I wanted to spend a few more words detailing part of what I think Ron Francis is up to in taking care of Lindholm’s next deal a year early.
First, at a basic level there is a risk/reward calculation that Francis was doing. Lindholm would only be a restricted free agent next summer and not going anywhere. But in today’s NHL where even young players tend to get compensated for whatever they achieved in the previous season regardless of age or contract status, there is significant escalation risk for a player like Lindholm. If he were to explode offensively and do something like 30 goals and 30 assists, does he suddenly cost $4-5M to re-sign. It is not impossible in today’s NHL financial world. At only $2.7 million per year, I think Francis did real well locking up a core player for a couple more years even though there is a slight chance that Lindholm regresses and could have instead been re-signed for a little less.
That gets to the other point. The Canes will invariably have an internal budget next summer. And there are some number of contracts already spent against that. In theory, one could do math of budget less already committed salaries to arrive at how much is left to fill out the roster. The problem is that the team had probably three financial commitments that are undefined. Victor Rask, Ryan Murphy and Elias Lindholm were all scheduled to come off entry level deals. Not knowing if these players will have breakout years and suddenly cost $2-4 million or have slow years and only get a modest raise makes it hard to do anything for next summer until after this season ends and provides clarity on that.
But what if Ron Francis at some point wants to work on building the team past this season with a trade or a re-signing? There is too much guess work for the unresolved contracts to do much. So by re-signing Lindholm early, Francis gets longer-term cost certainty on one of the three players and a better idea of what he has for available budget next summer. This could play into resolving Eric Staal’s contract situation since it eliminates the need to keep extra budget on reserve for now just in case Lindholm has a breakout year.
So the next question is whether it makes sense to do the same early re-signing for Murphy and/or Rask. For Murphy, I think definitely not. He could find himself at the AHL level and be looking at another two-way contract. No way would his agent take that deal right now. Better to hope for a good 2015-16 and collect upside from there. Rask might at least be worth asking. If he could be looked up for a modest price under $2 million per year that is third line friendly, it could be worth doing. My hunch is that Rask’s agent would want payment a bit closer to a ‘breakout year value’ to justify it at which point Francis will just wait and see how things work out this season.
It will be interesting to see what, if anything else, happens heading into training camp. If this deal was followed by an Eric Staal re-signing, Francis would have gone a long way toward locking up and committing to a core group of players long-term.