Rabid Habs

Is Andreas Athanasiou Worth the Risk for the Habs?

This offseason has been especially dull, but there may be some excitement on the horizon. As the free agent dust falls, the Detroit Red Wings are in the news for the wrong reason.

As Detroit general manager Ken Holland continues to negotiate with restricted free agent forward Andreas Athanasiou, the player and his agent look for leverage. They may have found the high ground in the form of KHL contract offers.

In an interview with The Detroit Free Press, Athanasiou’s agent Darren Ferris stated that “all options” are being considered, adding “significant offers” have been tendered for the 23 year old from the KHL.

The mention of offers from Russia should be taken as leverage and really nothing more. The only imagined upside would be the opportunity to play in the Olympics. With the poor shape of the Russian economy causing two KHL teams to fold, playing in a month long tournament shouldn’t be at the top of a player’s list. And it isn’t. It’s just leverage.

On the Red Wings’ side of things, a salary cap crunch may keep them from being able to sign their RFA. Their CapFriendly is anything but friendly.

Yikes. For a team that is in no position to compete for a few years, the Wings have an incredibly high payroll. In fact, their payroll is the highest in the league. CapFriendly projects that Detroit will move Johan Franzen’s contract to long term injured reserve, and that will get them to the ceiling, but where is the space for Athanasiou? And where is the space for next year’s Red Wing RFAs? Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha lead Detroit’s list of players in need of significant pay days next season, and in a flat-cap world, there isn’t a ton of wiggle room for Holland.

So, as narcissistic Habs fans, we need to ask the question: Should Montreal consider acquiring Athanasiou from Detroit?

Who is Andreas Athanasiou?

The fourth round pick in 2012 (110th) has had a polarizing start to his NHL career. Don’t take my word for it; take a look at his HERO chart:

There’s a bit to analyze here. For Montreal’s sake, I’ve compared him to a centre, and right now, he most easily compares to a fourth line centre. What you see is a player with a ton of offensive skill that plays on a team that is annihilated on the shot clock and in possession metrics. It’s likely that some of his defensive short comings are his own, but Detroit is bad. Really, really bad.

And he’s young. Athanasiou was only 22 last season, and when a player is labeled “bad defensively,” you can almost assume that he’s under the age of 26 (see Galchenyuk, Alex).

But look at that production! It’s so rare to see a 10 on a HERO chart, and to see it from a player that finished the season playing with Ben Street and Tomas Nosek is almost unbelievable. If you pro-rate his 101 game career totals to a full 82 game NHL season, Athanasiou is a 21 goal scorer as a 22 year-old. There are no doubts about his offensive creativity at this point; it’s all about the defensive side of the game. It’s possible that you can shelter him with strong defensive players while he figures out what it means to play defense in the NHL. He won’t get that opportunity in Detroit. On a better team, Athanasiou doesn’t need to be “the guy,” but his offensive highlight reel shows that he likes to do it occasionally.

Speed, hands, and finish. Sign me up, but at the right cost.

The cost, however, depends on how Marc Bergevin chooses to go about it.

Offer Sheet?

Yes, I know offer sheets are rare. The last time we saw an offer sheet was in 2013, when the Calgary Flames tried to snag Ryan O’Reilly from the Avalanche. The last player to sign a successful offer sheet was Dustin Penner in 2007, and that was just awful.

But this is different. To start, the season is fast approaching, and Athanasiou and his agent are looking for leverage. They seem to have found it overseas, but what if Detroit calls their bluff? Even if they try to out wait Athanasiou, they still can’t afford to sign him. Remember, even after Franzen and his $3.95 million contract are moved to LTIR, the Wings won’t have any cap space.

The door seems wide open for an offer sheet, especially when you consider Athanasiou is not protected by arbitration eligibility and can sign an offer sheet. So what’s he worth?

One of the summer’s best salary tools comes to us from Matt Cane of puckplusplus.com. Using all sorts of math that I won’t pretend to understand, Cane created a salary prediction model that was accurate more often than not. For example, his model projected Alex Galchenyuk’s average annual value would be $4.55 million, and when he signed on the dotted line, his cap hit was $4.9 million. Not bad.

When it comes to Athanasiou, Cane’s model predicts a contract worth $1.908 million. For conversation’s sake, let’s say Marc Bergevin signs him to an offer sheet that will pay him $2.5 million annually. Why $2.5 million? The cap hit and the raised compensation would probably make Detroit more likely to pass on the offer sheet and allow Montreal to sign him. The compensation for an offer sheet of this level would be a 2nd round pick. The pick has to be Montreal’s original pick, and not the one they acquired from Chicago in the Dale Weise – Tomas Fleischmann trade.

In this scenario, the next question to ask isn’t whether or not Detroit would match the offer sheet; it’s whether or not they could. Can they? Not without moving some salary first, and with most of their undesirable cap-hits being immovable due to no movement and no trade clauses, they might be in a bind.

But Detroit won’t want to do that. Ken Holland will try to maximize his return on the asset, but it may be too late. As Athanasiou plays the KHL card, Detroit has four options.

  1. Sign him
  2. Trade him
  3. Let him sign an offer sheet
  4. Lose him for nothing to the KHL

Obviously, signing the player is the best option for both Detroit and Athanasiou. With the threat of offer sheets looming, however, it may make sense for Detroit to start trade negotiations now before it’s too late. Even at this point in the offseason, any team threatening an offer sheet has the upper hand in trade negotiations too. Why trade two assets when an offer sheet that Detroit can’t match will only cost me one asset? If an Athanasiou trade happens, it will only be because Detroit adjusts their salary cap to give them space to potentially sign Athanasiou. This would eliminate the option of an offer sheet, but at that point, an opposing team might as well just sign the guy, right?

At any rate, this is all speculation. And while it’s fun to speculate in the dying months of the offseason, it’s important to note that this negotiation between Detroit and Athanasiou may have an impact on the Larkin and Mantha negotiations.

It could even have an impact on the Habs starting roster.

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