Updated: Apr 2, 2020
Charlie McAvoy & Jordan Binnington
Considering that this offseason contains one of the richest restricted free agents (RFA) classes of all time, it is hard to predict what each player will receive. This is in part because there seems to be a shift towards young stars willing to take less years in order to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) in their prime, and thereby optimizing their earnings. Although some may decide that their current team has a chance of winning the cup, or they feel “loyal” to the team who drafted them, there are still some who believe a shorter deal is what is best for them. So, we have decided to take 10 of the more interesting RFA’s and submit an offer we believe they may receive or even what they deserve to receive. For the most part, we have two different offers for each player, some very different but also some rather similar. Each week starting this Thursday, we will post 2 RFA players and an honourable mention over the course of 5 weeks, with this of course being the first. We know that there are players that we may have left off this list, but there are so many intriguing RFA players that it was quite difficult to even pick the 15 that we will be discussing. We encourage your feedback, let us know if you think these offers are accurate, what you would suggest and feel free to give us your offers on some other players we did not discuss. With that being said, let’s get started.
This week we will be discussing two of the more interesting players that are set to become RFA’s who are currently battling in the Stanley Cup Finals. Boston’s up and coming defenceman Charlie McAvoy and St. Louis’ unlikely heroin net Jordan Binnington. We decided to discuss these two players first because, for one thing, they are still playing. The second reason however, is because it is very hard to gauge what these players could potentially make simply because neither played out all three years of their ELC’s in the big leagues. Lastly, their positions also make them a wild card, typically with a forward you can somewhat get a sense of their worth based off their offensive productivity. With defencemen and goalies, it becomes a little trickier to do, so we took our best stab at it and these are the numbers we came up with.
Mac Henley – $3.750M/ 2 years
McAvoy has had an interesting career to date. Bursting into the NHL during the 2016-17 playoffs, McAvoy was an instant stalwart on the Bruins’ blueline. The 2016 first round pick notched three points in Boston’s 6-game defeat to the Ottawa Senators in the first round, but the story was that he averaged over 26 minutes throughout the series. As far as first tastes in the NHL go, McAvoy was a bonafide success.
The following year came highly touted for the rookie, and he largely lived up to expectations, posting just over 0.5 points per game while averaging 22:09 in the regular season, and 24 minutes in the playoffs. This past season saw the sophomore get into injury trouble, but nevertheless maintain his points per game and time on ice averages. And in this postseason, he’s continued to come up clutch. This guy is a #1 defenceman, why wouldn’t the Bruins lock him up long-term? Two reasons: injuries and cap space.
McAvoy has been kept out of the lineup with injury three times in the previous calendar year, including concerning issues such as an irregular heartbeat, an MCL sprain, and an unspecified lower body injury that kept him out for nearly three weeks. Locking McAvoy up long-term would come with a significant risk of injury, potentially making his contract dead money if he were to re-injure one of his previous ailments. Furthermore, the Bruins are looking at a tight cap situation. With 14 million projected in space, they’ll need to use that to sign RFA Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen alongside McAvoy, as well as find a suitable replacement or re-sign deadline acquisition Marcus Johansson.
Further, taking a bridge deal would allow McAvoy to further cement himself as a number one defenceman league-wide, allowing him to capitalize on a likely high cap ceiling and higher personal value at the conclusion of the bridge deal.
Therefore, both the player and the team would seem to benefit from a bridge deal. Now let’s look at some comparable bridge deals based on McAvoy’s age, points per game, games played and average ice time.
These are the stats for the five players who sign bridge deals. The stats are from the two years prior to them signing the comparable contract. With regards to points per game and time on ice, McAvoy ranks first and second respectively among those listed. The other player who ranks second and first in the respective categories is P.K. Subban, the best comparable for McAvoy. While it was a long time ago, both players showed promising flashes of offensive acumen, while playing big minutes for their playoff bound clubs.
What you may be questioning is the cap hit between the two players, as my projected cap hit for McAvoy is far closer to literally every other player (expect Leddy). This is where Cap Hit Percentage comes in. This stat refers to the percentage of the total cap the contract ate at the time of signing it. So while Subban signed for nearly half a million less than nurse, the salary cap was far smaller at the time of Subban’s signing, thus making his cap hit percentage higher.
CH% is a useful tool for comparing contracts, as inflation has begun to sneak into contract negotiations between teams and their players. This is going to be a similar case for McAvoy, as he will likely be looking to make more than his recent comparables (Morrissey, Nurse), while matching or surpassing Subban’s cap hit %. For that reason, I chose the nice round number of 3’750’000 as the Annual Average (AAV) on a two year contract, fairly aligning the deal with Subban’s from 2013 while compensating McAvoy slightly above his modern peers.
