When I first saw the Thrashers' signing of Nik Antropov, I thought that four years at $4 million apiece for a two-time 20-goal scorer was a lot. The New York Rangers' signing on Thursday of Ales Kotalik, who received a three-year contract at $3 million per to replace Antropov on the Rangers' roster, essentially confirms that.
Let's take a look at the two players. NHL.com lists Antropov as a center, but for the last few years he's moved to right wing (where TSN.ca lists him). NHL.com lists Kotalik as a left winger/right winger. So, for all intents and purposes, if Atlanta was looking for a right winger to play with Ilya Kovalchuk, both players were available.
Antropov is 29 and was selected 10th overall in 1998. Kotalik was a sixth-rounder in the same draft year, which basically makes them the same age, although Kotalik is 30. Kotalik has played seven NHL seasons (only 13 games in his rookie season) and has scored 121 goals or an average of 17.3 per season. Throw out that one goal in his rookie season and he's averaging a round 20 goals per season and has hit that plateau four times.
On the other hand, Antropov has nine NHL seasons under his belt and 132 goals for an average of 14.7 per season.
That's a difference, conservatively, of eight goals over three seasons and, using Kotalik's higher average, of almost 16. Yet Antropov will make $1 million more per season and got an extra year.
Let's look at assists now. Kotalik has 130 in his career for an average of 18.6 per season while Antropov has 172 for 19.1, which makes them roughly a wash.
If Atlanta is counting on Antropov to produce at a higher level because he will play on the same line with Kovalchuk, consider that Antropov played with for several seasons in Toronto with one of the game's premier centers in Mats Sundin. In the second-most productive year of Antropov's career, he scored 26 goals when Sundin had 46 assists.
Kovalchuk has averaged 37 assists per season in his career and has never had more than 48, his total of 2008-09, so unless the Thrashers can find a center to channel 50 or 60 assists (Angelo Esposito, anyone?) they can basically expect Antropov to score somewhere between 17 and 25 goals.
Anything more than that and he'd clearly be producing beyond his historical levels.
One factor that Antropov does have on his side is size. At 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, he's one of the game's biggest players, especially in terms of skilled forwards. Kotalik is 6-1, 227, which doesn't exactly make him a tiny.
But if Atlanta is hoping for durability out of that size, Kotalik again has the edge: He has averaged 63.6 games per season to Antropov's 58.6. (Remove that 13-game rookie season and Kotalik again rockets to an avearage of 74.2; Antropov, in his third season, played only 11 games and had a 34-game stint that season in the American Hockey League.)
One final comparison. Should Atlanta make the second playoff appearance in franchise history next season (which, in itself, would likely seal the Antropov deal as having been worth it), Antropov does not have the greatest postseason history. In 35 games, he has four goals and four assists for eight points. His best season was this past one when he truly was one of the Rangers' best players against Washington in the first round. He totaled two goals and one assist in seven games on a very low-scoring team.
Kotalik? How about 15 points in 34 games. So, Kotalik has seven more playoff points -- which are like gold -- in one less game. Again, in fairness, Kotalik's Buffalo teams were much better than any that Antropov played on but he nonetheless performed, posting back-to-back seasons of 8 points in 18 and 16 games, respectively. For that, he deserves credit.
I don't mean to sound overly negative about Antropov -- I wrote and I believe that he will be a good fit with Kovalchuk and overall I think he improves the team -- but I'm just looking at his value in terms of what Atlanta paid.
If they signed him in large part with the design of pleasing his pal Kovalchuk and hoping that Kovalchuk would re-sign beyond the coming season, their plan had best work. If not, they could be looking at three years of a disgruntled Nik Antropov who could struggle to perform at a $4-million level if history is any indicator.