Three players, three teams, three contract extensions.
New York Islanders forward John Tavares, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers, and Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand all agreed to contract extensions this week. Tavares and Myers are both in the last year of their rookie contracts, and Marchand earned his extension with an impressive playoff performance on the Stanley Cup winning Bruins.
While the three contracts may be connected by not much more than the timing, all three are steals for their respective teams.
Tavares' deal is for six years, averaging $5.5 million per year. In his two seasons, the 21-year-old has played 161 games, scoring 53 goals with 68 assists. In his sophomore season, there was no slump. He jumped up by five goals and eight assists from his rookie year. The former first overall pick was more productive on the power play and more aggressive, upping his shot total from 186 in 2009-10 to 243 in 2011-12.
Clearly, Tavares is the center piece of the Islanders' rebuilding project. With quality centers at a premium in the NHL, wrapping him up for the next six years will allow the Isles to build around him with other young talent. Even better, they will have some money to do it with. As far as cap hits go, Tavares' won't crack the top 50 in the NHL.
Of course, New York doesn't spend much to begin with, so they won't worry about going over the cap, but they do worry about keeping their obscenely low budget. Tavares' deal makes it plausible for the Isles to make a deal if they need or to retain other young players.
In comparison to other budding stars, the Islanders paid out significantly less. The Chicago Blackhawks have cap hits of $6.25 million for both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Colorado has a hit of $6.6 million for Paul Stastny in 2011-12, and Washington is taking a $6.7 million hit on Nicklas Backstrom.
For Tavares, there's only one way to go as far as his performance goes, and that's up. He increased numbers from his rookie to second season without another star on the club. His passing and vision are only going to improve. He isn't a 50-goal scorer type, but his assist numbers will certainly rise if he's given more talent and continuity around him.
As much as the Tavares deal is a steal for a first-line center, Buffalo's contract with Tyler Myers is even more so. The Myers' deal is also worth a $5.5 million cap hit, yet the Sabres are in a completely different position as the Isles. They are thinking Stanley Cup within the next several years, while the Islanders are rebuilding. Now, the Sabres have their number one defenseman locked up.
In the absence of a veteran partner, Myers began 2010-11 very slowly. But he began to mature as both a physical player and leader as the Sabres fought for a playoff berth. He finished the year at an even plus-minus, but was plus-10 in the months of March and April.
This year, Myers won't have to worry about playing with inexperienced partners such as Andrej Sekera or Chris Butler. He'll either be paired with Robyn Regehr or Christian Ehrhoff. He won the Calder Trophy the last time he was placed next to a lockdown vet, Henrik Tallinder.
The contract is pretty impressive, too. The Sabres spent a lot of money on Ehrhoff and they won't have a bunch of room over the next few years with Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, and Jason Pominville all set to have hits of more than $5 million each. So $5.5 million won't break the bank for a player who you would most certainly break the bank on. There aren't many defensemen with top 50 cap hits, but Myers is better than most of them (and in fact, Myers will be just outside the top 50). The only blueliners in the top 50 and under the age of 30 are Brent Seabrook, Dion Phaneuf, Jay Bouwmeester, and Shea Weber. Good company, but Myers is either in the ballpark or better than all of them and he'll be paid less.
The Sabres have something special in Myers: size, skating ability, talent on both sides of the ice, and more than likely a future captain. The thought of Ehrhoff and Myers in front of the best goalie in the NHL for the next seven years will keep the Sabres in constant contention.
Marchand doesn't quite fit in the same conversation as Tavares and Myers. He performed well during the regular season, scoring 21 goals with 20 assists in 77 games and was plus-25. He is also young at age of 23. Marchand doesn't quite have the superstar potential that Tavares and Myers do, but the Bruins got a complete steal in keeping him for $5 million for 2012-13 and 2013-14.
The young forward earned his deal with a downright incredible playoff performance, scoring 11 goals and 19 total points with a plus-12 in 25 games. Marchand also showed the grit necessary to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Like the Sabres, the Bruins are up against the cap, so if Marchand wanted to stay he'd have to do so for cheap, but $5 million over two years for a young 20-goal scorer who steps up his play during the playoffs? There isn't a team in the NHL who wouldn't love that deal.
The only question about Marchand is whether he can keep up his performance. His shooting percentages for both the regular season and playoffs were high (14.1% and 18.0%) while in 20 games during 2009-10, he didn't score a single goal and was minus-3. But it doesn't seem likely he'll fall off. Marchand was scorer in the AHL, putting up 81 points in 113 games for Providence and he has the luxury of playing with other highly talented players.
While Marchand may not be the center piece of his team's future that Tavares and Myers are, he still will make a positive impact. Tavares and Myers are simply on a different level. If the Islanders make the playoffs or the Sabres the Stanley Cup within the length of their contract, those two will be largely responsible for the success. And neither will enter the top 50 cap hits. Hard to argue with that.
Matthew Coller is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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