Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider, how will Jeff Gorton handle their next contracts?
Over the last 10 seasons two year bridge or gap contracts became popular among general managers around the NHL. Glen Sather was no different, force feeding good young players coming off their Entry Level Contracts these two year bridge deals, only to have to pay them big dollars when they put up big numbers in two years. What I would like to look at is whether or not Jeff Gorton could be more cost effective by signing young players to longer term deals. Or does the risk out-weigh the reward in terms of future cap implications.
Players close in age will be starting point For Jeff Gorton in determining Hayes worth.
Mikael Granlund (39 points) received a 2-year $6 million gap deal this summer ($3 mil per). Mika Zibanejad (46 points) also signed a two year deal worth $5.25 mil ($2.256 mil per). Both players are close comparisons to that of Kevin Hayes in terms of age, production, and development in their three seasons in the NHL. If these two players break out in the next two years, their respective teams may end up paying the way the Rangers did with Derek Stepan this past summer. Stepan is not exactly a star player but does just about everything in every situation well. However, goals and points equal dollars and cents in the NHL. Both Granlund and Zibanejad have the skill sets to become perennial 60-70 point scorers. Players like that command big money and as the cap rises annually, as do the contracts.
Meanwhile the Florida Panthers signed Nick Bjugstad to a six year deal worth a total of $24.6 million ($4.1 per). Edmonton decided that Taylor Hall was worth the gamble by skipping the “show me” contract after a 50 point season and signed him to a 7 year deal worth $42 million ($6 mil per). The Oilers seem to have made the right move with Hall (23) as he scored 80 points in 75 games played the following season in 2013/14. He had an injury plagued season last year in which he only played 53 games but right now that seems to be the way to go with Taylor Hall. The jury is still out on Nick Bjugstad since he just completed his Entry Level Contract but he’s trended upward in his two seasons in the NHL.
The Rangers will become Jeff Gorton’s team in next few years, will he continue to push bridge contracts?
With Jeff Gorton at the helm in the front office the bridge contract is no longer a certainty like it was while Glen Sather was still holding office. If Kevin Hayes improves on his forty-five point rookie season even slightly, he may command as much as $3 mil annually on a two year bridge contract. Centerman are so often the difference for contending teams in big games, including the playoffs. Kevin Hayes has the potential to surpass Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan on the depth chart in the next few years so why wouldn’t you consider signing him for more than 2 years. He’s 23 years old and has 4 more years of Restricted Free Agency. This would drive the price down some on a longer term deal; say five or six years. Of course, this is somewhat contingent on him remaining at center.
Jeff Gorton has done a good job navigating the cap and signing his young players to contracts that work for both sides. He got Emerson Etem to accept his Qualifying Offer of $851K, a one year contract. J.T. Miller also signed his Qualifying Offer worth $874K. Jesper Fast who had a great postseason filling in for Martin St. Louis on the second line signed for a meager $950K per.
Gorton has done a good job keeping costs down but with Kevin Hayes he should spend a little more now to save later. Of course it depends on the kind of season he has in 15/16 but this may be the right move. Five or six years at $5 mil annually may seem like a lot now, but rather than spending $7 mil per in two years after the $3 mil gap contract ends helps keep cap hits down for the long run. Glen Sather may have been able to lock up Derek Stepan for a million or more less in 2012 had he not been so adamant about the gap contract.
When incumbent GM Glen Sather relinquished his duties, the Rangers become Gorton’s team. Sather built a strong contender for NY fans but blew through some of the team’s future in an attempt to win now. For this reason the Rangers current top young players are that much more important to future success. Chris Kreider comes to mind as well as the aforementioned Kevin Hayes. Emerson Etem and JT Miller will get reevaluated during the season or next July 1st. Both fit the bill as important young players that either need to be cost controlled or bring back a solid return in a trade.
There’s certainly bound to be some tough decisions for Gorton to make over the next year. However, I think Jeff Gorton will make the smart move and get Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider locked up long term at some point between now and July.