Earlier this week, hockey statistician Matt Cane released his annual free agent predictions model featuring projected salaries for this summer’s restricted and unrestricted free agents. Of interest for the Oilers are defencemen Matt Benning and Darnell Nurse, who are set to sign their first post-ELC contracts, and Ryan Strome, who’ll be signing his third NHL deal this summer.
Here we go! Final (assuming I don't find any errors) contract predictions for the 2018 Free Agent Class:https://t.co/CwF6kTUfdZ— Matt Cane (@Cane_Matt) May 21, 2018
Cane’s model and an explanation of how it works can be found above.
Cane’s model has Nurse coming in at four years with a cap hit of just under $5 million annually. The four-year term obviously doesn’t make much sense because Nurse has four more years of control left before he can hit the open market. He’s either going to sign a two-year bridge deal to prove himself or he’s going to ink a long-term deal in the seven year range. Eating up four RFA years and no UFA years on a contract just isn’t a thing that happens.
I wrote about bridging Nurse back in April comparing him to other defencemen drafted in the first round back in the 2012 draft. There was a mixed bag with Morgan Rielly, Olli Maatta, and Hampus Lindholm getting long-term deals and Ryan Murray, Matt Dumba, Jacob Trouba getting bridge deals. Based on those comparisons, I figured Nurse was a candidate for a bridge deal given the team’s situation and his style of play.
I think Nurse has a great deal of potential to become a very good defender in the NHL, but he hasn’t proved anything over the course of a full season yet. Last year, he got off to a good start but tapered off towards the end of the season. There are pros and cons to bridge deals, but I don’t think Edmonton is in a position financially right now to invest another big contract into a maybe.
Nov 9, 2017; Newark, NJ, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (29) celebrates with center Connor McDavid (97) and defenseman Matt Benning (83) after scoring the game winning goal in overtime at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Cane’s model has Benning coming in at two years with a cap hit just over $2 million annually. That seems about right for Benning who obviously isn’t going to be getting a long-term deal at this point. Defenders of Benning’s ilk, ones who play a solid, under-the-radar game without producing much offensively, don’t tend to get long-term contracts.
When I wrote about Benning back in April, I found a group of similar defencemen in their mid-20s who signed deals that are in line with what Cane’s model is predicting for him. The defenders I found were Derek Forbort, Markus Nutivaara, and Mark Pysyk, all of whom fit the bill of solid defencemen who don’t produce offence at a high level. All of them got deals in the $2.5 million range. I expect Benning to be somewhere below that on a two-year deal.
Cane’s model has Strome coming it at two years with a cap hit of roughly $2.5 million annually. Strome is coming off of a post-ELC deal with the Islanders that paid him $2.5 million over two years. Given the fact he had a salary of $3 million last year, he would be entitled to a 10 per cent raise to $3.3 million if he signed a qualifying offer. With that in mind, I figure the $2.5 million figure from Cane’s model is beneath what Strome will end up signing.
When I wrote about Strome in April, I mentioned how he was slightly underrated by fans in his value as a versatile depth player because he was the return in a really bad one-for-one trade. If you take the trade and what Jordan Eberle does out of the equation, Strome is a fine player. He can play centre, he can play on the wing, he can chip in offensively, and he can kill penalties. There’s certainly value to a versatile player like that. The similar players I found who signed contracts recently were Andrew Cogliano, Nick Bonino, and Lars Eller, all of whom were in the $3-$4 million range.
Strome has two more years of control before he can hit the open market. I imagine his deal will be two years and somewhere around $3 million. Given those aforementioned players who produce at a similar point-per-game clip, that’s a reasonable deal for Strome.
The big picture
The Oilers have about $65 million committed into nine forwards, four defencemen, and three goalies next season. Assume that Al Montoya is buried or dealt and Kailer Yamamoto makes the team and it’s about $65 million for 10 forwards, four defenders, and two goalies. Regardless, Edmonton has about $12-15 million to work with depending where the salary cap ends up.
I think the Strome and Benning deals are pretty simple. Both are players who make sense to bring back on short-term deals. Nurse, though, is the more difficult decision. Do you buy into the potential and sign him to a long-term deal? Can you take that gamble given how many long-term deals the team already has? Or is signing him to a highly-motivating bridge deal that brings him to two years away from unrestricted free agency an even bigger risk?
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