Last month, the Pittsburgh Penguins signed Jake Guentzel to a five-year, $30 million extension. This contract is a testament to what an important piece he’s become on this roster. It’s a deal that looks great on paper for both Guentzel and the team, and he’s been proving that on a nightly basis since the signing.
Guentzel totaled 15 goals and 33 points through the first 37 games this season, which is a pretty strong scoring pace for the 24-year-old. However, in the 11 games since he signed his extension, he’s racked up nine goals and 14 points.
He’s already surpassed the 22 goals he scored last season and is just one point away from tying the 48-point total he reached during the 2017-18 campaign. The Nebraska native has reached a new level in recent months and is proving how important he is to Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup hopes.
Guentzel’s Contract Comparables Across the League
Guentzel’s extension was a five-year deal worth $30 million, or $6 million average annual value (AAV). According to Capfriendly.com, his contract compares closest to that of the Detroit Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin. Larkin is two years younger and plays center, but the two have scored similar offensive numbers this season.
Larkin has played three more games and scored one more point than Guentzel while averaging nearly 22 minutes of ice time per game compared to Guentzel’s 19 minutes this season. The Pittsburgh winger also has a much more physical edge to his game, racking up over 200 hits in the last two seasons compared to Larkin’s 136.
There are a few other players in the NHL with fairly similar contracts, including Jonathan Drouin (Montreal Canadiens), Bo Horvat (Vancouver Canucks) and Jaden Schwartz (St. Louis Blues). Here’s how Guentzel’s 2018-19 numbers stack up against that trio:
For further reference, here’s how those four compare across their careers:
It’s fair to take these statistics with a grain of salt, as Guentzel has the smallest NHL sample size of this group with just 170 regular season games in his career. Still, by all measures, his new contract seems to align pretty well with his market value.
How Does His Extension Affect the Penguins’ Future?
Over the course of the last three seasons, Guentzel has established himself as a vital member of this roster. His pending free agency was a big question mark since the offseason, and that was before he made drastic improvements throughout this regular season.
This extension keeps Guentzel with Pittsburgh through the 2023-24 campaign, which will be his age-29 season. The only other current Penguin under contract through that season is captain Sidney Crosby. Cornerstone players such as Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang will all hit free agency in the 2023 offseason as of now.
While the team is going to have to make some tough decisions regarding its salary cap situation down the road, Guentzel is imperative to this team. In the last two seasons, he and Kessel are the only two players to appear in every regular-season game for Pittsburgh. He’s also scored the fourth-most points in that span, ahead of Letang and Patric Hornqvist. Not only is he one of the best skaters on his team, but Guentzel is quickly moving up the ranks across the entire league.
The biggest concern surrounding Guentzel is whether or not he can post these numbers without Crosby at his side. This season, he’s spent over 70 percent of his even-strength time on a line with the Penguins captain. Skating on the top line with an all-time great center has inflated Guentzel’s Corsi just a bit; he owns a 54.7 Corsi percentage and a wonderful plus-8.1 relative Corsi. While it’s fair to expect a dip in his offensive production if he and Crosby were split, Guentzel’s natural ability to find the back of the net won’t suddenly vanish.
During the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run in 2017, Guentzel led all NHL players with 13 goals in the postseason, including 11 at even strength. It was that 25-game stretch that put his name on the map, letting Pittsburgh know that he’d be a fixture with the team for years. Not only does his extension secure his future, but it gives the Penguins a building block for the post-Crosby and Malkin era.