The Canucks’ new General Manager is going to be very busy right away. Linden has said that he wants a GM in place by the end of May. That’s just one month before the NHL entry draft, with free agency beginning a few days later.
In addition, the new GM may have to move quickly to hire a replacement for John Tortorella, as the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes are also in the market for a new head coach. On top of all that, the Canucks have ten pending restricted free agents that will either need qualifying offers or new contracts before June 30th.
The Canucks have an interesting group of RFAs, with seven of them playing at least a few games in the NHL last season. The two most important ones are Chris Tanev and Zack Kassian and they both present interesting problems. Tanev is extremely difficult to evaluate, because his contributions don’t generally find their way to the scoresheet, while Kassian’s inconsistency makes it difficult to judge how he will perform going forward.
Let’s tackle the easier issue first: just how much should Zack Kassian make on his next contract?
Kassian has now played 156 NHL games between the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks, compiling 25 goals and 25 assists in total. This past season was his best, scoring 14 goals and adding 15 assists for 29 points in 73 games.
He ended the season stronger than he started it, scoring 3 goals and 10 points in his final 10 games, including a 4-assist game against the Buffalo Sabres on March 23rd.
Kassian’s entry-level contract, which ended this past season, had him making an average of $870,000 per year. His qualifying offer, according to CapGeek, would actually be lower than that. While a qualifying offer generally has to be an increase on a previous contract, part of Kassian’s entry-level deal included a signing bonus and his base salary this past year was $810,000, meaning his qualifying offer would need to be, at minimum, $850,500.
It’s a moot point, really, as Kassian and his agent will almost certainly reject his qualifying offer. So what would make the most sense for both Kassian and the Canucks?
At this point, I look for comparable players. Here are all the players who, at the age of 23 and in a contract year, scored at least 10 goals and between 25 and 35 points since the 2004-05 lockout.
There’s a decent range of contracts here, from $725,000 for Tomas Fleischmann in 2008 to twice that for Nathan Gerbe three years later. What’s particularly interesting about the Gerbe contract is that it’s not only for the most money among these players, but for the longest term at three years.
For what it’s worth, Gerbe scored just 35 points in his next 104 games over the next two seasons and was bought out by the Sabres in the final year. He signed a two-way, league-minimum contract with the Hurricanes and proceeded to once again score 16 goals and 15 assists this past season. Funny how that works.
In any case, the Gerbe contract looks like an outlier among this group and can be termed an overpayment, particularly considering how undersized he is. The other big money deal in this group is Clarke MacArthur, but it was just for one year and MacArthur had reasonable numbers from his previous two seasons as well.
Fleischmann is the other outlier here. He had two seasons at better than a point-per-game in the AHL under his belt, but 2007-08 was his first full season with the Washington Capitals. Considering he went on to score 23 goals and 51 poitns in 69 games in the second year of his $725,000 contract, that looks like a pretty amazing deal.
With those deals out of the way, we’re left with a range from $1 to $1.2 million on a two-year contract. This seems like a reasonable range for Kassian.
As a further comparison, the Philadelphia Flyers recently re-signed their own RFA, Michael Raffl, to a two-year contract worth $1.1 million per year. Raffl scored 9 goals and 22 points in 68 games this past season as a rookie, averaging slightly fewer points per game than Kassian.
Placing Kassian at the upper end of that range — $1.2 million per year for two years — seems about right.Tags: Zack Kassian