Never let a personal favourite reach arbitration.
Those are the words that Senators general manager Pierre Dorion lives by and yesterday, the Senators announced that they had signed Jean-Gabriel Pageau to a three-year contract extension worth $9.3-million for an average annual value of $3.1-million.
Keeping with the organization’s tradition of backloading contracts, Pageau will Pageau will earn $2.6-million in the first year and then $3.3-million and $3.4-million respectively over the last two years of his deal.
The contract extension covers Pageau’s last three years as a restricted free agent, meaning that he is slated to test unrestricted free agency as a 27-year old at the end of this contract.
At first glance, I was a little surprised by the terms. Considering the organization’s tendency to get their restricted free agents signed to bargains, I was expecting something similar to what Mika Zibanejad signed a two-year contract worth $5.25-million ($2.625M AAV) on June 25, 2015 – especially since Zibanejad had the higher projected offensive upside and pedigree.
In the NHL, production gets you paid, but in Pageau’s case, his regular season production dipped in 2016-17.
One year after tallying a career-high 19 goals and 43 points in 2015-16, Pageau wound up netting 12 goals and 33 points.
I’ve seen some blame the drop in production on utilization. That because Pageau was being utilized in a shutdown capacity, his production was bound to suffer.
Although Pageau played tough matchups and was used as the shutdown centre, he was deployed in a similar role in 2015-16. According to Behindthenet.ca’s ‘Corsi Relative Quality of Competition’ metric, Pageau had the highest value on the team. (As an aside, Zibanejad had the highest Corsi Rel QoC for the Senators in 2014-15 before signing his aforementioned two-year extension with the Senators.)
There’s no question that playing tough minutes will negatively impact production, but the biggest reason for the drop is due to a regression in the number of situational goals that Pageau scored in 2015-16. After leading the league in shorthanded goals (seven) and being tied for the league lead in empty net goals (five) in 2015-16, Pageau only scored two of these situational goals last season. Without a marked jump in even strength production and without any power play goals or shorthanded goals, Pageau’s numbers suffered.
The good news is that Pageau’s an incredibly competent defender and his five-on-five production actually improved from the previous season and he spent the majority of the season playing alongside Tom Pyatt.
Interestingly, the duo only played 58 minutes and 22 seconds together at five-on-five in the postseason and when Pageau was separated from Pyatt, his production spiked. (As an aside, thanks to Brad from NaturalStatTrick.com for helping me procure Pageau’s numbers from this postseason. Be sure to bookmark his website too, it’s an invaluable hockey resource.)
|Regular Season w/ Pyatt||721:32||0.49||1.41||7.57|
|Regular Season w/o||321:45||0.75||1.86||8.76|
|Postseason w/o Pyatt||223:35||1.61||2.15||7.78|
Now obviously it helped that Pageau shot 18.2-percent in the postseason (compared to his career average of 10.1) with four of his goals occurring in one spectacular and fanfuckingtastically glorious game against the New York Rangers. But, his production has historically taken a marked jump whenever he’s not saddled by linemates who play a conservative game and struggle to help transition the puck from the defensive zone up the ice.
Although Pageau had varying levels of success this postseason playing minutes with skilled linemates like Bobby Ryan and Mark Stone, even going back a little further, Pageau first started having offensive success when he played alongside a noted possession driver in Erik Condra.
There’s no question that Pageau’s earned himself legions of fans thanks to his heroic postseason performances against the Montreal Canadiens and Rangers, but maybe there is enough underneath the hood to suggest that he’s capable of producing more offence if given a larger role.
At the very least, it’s easy to look at Pageau’s production and role on the team and realize that he’s comparable to what Sean Couturier brings to the Philadelphia Flyers. Even if you staunchly believe that Pageau’s an inferior defensive player, given the production and cheaper salary (even if he agreed to a shorter term that may cost more money down the road), they aren’t that dissimilar of players. (Note: Couturier signed a six-year extension in 2015 that carries an average annual value of $4,333,333. By the end of his contract, Couturier will earn $4.75-million during the 2021-22 season.)
With the presence of Colin White in the farm system and Derick Brassard only having two years left on his deal, maybe Pageau’s capable of sliding into the top-six. Thanks to Brassard’s offseason shoulder surgery, we may get our first opportunity to watch Pageau play in this capacity next October. If he plays well, maybe it gives the Senators reason to pause and weigh the possibilities of moving a centre like Brassard to address another position of need.
From a budget perspective, CapFriendly.com indicates that Pageau’s contract brings the Senators’ roster to 20 players signed at a projected cap hit of $67,387,500 with an estimated salary expenditure of $67,875,000. This number of players does include White, but there’s no guarantee that he starts the season on Ottawa’s roster. Mind you, the Senators would likely carry an extra forward and defenceman around anyway, so you’re probably looking at adding a similar salary or upwards of two million dollars to the payroll anyways.
Last season the Senators had approximately $69.365-million committed to its cap and it look like the organization will be headed to a similar number this season. Looking forward though, it is impossible to wonder how much flexibility is left regarding the budget
At the end of the 2016-17 season, the Senators will have Mark Stone (RFA), Craig Anderson (UFA) and Kyle Turris (UFA) hitting free agency. Four of the six defencemen who are expected to break camp with the team are set to hit free agency as well. The payroll is going to jump significantly and that’s before Erik Karlsson is slated to hit unrestricted free agency the following year.
It’s not like Dion Phaneuf or Bobby Ryan are going anywhere with their contracts.
Unless the Senators find ways to boost their revenue streams and help offset these new contract extensions, it’s going to be a chore for management to creatively structure its roster and fit them it without a sacrifice to this team’s depth (and potentially competitiveness).