The New York Rangers avoided what could have been a tricky salary arbitration case by signing Brady Skjei to a six-year contract on Saturday. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that Skjei’s cap hit will be $5.25 million per season.
Hockey Twitter is still probably batting the Tom Wilson contract around as we speak – spoiler: it’s about as divisive as the pesty player himself – so it only seems natural to compare Skjei’s contract to that of Wilson. Even if it wasn’t fresh on the mind, the parallels would be tough to dismiss, because they’re very similar.
Wilson: six years, $31M ($5,166,666 per season).
Skjei: six years, $31.5M ($5.25M per season).
So yeah, as you can see, it’s a $500K difference over the life of the contract. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the two are related in anyway, but their proximity to each other makes it difficult not to make the comparison (and, if you’re the type, to make unflattering jokes for one or both sides).
The parallels pretty much stop at the contracts, though. Skjei is a big, talented defenseman who’s already shown some possession prowess, although the 23-year-old has enjoyed some cushy zone starts at times. Kevin Shattenkirk was by far his most common defensive partner at even strength last season, according to Natural Stat Trick. If that stands and Shattenkirk is more effective as a healthier player, it would be reasonable to expect better results from Skjei as well.
Even if he’s already close to his ceiling instead of just scratching the surface, Skjei’s already shown signs of promise, and potential to meet or exceed the value of his new contract. He scored 39 points during what was his first, impressive full season in the NHL in 2016-17, and while his numbers slipped a bit in 2017-18 (25 points in 82 games), there were still things to like.
Personally, this seems like a very good – maybe great – value, as strong top-four defensemen (and possibly suitable top pairing ones) are only going to get more expensive as the years go on and the salary cap increases.
It’s worth noting that some are higher on Skjei than others, and it’s not merely a fancy stats vs. “old-school” divide.
Remarkably, this $5.25M clip only makes Skjei the Rangers’ third-most expensive defenseman from an AAV standpoint.
Via Cap Friendly, the Rangers are spending about $25M on their defensemen in 2018-19, although that could slip a bit if they demote one of the eight listed to the AHL. Either way, it’s an expensive group, with Shattenkirk ($6.65M through 2020-21) and Marc Staal ($5.7M through 2020-21) making more than Skjei, while Brendan Smith isn’t too far behind at $4.35M through 2020-21.
It’s fair to say that, while Shattenkirk could easily turn things around – again, he was dealing with a bum wheel last season – the Rangers can’t be very happy with most of that defense spending as an openly rebuilding team. You wonder if they might try to throw an asset or two to another team (not unlike GMs liquidating assets by trading them to the Coyotes) to get rid of Staal and/or Smith. That could be especially prudent if the Rangers hope to make this a quick reset rather than a rebuild, as that cap space could theoretically go to Artemi Panarin and other hot-ticket items.
(How would Erik Karlsson or Ryan Ellis look in a Rangers sweater? Asking for a cigar-chomping friend.)
Whatever course the Rangers take, Skjei seems like he’s part of the solution, and this is a smart contract. In fact, it’s probably the best long-term deal the franchise currently has on the books, although Mika Zibanejad would spin a different story.
And, yes, it’s a better bet than giving nearly the same deal to Tom Wilson. Sorry, passionate Caps fans.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.