Paul Volpe – $6.75M/ 6 years
Although it makes sense cap wise for the Bruins to offer a shorter-term deal, the other side of the coin is that McAvoy is going to easily be a top 4 player at the very least. He is most definitely closer to a top 2, so why would Boston not want to lock him up long-term at such a young age? Well money is the obvious choice, but this is a player that is hard to find, one that you should try to keep at all costs, even if it means shedding some salary in order to do so. For Charlie, you are on a team who very well may win the Stanley Cup this season and are not looking like they will step back anytime soon (partly in thanks to McAvoy himself and some other young prospects who are beginning to surprise). Why leave when you have such a good thing going? This is guaranteed money. When I look at McAvoy, one of the first players that comes to mind as a comparison is Seth Jones. Coming off a 31-point season in his final year of his ELC (split between Nashville and Columbus), he was inked to a 6-year extension at $5.4M. At this time in which Jones signed, his cap hit accounted for 7.40% of the cap. If we were to translate this McAvoy contract prediction ($6.75M AAV) into CH% for the projected $83M cap for next season, it would account for 8.1%. Although they had similar numbers at first glance, what sets these two stalwarts apart is games played per season and ATOI. (McAvoy burned the first year of his ELC playing for the Bruins in the playoffs in 2016/17 so we will be examining Jones’ final 2 years)
So, one may argue that the only reason McAvoy has more PPG is because he played less games than Jones. Although this may be true, it does not diminish the fact that he is a trusted player on the ice averaging above 22 minutes per game while quarterbacking the 2nd powerplay unit. Injuries have been an issue for Charlie in the past, but if he can stay healthy, he will be that much more dangerous of a player. Jones successfully logged very similar minutes as McAvoy but was able to play far more games in the process. Although we will never really know if McAvoy would have been able to maintain his PPG average playing a full season, for arguments sake we will say it is very unlikely. Even if he dropped to Jones average of 0.38 PPG, that would still mean he would be worth around the 7.4% CH, no? Personally, I believe that he will gain a little more than that due to the fact that he has so many tools that have accounted for his glimpses of brilliance. This is why I believe that the Bruins will lock McAvoy up at $6.75 for 6 years.
Mac Henley - $3.5 M/ 3 years
Goalies are voodoo. Jordan Binnington, the rumoured 5th string goalie for the Blues at the start of the year, came out of the woodwork for the last place Blues and put together a run of 24-5-1 to help qualify the Blues for the playoffs, falling a mere point short of a division title. Where did this guy come from? Besides the obvious answer of Richmond Hill, Ontario (represent), basically nowhere.
Across 4 years in the CHL with the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack, he had one season where he was above a .906 Save %. He followed that up with three years with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, playing adequately but not giving any indication of NHL star potential, topping out at a .916 SV% in 2014-15. Then last year, he was so far down on the organizational depth chart that the Blues attempted to send Binnington to the Eastern Coast Hockey League (ECHL), but he refused assignment and was soon on loan with the Providence Bruins of the AHL, the farm team of their current Stanley Cup Finals counterpart. Following a good showing with Providence and similar numbers as the Chicago Wolves’ starter this year, he was called up in a pinch, and the rest is history.
How do you judge the contract of someone who’s entire NHL career has been a 4 month Cinderella story? Teams would generally be weary of paying players following one year of production, for fear that it was just a flash in the pan before regressing to their mean. But St. Louis has been looking for a goalie forever. Brodeur couldn’t make it work, except with the Enterprise commercials. They may be looking to jump on the opportunity to sign their new starter to a long term deal.
Instead, I think level heads will prevail in the Blues’ front office, and they’ll find a nice middle. We can predict his contract from a goalie that similarly garnered Calder votes in their first year in California, Martin Jones.
Jones was a fine but unspectacular goalie from most of his professional career between the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen and the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs. But in his first season backing up Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles, he put up a godly 12-6 record with a .934 SV% and 1.81 GAA. Unlike Binnington, Jones had one more year after that on his Entry Level Deal, and performed far below the standard he set, specifically to the tune of a .906 SV%. The Sharks took a chance on him the following season, signing him to a 3 year contract with a $3 Million AAV.
Similar stats and a similar path to the NHL, the cap hit percentage would likely be very similar on their respective deals. While Jones had a larger and more consistent body of work, Binnington is playing in the Cup Final, and earned himself some money in doing so. Another goalie with a comparable journey and stats is Philipp Grubauer.
Breaking into the league as a 22 year old in 2013-14, Grubauer went 12-6-5 with a .925 SV% and 2.38 GAA. He followed that up two years later with winning the back up position in Washington, and would become instrumental in their eventual 2018 Stanley Cup championship run. His trade to Colorado in the offseason set the stage for him to battle with established veteran Semeyon Varlamov for the starting gig, and thus warranted a modest contract. They signed him for 3 years at 3’333’333.33333333333… million per season, producing a Cap Hit percentage of 4.19%; right in the 4.20 sweet spot experienced with Jones and the Binnington prediction.
Operating in a narrow window for the cap hit percentage and a limited portfolio, Binnington seems to be a curious but cut and dry case for a 3 year deal in and around 3.5 million per season. This will allow the Blues to possess and manageable cap hit in the event that this run is just a flash in the pan, but adequately pays Binnington for his potential and allows him the opportunity to cash in again in a short few years.
