Today the Carolina Hurricanes announced that they had re-signed restricted free agent Joakim Nordstrom for 2 years at $2.55 million ($1.25 million in 2016-17 and $1.3 million in 2017-18).
Favorable circumstances for GM Ron Francis
The signing is a good 1 that offers nice flexibility. The price tag is a bargain for a player who was a key component of a top 6 line that drove the bus when the Canes found a higher gear from early December through late February. The lucky thing for the Canes and GM Ron Francis is that despite its importance in making his line go, Nordstrom’s measurable production was still modest at 10 goals and 24 points in 70 games. That combined with his short NHL tenure and limited restricted free agent negotiating leverage made this a fairly easy deal to get done and 1 at a very reasonable price. Because the dollar amounts are modest, Francis was able to do more than the hardball minimum without taking on any financial risk.
Low risk with possible upside
The Canes get the best of both worlds for 2 years. At about $1.25 million, Nordstrom is priced at only a modest premium to a run of the mill veteran fourth-liner could who might cost as low as $700-800k. Worst case, Nordstrom slips to being a decent fourth line player which is about how he is priced anyway. But if instead Nordstrom is valued as a contributing second line player, the price is dirt cheap. If Nordstrom can score at the pace he did while playing with Andrej Nestrasil and Jordan Staal (about 40 points), he will be a bargain. At only 24 years old and only about 1 1/2 seasons deep in his NHL career, things would become even better if Nordstrom proves to be a late or gradual bloomer offensively and can parlay his speed and smarts into a bit more scoring production.
How it should work going forward
With the Canes who still lack depth at the forward position, it seems like a near certainty that Nordstrom will start the 2016-17 in a top 6 type role and likely play the season somewhere in the top 9 even if things get shuffled and/or he slips a bit. But longer-term, the goal is to have more like 11-12 forwards who could potentially seize top 9 slots between roster players and a decent number of NHL-ready or possibly NHL-ready youth pushing up from below. In that scenario, inexpensive contracts like Nordstrom’s that undervalue good players like Nordstrom based on market pricing with a heavy emphasis on scoring production. It sets up a scenario whereby if a prospect rises up and proves capable of much more offensively, then Nordstrom moves down with a contract that is appropriate for any line and the team just gets deeper. The fourth line is capable of more and there is depth to backfill the top 9 in case of injuries and also the ability to shake things up and ride different players when they are hot.
While there was not a ton of risk for this deal and Nordstrom’s limited restricted free agent status made it a near certainty, it is still a good signing by Francis and hopefully the start of a great summer.