The list of significant restricted free agents has just gotten significantly shorter. Brad Marchand, the Boston centre, signed for two years and $5 million yesterday, apparently $2 million the first year, and $3 million the second. Later, Zach Bogosian, the 21-year old Winnipeg defenceman, signed a deal under the same terms.
The signings would seem to set a precedent (albeit a low-ish one) for Toronto’s unsigned defenceman, Luke Schenn, and may add some pressure to Drew Doughty’s camp to come to an agreement with the Kings.
In Schenn’s case, the comparables stand out. Drafted the same year as Bogosian, like the Jets’ d-man he entered the league as an 18-year old at what is arguably the most difficult position to learn. Both players have had their growing pains, although after a standout rookie season, Bogosian seems to have at best stalled, if not regressed. Schenn, after a strong rookie season, seemed to confine his sophomore jinx to the first half of his second year, and has generally progressed since then.
The other difference, aside from Schenn’s more sustained development, is Schenn’s role as a defensive defenceman, as compared to Bogosian’s more
offensive role. But while Bogosian’s play has been middling at best in his own end, Schenn has added an admittedly small offensive side to his strong defensive game.
As such, if an average salary of $2.5 million per season is the price for Bogosian, then Schenn would likely be looking for in the neighbourhood of
$3-3.5 million – more than the Jet, but less than Rangers blueliner Marc Staal ($3.9m/year), whom it’s been suggested is seen by the Schenn camp as a comparable. While Staal does play a similar game, his offensive game is more developed, and he is a more experienced player.
Drew Doughty, of course, won’t be using Bogosian for a comparable. While drafted the same year, Doughty more quickly developed his game at both ends of the ice. In his second year, he exploded for 59 points (16 goals), played on the gold medal winning Canadian Olympic Hockey Team, and was a runner-up for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenceman.
Doughty has shown much more in his first three years than either Schenn or Bogosian. But he’s turned down an offer averaging out to $6.8 million/year over 9 years. And he hasn’t demonstrated he’s worth an offer better than that.
While his second season moved him into the upper echelon of elite defenders, his third season saw his production, and overall play, drop off. Though this doesn’t diminish his value significantly, it does show he is still a young player, one whose progression as a player isn’t guaranteed to be smooth. As such, he has a choice to make.
Often, the choice is between a long-term contract for fewer dollars per year, or a short-term one with a larger annual payout. But with the drop-off in performance last season, and given his young age, there is a real question as to whether a short-term deal will mean a bigger annual paycheque. In a situation like this, the incentive for the King’s to layout the cash is if they can sign a star defender to a long-term contract. Paying out big-bucks over the near term, when his play may still be uneven, makes no sense.
So Doughty may be waiting for a train that never comes. He has shown he is a quality number 2 defenceman – and can be a number one. He hasn’t shown he is a number one, year-in and year-out – yet. And in the era of the cap, this is something which should influence the salary he can command in a short-term deal.
But history has shown that just because something seemingly out to be the case, doesn’t mean it will be – especially in the realm of professional sports contracts.