As happens sometimes, my personal schedule does not line up so well with breaking news Canes coverage today. If someone could tell Ron Francis to check with me before making any announcements, it would be appreciated. (Hah!)
I will follow up probably late tonight with more detailed thoughts on the transaction and what it means for the Carolina Hurricanes blue line, but here are my initial thoughts.
Brett Pesce contract extension
The contract — $4 million annually for six years is a fair price for Brett Pesce. The number is about what I would have expected at teh front part of the summer, but then I adjusted upward slightly when Jaccob Slavin was re-signed for $5.3 million annually. $4 million is a fair price for a defensively sound top 4 defenseman and is a discount if he remains solid as more of a #2 and/or he boosts his offensive production.
As a pair — If you assume that Slavin/Pesce is a long-term thing (which is not at all unreasonable), the Hurricanes have a good young top defense pairing signed long-term for a modest total of $9.3 million per year. That is a really good price in a league that is seeing more individual players pushing up to $8 million per year by themselves.
Jaccob Slavin’s deal as a ceiling — As I wrote way back in early April before the 2016-17 season even ended, I think Slavin’s deal established the ceiling for the other contracts to follow. In short, I viewed him as the Hurricanes best defenseman in 2016-17 and quite likely going forward. As such, Slavin’s salary has the potential to help put a ceiling in place for other deals to follow including Pesce’s which is now inked but also Noah Hanifin and potentially Haydn Fleury assuming both have good 2017-18 campaigns but still slot below Slavin.
A bet on the core of the defense and team — Even before Slavin and Pesce jumped rapidly to the NHL in 2015-16, the chatter around the team the summer before and during training camp was the promising future of the blue line. Interestingly, that was at a time when Noah Hanifin and Haydn Fleury would certainly have been rated above Slavin and Pesce in the prospect pool. Once they burst onto the scene ahead of schedule and way up the depth chart, the blue line solidified and became the first arrival in the rebuilding program and also the foundation of the future. With Pesce’s new contract, the team now has its 2016-17 top pairing locked up for seven years (actually eight for Slavin) and Justin Faulk for three years with the other young players controlled by the Hurricanes for a number of years. Important is that the team is now committed long-term to half and semi-long-term to three fourths of its blue line, so it does need to work and be part of a winning formula.
Fair value versus upside and an absolute bargain — By today’s NHL standards, $4 million is a pretty fair price for a #4 defenseman who does nothing special except be serviceable in a #4 role. Important to note is that even that basic version of a top 4 defenseman is incredibly valuable. There just are not enough to go around, and while it can be possible to hide or protect a weak bottom pairing, it is nearly impossible to hide a second pairing that has a major weakness. So if Pesce can do what he did in 2016-17 and maybe even a bit less, he is signed for fair value.
But I think there is significant upside from there. If he stays with Slavin and in a top pairing role, and that duo can continue to be plus players against the league’s best, I think a fairer number is more like $5.5-6 million even without much for scoring. If Pesce can find a slightly higher gear scoring-wise, it gets even better. Shorter version is that as long as Pesce does not regress, I think Francis extended him for a price that is at the low end of a $4-6 million range.
Potential scoring upside — Important to note as a starting point is that a significant chunk of scoring for defensemen comes through the power play, so if Pesce stays in a role that is heavy on penalty kill minutes and light on power play minutes, it is not fair to compare his scoring side by side to players whose special teams ice time is more balanced or even reversed. That said, I do think Pesce has some scoring upside and probably in the form of goals. He does not rate as highly as any of the team’s other top 4 defensemen in terms of being able to gallop end to end with the puck on his stick, but I would rate him second behind only Justin Faulk in terms of having a good sense and aggressive (at the right times) mentality for stepping in as a third or fourth forward on the rush and figuring out where to go/what to do when he does so. Shorter version is to say that Pesce shows very good instincts without the puck on the rush and that has the chance to net a decent even strength goal total if he can become a bit more precise and consistent with his shot.
What’s with the $15,000? — If my math is right, Pesce’s big $24 million contract has an extra $15,000 added to it. There has to be a story behind that. Someone holler when you find out.
EDITING ADDITION FOR CORRECTION: So it’s actually 6 X $25,000 = $150,000 which is maybe slightly less puzzling, but still…why not just an even $24 million? (And that’s what I get for trying to do math after a long day.)
What say you Caniacs?
What are your initial thoughts on Brett Pesce’s new contract and his role going forward?