When the Edmonton Oilers signed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to his new seven-year contract extension, I think most fans were pretty happy with the outcome. Or, at least, I was pretty happy with the outcome. That deal locked a third star forward into a long-term contract, giving Edmonton cost certainty with their best players over the long term while providing the team enough cap flexibility to retain the rest of the talented players on the team and perhaps add a significant player or two.
It's a deal that likely puts some pressure on Nail Yakupov to sign a similar contract, which I think is great for the team. On the downside, it's possible that Justin Schultz's agent uses the deal to put pressure on the Oilers in contract negotiations. Schultz is often mentioned alongside these other young players, and he may want his pay to reflect it, especially if he puts together another season that sees him near the top of the leaderboard in scoring by a defenseman. The temptation to make things easy and equitable is something the Oilers must try to resist.
In my article on Nugent-Hopkins, I estimated that Justin Schultz could be signed to an extension worth $4.5M. This valuation was challenged by one of our commenters, Chabye, who suggested that Schultz would be more expensive. In order to get an idea of whether or not my estimate was reasonable, I decided to take a closer look at what it might cost to sign Schultz to an extension now.
I began that search by looking for players with a similar offensive performance to Schultz's from last season. That meant looking for defensemen who scored between 0.48 and 0.65 points per game (85% to 115% of Schultz's total) in 2005-06 or later at age 21, 22 or 23 in the season immediately preceding a new contract. I found twelve matches, all of which are included below. I next decided to look at the ice time of each of those players, and have highlighted the four guys who are within one minute of Schultz in ice time per game:
The contract that looks most similar to my suggestion is Slava Voynov's. The other most similar players all signed bridge contracts that paid them between $2.5M and $2.6M, a precedent that provides the Oilers with some decent ammunition in negotiations, and Schultz with some incentive to sign a longer deal at something close to Voynov's rate. He's probably not going to be giving away too many years of unrestricted free agency at that number, but a five or six-year deal does seem possible.
How might this change if the Oilers wait to sign Schultz until after the 2013-14 season? The players above Voynov on this list are all more complete defenders who take on significantly more ice time. If Schultz becomes that kind of player this season, I'll happily discuss paying him more. If Schultz gets the ice time, but gets hammered all year long, that will make negotiations quite a bit more difficult. So long as the coach acts rationally, and I think he will, the Oilers should be in good shape.