First, it important to remind everyone that nothing needs to happen contract-wise with Jaccob Slavin this summer nor is it a red flag if he just pushes forward into the 2017-18 season on his current deal. He is already under contract for 2017-18.
But I am on record as thinking that Ron Francis should and will extend Jaccob Slavin early.
On April 6, 2016, my Daily Cup of Joe article made the case to re-sign Jaccob Slavin early both based on his individual situation but also significantly because of his contract’s ability to set a ceiling and pave the way for pricing the run of defensemen contracts coming in the next few years. On April 20, I included a Slavin re-signing in my article entitled, “5 Carolina Hurricanes predictions for the offseason.” His contract situation was also discussed in my article this week detailing the the Hurricanes NHL-level free agents to be addressed this summer.
This article will take a fairly thorough look at comparable players, analyze the price range for his next contract and take a shot at predicting the terms of his next deal if it does in fact happen this summer.
Three kinds of comparables for Jaccob Slavin
In going team by team through the salary charts on CapFriendly, one thing that jumps out is how many players fall roughly into the category of “young-ish defenseman playing in the top 4 on contracts that lock them up long-term.” A few players are sort of borderline and maybe not as relevant, but I have a spreadsheet with 39 players on it. At a basic level, there is no shortage of players whose situation when they signed their big deal looked somewhat like Jaccob Slavin’s current situation.
But when I net it out in terms of contract situation, the players sort reasonably neatly into three groups.
Players who signed at least one bridge deal before inking their long-term deal
The 19 players who fit into this category run the gamut. The group includes players like Victor Hedman and Nick Leddy who were drafted highly, rose to a high level early on but did bridge deals more because of the financial situation of their teams. The group also includes players like Jake Muzzin, Justin Braun, Christopher Tanev, David Savard and others who took multiple years and at least two contracts to rise to a top 4 level and then salary/contract.
Player list (annual salary/original contract term): Torey Krug ($5.25M/4yr), Sami Vatanen ($4.88/4), T.J. Brodie ($4.65/5), Adam Larsson ($4.17/6), Jake Muzzin ($4.0/5), Justin Braun ($3.8/5), Brendan Dillon ($3.27, 5), Christopher Tanev ($4.45/5), Niklas Hjalmarsson ($4.1/5), Tyson Barrie ($5.5/4), Jared Spurgeon ($5.18/4), Marco Scandella ($4.0/4), Mattias Ekholm ($3.75/6), David Savard ($4.25/5), Nick Leddy ($5.5/7), Zach Bogosian ($5.14/7), Danny DeKeyser ($5.0/6), Jason Demers ($4.5/5) and Victor Hedman ($7.88/8).
Average salary: $4.70 million per year.
Average term when signed: 5.26 years.
This group is similar to Jaccob Slavin in that it is comprised of young players who signed contracts after having establishing themselves as top 4 defensemen. But the diverse group ranges widely from elite players like Hedman to many more #3/#4 types who are valuable but not nearly in the same category.
First-round draft picks who exited their entry-level contracts as top 4 defensemen and then signed their long-term deal
At a basic level, this group of 15 players is comprised of players who were drafted highly (all in the first round, many in the top part of it) with the expectation that they would mature into good NHL defensemen. When they exited their entry-level contracts in top 4 roles, they were generally rewarded significantly for reaching this level. The group includes a number of ‘can’t miss’ players who were selected in the top 10 with high expectations like Aaron Ekblad, Hampus Lindholm, Adam Larsson and others. But it also includes later picks who developed nicely like Connor Murphy, Olli Maata and Jake Gardiner.
In general, the group is comprised of players who were drafted with high expectations and grew into them quickly.
Player list (annual salary/original contract term): Hampus Lindholm ($5.25M/6yr), Connor Murphy ($3.85/6), Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($5.5/6), Dougie Hamilton ($5.75/6), Oscar Klefbom ($4.17/7), Jonas Brodin ($4.17/6), Tyler Myers ($5.5/7), Seth Jones ($5.4/6), Ryan McDonough ($4.7/6), Olli Maata ($4.09/6), John Carlson ($3.97/6), Rasmus Ristolainen ($5.4/6), Aaron Ekblad ($7.25/8), Morgan Rielly ($5/6) and Jake Gardiner ($4.05/5).
Average salary: $4.94 million per year.
Average term when signed: 6.20 years.
This group is more similar to Jaccob Slavin in the sense that these players emerged from their entry-level contracts already in top 4 roles at a young age, but the group is somewhat different in the fact that they are all high draft pedigree players who were selected in the first round whereas Slavin was selected in the fourth round.
The second group had a longer contract term by about a year and also a slightly higher average salary. The salary difference is arguably even greater if you adjust for the fact that these players coming out of entry-level deals would have had somewhat less negotiating leverage compared to players coming off bridge deals, many of whom would have had arbitration rights.
Second (and later)-round draft picks who exited their entry level contracts as top 4 defensemen and then signed their long-term deal
This smaller group of 4 players is most like Jaccob Slavin. All are second round or later draft picks who maybe had slightly less pedigree and expectations entering their entry-level contract. But like Slavin, all emerged from their entry-level deals as established top 4 defensemen.
