Latest posts by Phil Kocher (see all)
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Jeff Gorton has had a tremendously successful offseason. From signing Kevin Shattenkirk to the Mika Zibanejad extension, it’s rightful to heap praise in his direction. But while he’s deserving of this champagne shower, this isn’t a moment he ought to revel in for too long, because something formidable lies in wait just down the tracks. While there’s upward of an entire season ahead in which to figure it out, barring an unlikely collapse in production, J.T. Miller is about to get paid.
The now 24-year-old closed the year with a career-high 56 points in 82 games – just three shy of the team lead held by Mats Zuccarello. His 22 goals were also fourth-best for a Rangers squad that finished behind three other teams in the NHL in goals for per game played (GF/GP) at 3.09. Furthermore, Miller’s 2.50 points per 60 minutes (P/60) was also tops among all Rangers skaters with only Chris Kreider (2.49) near him. The next closest was team-leading scorer Mats Zuccarello, who was third in P/60 for the Blueshirts last season at 2.35. And all of this came from Miller at the measly price of just $2.75M against the cap. What a steal, eh?
Well, yes and no. The points-per-dollar value sure looks great in hindsight, but despite his poor career playoff performances (he has just one goal and 16 points in 40 playoff contests), it still promises to cost the Rangers more than they needed to spend should they decide to keep Miller around long-term after all.
Congrats to JT Miller on the new contract. Fair deal: Affordable cap # for @NYRangers now & opp. for JT to re-up 💰soon as game progresses.
— Brian Bartlett (@BBarts) July 13, 2016
As I warned about back in November, when Miller was leading the team in scoring through the first month of the 2016-17 season, the Rangers rather foolishly opted for a two-year bridge deal instead of offering the East Palestine, Ohio native a long-term deal in exchange for a team-friendly annual average value (AAV).
From 2014-15, when he established himself as a regular NHL player, to 2015-16, his P/GP averages have continued to increase incrementally from 0.40 to 0.52 in each season. Over that same 2014-2016 stretch in which he played the majority of his NHL games, according to Corsica.hockey, he had an aggregate 50.02 CF (Corsi-for) percentage and 50.43 FF (Fenwick-for) percentage. His P/60 (points per 60 minutes) of 2.01 trailed just behind Chris Kreider (2.12) – a then fourth-year player who the Rangers apparently did trust enough to sign to a long-term extension.
There’s no getting the toothpaste back in the tube, but with just one year left of Restricted Free Agency (RFA), anything more than a one-year extension between Miller and the Rangers will come at a premium. That’s the price the Blueshirts will pay for kicking the can down the road. There’s no changing that now because there is no changing the economic reality of his looming Unrestricted Free Agency (UFA) status in 2019.
Just as his agent Brian Barlett predicted, the Rangers decision will result in a much greater sum of money to “re-up” now that Miller’s game has progressed. Given his age and contract status, it’s not difficult to project a baseline AAV of no less than $5M given comparable contracts signed by his peers in recent years.
This group has an average C.H% of roughly 7% and a collective AAV of $5.05M — a very healthy baseline for Barlett to set for his client. It’s quite possible Miller earns more, too. Palat, Niederreiter, and Schenn, who he most directly compares with, have an aggregate AAV of $5.21M.
This all, of course, is assuming the Rangers re-sign Miller anytime between now and somewhere around the midway point of the season. If he breaks the 60-point mark this season after scoring 56 points in the first year of his bridge deal the price tag would likely go up as a result.
The Blueshirts have just five forwards (Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Jesper Fast, and Pavel Buchnevich) under contract for the start of the 2018-19 season. In addition to Miller, they are also saddled with decisions to make on RFAs Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey, and Matt Puempel, as well as UFAs David Desharnais, Michael Grabner, and Rick Nash. On defense, there is also Brady Skjei, who also stands to eclipse the $5M mark in his next deal, and Nick Holden, who likely won’t be a factor in any decision made.
Still, even without knowing what the salary cap ceiling will be set at for 2018 or 2019, it’s unlikely that a long-term extension for Miller would be backbreaking for the Rangers. They’ll pay a bit more than they should have had they made this call last summer, but there’s plenty of runway left for Gorton to still successfully land this plane.