With nearly $50 million in cap space coming up this summer, Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman has plenty of money to throw around this offseason. Of course, the reason why he has so much space is because a vast majority of this season’s team need new contracts. Among that group are Jakub Vrana – whose next contract I projected here – and Filip Hronek, two of the team’s biggest pieces as their 2020-21 season drew to a close.
Hronek has a lot going for him heading into this negotiation. Coming off of his entry-level contract (ELC), the 23-year-old defenseman led the Red Wings in scoring this season with 26 points through 56 games. On top of that, the Czech defender has been Detroit’s top defenseman over the last two seasons as Yzerman continues to overhaul the Red Wings’ blue line. In short: this is a very important player to this team, and he more than likely knows it.
These are just some of the nuances that will go into this negotiation. Yzerman has shown a hesitancy to throw out long-term deals over the course of his two-year tenure as the Red Wings’ GM (From ‘Detroit Red Wings’ Steve Yzerman explains approach to contracts, leaves door open for more deals’, The Detroit Free Press, 11/4/20.) That being said, this negotiation could very well come down to how long Yzerman wants to go with this player.
Red Wings Core Player
Whenever Yzerman talks about the “core” of his Red Wings team, he almost always lists Hronek in a group that includes captain Dylan Larkin and top-line winger Filip Zadina – though it should be noted that he once included Anthony Mantha in that group as well, and we know how that turned out. As previously mentioned, Hronek is still young at just 23 years old, and with just 167 games at the NHL level, it’s fair to say that there may still be another level to his game. It’s that upside that makes him an intriguing part of the Red Wings’ present and future.
While his play this season started off spotty at best, he finished very strong while posting a similar scoring (.46 points per game [P/G]) rate as he did last season (.48) and improving his plus/minus rating from minus-38 last season to minus-18 this season. He played in all situations this season, as he has since last season, and he put his unique talent for empty-net goals on display once again this season.
Hronek is good friends with his fellow Filip, Zadina, and he has more than likely become a very popular figure in Detroit’s locker room as he regularly takes on the opponent’s best and doesn’t look outright terrible in the process. Alright, so we’ve established that this player is an important one for the Red Wings, but what kind of deal can we expect the two sides to agree on?
It’s All About Term
There are two ways to go about this negotiation: a bridge deal – somewhere in the two to three-year range – or something a bit longer, potentially in the four to six-year range. The key is whether or not Yzerman wants to negotiate with him again as a restricted free agent, or if the GM wants to buy up some of Hronek’s early unrestricted years.
Yzerman’s strategy thus far has seemed to be to kick the can down the road, which maximizes the team’s overall flexibility in terms of cap space and contracts on the books. With the exception of Mantha’s four-year deal signed this past offseason, every deal Yzerman has signed has come in at either one or two years. The difference between Mantha and those other players is that the power forward was once in that “core” group, and the initial intention was to keep him in Detroit for the duration of the contract – that is until the deal with the Washington Capitals came to fruition. Given that Hronek has always been included in that “core” group, I would not be surprised to see the defender get rewarded for his efforts with a bit of long-term security.
Both Hronek and Yzerman are going to want to negotiate another sizeable deal past this one. Hronek’s bet is that he’ll increase his value over the course of the deal, thus resulting in a bigger payday on the next deal. Yzerman’s bet is that Hronek’s spot in Detroit’s future will become evident over the course of this deal; with the likes of Moritz Seider and other defensive prospects well on their way to making their debut in Hockeytown, Hronek’s spot at the top of Detroit’s defensive chart is far from a given going forward – and I’m here to tell you that that would be a positive development for a defender that I think is best suited for a second pairing role.
When it’s time to negotiate with a player coming off of their ELC, teams often look around the league to find comparable players in order to nail down what kind of deal the player should get. They point to said player and say, “we see you a lot like this player. This is how much they make,” and then they go from there. So let’s try to do the same thing.
Over the last two seasons, Hronek has played 121 games while averaging 23:40 of ice time as Detroit’s top defenseman. He has collected 57 points in that time frame, which places him in a tie for 34th in the league among defensemen. It should also be noted (again) that he regularly plays in all situations. With that in mind, I present two comparable players: Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Seth Jones of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
In the case of Jones, he is in the fifth year of a six-year agreement he signed with the Blue Jackets in June of 2016. The deal carries a cap hit of $5.4 million and carries a modified no-trade clause in the final two years (meaning he must provide a list of teams that he would or wouldn’t accept a trade to in those seasons.) He has recorded 58 points over the last two seasons (112 games). In terms of how he and Hronek compare, here are some numbers:
|Filip Hronek||22:38 (ATOI)||167 Games||.48 P/G|
|Seth Jones||23:03 (ATOI)||240 Games (at the time his contract was signed)||.49 P/G|
Jones is the Blue Jacket’s top defenseman. He plays in all situations and, while he’s much more of a household name around the NHL, his scoring rates compare similarly to Hronek’s. The key difference is age (Jones was 21 years old when he signed his current deal) and the overall perception of these two players: Jones was the fourth overall selection back in the 2013 draft, and the expectation for him has always been to become a top-pairing defender in the NHL. Hronek, the 53rd pick of the 2016 draft, is a top defenseman due mostly to his team’s overall lack of depth on the blue line – though he has filled the role admirably. That perception could be key as the future years of a contract tend to “bet” on what type of player an individual will become.
In regards to Rielly, the Maple Leafs defender falls into a similar boat as Jones in terms of draft-day expectations (he was drafted fifth overall in the 2012 draft) as well as the structure of his and compares to both Jones and Hronek as the top defender on their given teams.
|Morgan Rielly||21:51 ATOI||236 Games (at the time of the contract)||.53 P/G|
Rielly was 22 years old at the time of signing his current deal with a $5 million cap hit. While the topic of whether or not he is a true top defender can sometimes inspire spirited debate among the Maple Leaf faithful, the fact of the matter is that he has mostly filled that role since the 2015-16 season. Like Jones, he wears the alternate captain’s ‘A’ on his sweater, and the “bet” of his contract was that he would become a bona fide top defender by the time his contract expired.
In regards to Hronek, I think Yzerman will hedge his bets a bit. While there’s little doubt who the top defender in Detroit is today, that could (and should) change between now and the end of Hronek’s deal. That’s why I put Jones’ $5.4 million cap hit as the absolute maximum that the Czech defender will score on his next deal. In reality, I think the number will fall a bit closer to Rielly’s $5 million.
Show Me the Money
Like I said before, term will play a big part in determining the final value of this deal. The higher the term, the more we should expect a cap hit that approaches that $5 million number. So now I bet you’re wondering what kind of term Yzerman will throw at Hronek. Well, I think a five-year deal will give the team some financial and roster certainty, and it will allow the defenseman to cash in again once this deal is completed.
As for the final cap hit, I’m willing to wager that it falls between $4.5 million on the low end, and could exceed $5 million depending on the term. With those benchmarks in place, I’ll place Hronek’s next deal at five-years with an overall cap hit of $4.75 million. This would place him second in terms of cap hit on the blue line behind Danny DeKeyser, whose contract is often cited as one of the few blemishes left on the books by former GM Ken Holland. If the Red Wings can lock him down to a deal like this at a reasonable hit with a fair amount of term, both parties should be content with the outcome.
What do you think? Would you sign Hronek to this deal? Sound off in the comments section below!
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