The Rangers only have three wins in their last nine contests, but that hasn't even been the worst of it. From December 11th through January 14th, they only won six out of 15 games. Only two of those were regulation wins (against the Kings and the Ducks). And, in every single one of those games they allowed at least 30 shots on goal, only having a fighting chance in most of those games thanks to the superb play of Henrik Lundqvist.
But despite the Rangers struggles (especially on the defensive end), there’s still reason for hope. Ever since he entered the league full time last season, Brady Skjei has been everything advertised, becoming an important part of the Rangers defensive corps. Because of this, it’s important that the Rangers lock him up long-term now for a hopefully reasonable contract. The Rangers have been famous for giving their younger players bridge deals, only to see them outperform those contracts and demand a much higher follow-up contract. With Skjei’s entry-level contract ending at the conclusion of the season, the Rangers should be proactive and get him signed to a long-term deal so he can stay an important part of the Rangers defense for years to come.
Ever since he was drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft, Ranger fans have been waiting for the day when Skjei could join the team. Touted as a top defensive prospect and billed as the next Ryan McDonagh, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Skjei would come in and become the defenseman Rangers management imagined he could. Since last year, Skjei’s largely lived up to expectations. Over the past two seasons, Skjei has led the team’s defense in CF% and has the third highest xGF% on the Rangers blueline (out of defenders with a minimum of 500 min). And with a combined 52 points through 127 games, Skjei’s shown quite a bit of offensive potential to boot.
But I don’t need to talk too much about how good Skjei’s been; you probably already knew that. The important thing to take away is that Skjei is invaluable to the defense and his contract expires at the end of the season. Even though there are plenty of other players who will need new deals (like Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Jimmy Vesey, Rick Nash, Michael Grabner), Skjei’s is by far the most important, which is why the Rangers need to sign him to a long-term deal.
Over the past few years, there’s been the recent trend of signing younger players (specifically defensemen) to long-term deals, usually in the range of $4-5 million per year for 5-6 years. Both Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson signed six and seven-year deals respectively for a cap hit of $4.167 million in 2015 while the Columbus Blue Jackets signed Seth Jones to a new six-year contract with an AAV of $5.4 million just last year. And as one of the closest comparables to Brady Skjei, we can look to Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Coming off his 21-year-old season with 36 points in 82 games, he and the Leafs came to terms on a six-year, $30 million deal (coming out to an AAV of $5 million).
While there’s always the risk of seeing the player take a huge step back and underperform in his contract, a lot of these deals have continued to work out excellently for the team, as the young defensemen keep improving and carry a very reasonable cap hit. The Rangers even did this with their own star defenseman Ryan McDonagh, signing him to a six-year, $28.2 million deal in 2013. Looking back on it now, there’s no question that the contract was an absolute steal for the Rangers, as McDonagh has provided much more value than you usually get from $4.7 million a year.
The same thing can be said about Roman Josi and John Klingberg, who’s teams followed similar routes. In the same year as McDonagh, the Nashville Predators signed Josi to a seven-year, $28 million contract for an AAV of $4 million right after his entry-level contract expired. Since then, Josi has tallied four straight 40-point seasons, scoring 55 points in 2015 and 61 points in 2016. And back in 2015, the Dallas Stars handed Klingberg (who has 46 points in only 48 games this season) a seven-year, $29.75 million deal for a cap hit of $4.25. He’s leading all defensemen in points and is doing that for only $4.25 million a year. These long-term contracts have the opportunity to pay huge dividends and it would be smart for the Rangers to try something similar with Skjei.
If the Rangers do sign Skjei to a long term deal, we can expect it to wind up like a lot of the other long-term contracts we’ve seen for younger players. Luckily for the Rangers, Skjei doesn’t have the flashy point totals that other high-profile rookies have had so we can expect a cap hit somewhere near $4-5 million (similar to the deals signed by Morgan Rielly) My prediction is that a deal would wind up around $4.67 million per year for five years.
But what if the Rangers don’t want to go long-term with Skjei? They have a history of being stingy with their younger players and may opt to go with a short-term bridge deal. However, that could have huge consequences down the road. While a deal like that will keep Skjei’s cap hit down for the term of the deal, after that contract ends, Skjei will likely command even more money than he would have before. One only needs to look at what happened with the Montreal Canadiens and P.K. Subban to see why this could be a huge mistake. After Subban’s entry-level contract expired, the Montreal Canadiens forced him into signing a two-year deal worth only $5.75 million in total. However, after scoring 91 points in his next 124 games, Subban then commanded an eight-year, $72 million extension as he blossomed into one of the best defenseman in the league, averaging $9 million a year now.
Coupled with all the cap space the Rangers will have to play with by the end of the year, the Rangers should do everything in their power to get Skjei to sign a long-term deal. While a short-term deal will keep his cap down now, it will hurt a lot more in the future when he’s up for a new deal. It’s time for the Rangers to really start prioritizing their future situation over the present and get their star defenseman signed for years to come.