There’s under a month left until the NHL season starts and a handful of good, young RFAs are still without contracts — including Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers. What’s going on here, and what’s he going to sign for?
1. A strange situation
Jonathan Huberdeau is without a contract. At least, that’s the case as I type this. With training camp looming so close it’s possible that he’ll have a new deal by the time you’re done reading this. Or I’m done writing this.
So what’s the holdup here? This isn’t a team that’s really going to be too worried about cap
hit for anyone. It’s a budget club, sure, but they have just $58.5 million in cap commitments for this season and Huberdeau is the only player they still have unsigned. Moreover, they can probably get away with committing to him a little more than that because, even if you have to give him big money (which I would tend to doubt, based on my gut feeling here) the big-money contracts for Jaromir Jagr, Willie Mitchell, and Brian Campbell, among others, are all coming off the books next summer. Maybe you just have to grin and bear it for 2015-16. It’s not like you’re going to be upset with what you get from him in that one year where you might go over-budget by a few million bucks.
The reason all this is weird is that Huberdeau led Florida in scoring last season
and, while 54 points in 79 games is nothing to write home about, the fact that 54 points led your team in scoring highlights just how much you need guys who can put up 54 points. Especially when they’re only 21 for the entire season; Huberdeau only turned 22 in early June.
Wouldn’t just about any other team be in a huge rush to re-sign him the second they could?
2. Where do they stand?
What’s really interesting here is that, as far as I’ve been able to tell from the talks on this extension all summer, things have been pretty weird more or less this entire time. I remember seeing reports as far back as early June that the real sticking point here was the term the team would give him, but even then it seemed like Florida was down for whatever. Here’s Dale Tallon on the subject from June 6:
“The biggest thing is agreeing on terms, and once we figure that out
we’ll start talking numbers. We’re looking at a bridge [contract] or
something a little longer or a long-term contract. We’re open to
anything. We’ll get something done that’s best for both of us.”
It started to come out on Tuesday that teams were now considering giving Huberdeau and offer sheet, which would certainly get things moving in the right direction. Basically nothing but tire-kicking at this point, but if nothing else it gives Florida some numbers to really work with and get something hammered out in the next day or two.
But the thing is, if you go looking for comparables, Florida probably isn’t going to like what it finds.
3. To whom does Huberdeau compare?
Going just by straight boxcar numbers, approximate age, and performance last season alone, the numbers suggest that Florida is about to do that thing where you go to a nice restaurant for a fancy night out and then you look at the check and you knew it was gonna be expensive but then when you see the dollar amount in actually front of you, you’re like, “AH!”
I looked at every player in the last three full seasons who was between the ages of 20 and 23, played at least 50 games, and scored at least 15 goals with between 50 and 60 points. My hope for limiting things to between 50 and 60 points was to eliminate the really high-end guys like, say, Tyler Seguin, Patrick Kane, or someone like that. And for the most part, that worked. The comparables I pulled included guys like Brandon Saad, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Brad Marchand, Taylor Hall, and so on. The only huge-money guy to slip through the Cracks was Jonathan Toews, for his 29-28-57 season as a 23-year-old in 2011-12.
In all, there were 21 guys who did it, plus Huberdreau. And from what I see here, dude should get paid.
If he shot at the average of that group for his 169 shots, Huberdeau would have scored an extra 20.8 goals instead of 15, which is pretty much in line with the group average. He’s also several months younger than this group’s collective age, so maybe you can forgive him that as well.
And if you use War on Ice’s Similarity Scores tools to go deeper into the numbers, examining rates and possession numbers, you get a list of players that isn’t quite as high-flying as the ones above, but is still really impressive:
Average current AAV on the nine guys on that list who are still in the league (with all apologies to Wojtek Wolski): $3.68 million. But that list also has a number of guys who are on shorter-term RFA deals, like Kreider ($2.475 million), Palat ($3.33 million) and Schwartz ($2.35 million). All those guys can expect to get really paid in the very near future. Another — Downie at $1.75 million — has instead aged into just not being as good as was expected and therefore carries a lower cost.
Controlling for these things would bring the number more or less into the same $4-5 million range Huberdeau probably deserves. If they want to go really long-term — don’t bet on it at this point — he’ll probably get north of $5 million.
4. Mitigating factors
However, that’s really only what the player’s argument is likely to be. The team can probably make a pretty good case that he doesn’t deserve that much money, and should probably take a shorter-term deal so they can evaluate him further.
Consider: He had a pretty rotten 2013-14 (just 9-19-28 in 69 games after a strong 14-17-31 in 48 as a rookie) and also wasn’t faring too well last year. Then the Jagr trade. To say that Huberdeau’s play was elevated by getting Jagr on his line would be like saying that winning the draft lottery this year really helps Edmonton going forward.
Here are Huberdeau’s splits pre- and post-Jagr trade (the future Hall of Famer’s first game for the Cats was Feb. 28), first for overall counting stats, second for rate and possession numbers, etc.:
So, basically Jagr saved his season and put him in a position to ask for a big contract in the first place. This is what Jagr does, of course, but nonetheless it does give you pause about signing this kid long-term. And if not, it at least leads you to reconsider that whole “deal in the $4-5 million range” thing from above.
5. So what’s the number?
If I’m Florida, I aim for a two- or perhaps three-year deal in the high $3 million or low $4 million range. If I’m Huberdeau I’m asking for something in the neighborhood of $4.5 million and settle in the low $4 millions.
The fact that Nick Bjugstad, who just turned 23, makes $4.1 million for that same Florida team on a six-year deal despite never even breaking 43 points, while Huberdeau’s career points per game lands him around 48 even with that uglier 125 or so in the middle there makes everything seem like $4.1 million is therefore a good baseline for me.
However, if he’s going shorter-term, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take something in the low- to mid-$3 million area. Something like $3.3 million or $3.5 million on a two-year show-me deal (not unlike what Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson have) might make sense if an impasse cannot be bridged on a longer deal.
And if I’m another team considering that offer sheet, something in that range (mid-tier, $3.65-$5.48 million) costs you a first-and third-round pick. If I’m, say, Nashville or Montreal — mid-table teams with some holes in the forward group — a long-term deal on the high end of that is something I seriously consider.