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Projecting Andreas Athanasiou’s next contract

Last week, the Detroit Red Wings agreed to a four-year, $21.2-million contract with Tomas Tatar. Now, the focus shifts to Andreas Athanasiou, the team’s final restricted free agent.

According to Cap Friendly, the Red Wings are about $3 million over the $75 million salary cap. This doesn’t account for Johan Franzen’s cap hit, which will remove about $3.9 million when he goes on LTIR. However, that only leaves the Red Wings with about $900,000 for Athanasiou.

Something is going to have to give eventually, whether it’s trading or waiving a roster player. Athanasiou’s entry-level contract held a cap hit of $628,333, and after scoring 43 points (27 goals, 16 assists) in 101 NHL games over the past two seasons, the 22-year-old is due for a slight raise.

What will that raise look like?

According to Matt Cane’s salary projection model, Athanasiou’s cap hit will be about $1.9 million. Obviously, Cane’s model shouldn’t be taken as gospel, but it has been quite predictive of contracts signed this summer. It was $24,413 off of Sam Gagner’s three-year, $9.45-million deal with the Vancouver Canucks, and $7,142 off of Radek Faksa’s three-year, $6.6-million deal with the Dallas Stars.

At $1.9 million, the Red Wings would be getting great value for the center, who should break 40 points next season. Last season, of all players who played at least 500 minutes at five on five, Athanasiou ranks 12th in the league in individual goals per 60 minutes (1.37), ahead of Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrik Laine. Over the past two seasons, he ranks second (1.37) behind only Auston Matthews (1.61).

He has the ability to make plays, but he hasn’t had much ice time during the past two seasons, averaging about 8.5 minutes per game at five on five.

Also working in Athanasiou’s favor is his speed, which helps him generate offense with clean zone entries.

Corey Sznajder tracked carry-in attempts during the past season, and Athanasiou ranks second on the Red Wings with a 63.8 carry-in percentage, which means he’s carrying the puck into the zone more than he is dumping it into the zone.

Detroit Red Wings carry-in percentage. (Chart by Sean Tierney, data by Corey Sznajder)

For an interactive version of the graph, click here.

As Eric Tulsky wrote back in 2011, carrying the puck into the zone leads to more shots (0.57/entry vs. 0.22), chances (.19/entry vs. 0.073) and goals (.046/entry vs. 0.013) than dumping the puck in. However, the Red Wings aren’t taking a lot of shots on Athanasiou’s entries (0.36 shots/entry), despite his high carry-in rate. So, it’s possible the Red Wings struggle to get shots when Athanasiou dumps the puck or enters the zone receiving a pass.

This data doesn’t contain every game from last season, but it’s a useful statistic that shows whether a player helps generate more offense.

On the other hand, Athanasiou’s defensive game needs work, as evidenced by his shot rates against on and off the ice.

Red Wings shot rates against with and without Andreas Athanasiou.

As you can see in the visuals from HockeyViz, the Red Wings allow more shots in the slot area with Athanasiou on the ice than they do when Athanasiou is off the ice. Athanasiou’s five on five shot attempts percentage of 47.29 over the past two seasons is further evidence he is on the ice for more shots against than shots for.

So, while Athanasiou has a lot of offensive upside, he’ll need to improve his defensive game to earn the trust of coach Jeff Blashill.

As far as comparable players go, Faksa and Athanasiou are pretty close. Faksa has 45 points in 125 NHL games (remember, Athanasiou has 43 points in 101 games). He is a year older than Athanasiou, but his deal signed earlier this month has a cap hit of $2.2 million, which is slightly above Cane’s projection.

Considering everything, I expect the Red Wings to sign Athanasiou to a two-year deal with a yearly cap hit of $2 million. The Red Wings like what they have in Athanasiou, but the lack of a defensive game and Detroit’s lack of cap space will keep him from securing anything over $2.2 million.

All stats via Puckalytics unless otherwise noted.