Jesper Fast and the contracts of bottom-six forwards

Looking at the going rate for reliable bottom-six forwards in the NHL.

On July 5th Jeff Gorton signed RFA Jesper Fast to a three-year deal worth $5.5 million. That contract comes in at an AAV and cap hit of $1.85 million. With Fast locked up for the next three seasons the Rangers have a penalty killer and bottom-six forward they can rely on who takes up less than 2.5 percent of the team’s cap space.

Sounds pretty good right?

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General managers do have to be careful not to fall in love with depth players and sign them to long-term deals. One needs only look at the Detroit Red Wings roster to understand the perils of handing contracts with term to bottom-six forwards.

The Fast contract carried a significant risk of overpayment. The perpetually hustling winger has won the Players’ Player Award two years in a row and is beloved by the coach, the fans and his teammates. And even though Fast signed for three years, this deal should work out well for the Rangers.

Fast is slated to miss the start of the season after undergoing successful hip surgery in June. But when he gets back in the lineup he will be a dependable and trustworthy bottom-six forward for the Rangers. We know that because that is exactly what he’s been since the 2014-15 season.

Fast finished ninth among Rangers forwards in average even strength TOI last season with 12:07 in 68 games. His production dipped from his 10 goal 2015-16 campaign, but the former sixth round pick scored three goals and added three assists in the playoffs. Only Michael Grabner and Mats Zuccarello put more pucks into the net for the Rangers in the 2017 Playoffs, and one of Grabner’s four goals was an empty-netter.

Speaking of Grabner, the Austrian winger’s price tag of $1.65 million on the cap is in the same neighborhood as Fast’s. Another bottom-six contract that was on the books last season was Brandon Pirri, who signed for $1.1 million. There was also Tanner Glass and his $1.45 million cap hit. But all three of those players were UFAs when they signed to be depth forwards with the Rangers.

Here are some comparables for the recent three-year deal Fast signed as a 25-year-old RFA:

It goes without saying that players in the table above aren’t all cut from the same cloth, but considering Fast’s role and value to the Rangers his cap hit of $1.85 million seems perfectly reasonable. He may not have the offensive upside of Melker Karlsson, but Fast kills penalties and played a significant role on a competitive Rangers team last season.

For better or worse Fast is a player that Alain Vigneault likes to occasionally plug in to a top-six role. And while that can be frustrating because of talent being wasted on the fourth line, Vigneault’s comfort and familiarity with Fast does hold value. The Swedish winger doesn’t take shifts off, he finishes his checks and he manages the puck well. There are (and were) far worse players for Vigneault to favor.

The biggest risk of this contract is probably Fast’s health. Four months separated Fast’s separated shoulder and his hip surgery. But before those two recent injuries he only dealt with typical day-to-day injuries. His health is something to keep an eye on, but it’s not exactly a red flag. The Rangers extended Fast after his hip surgery. Gorton knew what he was getting himself into.

The big stories of the Rangers 2017 offseason were the Derek Stepan trade, the Brendan Smith and Mika Zibanejad extensions, the Kevin Shattenkirk signing and the Dan Girardi buy out. But general managers also need to get the little moves right. And it appears that Gorton did a fine job with Fast’s extension.