Paul Volpe - $3.5M/ 3 years
Goalies are the worst. As my fellow co-writer had just explained, goalies are such wildcards that you never really know what you are going to get. Some develop much later in their careers, while some of the best goaltending prospects are never able to translate their success into the big leagues. So, to predict a contract for one of the most bizarre goalie stories we have seen in years is quite difficult to say the least. This is one that Mac and I discussed for a while, trying to feel out a variety of different options but we ultimately came to an agreement on this prediction. Although I was leaning towards a long-term deal simply because St. Louis has been looking for that last piece to push them over the edge (which they found this season), I have to agree with Mac when he said that cooler heads will prevail. I had originally thought that maybe St. Louis would have been desperate enough to lock Binnington up to a similar deal that the Leafs had done shortly after they had acquired Frederik Andersen ($5M/ 5 year). Both teams have been in search for that number one goalie for quite some time, and once the Leafs found their guy, they made sure he was locked up for half a decade. The difference here is, Andersen had shown consistency throughout his split time in Anaheim before he was given the reigns in Toronto. For Binnington however, he has had mediocre stats at bets throughout his professional career up until midway this season. Mac had already discussed all this above so I will not try to push water uphill.
So, why the change of heart? Well besides Mac being devilishly convincing, as I was looking for comparable contracts (which are next to none due to the circumstances), the name that instantly made me cringe just thinking about it was Mikko Koskinen. Now to be fair, Doug Armstrong is no Peter Chiarelli that’s for sure. However, it goes to show how some GM’s may be quick to jump the gun on a goalie who has had one good season (Mikko did not even have that good of a year either… yikes.), especially for a team who has been searching for that number one goalie for quite some time now. This may not be a fair comparison, but I bring it up only to show how some teams pull the trigger far too soon on a goalie who has barely proven himself, not to say that Binnington is the same calibre as Koskinen. Binnington is obviously a lot younger and has way better numbers than Koskinen, but the fact of the matter is he has only had one good season (that was a half-season long).
A more reasonable comparison would be Matt Murray, a young goalie who split time with Marc-Andre Fleury before taking over the starting role in 2017. He was signed to a 3-year deal at $3.75M after coming off a spectacular year where he posted 32 wins with a 2.41 GAA and a stellar .923 SV% in 49 games played. Would it be wise to then lock Binnington up to another Jake Allen like contract ($4.35M/ 4-year deal)? Probably not, they should play Binnington out like Pittsburgh had with Murray. Sign him to a shorter-term deal until he has proven himself as a number one guy who is CONSISTENT. If he is able to do that over the three-year deal, then feel free to then commit to him long term. Of course, Jordan has earned himself a nice deal having practically carried this St. Louis team out of the basement of the league and into the Stanley Cup Finals, but it is important that they play this one safe. It is also interesting how a 3-year deal in the $3-4M range has been a trend for numerous goalies in the past. Some other examples include:
A 3-year deal at $3.5 makes the most sense for both parties at this time.
Honourable Mention - Kevin Fiala
Mac Henley - $2.750M / 3 years
Fiala was highly touted after being 11th off the board during the 2014 draft, and lived up to the hype two years ago when he posted a 23-goal, 50-point sophomore season. His production dropped off a cliff this season, spurring a trade from Nashville to Minnesota. His production across the past two seasons has mirrored that of recent resignings, namely Oliver Bjorkstrand from Columbus, and Ondrej Kase. Both signed this past summer, they posted around 40 points in their contract years, out producing Fiala’s contract year but not matching his previous season’s totals. Bjorkstrand signed for $2.5 million AAV over 3 years, and Kase for $2.6 million AAV over 3 years as well. Given Fiala’s high potential, former production, and salary cap inflation, i believe he will slightly top both those players at $2.750 AAV.
Paul Volpe – $3.75M/ 5 years
Fiala is an interesting case because he is not a prominent player like the ones that will be discussed in greater detail throughout this series, but he has shown some glimpses of promise. After coming off a strong offensive season last year in Nashville, he was traded at the deadline to Minnesota the following year for Mikael Granlund. With what seemed to be a “change of scenery” type trade, Minnesota acquired a much younger player in Fiala who still has some untapped potential that was seen during his breakout season in 2017-18. With that being said, here is his production over the last three seasons in the NHL.
Clearly Fiala is capable of hitting 40 points, and it is reasonable to assume that he will be a 40-60-point player moving forward. However, with some inconsistencies plaguing his game, he is most likely looking at a mid-range deal, where Minnesota would have to take a gamble. Minnesota does not have the best track record when it comes to signing players, but Fiala being only 22 years old does provide the team with a chance to better develop his game and get him up to the 50-point plateau, and that is certainly worth $3.75M.
Contract Information from CapFriendlyPlayer
Stats from Elite Prospects and Hockey Reference