Today, the Carolina Hurricanes announced that the team had re-signed Victor Rask for 6 years at $4 million per year. The deal leaves on Ryan Murphy yet to be re-signed among the players who would slot at the NHL entering training camp. (There are also 5 remaining restricted free agents who will be signed on 2-way contracts and more likely to play in Charlotte.)
Earlier this summer, I pegged the range of Victor Rask’s re-signing at $3-4 million. $4 million is at the high end of that range, but that is to be expected because of the 6-year term that buys 2 of Rask’s unrestricted free agent years. Though the salary looks to be spread evenly at $4 million per year, I view this contract as being more like 4 years for $3.5 million for the RFA years and 2 years at $5 million for the UFA years which arrives at the same $24 million total. I would not consider either version of the math to be a significant discount, but I think the price is fair relative to some comparable deals.
At a very basic level, I am not a fan of long-term contracts. I view 1-2 years as short-term and almost no risk term-wise, 3-4 years as medium-term with modest risk, 5-6 years as long-term with significant risk in the back half of the contract and anything more than 6 years as something with which an NHL GM needs to be incredibly careful. I have good intentions of doing a mini-research project looking at all contracts either 5 or 6 years or greater in length and rating them for how they turned out. I will never actually do this research project because I never find the time, but I am nearly positive that it would show that the risk of something really bad happening increases significantly each year starting around year 4 or 5.
But with my negative bias toward anything past 4-5 years, Victor Rask’s deal comes with about as little risk as possible. He is only 23 years old, so despite being 6 years the contract only stretches until he is 29. Now through 2 seasons in the NHL, Rask has proven capable of staying healthy and on the ice and does not come with any injury history of the potentially recurring variety (i.e. concussion, back issues, etc.). Finally, he has established a solid base as a sound 2-way player. Exactly what his ceiling is offensively is yet to be determined, but with 2 full years in the NHL, he represents as safe of a bet as you can get that he will at least play to a solid third/checking line type of level.
With the risk noted and then mitigated, the significant potential upside is that Francis bought 2 of Rask’s UFA years for only $4 million per year. If you priced Rask on a 2-year deal as an unrestricted free agent this summer based on his 2015-16 play and production, I would peg him at something like $4-5 million on the open market. This summer was an exception, but in general the salary cap and therefore player salaries tend to trend up over time. So when you look out to years 5-6, I think it is reasonable to say that even the base 2015-16 version of Victor Rask is worth at least a little bit more than $4 million. If he continues to grow entering only his third year in the NHL and becomes a pure top 6 center with point totals pushing into the high 50s or early 60s, then Francis probably has a $6 million player under contract for only $4 million which is obviously a good thing.
The fence and the potential growth
I view Rask as a young “fence” player in terms of value and role. His 48 points in 2015-16 are good not great for a third line center. They are moderately light for a top 6 forward on a good team in today’s NHL. His $4 million salary similarly sits right on the fence between second and third line. $4 million is not outlandish, but it is pricey for an average third line center. To justify that price, a player needs to be among the best third line centers because of higher production and/or he is pushed down on team deep down the middle. If not, he runs the risk of being a decent player who is paid to much for his role which is significant for Hurricanes math that has an internal budget that is significantly below the salary cap ceiling that many competitors spend to.
The upside is if he pushes his way up into the top 6 or simply leads a third line that is a strength and much better than an average NHL third line. In 2 years Rask has established a strong foundation that could be a starting point for doing just that. From watching him for 2 years, I would rate his greatest strength as his hockey sense, ability to nearly impeccably read and react correctly to constantly changing situations and his positional play. To complement his 2-way play, he has shown reasonable ability to contribute offensively. But at least through year 2, I do not view him as an offensive catalyst or a pure playmaker who makes scoring chances in bunches for his line mates. When the real NHL game processed the combination of Rask’s skills and weaknesses for the 2015-16 season, it yielded a very respectable 48 points. If Rask just continues to be the solid 2-way high 40s point producer that he was in 2015-16 that is not a failure, but the positive side of the fence for him is if he can find 1 higher gear in terms of offensive production and get to the high 50s or low 60s without trading any of his 2-way acumen to do so. At that point, Rask is a solid 2-way center whose production matches that of other good second line centers around the league. At that point $4 million starts to look really inexpensive.
When I net it out even with my aversion to long contracts, I like the $4 million. The floor is maybe slightly overpaying for a young well-rounded third line center. The upside with a reasonable probability of happening is that this becomes an incredibly deal really quickly if Rask can take another step upward from an already high level for a second-year player.