With Dustin Byfuglien signing a five-year contract extension with the Winnipeg Jets earlier this week, Keith Yandle immediately became the most attractive rental defencemen on the trade market. That said, even though it’s very unlikely the New York Rangers will be able to afford to sign him to a new contract this summer, it’s hard to imagine they’ll let him go, considering they’re geared in win-now mode, and captain Ryan McDonagh was just recently sidelined with a concussion.
Regardless of what happens with Yandle at the deadline, it’s virtually certain that he’s going to hit the open market this summer. And when he does, there’s going to be a whole bunch of teams making calls to his agent, as nobody else available has anywhere near the same offensive prowess that he does.
A little under a year ago, the Rangers acquired Yandle from the Arizona Coyotes at a very hefty price. He was sent to New York with Chris Summers for top prospect Anthony Duclair, depth defenceman John Moore, a second round pick that ended up becoming Oliver Kylington (Arizona traded the pick to Calgary for two third round picks), and a first round pick in 2016. He’s been good for the Rangers through parts of two seasons, averaging 0.52 points-per game over 21 games last season, and 0.54 points-per-game through 54 games this season, which is perfectly in line with his career average of 0.56 points-per-game during his nine seasons in the desert.
Like I said, though, it’s very unlikely that the Rangers are going to be able to find a way to squeeze him into their cap picture next season. They already have $54.15 million invested in seven forwards, four defencemen, and one goalie, so depending on where the cap ceiling ends up, they’re only going to have roughly $20 to fill up the rest of their roster. So unless they go ahead and dump another player’s contract, then it’s pretty safe to assume that Yandle won’t be a Ranger next year.
So what’s he going to command on the open market?
There’s obviously no question that Yandle has been one of the game’s elite offensive defencemen for the better part of the past decade. Over the past five seasons, Yandle is sixth in scoring among defencemen in all situations, behind only Erik Karlsson, P.K. Subban, Dustin Byfuglien, Shea Weber, and Brent Burns, producing 39 goals and 168 assists in 350 games over that time. And as I mentioned earlier, he’s maintained a fairly consistent offensive clip over the years, as his points-per-game average hasn’t dipped below 0.50 since 2008-09.
A place to start in determining value would be looking at other similar players and what they’ve signed for on the open marker recently. Using War-on-Ice’s Similarity Scores tool, I figured that some reasonable comparisons to Yandle based on production, age, and situation would be 2012-13 Mark Streit, 2011-12 James Wisniewski, and 2014-15 Matt Niskanen. Obviously these aren’t perfect, but all of them had pretty similar seasons in terms of production and role to what Yandle has had this season.
Streit was 35-years old playing with the Islanders in 2012-13 when he put up 0.56 points-per-game while being used largely in an offensive zone situation. He went into free agency and eventually signed a four-year, $21 million deal with the Philadelphia Flyers. Wisniewski bounced around the league for a while, playing in Anaheim, New York, and Montreal before eventually signing a six-year, $33 million deal in Columbus. The year before hitting free agency, he racked up 0.68 points-per game between the Canadiens and Islanders while being used in a lot of offensive zone situations in Montreal, but heavier defensive zone situations in New York. And finally, Niskanen put up 0.57 points-per-game in 2013-14 with the Penguins, almost exactly what Yandle has done this season, but playing in a more all-around role. That summer, he signed a seven-year, $40.25 million deal with the Washington Capitals.
Like I said, none of them are perfect comparables to Yandle, but it paints a picture as to how much offensive production and skill from a defenceman is coveted, and the price teams will pay in order to acquire it. I mean, a 30-year old Dustin Byfuglien, an excellent player and elite offensive defenceman, was just given a five-year deal worth $38 million, meaning as of right now, he’s set to have the third highest annual cap hit of any defenceman in the NHL next season.
Yandle is currently on a deal that pays him $5.25 million annually, and this his first time hitting free agency, and it’ll probably be his last time doing so as a prime-aged player, so he’s certainly going to be looking for a raise from what he’s making right now. I don’t think he will, or should sign as big a deal as Byfuglien did with the Jets, but looking up and down the list of defencemen available through free agency this summer, there really aren’t many other options for a team looking to add this type of player. Brian Campbell is a decent option, but he’s going to be 37 years old in May. Otherwise, the only big names available are Alex Goligoski, Dan Hamhuis, and Braydon Coburn, and obviously none of them produce at the same level as Yandle does.