Player list (annual salary/original contract term): Roman Josi ($4.0M/7yr), Justin Faulk ($4.83/6), John Klingberg ($4.25/7) and Travis Hamonic ($3.86/7).
Average salary per year: $4.24 million per year.
Average term when signed: 6.75 years.
It is a small sample size, but I think this group best matches Slavin’s situation. Fair or unfair, the players drafted highly seem to get a slightly greater contract reward for accomplishing the same thing. If that holds true for Jaccob Slavin, it will obviously be a positive for the Hurricanes and their salary budget.
Picking the best comparables
If I had to pick a handful of players to use as comparables, I would also look at age (most are fairly similar) and at offensive production. All of these players were top 4 defensemen when re-signed which makes them similar, but one of the greatest disparities is the degree of offensive production. Some players are more shutdown players, and others projected to produce offensively but had yet to mature in that area.
Considering the categories above, my short list of players who I think are the best comparables are:
Roman Josi ($4.0M/7yr): Josi was 23 years old, a second-round pick and coming off the lockout-shortened season with a 31-point pace (prorated over 82 games). Slavin was also 23 years old, was a fourth-round pick and just put up 34 points in 2016-17. Both are also skating defensemen with budding offensive potential, and both had already assumed workhorse roles with Slavin logging 23:26 and Josi 23:32.
Oscar Klefbom: ($4.17M/7yr): Klefbom is a little bit different in that he was a first-round draftee. But otherwise, the two look very similar starting from the team’s situation. Both Slavin and Klefbom are young blue line leaders on young teams that are rising up. Klefbom’s 33-point pace nearly matches Slavin’s 34 points, and both are in very similar roles look to be cemented in as defensive leaders on young teams.
Travis Hamonic ($3.86M/7yr): Hamonic is a bit different from Slavin in that he is more of a stay-home type with a bit less offensive upside. But both were 23 and not so much players with maximum draft pedigree (Hamonic was a second-rounder) at the time of signing the big contract coming out of their entry-level deals. And both were set to be anchored into the team’s top 4 for years to come.
The scary comparables
My short comparable list is unintentionally a nice one from a Hurricanes’ perspective. The average salary for my group of three is only $4 million which is low relative to the averages across all three categories presented above. There are of course other players that Jaccob Slavin’s agent could use to suggest that his next deal should be significantly higher.
Justin Faulk ($4.83M/6yr): Look no further than the Hurricanes’ bench. By virtue of the fact that Slavin had a larger role, more ice time and better statistics except scoring, Slavin’s agent could make a decent case for Slavin earning at least what Faulk is making in his next deal.
The most recent signees: Even more scary are the contracts handed out over the past few summers. Annual salaries of Hamilton at $5.75M, Barrie at $5.5M, Spurgeon at $5.18M, Ristolainen at $5.4M and Jones at $5.4M suggest that a contract north of $5 million per year is not completely outlandish. Many of these follow bridge deals, and each player’s circumstances are different, but Slavin’s agent could build a case that Slavin should be lumped into this group.
A little bit of leverage for Ron Francis
Francis does have a small amount of leverage because of the fact that Slavin’s contract extends through 2017-18. If the demands from Slavin’s side creep up too high, Francis might decide that without any kind of discount just to wait until next summer. In doing so, there is some chance that he saves money if Slavin takes even a small step backward or misses time with an injury.
If Jaccob Slavin wants to set himself financially for life, he might be willing to give up some upside for locking it in.
If Francis negotiates well, I think there is a deal to be had that nets a discount at least relative to the maximum possible if Francis is willing to commit early this summer.
What about Brett Pesce?
As noted in the articles referenced above, I prioritize Slavin ahead of Pesce by a small amount simply because I think Slavin has a bit more scoring upside heading into 2017-18 which could increase his price substantially.
But that said, one could very easily take this entire article and find/replace Brett Pesce for Jaccob Slavin. Pesce is similarly scheduled to come off his entry-level contract next summer but has already made quick work of establishing himself as a top 4 defenseman. Cory Fogg adamantly believes that the two should be signed to identical deals this summer. That is a reasonable proposition and something that I would welcome.
Regardless, this exact same set of comparables and contract/salary analysis applies to Brett Pesce as well.
How does it end?
Despite being burned by re-signing Eddie Lack early and not really getting any benefit from doing similar with Elias Lindholm, I think Francis will re-sign Slavin and possibly also Pesce this summer.
Though I think up to $4.5 million is still a very reasonable number, my wild guess is that Francis will use the year early leverage to get a modest discount and sign Slavin to a 5-year deal for $4.2 million per season. I had Darling at 4 years for $4 million per year, so let’s hope I am that close again.
What say you Caniacs?
Will Francis get a deal done for Jaccob Slavin? If so, for what salary and term?
Which of the players do you think are the most relevant comparables for determining a fair price for Slavin’s next contract?
What about Brett Pesce? Is he more or less likely than Slavin to be re-signed this summer?
Check out also the Thursday Coffee Shop that has polls on Jaccob Slavin’s next contract in addition to polls/discussion questions on options for an upgrade at forward.