The Man

Thomas, Ovechkin, Lundqvist expected to seek big paydays

By Colin Smith

PORTLAND, Maine—With one month in the books, the World Hockey League released its first player value report of the 2010-2011 season on Sunday, and to no one’s surprise, Alex Ovechkin of the Stuttgart Scorpions was projected to be the league’s most expensive player next season.

Ovechkin came in at $88 in the early-season ranking and there is still plenty of time for him to increase that cost as he seeks to regain the status he held in 2008 and 2009 as the WHL’s top overall player.

Not far behind the roughhousing Russian, though, were the surprising Tim Thomas (Arctic Eskies) at $86 and the stalwart Henrik Lundqvist (Sparta Praha) at $85. Thomas is off to a blistering 7-0 start with three shutouts and a sterling .967 save percentage. His 69.4 points are best in the league. Lundqvist, meanwhile, came into the year with a hefty price tag and hasn’t done anything to reduce his value, putting up 52.3 points to rank 5th in the league.

The players who have boosted their value the most in the early going are the NJ Wall Flowers’ Sergei Bobrovsky and the Russia Bearhuggers’ Brent Johnson. Both entered the season with price tags of $2, but have climbed to $40 with excellent play between the pipes. Other goalies who could be due for big raises are Michal Neuvirth, Jaroslav Halak, Kari Lehtonen and Mathieu Garon, while among skaters, Mount Vernon’s Justin Williams and Traverse City’s Clark MacArthur have seen the biggest jump in value so far.

Players whose values have taken a big hit so far this season include Marc-Andre Fleury (poor play), Ryan Miller (poor teammates) and Marian Gaborik (poor body).

Beginning this season, WHL owners will have the option of locking up their players in multi-year deals. In addition to costs for 2011-2012, the player value report released by the league on Sunday shows the projected costs for years two and three of any such deals, based on league-mandated salary increases.

Owners for the first time will also have the opportunity to re-sign their players during the season, rather than having to wait until the offseason. Current WHL rules allow any player with 40 games played or 25 goalie starts to be signed during the season. However, sources have reported rumblings that due to the complex nature of tracking games played by individual players, the league may look to change that structure. The most likely option, according to these sources, would be a Jan. 1 open season on signings, allowing teams to sign players any time from January to September. A league-wide vote may even be in the works already.

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