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Is Slavin’s Contract Skjei’s Ceiling?

In signing top defender Jaccob Slavin to a long-term contract, the Carolina Hurricanes has brought more clarity to the big picture surrounding Brady Skjei’s next deal. While we’ve pontificated about what it might cost to sign Skjei before, Slavin’s contract provides another valuable barometer; one that Rangers’ GM Jeff Gorton will certainly leverage when working to extend Skjei.

While Skjei’s point production was phenomenal last year (1.68 points per 60 minutes (pp/60), 10th among all defensemen and second among rookies), he hasn’t quite reached top-pair status. That means, assumedly, that Gorton will leverage Slavin’s contract as a ceiling, rather than a benchmark. Part of Skjei’s production stems from his favorable oZS of 58.8% and lack of a heavy defensive burden. It’s hard to compare him to Slavin when he played nearly six fewer minutes per game and wasn’t featured on the penalty kill, where the ‘Cane saw more than 3:00 per night.

Those with similar salaries and ages to Slavin—namely Hampus Lindholm and Rasmus Ristolainen—are also their team’s top defender. In that sense, they also represent a ceiling for Skjei’s next contract. That’s not a knock on Skjei, especially since he’s stuck behind Ryan McDonagh on the depth chart, but it does push his value more towards Shayne Gostisbehere, even if he’s a more well-rounded player.

Tyler Bozak by Bridget Samuels
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Perhaps There's Something to Those Bozak Rumors

As Brooks noted, defenseman Nick Holden, who carries with him a $1.65M AAV for one more year, could be used to offset the salary cap space needed to bring in Bozak. In fact, if no other significantly priced items were included in the deal, a one-for-one trade should leave both teams salary cap compliant to start the season.

Plus, there’s much to like about Bozak beyond the handful of positives Brooks shared in his column. Not only is he an ace-in-the-hole at the dot—an area of the game the Rangers could surely improve—but he’s a fantastic skater with solid two-way instincts. Should the Rangers acquire him, those attributes should translate well to Alain Vigneault’s system that relies so heavily on quality skating and intelligence in all three zones.

Best of all, Bozak is a quality special teams player. His 63 Power Play Points (PPP) are fourth-highest on the Leafs over the last five seasons behind Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel (now with the Pittsburgh Penguins), and James van Riemsdyk.

In terms of possession metrics, he’s also been particularly reliable over the last two seasons in which the Leafs have bounced back with a star-studded cast of young talent. He has a two-year Corsi-For percentage (CF%) of 52.1%, and a Fenwick-for percentage (FF%) of 50.55% over the same span, all at five-on-five, and all while skating with only a slight edge toward offensive zone starts (oZS%) (54.85 oZS% to 45.15 dZS%).

Oddly, though his total time-on-ice has fallen each of the last three seasons, falling to a career-low 16:25 last season, as Brooks highlighted originally, his Points Per Game Played (P/GP) has actually increased in each of those seasons, as he finished last year with a 0.71 P/GP average. At the age of 31 (he’ll turn 32 in March) it’s difficult to project just how likely it is to continue to increase again this season, but even if it stayed flat, that’s still a projection of 58 points over 82 games, which is stellar second-line center production in today’s NHL.

New York Rangers @ Edmonton Oilers by Karan Bawa
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Why Zibanejad Absolutely Must Sign Long-Term

The productive Swede is inarguably one of the most important players to the Rangers immediate future, and as the roster is currently constructed, will begin the 2017-18 NHL season as the Rangers de facto first-line center. Thankfully, it’s a role he was drafted to eventually take on by design, and his steadily increasing production provides the historical record to justify his finally being given the opportunity to prove he can handle the task.

A quick look at his boxcar stats over the last season paint a strong, progressive outlook for his immediate future as the Rangers’ top-line center:

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With his points per game played (P/GP) pace gradually improving year-over-year, combined with being arbitration eligible and having only two years of RFA status left, is there really a choice in the matter to lock him in long-term? Despite the injury-derailed season he had this past year, he’s proven his value as a player worth investing in.

Signing Zibanejad to another bridge contract—a term commonly used to describe short-term deals for young players—would be bad business for the Rangers, who should have learned a valuable lesson in why those deals are of diminishing value in today’s NHL. Not only because they assuredly increase the cost of future contracts (especially those that purchase Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA)-eligible years), but specifically in Zibanejad’s case, because he already signed a bridge deal with the Senators coming out of his Entry-Level Contract (ELC) back in 2015. Asking him to sign another only accomplishes in kicking the can down the road and promises to make the Rangers pay for it financially when they finally show a willingness to go long-term, this time at the age of 25 or 26 where they’d need to buy even more UFA-eligible years as a result. A year or two of a relatively cost-controlled AAV just isn’t worth the long-term implications that signing Zibanejad to that kind of contract would ultimately cost the Blueshirts. It’s not just the year-to-year savings, either. It’s the life of the contract and the age in which the player will be upon its expiration.

This is as sure a reality as there can be, and it’s one the Rangers (hopefully) were taught not to relive with Derek Stepan, whom this very thing occurred with for many of the same reasons.