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Yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe finished up a series considering the seven 2020-21 Carolina Hurricanes who are scheduled to become free agents this off-season. No doubt there are important decisions to be made there with Dougie Hamilton looming largest. But Waddell’s summer work does not stop there with a couple high-profile restricted free agent deals also to be negotiated.
And that is the subject of today’s Daily Cup of Joe.
The biggest, at least dollar-wise, should be Andrei Svechnikov’s next deal. The burning question is term and salary. Svechnikov entered the 2020-21 season as a rising star with the potential to push up into the rarified air of a contract in the range of $8-10 million per year. But putting it bluntly, Svechnikov had a disappointing 2020-21 season in terms of taking a big step forward.
To be clear, his upside and long-term trajectory are still intact. He still possesses the same skill set that figures to have him score 80-100 points in his prime with the potential to reach 40 goals. And he is still the same coachable kid who has the work ethic and humbleness that makes it possible for coaches and others to help him reach his potential. And he still very much fits in the team’s long-term plans and goals to take next steps in the playoffs.
But all that said, his 2020-21 season was underwhelming. After scoring at a 74-point pace for 82 games in 2019-20, he dipped to a respectable but more modest 63-point pace instead of stepping another rung up the ladder. He had a stretch where he was invisible for long stretches and clearly fighting it a bit confidence-wise. And he was okay but not a difference-maker in the playoffs.
Per what I said above, nothing has changed with Svechnikov’s long-term place with the team, but the 2020-21 season will likely impact his next contract. Whereas he might have been able to push for a contract in the range of Aho’s $8.5 million with a point per game season, Svechnikov will now likely be given the option of taking a modest discount to $7 to $7.5 million per year if he wants a maximum eight years or otherwise settling for more like $6 million per year on a 3-5 year bridge deal that gives him the chance to collect later if he progresses as expected in the coming years. I would be surprised to see Svechnikov’s agent push for the maximum eight years based on 2020-21 and would instead expect a 3-5-year deal. Regardless, one can rest assured that Svechnikov will be inked to a new deal come October and will officially be under contract for the 3-4 ‘first window’ that the Hurricanes have open to try to push deeper in the playoffs with the current core intact.
Nedeljkovic’s contract situation is an interesting one that rivals Dougie Hamilton’s on the unrestricted side of the fence. Entering the 2020-21 season, Nedeljkovic was third on the goalie depth chart and hoping to get enough ice time to prove himself capable of being the second goalie for the 2021-22 season. But when a bigger opportunity presented itself, he seized it. In 23 regular season starts, Nedeljkovic did all he could do to boost his status in the team’s long-term plans and also his negotiating power for his next contract. Add in the fact that Nedeljkovic has arbitration rights to lean on if he needs/wants to, and his salary negotiation could be an interesting run. In non-COVID times, his 23 starts in 2020-21 is less than half a season for a regular NHL starter. His six games played and four NHL starts prior to 2020-21 still leave him limited in terms of being able to claim proven.
So does he get paid based on stellar results in a small sample size? Does he get paid as a good but inexperienced player with a good start and upside? Or does he get paid somewhere in the middle?
An interesting comparable could be Vancouver’s Thatcher Demko. He entered the 2019-20 season with only nine games of NHL experience. That season he had respectable but not great statistics in the regular season before standing on his head for four games in the playoffs. Since then he followed up with a decent 2020-21 campaign with 35 games and just in March inked a deal for five years at $5 million per year. On the one hand, Demko is a tiny bit more proven with not one but two COVID-shortened seasons under his belt. On the other hand, his numbers and play in 2020-21 were not as good as Nedeljkovic’s. Binnington is another example of a young goalie getting paid in full based on a single great season, even if a partial one. If that pattern holds, the ceiling for Nedeljkovic’s next deal could be as high as $5 million per year. If instead his limited experience suggests a ‘still need to prove it’ stance, something like $2.5 million would be the low end for a 1A/1B type goalie. Therein lies a wide range. A middle ground could be a shorter-term deal of two or maybe three years that stretches Nedeljkovic to unrestricted free agency for his next deal and costs a bit less because of it.
How does it end?
For Svechnikov, I would be surprised if Svechnikov and his agent agree to eight years now at what figures to be a salary well below his ceiling, especially is the salary cap resumes its trend upward. My wild guess is that he and the team find a middle ground in the neighborhood of four years for $6.25 million per year. I think that works reasonably well for the team too. The negative is that it puts year another contract to renewed in the three to five year range (with Slavin, Pesce, Aho, Teravainen), but it also commits him for that same window at a price that frees up a bit more budget than one would have expected at this time last year.
Nedeljkovic’s next deal is much tougher to predict because of the possible range. I think the team will be able to get him signed to a short-term deal at a 1A/1B type price and will go that route versus going all in on a goalie based on an impressive but short 23-game track record. I say two years at $3 to $3.7 million per year that also sets Nedeljkovic up to cash in big for a next contract if he continues on his current path.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you expect for Andrei Svechnikov’s next deal?
2) What do you expect for Alex Nedeljkovic’s next deal?