EDIT: Title modified in case it was too provocative.
There has been a lot of discussion recently about Steven Stamkos and potential offer sheets or trades. At first glance, based on his goal-scoring ability, Stamkos seems to deserve Crosby/Ovechkin dollars. I'm not so convinced. I think he's closer to Phil Kessel levels.
I know it sounds ludicrous but please, join me after the jump and find out how I came to this conclusion.
Below is a table comparing the two players. Kessel's past 2 seasons with Toronto are also shown for completeness (they won't be discussed in-depth in this post but feel free to discuss further in the comments). The numbers were taken from behindthenet.ca and nhl.com.
Kessel's 2007-2008 season will be compared to Stamkos' 2009-2010 while Kessel's 2008-2009 season will be compared to Stamkos' 2010-2011 season.
Kessel 2007-2008 versus Stamkos 2009-2010
Stamkos scored 51 goals in his second season in the NHL. Kessel only scored 19. Why?
Firstly, Stamkos played 1685 minutes while Kessel played 1250 minutes.
Secondly, Stamkos received a great deal of offensive zone starts (54.6%) whereas Kessel started in the defensive zone most of the time (46.8% offensive zone starts). This gave Stamkos an immediate advantage in terms of goal-scoring opportunities. Though he was aided by better quality teammates, Kessel was still at a significant disadvantage.
Personally, I am not a big fan of the quality of competition statistics for comparing players on different teams but it does provide some value. Stamkos and Kessel both faced the 7th toughest competition for their clubs (among forwards playing more than 30 games), based on their Corsi Rel QoC statistics. Nevertheless, it does look like Kessel faced tougher competition overall, with a Corsi QoC value of 0.27 versus -0.12.
In terms of possession, Kessel easily comes out on top with a Corsi On of 6.99, much greater than Stamkos' -4.38. Furthermore, Kessel outshot the opposition more than his teammates (Corsi QoT of 3.01) whereas Stamkos was outshot more than his teammates (Corsi QoT of -3.95). Kessel's Corsi Rel was good for 3rd on Boston (among forwards with more than 30 GP). Stamkos placed 6th on Tampa.
EDIT: In 2007-2008, Kessel played with a wide variety of linemates. His Corsi On was better than all of them except Sturm and Krejci. In 2009-2010, Stamkos played predominantly with Downie, St. Louis, and Malone. His Corsi On was worse than all of them except Malone.
Finally, including misses, Kessel took 0.20 shots per minute, at an average distance of 33.8 feet. On the powerplay, he took 0.17 shots per minute, at an average distance of 32.5 feet. In comparison, Stamkos took 0.16 shots per minute at even strength, at an average distance of 29.6 feet. On the powerplay, he took 0.20 shots per minute, at an average distance of 37 feet.
Although Kessel took more shots per minute at even strength, he took them from a little further away from the net. We would expect his shooting percentage to have been slightly lower. In fact, it was less than half of Stamkos' shooting percentage. This major discrepancy is not mostly due to shot distance - it could just be bad luck. On the powerplay, Stamkos took more shots per minute but they were from further out. He should have had a lower powerplay shooting percentage but he did not, as his shooting percentage was almost double Kessel's. Again, this discrepancy cannot be explained by shot distance.
In the end, Stamkos ended up with approximately twice as many goals as Kessel, but it was not because he took more shots, took shots significantly closer to the net, or controlled the play more effectively than Kessel. That is, it would be hard to argue that 2009-2010 Stamkos was the better player than 2007-2008 Kessel, despite his greater number of goals. It was a combination of better luck and increased powerplay time.
Kessel 2008-2009 versus Stamkos 2010-2011
In their third seasons, Kessel and Stamkos scored 36 and 45 goals, respectively. Again, why did Stamkos score more?
He continued to play more, first of all.
Looking at the other statistics, in 2010-2011, Stamkos started in the defensive zone more often than not (49.8% offensive zone starts). Kessel, in 2008-2009, had more offensive zone starts (50.6%). It's not a huge advantage for Kessel, but it's still an advantage. That said, Kessel played with worse teammates.
Stamkos played against the 5th toughest competition whereas Kessel played against the 8th toughest, on their respective teams. However, their Corsi QoC values are both negative, indicating that they both played against players who were relatively ineffective at keeping the puck out of their defensive zone.
It is in possession that Kessel again shows his class. He had a Corsi On of 7.23, greater than Stamkos' 4.56. As well, Kessel significantly outshot the opposition in comparison to his teammates (Corsi QoT of -1.60). Stamkos slightly underperformed his teammates (Corsi QoT of 4.60). Kessel had the 2nd best Corsi Rel on Boston; Stamkos had the 7th best.
EDIT: In 2008-2009, Kessel played mostly with Savard and Lucic and had a superior Corsi On. In 2010-2011, Stamkos continued to play with Downie, St. Louis, and Malone for the most part. His Corsi On was worse than all of them except St. Louis.
At even strength, Kessel took 0.22 shots per minute at an average distance of 29.8 feet. On the powerplay, he took 0.19 shots per minute at an average distance of 31.0 feet. On ther other hand, Stamkos took 0.18 even strength shots per minute at an average distance of 29.5 feet and 0.17 powerplay shots per minute at an average distance of 35.4 feet.
Kessel and Stamkos finished the seasons with nearly identical even strength shooting percentages and thus the same amount of even strength goals (since Stamkos played more minutes). The powerplay is the difference maker. Stamkos received over twice as many powerplay minutes as Kessel and had a slightly higher shooting percentage, despite shooting from further out. He ended up with twice as many powerplay goals as Kessel. Assuming a linear relationship between powerplay time and goals, Kessel would have scored as many goals as Stamkos if he had been given as much powerplay time.
The difference between the goal outputs of Kessel and Stamkos in their 2nd and 3rd seasons in the NHL has been time on ice and shooting percentages, driven not by shooting distance but rather luck. Stamkos consistently played more than Kessel, which partially explains his greater number of goals. More importantly, Stamkos had unexpectedly high shooting percentages - especially on the powerplay - compared to Kessel, who actually shot from closer to the net on the powerplay.
I expect Stamkos' goal-scoring to somewhat drop off in the upcoming season, as his powerplay shooting percentage should decrease. This will be especially true since teams have no doubt figured out his tendencies on the powerplay.
Ultimately, I think Kessel is a fair comparison to Stamkos. We traded two first round picks and a second round pick for Kessel. Stamkos might be worth slightly more, but not by much.
Based on these figures, I do not think that Stamkos is worth anything close to 9 million dollars per year. In my opinion, his maximum worth is about 7 million.
Whether or not Tampa Bay agrees is a different story. They will probably want a king's ransom for him. As a result, I would not pursue Stamkos aggressively. I just don't think he's worth the type of extreme overpay we would need to give, whether in terms of cap hit or assets in a trade.