( Above Photo Credit: Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images )
By Bob Mand Follow Me On Twitter @HockeyMand
With Leon Draisaitl’s contract debate long gone in the rear-view mirror, the focus of League RFA-watchers has landed squarely on the back of the Boston Bruins’ number eighty-eight, David Pastrnak. The enormity of the deal has much of the league wondering, “Just how much will Pasta get paid?”
Before we decide on that, we have to look at comparable players. These have to include only guys hitting their second contract… only youngsters who were 23 or younger at the time… only players with mid-to-high level production… and only forwards who’ve reached RFA status past July 1, in the past two seasons.
Nikita Kucherov – Very arguably the best player on this list… in fact, it’s hard to argue. Two offseasons ago, Kucherov won a three-year, $4.766 million deal. Even with his age at time of signing (23), no other player comes close to his consistent greatness prior to his last-minute deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016. And he only got better – scoring 40 goals en route to one of the best seasons by any 2016-17 forward, period. The contract may end up biting Tampa in the behind, however – as a 7×7 or 7×8 deal will look like an absolute bargain by the time Kucherov is up for a massive (think $10 million plus) deal in the summer of 2019.
Relation to Pastrnak: This is the kind of dangerous bridge deal that Pasta gets if the Bruins are unwilling to pony up the dough on a long-term arrangement. Two to three years at five million per represents the same neighborhood if Kuch signed his deal in today’s market. But don’t be confused. Just because it’s shorter doesn’t mean it’s less risky. Plenty of RFA bridge deals have wound up hurting management, big time (See: Rask, Tuukka, and Subban, PK).
( Above Photo Credit: letsgoflyers .com )
Johnny Gaudreau – The diminutive winger re-upped for six years, and $6.75 million ($40.5 total) in October (yikes!) of 2016, just before the Calgary Flames were set to start the season. He was coming off a jaw-dropping campaign where he led YYC in goals, assists, and points. His numbers took a step backward in 2016-17, but he was still an elite forward with elite production.
Relation to Pastrnak: Both represent the pinnacle of playmaking, sniping young wingers in this day’s NHL. For a six-year deal, Gaudreau ended up on the cheap side – as the deal only ate up three years of UFA control… However, one must remember that if Boston is using Johnny Hockey as a signpost, they will find themselves paying even more: The Boston College alum was two years older than Pasta at the time of the signing.
Mark Scheifele – Not much separates Pastrnak and the Winnipeg Jets’ dynamic center: They’re both former first-rounders who’ve exceeded the expectations of many in driving their way into the elite of the NHL. They both assembled excellent contract seasons after decent but unspectacular years one and two in the League. They both expressed sincere desire to stay with their organizations prior to contract completion. Scheifele even upped his play following the transaction to become a better than point-per-game player for the Jets in 2016-17.
Relation to Pastrnak: But the similarities dwindle in the light of of the two-year entry-level slide that Scheifele endured prior to becoming a full-time NHL stud. Like Gaudreau, he was 23 at the time of RFA-eligibility, not 21. And though his eight-year, $49 million contract represents the ideal solution for some Bruins’ fans (and management in all likelihood) it’s more of a pipe dream than reality.
( Above Photo Credit: NHL .com )
Nathan MacKinnon – When Nate inked his seven-year, $44.1 million extension with the Colorado Avalanche in July of 2016, he was coming off a twenty-one goal, fifty-two point, 72 game season and fourteen-goal, thirty-eight point sophomore season (64 games). Yes, he was still two years removed from a Calder Trophy and first overall selection in the 2013 NHL… but his overall progress (while relatively consistent in the prorated 50-60 point range) hadn’t made quite the flash that Pasta had.
Relation to Pastrnak: That said, MacKinnon doesn’t lack flash, even if his single-season production didn’t show it. He’s a center, too, which adds to his inherent value. He’s averaging $6.3 million a season just a year removed from the Czech winger’s current conundrum. It makes sense that a player with perhaps even more upside and less risk be high-water-mark ‘baseline’ for talks, even in the current marketplace. The ceiling for that value is higher… but we can’t fully ignore what came before. If the Bruins are saying: “Look at Mac,” when they open talks, they’re not too far off. That said, more recent signings will magnify the difference between player and management in the days to come.
( Above Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America )
Alex Wennberg – Signed for $29.4 million over the next six seasons, the productive young center for the Columbus Blue Jackets challenges the view that first-time, first-tier RFA contracts have to come hard and heavy. At $4.9 million per season, Wennberg is eminently affordable – particularly if he continues to put up numbers as in his breakout 2016-17 campaign (13-46-59 in 80 games).
Relation to Pastrnak: Honestly, there isn’t much of any. Despite the similarly-timed outbursts of production, Wennberg is well over a year older, and just not the same tier of player at this point in their careers. That could change, but if the Bruins’ Brass points to Columbus, things are going south, not west.
Leon Draisaitl – The fifth and final player on this list should come as no surprise. Drai signed his massive eight-year, $8.5 million average annual value ($68 million total) deal just two short weeks ago. Coming off a sterling playoff performance (6-10-16 in 13 games) and a breakthrough third season (77 points in 82 games), Draisaitl was bound to get paid – but no one had any clue it would cost Peter Chiarelli’s Edmonton Oilers this much.
Relation to Pastrnak: Things get even more interesting… Draisaitl’s first two years’ production 60 points in 109 games… Pastrnak? 53 in 97. Pastrnak’s 2016-17 production? Seven points less but five goals more (in seven fewer games) than our friend from Deutschland. Pasta is seven months younger, about thirty pounds lighter and one inch shorter than the Edmontonian center. But while Pastrnak had the NHL’s third-best even-strength Corsi For ratio (minimum 1000 mins among forwards), Drai was middle of the road at 62nd. And to those of you screaming: “HE HAD MCDAVID!” I retort, “Pasta spent a good deal of his even strength time with the best possession-driving linemates in the NHL with Bergeron and Marchand.”
What is true about David Pastrnak: if still unsigned by Dec. 1 5pm, he is ineligible to play in NHL this season.
— Kevin Paul Dupont (@GlobeKPD) September 1, 2017
Certainly, it seems as though the breadth of the Bruins potential recent comparables, compare unfavorably with Pastrnak. He’s younger than Kucherov, Wennberg, Scheifele and Gaudreau. He possesses the puck better than Draisaitl, MacKinnon and Wennberg… and he’s just so dang young. Remember, only three active players have had more goals AND points in their age-20 seasons (or prior): Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Steven Stamkos.
Starting to wonder if Kucherov-like bridge is most likely path to getting David Pastrnak signed. Draisaitl deal looms large in this one.
— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) August 22, 2017
The narrowest and nearest comparison comes from Leon Draisaitl. Fans on both sides have argued for one or the other as the class of the 2014 NHL Draft. There’s reason to say both skaters were the ‘better player’, arguments which have (as they will) gotten heated and maybe that’s why this scares you, the reader, so much. Because if Pastrnak is the better player… maybe he should get paid like it.
Follow Bob Mand on Twitter at @HockeyMand